Thursday, April 7, 2011

Before/After, After/Before

David Brussat is the architecture critic in Providence, Rhode Island which is, like many other cities, having a brief moment of clarity (only to be quickly washed away with the enormity of the effort required), strapped for tax base, are finally realizing the enormity of the mistake that inner-city freeways.


You decide which is which (before:after::after:before), which is also a fitting analogy for the democratic process that may or may not drive American city building depending upon your daily level of cynicism. We choose market driven inertia because the freeways made for car-dependent suburban and exurban living, now that we're in that climax condition of freeway-oriented (anti-)city, we can't possibly imagine anything but.

Notice the way development retreats from next to a freeway, like Neo fighting off the cloning of Agent Smith:

In cities, density is directly related to desirability. Desirability = land value. If a place is desirable, lots of people want to live there, businesses want to cluster up against things, and as long as they remain desirable, attractive and safe for people, it will retain its value. Put a highway in and every one and every thing scatters like cockroaches when the lights go on. And all we're left with is cockroaches willing to live there... and rats and pigeons. Well, maybe not since they feed off the output of human activity.

Or do we choose fiscally-driven logic leading us to rethink the reasons we have these freeways through Dallas and what they're really adding to this city versus those municipalities immediately outside Dallas's boundaries and those further afield?

It is important to remember that city's evolve over generations. To a city, if we are anthropomorphizing here, treats each generation like we do a new day. To change so rapidly and thoroughly, as American cities, particularly in the Sun Belt (because they weren't always this way -- remember Dallas was a streetcar city with 200+ miles of streetcar lines), it took tremendous amounts of leadership, political will, and cash money to build intra-city freeways.

The only thing permanent about cities, or at least as permanent as people are on the earth, is...drumroll...people! Therefore, the city, the hum of activity, must be prioritized and engineered around the scale of a person. Sure, other forms of transportation can and MUST exist, but they all must be balanced in proportion and without harming the core fabric of the city. These other forms of transportation include the full spectrum from local to international (planes). The resilient city is a connected city, but too many of our connections are designed to abruptly destroy the most important connections, the easiest ones to make, the walk across the street.