Friday, June 11, 2004

New Urbanism

Definitely worth reading and contemplating: Eric Jacobsen's article Lawless Prophet: James Howard Kunstler and the New Urbanist Critique of American Sprawl. An excerpt:

Before the Second World War, there were no retirement homes because a person could fully participate in our society without the necessity of operating an automobile. In most neighbourhoods, grocery stores, laundromats, barbers, and coffee shops were all within walking distance of homes. There were no "soccer moms" because ball fields were distributed among the neighbourhoods of a community, and kids could walk to them. Public spaces (parks, plazas, squares, and sidewalks) used to have priority in commercial and residential developments and gave a sense of harmony and order to distinct areas. Young and old used to enjoy informal contact in non-commercial public spaces because there were interesting places to walk and sidewalks upon which they could walk.

We've forgotten these things because we have spared no expense and made every allowance for the automobile and its seductive promise of mobility, power, and freedom. We've seen the promise of auto utopia unravel before us in the form of an endless sprawl of tract home developments, mega stores, and subdivisions. But we've been at a loss as to how to escape this decline because we have forgotten so much about how we used to build community on a human scale. We've settled for a kind of resigned acceptance of this dismal trajectory.

* * *

[Quote from Kunstler:]

Anybody who travels back and forth across the Atlantic has to be impressed with the difference between European cities and ours, which make it appear as though World War Two actually took place in Detroit and Washington rather than Berlin and Rotterdam. We barely endure the endless gridlock of suburbia, and wonder what is so deeply unfulfilling about the American dream. And having thrown away much of the past to attain it, our disconnection from other elements of human culture is nearly complete. (Home From Nowhere, 73)


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