Stuff I’m Obsessing Over: Equal Access

Yesterday a man was walking down the street outside our apartment.  He was blind, and we ended up helping him find the store around the corner as he had gotten mixed up over where he was.

The corridor I live near is like many state roads in Michigan: car-oriented, the main way of getting most places, no sidewalks, lots of McDonalds and chains, connections to the highways.  MDOT is making a sincere effort to get sidewalks and crosswalks on these kinds of streets, as residential development has become denser adjacent to them.  As a person who lives a block away from this corridor, I live within 1/4 mile of many fastfood restaurants, a superstore, auto-repair shops, and even a secretary of state. You’d think I’d be able to walk to these places, and having been raised to be efficient with my resources, I would like to walk to them. But it’s just dangerous. 

I can’t imagine not having a car out here. Okay, fine. To live out here, you have to have a car. This is America, after all.  What about blind friend John?  The only affordable housing in Ann Arbor is outside of Ann Arbor, where things are not walkable.  What do the handicapped do?

What do the handicapped do? Or those who cannot afford a car?

Probably the first step to equal opportunity for all is …equal accessibility for all.  People being able to physically get to places without loads of difficulty might help them get where they want to go.

I don’t care how small of a minority of people fit into the ADA description. It could be one person. We still have to take care of that person. But it happens to be millions.

Don’t get me started on the lack of even beginnings of progress on mentally disabled access. How does this fit into access to sidewalks and transit? I can already think of implications for those with Aspergers and Autism of riding transit and walking busy streets.

We build this world for us. Not for cars. Not for what’s cheap and profitable at the time. Though building for people has proven to be profitable, though not cheap. Who could expect it to be?

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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).

How We Talk about Progress: Urban Terrorism in Grand Rapids

In East Hills of Grand Rapids, vandalism has popped up as a recurring problem. After some disturbing letters and threats, it is clear these “urban terrorists” believe Wealthy street and the nearby area are being gentrified. Gentrification is when an urban area gets revitalized and higher income people start moving in and renovating the buildings. This process frequently displaces lower income residents, especially in large cities like Chicago where entire low-income housing structures (ones that are not vacant) are sold and renovated as condos, leaving the former residents scrambling for new affordable housing.

Nothing this extreme has happened in Grand Rapids. The past few years has just been decrease in property values all over the city. But the reverse demographic shift (the people who moved out to the suburbs or a better life are moving back into the city for a better life) has finally hit West Michigan.  So when this neighborhood, with businesses like the Green Well, the Winchester, and Wealthy Street Bakery, which have sprung up in the last ten years, sees this kind of economic development, it is an exciting new trend for real estate statistics and has implications for Grand Rapids’ economic situation.

This whole state is in trouble, and we all know that. My point here is that gentrification is not happening in this area, but something else is. And we should pay attention.

It is tempting to jump on any band wagon that shows economic activity in a part of town that used to be more run down. It is easy to slap the “improvement!” label on any neighborhood that has an influx of white people and new businesses. We keep seeing articles about great things happening and the pictures show brand new stuff that looks old fashioned and hip, white people riding bikes fashionably, and the words “local first” everywhere, and we say it’s so much better than it was before. This is kind of like telling a person who lost a significant amount of weight how amazing they look now. The classic response is, “well geez, did I look that awful before?”  What are we implying when we say “wow, this neighborhood has really turned around!”

We have to be careful about how we talk about progress and improvement in neighborhoods. What was the neighborhood like before? Was it truly empty? Because there are neighborhoods in Grand Rapids (Burton/Eastern area) that have thriving businesses that aren’t related to stuff white people like, and are very diverse economically and racially. Moreover, when I drive through these neighborhoods I constantly see people waving from their cars to each other or meeting on the street. There is definitely a close-knit community among the black population in SE Grand Rapids and I fear we are ignoring this by only measuring progress by economic development.

I can see why this would happen though, because right now we equate, subconsciously, upper economic class with white people. We subconsciously think, “how can we get white people back into this neighborhood?” because we see that as a sign of the return of safety and vitality. And this might contain a kernel of truth sometimes, but this mode of thinking is more dangerous because it’s so insidious. This kind of thinking perpetuates the racism that still exists everywhere, the racism that cripples people from being happy about who they are.

Whether it’s The Green Well or Happy’s Pizza that’s a hopping place on a Friday night, we should call it good.

The terrorists could be anyone, from white suburb kids to old angry people. What they’re doing is incredibly wrong and they’re actually sabotaging a valid point with misunderstanding and fear mongering.

Comfort in the Big Box

My transportation class had an interesting discussion about the future of cars in America. I had claimed that Americans are still in love with their cars, and that Sarah Palin has a reality show on TLC, which is an indicator that America isn’t ready for change. At least half of it isn’t.  (Man, are we polarized. Quite a shame.)

My classmate Joel challenged that, saying “It’s not so much a love affair but more of a forced marriage.” I’d agree. I guess you could say that I want to grant annulments to everyone.  I know that the country is very concerned with liberty and freedom, but I plead with them to really look at traffic jams and wonder if that is what freedom means to us. People don’t often consciously make the choice to drive – it’s just a necessary thing, because everything is so spread out.

On another note, this came up in a poem of mine and I’m sure many have thought about it too. Why do we take comfort in finding Targets and Barnes and Nobles in unfamiliar cities?  Quite obvious.  It’s a familiar thing. Our country is so big. It’s no wonder corporations have taken over and we let them. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just that these big boxes are our common places. You feel a sense of normalcy walking into Target. It’s something everyone shares.  They respond to our demands.

I think we all want a home we know by heart.

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.

Google Bike Maps

ow when you look up directions somewhere on Google Maps, you can choose public transit, walking, car, or bicycle directions. This is super nice because it opens up many options for where you can go and how you can get there. I’ve realized because of a bike trail going through an industrial area by my house, I can get to 44th street quite easily. Or I can take residential streets to get to church. I’d never thought of it. I always pictured myself on the busy main streets I drive on, getting honked at by the many cars who can’t share a road (either because it’s too narrow or because they’re not used to it.)

I will try to ride my bike places this spring using this new Google Bike layer, and I will report back to you on it. I already contacted Google, probably along with 38 other GR cyclists, about 28th street and how it’s not a good route for any bike to get anywhere. And my feedback is really vital because I’m not one of those bike snobs who wears the shorts and can handle any element…I don’t even have a road bike but a mountain bike. I do have a basket, however. And things like to bounce out of it.  I am also NOT a chic fashion cyclists like the ones they talk about on chic green websites, the hipster girls who ride old vintage falling-apart bikes everywhere in a dress and huge sunglasses because it looks cool.  I’m just kim. Bikin’ along my Kimscape.

Nothing beats this video introducing the new feature. I love the first part with all the bikes riding past Google headquarters and then this random pedal-powered machine with four guys on it trailing behind. I Laughed Out Loudly.

Here’s ANOTHER vehicle Google has invented: The streetview trike. This will likely get pictures of un-drivable pathways so that streetview can truly be comprehensive. There’d have to be thousands of them to get everything. But Google can do it. They’re creepy that way.

Transportation Options: Bus Rapid Transit in Grand Rapids?

ast year, Grand Rapids voted down the Silver Line. Thankfully, we are getting another chance to get Bus Rapid Transit in our city, something that would save households money (for all you Dave Ramsey worshippers) and revitalize Division Avenue.

We would get federal money for this project, not only for the bus but to revitalize the buildings surrounding it (already in the works!). The dense commercial area will create much more revenue. And this change would affect properties on Division all the way down to 60th Street.

Please Note: this is not a bus in the same sense as The Rapid is a bus system. This thing would go fast. It’d be more like a subway than a bus.

To continue only driving our cars to get around, building cities for cars, and pouring money into cars is a backwards way of thinking. If Michigan really wants to rebuild its economy, it has to move forward and forget its autocentric past.

Vote yes on Bus Rapid Transit. Grand Rapids deserves options for transportation. It’s nice to be able to walk places. It’s nice to read on the bus and not have to find a parking spot. It’s healthier. It’s cheaper. It looks better. It keeps you sane. It’s more efficient. It provides more equal opportunity. Even if you’re Republican. Even if you couldn’t or wouldn’t use it. Please vote yes.

Suburbs Should Not Be Subsidized

ubsidizing suburbs is like subsidizing junk food, cigarettes, and bad movies. I don’t know why I threw in bad movies. But it works for me.

Some people want houses, yards, and driveways. People want easy access for cars. People don’t want to be friends with their neighbors. These people don’t need community in their neighborhoods, because, bluntly, they have Facebook. There are legitimate reasons for all of this and they are completely free to live how they want.

But these rights should never have imposed on the cities. Detroit is a mess because it’s spliced up by highways. The one highway cutting through Grand Rapids has ruined its surrounding neighborhoods. Who wants to be right next to a highway? Half the buildings in Grand Rapids, now, are parking garages. Boring wastes of space, still better than flat parking lots, mind you, but still boring and generating no revenue. Once a city is built for a car the city dies. Except LA. But LA has some weird mystical gods protecting it.  Cities, in general, are not meant for cars. They are meant for people.

And these rights shouldn’t impose economically on everyone else who chooses to live differently. Complaining about taxes? A lot of our tax money goes to supporting suburban developments, because the infrastructure of them is so spread out and inefficient that it costs more to build and keep homes and establishments in that way.

Before we even think about New Urbanism and bike lanes, we need to face the fact that our set-up here is unfair and silly. You are free to make choices that negatively affect other people, such as smoking in their presence, but it’s taking freedom a little too far when everyone has to pay money out of their pocket so that those choices, the ones that NEGATIVELY effect other people, are still possible. We have got to stop this now. Let’s have true free market here and stop holding up places that would fail otherwise. (Because a Logan’s Roadhouse in the middle of nowhere does not make any sense.) Let’s let them fail. Let’s build a new home for ourselves.

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?