Paving Over Our Own Habitat

I love this line from The Boulevard Book:

“We became aware that the boulevard epitomizes a completely different paradigm for urban street design–one that embraces complexity and coexistence of movement over simplicity and separation, and one that insists that access to abutting uses is as central to the functionality of city streets as swift through movement.”

That’s why I’m learning how to draw and diving into design and trying to do this the right way. I sometimes give up on things because they’re too hard. But it’s usually the most complex of tasks, the things we work hardest on that make us happiest. It’s correlation, not causation, because who would work so hard on something they didn’t love?

It’s easy to drive down 28th Street or US-131. It’s also easy to speed and get into an accident. It’s also easy to ignore the landscape, the backdrop to your everyday existence, the people in that landscape who are your neighbors. It’s probably easier to plan areas for cars because there’s no resistance against that anymore. But that doesn’t mean it’s right.

I bet my science degree friends would agree that everything about the created world is incredibly complex, that the more we study it the more mysteries we find. A city is equally complex. We study how it works but there are still many mysteries. It has a life of its own, and it’s not under our control. Creating banal, boring places for cars with ugly stores and endless parking lots simplifies and paves over the life of our cities. We lament when a shopping mall gets built over a thriving marsh, but we’re part of that natural system we say we’ve escaped from. We’ve destroyed habitat: our own habitat.

Gran Torino Illustrates Good Neighborship

I finally saw Gran Torino last weekend, after refusing to see it in Chicago with my friends. I never had any idea what it was about.


Aside from the fake-sounding dialogue and the way-too-blunt Christ-figure scene, I enjoyed its message. I enjoyed Clint’s character, too. He is incredibly racist but good to his neighbors by accident. His kids encourage him to move to a “community” but he wants to stay in his crumbling neighborhood, which his kids call the ghetto. When there’s trouble at the Hmong house next door, he comes out with a gun and intimidates the gangsters away. He has the teenager next door work for him. He sits on his porch and watches the neighborhood, ready to interfere when something goes wrong. He puts the public eye back into neighborhoods and respect back into the youngsters. And all of it was either forced on him or by accident.

Maybe Clint wanted to achieve this inherent sense of community in Walt. People that age remember what it was like to be a part of a neighborhood. The baby boomers simply want to get as far away as possible from intense problems that community has to deal with. We call the police when neighbors are too loud instead of talking to them ourselves. We turn inward, live passive aggressively, and repress.

With the climax scene, it becomes apparent that the best way to put criminals in jail is to provide witnesses to their crimes. This involves actually being around. Sticking your head out the window when you hear raised voices.

Jane Jacobs would be so proud of Walt from Gran Torino. In even the broken neighborhood featured in this movie, the people who live in it salvage a livable life.