9.21.2007

A 3-D City

Here's a great blurb from a recent publication of Neighborhoods Now
(formerly known as the Philadelphia Neighborhood Development
Collaborative):

"While the character of many Philadelphia neighborhoods has been
defined by their human scale, historic architecture, and unique
neighborhood identity - former in an age when residents lived, worked,
learned, and played within community borders - these same qualities
have been most vulnerable to the changing circumstances of the region
and the lifestyles of its residents."

Put another way, are cities obsolete? Are they a 20th century
construct, when blue collar workers walked to factory jobs along urban
corridors and shoppers flocked to retail clustered around transit
stops; but hopelessly useless now that we use cars and highways to
office parks and power centers?

Fear not, city lovers; the urban space still can have three draws for
residents, workers, and shoppers:

1) Density - close clustering enables the talent density required for
universities, hospitals, and cultural venues, as well as the transit
infrastructure needed to move people to and from such places.

2) Design - reclaiming that historic architecture can lend a place the
authenticity and uniqueness that simply cannot be recreated in a newly
developed suburb, and "place-making" is a draw that is hard-wired into
us as humans.

3) Depth - there is a richness to urban life that comes from human
interaction at the street level, whether casually at a sidewalk cafe
or professionally in any number of planned and unplanned meet-ups with
other like-minded citizens.

So there you have it: a 3-D approach to making cities relevant. At
least here in the US, with our frontier mentality embedded into our
national psyche, it's not likely we'll retrench from our far-flung
suburbs and all move back to cities. But neither is it necessary for
cities to completely hollow out, for, when they offer the 3 D's, they
become a powerful draw for people to live, work, and play.

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