hat young urban planners want right now is for everyone to realize that they like and want walkable communities. Because if everyone wants it then it will be easier to get it. We think that these changes we want to make will make humanity happier in general.
Daniel Burnham, the first great American urban planner of the Columbian Expedition and of many cityscapes including Chicago’s lakefront and Magnificent Mile, thought this, too. Of the implementation of cars, he said “When this change comes, a real step in civilization will have been taken. With no smoke, no gases, no litter of horses, your air and streets will be clean and pure. This means, does it not, that the health and spirits of men will be better?” (From Devil in the White City, p. 378)
He wasn’t only wrong that cleaner air (our air is much cleaner than any air Burnham breathed back in the 1890s) would come with the automobile, he was wrong that cleaner air and streets would make humans’ health and spirits better. Our health suffers from laziness and exhaust. Our happiness is hard to find when all this technology helps us forget to be grateful and mindful.
I think it was good for the planners of the World’s Fair in Chicago to dream so big. I disagree with Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City’s author, in saying that he steered America toward its own greatness of architecture and landscape. Modernism took a huge toll on the undeveloped land of our country throughout the 20th century. Why should we be building greek-looking buildings, people like Frank Lloyd Wright asked. That’s not our heritage. You can now see the our heritage’s design, the prairie house, in any city. It is beige/brown brick, one story, with horizontal lines and large windows.
People at WorldChanging and other “Think bright green future” blogs stress the importance of thinking of new solutions instead of going back to old ways of thinking, such as the small town model accented in New Urbanism. But all those images of futuristic buildings and green landscapes with the sun shining impossibly bright are just as frightening as a post-apocalyptic dirty industrial landscape with muddy skies and polluted ground. At least, they are to me. I am afraid to assume that’s a better world for the generations to come, for our children. We are in an age where we don’t like to assume, claim, or presume anything about anyone else. Parents are letting their kids make their own choices more and more.
I’m not saying this is all bad, but it raises the question of what we are to do with what we have on this earth today. When we artistic types write poems, paint pictures, make films or sculptures, we realize how fully what we have read, seen, experienced impacts what we will create. We spend a lot of our work paying homage to those who have gone before, who have made us see ourselves in a new way. Taking what we have learned, we create new art that is relevant and fresh to our present circumstance, and sometimes, if we’re lucky, it will have delved into the unspoken currents of our collective emotions and will stay relevant for ages to come.
So as you create new dreams for yourself and the ones around you, don’t worry about trends. Just make sure you are being genuinely you. Most large dreams have several thousand flaws and bad outcomes, but no one blames the genuine motives of the creator.
This is from the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Americans put this vision far into the future and continued building prairie house suburbs. Maybe we like the idea of places like these, but not for ourselves.
How do you envision America’s future?