Monday, July 9, 2012

NPR Asks, "Do You Live in a City?"

Defining exactly what "city" means, is a notoriously difficult task.  It can mean different things to different people particularly within differing contexts.  Those statistics that x% of Americans now live in urbanized areas?  Yeah, that also means sprawling 6 people per acre development where it counts as "urban" if the majority of the land has been converted into something other than native or agricultural production.  Urban, in the sense of efficient machine for transmission of social and economic exchange, it isn't.  For example, the very existence of minimum parking codes is indicative of a poor and inefficient (and largely unnatural) land use arrangement, as well as preventative of true urbanism.

However, NPR decided to simplify the question with a fun little interactive game:

Interestingly and tellingly, both the woman and I, who use two different means of transpo depending upon the day, arrived at two wholly different answers.  She drives or trains from downtown to her place of employment where I generally either walk or bike.  Predictably, her driving answer led to a definite "NO, you don't live in a city."  Whereas when she rides the train, yes, indeed she does live in a city (if you consider the TRE to be a subway."  This little game doesn't handle nuance well.

As for me, when I bike to work and because I have animals (odd correlation?) and don't live near a retail power center and live within short walking distance of about 4 starbucks off the top of my head (downtown and all), yes, I live in a city.

But when I follow the walking path and don't see many other people walking about on my walk (aside from Main Street, which my walk doesn't intersect), then No, I probably don't live in a city.

Our two contrasting answers is rather indicative of the place in the world, Dallas currently finds itself.  Not really sure what proverbial road it wants to take, but nonetheless having change forced upon them.  The indecision (betting on both horses -- walkable and drivable) has led to this interstitial purgatory, where even if you're fortunate enough to live within one of the walkable bubbles, you're largely trapped within that place.

It's fiscally irresponsible while at the same time self-defeating to build the infrastructure to maximize both car comfort and the other forms of transport, pejoratively referred to as "alternative," as if it is somehow a lifestyle choice of rogue counter-culturalists.  Which, in actuality, it is.  Because what we perceive as "choice of the market" is really foisted upon us as appeasing the car's need for lebensraum squelches the ability of other forms to actually be useful, comfortable, or safe.  Therefore, we don't choose them.  The will of the invisible hand, always controlled by an invisible arm of government.

Because of the various arbitrary and generic codes, policies, highway bills, and formulaic approach to traffic planning, the prevailing norm is anti-city. Meanwhile, actual city is still trying to bubble up from the bottom as the top down policies and mandates actively try to plug those "leaks."  And there we are, in purgatory.  Somewhere between Heaven and Here.  With little confidence, we can only hope the right path is taken from here on out.