That’s the title of a long and thought-provoking article at National Geographic. The problem with the article, as I see it, is that it prescribes to city-dwellers what they need, what they should want, whether or not they really want it. It relies on official policy rather than public demand. Here’s a brief excerpt to illustrate my point.
“The problem with urban environments that are auto oriented,” [Calthorpe] said, as we wound our way toward the Bay Bridge, “is that if there’s no choice, if the only way to get around is in a car, lo and behold, people are going to use cars too much. Too much for the climate, too much for people’s pocketbooks, too much for the community in terms of congestion, too much for people’s time. I mean, every way you measure it, it has a negative—no walking is a prescription for obesity. Air quality feeds into respiratory illnesses.”
In Calthorpe’s utopia, in China or America or elsewhere, cities would stop expanding so voraciously, paving over the nature around them; instead they’d find better ways of letting nature into their cores, where it can touch people. They’d grow in dense clusters and small, walkable blocks around a web of rapid transit. These cities of the future would mix things up again: They’d no longer segregate work from home and shopping, as sprawl does now, forcing people into cars to navigate all three; they’d no longer segregate rich from poor, old from young, and white from black, as sprawl does, especially in the United States. Driving less, paving less, city dwellers would heat the air and the planet around them less. That would slow the climate change that threatens, in this century, to make some cities unlivable.
To do all this, in Calthorpe’s view, you don’t really need architectural eye candy or Jetsons technology—although a bit of that can help. You need above all to fix the mistakes and misconceptions of the recent past.
. . .
In 2016 the [Chinese] Communist Party Central Committee and the State Council, the highest organs of the state, issued a decree: From now on Chinese cities were to preserve farmland and their own heritage; have smaller, unfenced blocks and narrower, pedestrian-friendly streets; develop around public transit; and so on. In 2017 the guidelines were translated into a manual for Chinese planners called Emerald Cities. Calthorpe Associates wrote most of it.
There’s more at the link.
You see? Calthorpe’s prescription might be made to work in China, where the state controls everything and private citizens have little or no choice in the matter. However, we live in the United States, where individuals assert their freedom and independence from authority. How are you going to persuade them to give up that freedom and independence, and submit to greater regimentation of society by the “experts”? Aren’t “experts” the ones who got us into our present urban sprawl mess in the first place?
I distrust any proposal that requires me to surrender my individual liberties, freedoms, rights, etc. in the name of solving society’s problems. America was built around the individual, not the group. This sort of article focuses almost exclusively on the group, the community as a whole, and expects its individual members to co-operate. What if they don’t want to? What if some of them prefer a different approach? Under such plans, they lose. They’ll be forced to comply, whether they want to or not, because their alternatives will be legislated or regulated out of existence. That’s the road that leads to totalitarianism – Big Brother writ large.
I highly recommend reading the article in full, because it makes a very good case for solutions to our present urban problems: but I also recommend finding alternatives to the solutions it proposes, ones that safeguard our freedoms as well as improving our quality of life.