The Native Tourist
reformed/biblical observations on Christianity and culture

Wednesday, June 09, 2004
The Limits of City Planning

By now many of you know about my article on Richard Florida and the Rise of the Creative Class (it is being discussed at GideonStrauss.com). It infaces with many issues of city planning, which is an interest of mine.

I regularly read David Sucher's CityComforts blog. Lately he has been (page by page) posting the intro of the new edition of his book. He says in part:

"The work of Christopher Alexander was inspirational. In an essay, “Cities as a Mechanism for Sustaining Human Contact,” he says that people come together in cities not only for the traditional reasons of trade, politics, and security, but because cities allow people the chance to increase their human closeness. The way to measure the success of a city, he says, is by how well it fosters and encourages human communication."

This sounds really, really good. I love cities and neighborhoods with a vibrant street scene. And are aesthetic. But to what extent can this be created by city planners?

Eric Jacobsen (author of Sidewalks in the Kingdom) laments that Seaside, Florida, the poster child of the New Urbanist movement, fails to function as it was intended. He observes that even though every single house in Seaside has a front porch, the residents rarely use them. The community/communication that "ought" to be promoted by such design features does not come into fruition. Why? The residents prefer to stay indoors (to take advantage of air conditioning), to watch tv or they use back porches for more privacy. In short most of the residents of Seaside choose to live what amounts to a suburban lifestyle even though they live in a ideal "urban village".

Ethnic groups that value social interaction will do so even when the physical structure of the environment works against it. The bottom line is that most Americans want to be left alone.