Monday, September 14, 2009

Cities of Dreams

David Byrne of the Talking Heads writes in the Wall Street Journal about what makes cities great, livable, to him. He has a number of points and gets all bullet-pointy with them, none of which I can disagree with, but in the interest of not ripping off the entire list, I'll post my favorite lines:

Echoing points I've made about skyscrapers and "business districts":
Scale is important. In London people hang out in Soho, Covent Garden, Mayfair and other areas of mostly low buildings packed closely together. The City (their financial district), like the downtown in many American cities, is full of tall offices and it empties out at night. It isn't that bustling in the daytime either.
And Parking:
Parking lots and structures are dead real estate—they bring no life into a city and I'd be happy if there were a lot fewer of them in New York. It would be a pain in the neck for a lot of drivers, but unless they can be hidden underground, as they are often in Japan, lots and parking structures are simply dead zones, which hurt the businesses around them. In Japan parking structures are skinny, no wider than a large car, and a robotic system files the cars away. The Italian cities of Florence, Modena, Ferrara, where parking is pretty much relegated to the fringes of the town, are vibrant, though their appeal to pedestrians has turned some of them into tourist hubs.
Or haven't written about, but thought, whilst in Manhattan myself:
Park Avenue, Manhattan's widest boulevard, doesn't cut it. The green in the middle is lovely but inaccessible, and the endless sameness of giant apartment or office buildings with little else to break the rhythm inspires the eye and mind to glaze over.
Oh, and Dallas gets a special mention in the intro:
In Dallas livability might mean that you live near an expressway that isn't jammed up, at least not all the time, and your car runs most days.
Is this how we want to be known? B/c if you haven't been paying attention, the world will be seeing a whole lot of Dallas, er, DFW in the near future, with the Super Bowl, the NBA all-star weekend, and the NCAA Final Four, all headed to the most urban of places, the Jones' Starship, Arlington.

To wit, most people will stay in Dallas, and some in Fort Worth, since it will be closer, and visitors can get that disnified ol' west texan thing on, if they so desire. And, Arlington, the largest city in the country without mass transit, will be forced to spend millions on shuttle services for weekend events.

After which, all will write or speak of how gawd awful Arlington was, and reignite the argument that Super Bowls should only ever be held in more interesting places, like Miami, New Orleans, Pasadena, or San Diego, but what will they say about Dallas?

Will they echo Mr. Byrne and exclaim, "phew, that Dallas sure was great, there were NO traffic backups on the freeway. I can't wait to come back and bring the whole fam' next time!"

Time be a tickin'... Will we work to make it livable, or focus all of our energies and dollars on the superficial and the temporary?