Sense & The City

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love cities.  I love the city in which I live, and I especially love that I can now walk to work — my office is downtown in a major metropolis but I have a beautiful and relaxed commute, on a walking path along a lake.  It is, in short, awesome.

Given how nearly everything positive in my quality of life is tied to my urban location — proximity to work, recreation, practical conveniences (there’s a grocery store two blocks away!) and transit (I used to be obsessed with driving and could never foresee a carless life, but OH MY GOD getting rid of my car proved to be a genius move for both my sanity and my finances) — so I was intrigued by this post, positing that perhaps (slightly) lower walking scores are necessary for the urban dynamic to attract a wide variety of residents.  Given the continued resistance to development outside the suburban ideal, admitting that lower-density, less-walkable pockets within a city can help to make the city viable might be difficult, but it’s probably also true — in fact, according to recent polling data, the two top attractors to any community are its social offering and its “openness”, or its sense of inclusion offered to respondents. 

Cities are, stereotypically, upheld as hostile to families, versus the familial inclusiveness of suburbia — but it’s a disingenuous trope, as explicated not only in this essay but also this fascinating piece by a “recovering” civil engineer, who details the mechanisms (and justifications) by which streets are widened, trees are removed, and neighborhoods gradually degraded in the name of “safety.”  Of course, real safety would involve a reduced dependence on cars altogether, or at least an alteration to the laws which govern our roadways.  In the meantime, the psychological dynamic behind moves to gated communities and cul-de-sacs is essentially identical to our national craving for ever-increasing security theater.   

What’s particularly ironic about the Tea Party’s reaction to the new drive for increased urban development is that the new urbanism (not, I would point out, New Urbanism) is deeply rooted in the philosophy and observations of Jane Jacobs, and strives to build density with some forethought but not with the kind of master planning that city-builders of decades past saw as their aim — no, that kind of highly controlled development is left to suburbia (which is essentially where the New Urbanists operate).  For a brief and fairly hilarious history of architectural movements towards city-building, try this video, where a Finnish architect raps (and yes, that is a real sentence, and not just a Mad Lib) about the likes of Corbusier.  His rhymes could use a little work, but on the whole, it’s pretty worthwhile.  Truly, what the Tea Party is reacting against is not planned communities — rich people love those — but public transit and the notion of a truly democratic city, in which mobility and participation are opportunities afforded to all. 

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