GrendelFish (gfish) wrote,

Urbanist thoughts

This is a weird time to be a dedicated urbanist. Cities are popular again -- everyone is finally acknowledging what I always knew to be right! Real development is happening in them again, with a focus on walkable, liveable neighborhoods. That's great... except for how it is pushing out all the diversity which made the cities interesting in the first place. The new construction is all so bland and safe and boring, and every few days we lose another neat old building to it just here in Seattle alone. I know I will never have the cool shop I've always wanted, in some old brick industrial building. They're all condos already.

I don't see any way around it, unfortunately. We failed to invest in cities for the entire second half of the 20th century in this country, during which the population more than doubled. They have a huge technical debt which will take decades to pay off. Even if there was some way to stop it (if you know how to reliably, easily subvert market forces on this scale, please let me know!), it would just mean continuing to throw resources in the cultural, environmental, psychic pit that is the American suburb at the expense of cities. No thanks.

Eventually, hopefully, we'll get back to balanced cities which have enough housing for everyone, with strong transit systems that help the poor instead of gentrifying them out into the exurbs. The current overwhelming sameness of the new construction will fade as things age and get remodeled. We'll end up with a healthy blend of buildings in various states of disrepair, supporting a wide range of uses like Jane Jacobs talked about. For much of my life, cities were seen as mostly for poor people. Now suddenly they're only for rich people. But both of those are anomalous on the scale of human history. Cities used to be for everyone, and I see no reason they can't be once again.

But it does really kind of suck right now, and likely will continue to for at least the next 20 years.

ETA: This was partly inspired by reading Happy City, and partly as a reminder to myself to walk the walk. The University District in Seattle is about to be considerably upzoned, since the light rail station will be open in a few years and students don't form NIMBY coalitions. Which is great -- creating a second area of truly dense urban living in the city is huge. But it'll inevitably destroy the squalid charm of the Ave, which I unironically love. There is also a good chance it will push away two of my favorite retail establishments of all time, Hardwick's Hardware and Thai Tom's. I can't help but feel conflicted, so I need to focus on the big picture.
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