The Flow of Life (Academic)

The “flow of life” is not an altogether well-known or widely-used term. Yet, it springs up in many forms throughout art, literature, psychology, and theory. It may surprise some that a high-quality explanation of the importance of the flow of life in our built environments comes from film theory. In his book, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, Siegfried Kracauer, a significant realist in film theory canon, writes about how a street may be a symbol of life for the film screen. Life, in the context of Kracauer’s thinking, is “still intimately connected, as if by an umbilical cord, with the material phenomena from which its emotional and intellectual contents emerge,” and the flow of life is a material continuum that “extends to the mental dimension” (Kracauer 1960). The street, then, is a “place where the flow of life is bound to assert itself.” This metaphor refers mainly to city streets, where many pedestrians and “anonymous crowds” flow by with their unknown stories and possibilities for chance interactions.

The concept of the flow of life has, in many manifestations, become central to urban design. It may be called the vibrant street, the public realm, or the pedestrian corridor.Various stakeholders know the benefits of a place that encourages the flow of life: the businesses surrounding it will flourish, the street itself will be a destination for the city or town, and people will have a place to walk and exercise. Streets have historically been the source of the flow of life, yet streets have changed dramatically as a concept, especially in modernized, Western, car-centric culture. The transformation of streets from public realms to automobile corridors has robbed society of a connection to the flow of life that is crucial to individual and communal well-being. Subconsciously, we as a society have dealt with this loss in a myriad of ways, including the upsurge of social networking and its design, which recently has morphed into a virtual flow of life. To explore this pattern, I will examine three areas regarding the “flows of life” in Ann Arbor: Liberty Avenue, Stadium Boulevard, and the Facebook live feed. I will then explore the question of whether we still need urban space and the physical flow of life, and if it is still feasible for the United States.

Liberty Avenue, mostly developed in the mid-19th Century, reflects the traditional pedestrian commercial corridor. Before cars were invented and widely used, streets were for pedestrians and public transit, and enclosed by two walls of storefronts and institutional entrances. Much like a hallway, the street is a passage from one’s starting point to one’s destination. However, because the street belongs to everyone, it allows for stopping, pausing, talking, rioting, performing. Liberty Avenue, from curb to curb, is about 30 feet wide and has sidewalks about eight feet wide on each side. That is a ratio of roughly 2:1 road-space to path-space, with intermittent parking lanes as a buffer between car traffic and pedestrian traffic. Short blocks facilitate the pedestrian’s mental connection to the other side of the street as an opposite wall and an accessible destination. On a Friday night, Liberty is bustling with pedestrians, bicycles, and cars. Rush hour and happy hour occur simultaneously, the latter group exhibiting much more enjoyment than the former. Main and Liberty is a site for much outdoor seating for the many restaurants, which diners choose over inside seating if weather permits.

Stadium Boulevard serves as a commercial corridor and as a conceptual boundary for Ann Arbor along its west and south sides. It is zoned to accommodate automobile uses, such as gas stations, oil changes, and drive-through restaurants. The curb to curb width of Stadium is more than 60 feet, while the sidewalks are the minimum standard of 5 feet wide. This is a ratio of 12:1 road-space to path-space. Its blocks are about a half-mile long, roughly ten times longer than those on Liberty in the downtown area. Though there are many destinations along Stadium, including restaurants, they are mostly accessible by car. It is not enjoyable for the pedestrian to stroll down Stadium, as the long setbacks of the businesses and long blocks create a boring experience, and the 40-mile-per-hour traffic decreases perceived and actual safety for the pedestrian. Any flow of life occurring on Stadium is from the cars; this is too homogeneous of a source to be edifying or entertaining.

Stadium Boulevard is an illustration of what happened after the second World War, as many young couples settled in suburbs, intentionally cut off from the noise and mess of inner cities. It was a status symbol to have a car, a yard, and a television, and if you wanted your fix of public life, you drove downtown for a few hours. Petula Clark’s lyrics to the song “Downtown” describe this phenomenon exactly:

When you’re alone

And life is making you lonely,

You can always go downtown

When you’ve got worries,

All the noise and the hurry

Seems to help, I know, downtown

Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city

Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty

How can you lose?

The lights are much brighter there

You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go

Downtown, things’ll be great when you’re

Downtown, no finer place for sure,

Downtown, everything’s waiting for you.

Downtowns and vibrant places soon became a destination and not part of everyday life. Downtown was great to visit, but not to live in. As the 1960s wore on, and demonstrations for civil rights and against the Vietnam war arose and became violent, even more faith was lost in the street as public space. Policy and marketing clung to the comfort of car-only streets. Highways and corridors continued to gain prominence, and walking became a last resort. This sequence of development, dissipating communities into developments and individual parcels, resulted not only in race but class segregation, building fear among Americans of people from different walks of life. Not having a place where all classes roam equally deprived Americans from exposure and practice in living civilly together.

Indeed, Stadium Boulevard, a commercial corridor, was victim to this time in planning. Though the street has moderate residential density in its vicinity, its storefronts turn away from these neighborhoods and towards the wide street, looking over substantial parking lots. Recently, Stadium was updated with sidewalks and bicycle lanes, the latter of which is not used so often. Though the sidewalks do accommodate daily pedestrians, these amenities do not increase the pedestrian’s connection with the businesses lining Stadium; they simply allow the pedestrian to move through just as the vehicles do. Streets like Stadium have a flow of life, but not an audience, unless it is a “metro cruise,” a gathering of car enthusiasts, who either drive up and down the corridor, or park at a location to admire the other cars. Conversely, Liberty Avenue is almost inhospitable to vehicles. The storefronts open immediately to sidewalks, and the lack of bicycle lanes rarely stops the cyclists from riding through. The residential density in Liberty’s vicinity has easier access to these buildings, but one can argue that economic access to these living spaces is quite limited. Ann Arbor’s living prices correlates inversely with distance from campus and downtown. The closer you are to the center, the higher your rent will be. So, for many, streets like Stadium are home and streets like Liberty are destinations.

Facebook emerged as an online college social network in 2005. Six years later, it has over 800 million users. It encourages virtual contact with the user’s social circle from “real life.” Starting out as a flipbook of profiles, Facebook has morphed into a live feed of status updates, links, videos, and photos. Social networks emerged as a way to connect those not spatially related, but interest-related. Facebook does not operate this way. It gathers together people who know each other from work, school, church, family, friends, though, theoretically, these listed places are the original gathering spaces. Because people often live far from where their work, school, church, family, and friends, Facebook serves as a third place as described by Ray Oldenburg, who points out that people in America are less likely to leave home casually because it involves planning and travel of long distances (Oldenburg 1989). So, if one feels disconnected or isolated, she can log onto Facebook and experience, to a limited extent, what is “going on” in her social circles and in the world. Scrolling down the live newsfeed is similar, safer, and easier than strolling down an actual street, bustling thoughts, ideas, reactions from many different entities.

The political demonstration and protests that happened on the streets of many cities in the 1960s are still echoed by today’s youth, who see reasons to use their free speech in this way. Surprisingly, the Internet, instead of replacing physical demonstration (and occupation) in public spaces, has helped to organize these social uprisings. The online petition, an early version of online political action, still circulates the Internet, but does not make the dent that the recent “Occupy Wallstreet” protests have made on the collective psyche. When broadcast television and radio were our source of the outside world, there was far less interplay between authorship and readership: the broadcasters were an authority, deciding what flow of information came through the speakers and on the screen into our homes (Zeng et al. 2010). Today, when all users have the ability to share, write, and pass on the information they choose, all types of dissenting opinions arise. People feel less separated by class and more separated by ideology. They create their own spaces.

As people gain deep habits of relying on the Internet for their needs, how do urban designers proceed? Do we continue building cities that illustrate an impression that physical space does not matter anymore? Or do we build cities the way they used to be built, before technology and media became a replacement for the flow of life, risking an impression of nostalgia and impractical design? How do streetlights, benches, pavers, and storefronts compete with the glowing screen of the iPhone in the hands of most young people? Is anyone safe to assume that anything will appeal to the masses ever again, or has the Internet created a place for our imaginations to organize their own flow of life?

Current development (often disregarding much thought to urban design) will often ignore the possible “wants” of the markets, and simply serve the needs: a continuation of the modernist pattern of building for function over form. Allan Jacobs and Donald Appleyard argue against this on humanistic grounds: “A city should have magical places where fantasy is possible, a counter to and an escape from the mundaneness of everyday work and living” (1987). The response to this need?  Privately-owned magical places. Sorkin writes about Disneyland as a “concentration camp for pleasure,” a physical manifestation of the media’s perception of urban life at its best, an absurd product of the devices we have used to escape from urban public spaces (Sorkin 2007). He asserts that this replacement for urban life is stripped of accidents, unpredictability, opportunity, and, ultimately, an authentic flow of life. Our boring everyday worlds and our controlled fantasy lands reflect our anxiety, a point underscored by Richard Weinstein:

The interchangeability, predictability, and ordinariness of this urban landscape also offers comfort and security to a mobile population, anxiety ridden in the pursuit of profit, pleasure, individual self-definition, and the control of chance. Yet the ordinary, common, and conforming still contribute to this anxiety by a tense relation to the singular, individual, and privatized (Weinstein).

We have built a nation to calm our anxieties, which are possibly related to our isolation, but find that the predictable, interchangeable landscape does little in this regard.

Perhaps it is social media that can help us rebuild public spaces usable to everyone. Governmental entities and transportation authorities have both experimented with the use of social media to get feedback, and arguments for and against its equity have sprung up in reaction. Though the people without means or ability to use social networks will not have input in this way, it still gives those unable to attend public meetings a say in how things are decided. On the social side of things, applications have emerged that allow the Internet user to “check in” to the places they are in reality, so that they can represent where they are in actual space to their social network. The desire to display one’s life and its activities upon an Internet social network gives a fascinating clue to our cultural tendencies. Before the 20th century, this public display of life was often the default of lifestyles. People had to go out into the public streets to retrieve the goods and services they required, and they were bound to run into people they knew, as well as to be watched and to watch others. Though we still go out for errands and goods, the space through which we move to get them is much more anonymous and sometimes quite deserted. As a response, people both broadcast their life’s activities on social networks and intentionally go to public spaces to “people watch,” an activity often regarded as somewhat creepy, though it likely has been happening for much longer than we think.
A question that all researchers in this field run into is this: what happens to society as we as individuals turn inward to our private life? Perhaps this loss of society, community, and citizenship not a new problem at all, as stated in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America as quoted by Weinstein in The First American City:

Each person, withdrawn into himself, behaves as though he is a stranger to the destiny of others. His children and his good friends constitute for him the whole of the human species. As for his transactions with his fellow citizens, he may be among them, but he sees them not; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone. And if on these terms there remains in him a sense of family, there no longer remains a sense of society. (Tocqueville 1835).

Tocqueville made this observation long before the more obvious signs of individualism, such as suburbs, personal computers, and private automobiles took place. Thus, it may be erroneous to assert that rapid advancements in technology has ruined public life–perhaps the cause of our fragmented social lives is written in our very Constitution: a reactionary response to the ideology of Europe, and an implied rejection of community in the search for individual liberty (Weinstein 1996). What we have today in terms of community and society is a product of what we used to have, not a loss of it.

Though this country was born and raised to be individualistic, community springs up between the cracks in the asphalt of our parking lots. Though we can video chat from hand-held devices, we still travel to see each other in person, to hug, to shake hands. Though we can sign online petitions and send e-mail blasts to demonstrate our political messages, we still gather in public spaces, paint signs, yell, and sing. Though our own zoning codes have forced the flow of life out of our cities, placed it in cars, and sent it 7 miles per hour on the highway to nowhere, people still yearn for it. We should have no doubt that if we build places for people again, the people will gather, exist, wander, and meet in those places. And the places will record our histories, will be carved out by our flows of life, constantly moving, changing, affecting, making a mark.

Works Cited

Clark, Petula. Downtown the Greatest Hits of Petula Clark. Buddha Records, 1999. CD.

Jacobs, Allan B., and Donald Appleyard. “Toward an Urban Design Manifesto.” The Urban Design Reader. By Michael Larice and Elizabeth Macdonald. London: Routledge, 2007. Print.

Kracauer, Siegfried. Theory of Film; the Redemption of Physical Reality. New York: Oxford UP, 1960. Print.

Oldenburg, Ray. “The Problem of Place in America.” The Urban Design Reader. By Michael Larice and Elizabeth Macdonald. London: Routledge, 2007. 139-48. Print.

Sorkin, Michael. “Variations on a Theme Park.” Ctools, University of Michigan. Print.

Weinstein, Richard S. “The First American City.” The City (1996): 22-44. Ctools. University of Michigan. Web. 18 Nov. 2011.

Zeng, Daniel, Lusch Hsinchun Chen, and R. Shu-Hsing Li. “Social Media Analytics and Intelligence.” IEEE Intelligent Systems (2010).

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The City: The First Suburbs Were Called “Green Cities”

I found The City, a documentary from 1939, at the library. Copland does a fantastic score for it, by the way. I wasn’t sure what the expect but what I got was truckloads of insight into why we have suburbs today.

Cities were hell holes.

The first part of this doc shows the Utopia of farm life. It functions well, the air is clean, and communities are strong. Then it starkly contrasts this dream with factory-laden cities where everything is filthy, there’s not a tree in sight, kids play in slums, smoke stacks, hunger, traffic accidents, poverty. “Smoke makes prosperity, no matter if you choke on it.”

The big shocker for me was the turning point of the documentary. It starts showing suburbs with plenty of trees, space, and sidewalks. It shows highways in a positive light, people biking and walking, and peaceful buses picking up commuters in the middle of nowhere. “Factories are set apart from living quarters, but close to rail and motor roads, with space to set about it. People can even walk to work and have lunch at home sometimes, just like the kids.”

After watching this, you can completely understand why urban sprawl happened. The motives were (if not racist and sexist) completely pure.

What do we know now that they don’t know?

Spread-out plans can cost more and eat up a lot of land, especially when population grows exponentially.

People like Robert Moses had to be born and car-obsessed, subsidizing cars so much that trains and public transit were pushed out of many communities.

Good planning doesn’t necessarily make good communities or happy people. Just watch the 9 million movies that cast a negative light on Utopian suburbia.

Schools would somehow become places for police supervision, even in the suburbs and subdivisions. Kids don’t walk to school anymore, even in suburbs and subdivisions. Somehow after building all of these suburbs and subdivisions we still don’t feel “safe.” Perhaps suburbs don’t create peace at all. Getting away from the inner city and the minorities who live there doesn’t create safety. (Didn’t Columbine poke a hole in that belief?) Maybe it just reinforces segregation and racism.

What they saw that we’ve lost sight of

Cities are (still) broken. No one should have to live with the messes that urban life can create.

Cities shouldn’t grow too large to be managed.

The “green communities” described actually fit the exact description of New Urbanism. “Houses clustered together, close to schools, the public meeting hall, the movies, and the markets.” Produce comes from nearby farms.

What went wrong

Suburbs became places only navigable by car, with garages shooting out to the driveways so that neighbors are less likely to know each other. Highways split part cities and, in Detroit’s case, somewhat killed them. Zoning compartmentalized commercial, residential, and industrial areas to be too separate, creating risky climates for success on the commercial properties’ part.

What we’ve done right

Putting farms and gardens back into the cities.

Moved industry away from living quarters (though we still need to cut down on pollution)

Local food is increasing in popularity by day.

Here’s a clip from the documentary, which is entirely on Youtube in four parts.

Facebook Changes

Facebook has changed again, and I can understand the frustration that comes along with all their updates. Yes, it means it is a very well-run site, but it also takes sense of control away from the person. The profile cannot be personalized visually. It makes us all very uniform except for what we write about on our profile and our wall posts.

Back in 2005, when I joined, there were no “statuses.” It was only for college kids, but messaging and writing on others’ walls was possible. I found Facebook more addicting back then because you had to work harder to get your stalking done.  Now, everything’s on one page and I can be friends with my local radio station or news station, my library, and the tire shop down the road. Wow. Even my internship, a planning organization, has one. It’s obviously great for marketing, and I like getting heads-up from TCBY and Dairy Queen about deals and coupons, but we all have to face the fact that Facebook has been Dorkified. Hooray. I just became a fan of Meijer grocery stores.

I love my family to death, but the fact that every one of them can see not only what I write for my statuses, but what everyone writes on my wall, does not help my paranoia. Are people judging me?  What would they say if I said this stuff to their face?  I feel the cliche postmodern isolation by the fact that everyone knows I’m now engaged and Catholic but I never got to read their faces or see their excitement in person.

It’s innocuous, really, just like garbage is innocuous except when you hoard it and let it take over your life. I’m talking about the status updates. I wish we didn’t have them. I wish Facebook would’ve let Twitter be unique in that way, not grabbing the best parts of every social networking site. I don’t mind that people are looking forward to the weekend, or that they’re “having a relaxing weekend with my boys!” (son and husband), but when that is filling up the Facebook page, and when I voluntarily subject myself to reading blurbs about other peoples’ lives, it makes everything seem meaningless and me feel lonely. I also don’t think Americans needed another way to feel self-important.  Do we really need to write this stuff in order to feel validated?  Does writing about a bad day make it better? Does writing about a good day make it more of a good day?

This has become a list of my pet peeves, so one more: why do people ask other people questions they could find out through Google? I understand asking questions about someone’s life or project or whatever, but asking someone what the movie they “just watched and loved” was about is really redundant. GOOGLE IT!  Better yet, look it up on Rotten Tomatoes!

We all have a relationship with conformity, and Facebook illustrates it so well. (So do weddings, I’m realizing, but save that for another post).  Most people like to conform, some like to go against the grain, but all of us should realize the extent to which we conform on Facebook and what we all subject ourselves to. Most of it is unnecessary. Sign out, once in a while, and live your life.

The Monster Woman Post – Lady Gaga

ne of the first things I heard about Lady Gaga was about the rumor that she is not a woman. This is supposedly from a picture from her tour, a very blurry picture, but I know that it comes from the fact that Lady Gaga does not follow any rules of being a woman. She broke out as a pop star in bizarre outfits and shamelessly objectified herself in her incredible music videos with exquisitely produced music videos. Many did not know what to do with her.

I, too, was intimidated by the Woman until I saw an interview with her. Two people I know have said the same thing. No wonder people wondered if she was a woman or not. She didn’t look or act like one. Maybe she isn’t one. She doesn’t fit into the mold we’ve built for women or men. It’s kind of insane how much that throws us off.

Her new video for the song “Telephone” dispels any of those rumors in an explicit way. Beyonce’s in this video, too, but she seems kind of like a sidekick than a collaborator.

Now what am I really talking about with these rules and stereotypes and expectations the media and culture puts on us? Isn’t it just cliche? Isn’t it just being feminist to talk about it?

I keep seeing this magazine in the doctor’s office I clean, and for some reason no one will throw it away. I will if I see it again. It’s old anyway.

There’s not much to Jennifer Aniston…she hasn’t had a very strong career, but even I feel bad about this front page. Identifying her by a man she was with five years ago?  Even the small blurb about Haiti on the top suggests they have a lot more material to work with in our world than creates the need for defining a burned-out actress by her ex.

This is the world into which Lady Gaga has forced herself. It’s been a quiet few years for the female singers. Rihanna sort of shook things up with her amazing haircut, and Beyonce just shook. Taylor Swift became America’s Sweetheart.

But after I listened to her albums and saw her videos, I began to see myself in a different way. I noticed how I walk with my head down when I’m in public, that I always think about how gross my body is, and that I’ve been letting fear get to me and define me, and moreover that the culture I live in encourages these feelings. After reading those beauty magazines which have one article that tells you to love your body and on the next page five tips for a bikini body.

The whole my getting engaged thing has amplified all of this. There are assumptions and expectations that come along with deciding to spend the rest of your life with one person. Some of them are ridiculous as wearing a certain 3000 dollar stone on your finger. Or wearing an immaculate white, strapless dress and being given away like a possession by your father. Or taking professional pictures and having them put in the paper as if the general public cares.
When I listen to her (incredible concept) albums and watch her (works of art) videos I don’t think any of those things subconsciously anymore. She brings them right to the surface, poisons, and kills them. I see my own beauty in her beauty. I want to climb mountains and change things and be fearless. She is beyond fierce and beyond beautiful and beyond woman.

I keep hearing negative things about gays and transgender and bisexuality but I have two transgender friends and they transcend more than gender. They transcend all of these (cliche) chains that we are held back by in living this life. They don’t ask me why my fiance didn’t empty his bank account on a piece of jewelry. They don’t complain about women’s PMS. They don’t need to talk about cars or sports or hunting to feel secure. They don’t need to put anyone down for their differences. Because they’ve embraced themselves, more than anyone else has. We all need to come out of the closet. We all are hiding our real, curious, wild, beautiful selves.

This is why the term “feminism” isn’t enough to describe Lady Gaga’s movement. Sometimes feminists feel the need to wear suits and be cruel and mean to other women to feel powerful. The real power is seeing yourself for who you are, accepting that, and seeing no reason to not be kind to everyone. Because people, men and women, are cruel to other people out of insecurity.

But we don’t need to be nice. Being nice about things is tolerating ideas we know are false. Why don’t we, instead, accept each other.  Let’s do away with tolerance as an idea. Burn it.

This is not the Madonna movement. We don’t have to dress like Gaga or even approve of or promote her art. We just have to see it as it really is, so that we can see ourselves as we really are.

Is Lady Gaga a Woman?  Yes.

How Local News Could Be Better

I have always been encouraged to watch the news at 5. Sometimes I do, but most days I can’t spare the emotional expense. Every day, there is a story about a crime, a murder, or a deadly accident in Grand Rapids. Yes, it’s good to know about these things. I guess. It’s good to be daily reminded that there’s bad things in the world, and then offered no way of helping the situation or preventing future ones, the way we could if our local news served us better.

Billboards advertising different news channels keep calling their news “stories.” Bringing you the story. I don’t want a story. I want the news. I don’t want a narrative. Because the narrative of West Michigan right now is that our economy is failing, crime is rising, and living is getting more and more expensive. There are about three million ways to write Michigan’s story, and I’m not a fan of this one. It’s too pessimistic.

As news anchors put your focus on an unfortunate incident that happened on Fuller, they put less and less accent on future local polls and elections, and they don’t give us the information or resources to be well-educated on the issues featured. What if they posted “stories” of peoples’ efforts to fix things? Why do these Grassroots Grand Rapidian Superheroes have to use Twitter and Facebook to get their projects going?

I feel that it’s perpetuating a prejudiced and racist theme. Neighborhoods shouldn’t be called “bad” based on these stories. Places can’t be bad. There is no wicked city. Sodom and Gomorrah symbolize wicked culture and evil ideas, which form a structure that can be seen and felt when we enter a certain place. What’s really more dangerous than your neighborhood is your media. What is it really telling us?

Showing the snapshots they do of the neighborhoods of Grand Rapids and the stuff that happens in them really gives details and evidents of overarching trends locally and nationally. That is what I’m starting to notice about the news. But does everyone notice this?

And, as I mentioned in my Bus Rapid Transit post, why did no one fully understand what the Silver Line was?  Why did a bill get shot down two years ago that would have supported GRCC financially? The only ones voting in local elections are people who hate taxes. Taxes are vital to our way of life. They must be carefully allocated, and not be the reason to vote down a new project.

Soundscape: Potato Moon’s After the Harvest

otato Moon is a band that I’ve heard on WYCE and seen live in downtown Rockford, yet they never clicked with me until I got their newer album, After the Harvest, from the library. This 2008 album has 32 tracks, some of them full songs, some snippets that sound like movie scores, some of them short traditional songs arranged beautifully.

The full-length songs, mostly written by Ben Stancil, are the most original folk songs I’ve heard since Gillian Welch. Yet they’re still catchy, earthy, timeless, and genuine. The main vocals, too, are strong. Jane Jones, who I believe to be the main female vocalist, has a voice that can do anything. It’s a huge voice. She could easily be a jazz vocalist so her voice works well with the genre-bending songs of the album.

Ben Stancil’s production is great, too. The vocals act as strings and other sounds enter with them like the wind. This entire album was recorded in a span of five July days in 2007.  That attributes to the seamless, unified feeling of all the songs. The only complaint I have is that it’s too quiet. Not literally, but it just feels like they should be yell-singing these songs. It sounds like they’re writing in mechanical pencil when they should be using a bold, black Sharpie. The songs are strong, but could sound stronger with bolder production.

I encourage you to check out this CD, which was recorded right in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The fact that they’re local doesn’t mean much because they’re so good. This is not a “support your local artist just because they’re local” post. To hear them will be nothing but beneficial to your SOUL! Wherever you are!

Dreams – Futuristic, Nostalgic, Genuine

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.

The plans and dreams of our future continue in the same fashion. This image is a plan for South Korea. Phallic?

The Green Projects???

WebUrbanist Post called Retrofuture Urbanism

How do you envision America’s future?

What I Am Doing

I finally used my Schuler’s gift card and bought One-Yard Wonders: 101 Sewing Fabric Projects.  Love it! Now I need fabric. Apparently not much fabric though!

I read Occult America hoping for juicy stories about weird occultist meetings and happenings behind the scenes of the American Government in the past 100 years. But it was an American history of ouija boards, ghosts, new age, mysticism, eastern thought, Christian science, and self-acceptance. Not a bad disappointment at all! So interesting. Now when I see the dollar bill, or The Secret, or even those vampire movies, I realize this fascination of ours will never die. Perhaps it is an unconscious search for life after death, or truth, or God.

I’ve been working on my novel, re-writing it in the present tense. When I hear authors talk about their first, second, and third drafts I get so overwhelmed, but it’s actually nice to rewrite. It beats brainstorming new scenes. I don’t know what I’m doooinnnnggg!  But it’s fuuuun!

Physical Community and Internetworking

With the Internet being the primary way I communicate with people, and having grown up this way, I have to wonder why I care about the physical community around me so much. I can find people who have the same tastes, beliefs, ideals as I do on-line.

That’s the same argument that Randall O’Toole (he sure is) in his awful book called the Best Laid Plans or something like that. He was all, “why are planners all concerned with communities? We don’t need that anymore because we have the internet.”

Oh, okay.

The creation and extensive use of craigslist.com shows the marriage of physical community and internetworking. (Did I just make up a word?) Here, people can anonymously sell things, hire people, lease apartments, and post missed connections. People like it because it’s safe. You don’t have to have any contact information on any of your posts. They even finally have gotten better spam protection.

I think craigslist is a good start, but the same idea is going to have a different looking and working website in the future. It is great that it categorizes by location, but what if each neighborhood had its own forum? On Facebook, my neighborhood has its own page–but it only has 80 fans. You know more than 80 people in my neighborhood have Facebook.

Neighborhood pride went out when platte developments came in. Of course, I have met people who actually do know all of their neighbors. But in my neighborhood, one that had an annual block party only 15 years ago, this aspect is gone. Maybe an internet forum for neighborhoods defeats the purpose–we could simply knock on peoples’ doors and say hi, couldn’t we? In a span of ten years, it has become more easy and safe for people to post on a website than to initiate in person.

This confused post shows how big we’re going to have to dream as internet integrates more and more deeply into our lives.

SeededBuzz and Information Rights

Bear with me. I am trying out a blog marketing site. It’s in beta.

Using it, I found this blog post that brings up really good questions about the future of information rights. I don’t think it’s something most people think about, but with Wikipedia and Wikileaks.org and future internet data sources, it’s going to be a huge issue. TV, magazines, libraries have controlled information outlets. Should they? Shouldn’t we know everything our government is doing? If we could, would we care?