Ideally our cities become exciting, sexy, and profitable places to live, play, and work – that’s the most important part. When people have no investment in the places they play or work or live, they act accordingly. – David Byrne
I plucked this David Byrne quote from the recent Momentum issue. If you are not familiar with Momentum, a magazine about urban cycling, check it out. It improves with every issue and is a good barometer of positive change in our cities.
In general David Byrne is not known for his use of words like “investment” and “profitable.” We have written about his interests before. He has been an urban bicyclist long enough to realize that the change we need in our cities requires all of us to think a little differently. There are complicated issues like density, taxes, aesthetics, and policies that need the support of constituencies. How do we make cities friendlier to businesses that ensure a healthy tax basis? Can we get car commuters to cover the real costs of their use of city streets and parking spaces? How do we undo over fifty years of deterioration of sidewalks and public spaces? Or make all parts of the city safe and productive places for their residents? Harvard Professor and author Edward Glaeser offers some solutions.
Compared to many cities around the world, we have a general lack of civic connectedness in the United States. The reasons for this are not particularly mysterious. The way many of us move through our cities is by car. Cars are by their nature isolating private spaces that shield us from the realities (both positive and negative) of our urban environment. For instance, ghettos are often easy to quickly drive through or around. Cars keep us from making eye contact with our neighbors and noticing the little details of our immediate surroundings. Yes, New York is an exception – nearly everyone there gets a pedestrian-eye-view of their surroundings, and as a result (I think) the inhabitants are fiercely proud (even defensive) of their city and its neighborhoods. Walking and bicycling heightens awareness and invites specificity.
A recent book by Harvard Professor Edward Glaeser, Triumph of the City discusses the development of the modern city and its relevance with a fresh and unique perspective. Perhaps you saw him interviewed on the Daily Show. The very definition of cities is discussed.
“Cities are the absence of physical space between people and companies. They are proximity, density, closeness. They enable us to work and play together, and their success depends on the demand for physical connection.” – Edward Glaeser.
Provocative chapters, like “What’s Good About Slums” and “Is There Anything Greener Than Blacktop” challenge our basic assumptions about environmental policies. The cities profiled include all continents and range from Rio de Janeiro to Bangalore to Atlanta to Milan. This is a rich fast paced read that celebrates the value of human capital, which is what ultimately makes a city great.