Monday, June 1, 2009

The Nature of Cities

A nice post about Paul McKee's plan for the North side from Robert Powers at the Built St. Louis blog. An excerpt:

Anybody who's studied their Jane Jacobs—or taken a stroll down a functioning urban street like Delmar Avenue or Cherokee Street—knows that the best city environments are highly complex and largely organic. They grow and thrive much like a living creature. Small cells appear—businesses, houses, apartment buildings. They divide, they grow, they endure, and each adds its complexity to the whole, creating something greater than the mere sum of its parts. These small parts are crafted at the scale of human beings, and they create lovely, pleasant, desirable places to live. Just as a complex ecology resists being wiped out by a catastrophe, so too is a complex city resistant to the vagaries of economy, fashion, and time.

So why does this project need to be so huge? Why does it need to happen all at once? We need to ask such questions, because such a vast scale implies a monoculture, and it implies a broad brush, and it implies a non-human scale, and it implies sledgehammer solutions to problems that require a scalpel.

In fact, it sounds a lot like old-style mid-century urban renewal—the kind that wiped out big swaths of Soulard, that nearly claimed Lafayette Square, that obliterated the Mill Creek Valley, that gave us phenomenal successes like Darst-Webbe and Pruitt-Igoe. The kind we're still cleaning up from over fifty years later.

To insist that redevelopment can only be done on a vast scale shows a profound lack of understanding of the nature of cities.

1 comment:

vdruhe said...

Frank, thank you so much! I'm going to send this on to a listserve of neighborhood folks who are tracking McKee. I think it's very useful for us. Keep well!