Newly built urban places leave a lot to be desired, according to this article in Governing.
It is no longer news that more than half of the world’s population now lives in places that can be classified as “urban.” The village and the isolated farm increasingly are things of the past. The massive urbanization of Asian countries, China in particular, stands out for its pace and sweeping nature.
It’s also true that not only has the world urbanized but that urbanity itself has risen in stature. People have returned to urban living. In books, television and movies, it’s seen as a place of attainment, where things are happening. The older parts of many cities, once abandoned, have revived with new dwellers and businesses, like dry plants blooming with much needed water.
But moving past the revived and renovated, where are the great new urban places? If we are urbanizing so quickly as a planet, where are the new streets and districts that pulse with activity and character?
Before writing this, I asked a lot of smart, well-traveled colleagues if any of them could name a great new urban place in the classic sense. They couldn’t.
When it comes to our ideals, Jacobs won, at least in our mind’s eye of what a real city is or should be like. We mostly follow, or try to follow, her rules for redeveloping an existing city or town. No one wants to tear down the classic streets and buildings of Paris and replace them with towers in the park, as the late Swiss architect Le Corbusier so famously planned. But Le Corbusier, Jacobs’ nemesis, has won in the newly urbanizing world, which I’m not sure has been recognized.
Does this matter? On a practical level, it should matter to a mayor, city manager or council member. When a consultant comes in talking about helping a city create a new urban place or center, leaders need to know that he’s usually not talking about creating public life on public streets, but rather faux-urban shopping malls.
Surveying the newly urbanized world, Le Corbusier would have been proud. Although Jacobs beat him in the academy, he seems to have won on, well, the street. Or what used to be the street.