Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Designing Our Cities

The ideas surrounding the look of the cities and suburbs we live in are very intriguing, and this article from New Geography is a good one, and with certain applicability to Sacramento.

An excerpt.

“Investment in commercial development may be in long hibernation, but eventually the pause will create a pent-up demand. When investment returns, intelligent growth must be informed by practical, organic, time-tested models that work. Here’s one candidate for examination proposed as an alternative to the current model being toyed with by planners and developers nationwide.

“Cities, in the first decade of this millennium, seem to be infected with a sort of self-hatred over their city form, looking backward to an imagined “golden era”. The most common notion is to recapture some of the glory of the last great consumerist period, the Victorians. During this time, from the 1870s to the early 1900s, many American towns and cities were formed around the horse-drawn wagon and the pedestrian. This created cities with enclaves of single-family homes and suburbs that seem quaint and tiny in retrospect to today’s mega-scale subdivisions and eight-lane commercial strips.

“One bible for the neo-Victorians was “Suburban Nation,” a 2000 publication seething with loathing and anger over urban ugliness. In a noble and earnest effort to repair some of the aesthetic damage, the writers proposed a grand solution. Their goal was essentially to swing the development model back to the era of the streetcar and the alleyway, the era when cars were not dominant form-givers and families lived in higher density and closer proximity.

“In the last decade, this movement gained traction with hapless city officials often tired of hearing nothing from their citizens but complaints over traffic and congestion. They embraced the New Urbanist movement which promised to turn the clock back to an era of walkable live/work/play environment of mixed neighborhoods. In the new model, the car would at last be tamed.

“Yet, looking at most of these communities, the past has not created a better future. More often they have created something more like the simulated towns lampooned by “The Truman Show”. These neo-Victorian communities ended up with some of the form of that era, but devoid of employment and sacred space. They also created social schisms of low-wage, in-town employers and high-salary, bedroom community lifestyles marking not the dawn of a new era but the twilight of late capitalism as the service workers commute into New Urbanist villages while the residents commute out.”