How your city makes you look like a fool

You would probably rather hear that your life was determined by greedy corporations, your status anxiety, or even your genes, than what I am about to say it’s controlled by. I am afraid you are nothing but a bit-part player in a traffic engineers’ vision, and a town planners’ vision. Two visions. Both of them utopian. But worse than that they’re outdated, conflicting, and bad for your image, Teddy Boy.

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In fact I would go as far as to say that in terms of your image you might as well put all of your pension into weapons manufacturing, go on holidays with the sole aim of putting photos on facebook, then make sexual advances toward all your good looking interns. Some will say, “ah what the heck,” that you’re at least bad ass, as some already say of Lance Armstrong. That can’t be as bad for your image as the city you live in, controlled as it is by road engineers and town planners. If you think of your built environment as your outer most layer of clothing, you’re wearing one of Bert and Ernie’s striped jumpers and Walt Disney’s costume department have put a Tomorrowland fishbowl on your head. Your city makes you look like a fool.

How cool do you think you look in your car, choosing places to shop that were only ever built because of the highway, and places to live that were planned around off-ramps, when this whole way of life was inspired by the cheesiest Utopian vision in history? Walt Disney wasn’t the first one who plugged it. General Motors had their Futurama exhibition at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, and before that Frank Lloyd Wright had his Broadacre City.

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Wright knew there would be a shit load of travel involved if every American had their own acre. But he had that base covered, with a penis-and-scrotum shaped car of his own design. As for our bosses, he designed them all space ships! Recently I heard the state government road engineer for my region ask some bicycling advocates why they were bothering campaigning for bike infrastructure when pretty soon all of us might well be flying to work. All I could think of were the billions in public  funds that cretins like this are in charge of—cretins who believe what they saw on the Jetsons.

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Town planners can feel smug that their utopian vision doesn’t come from cartoons. They got their utopian vision from Sesame Street—the Children’s television version of Jane Jacobs’s theories. In nineteenth-century districts with a mix of old and new building stock, and absolutely no zoning, Oscar and Big Bird and Mr Hooper, and you and I, would all get along and be colour blind—that is until the gentry wanted back in, as they since have. Now a pied-à-terre in one of those parts of town can cost a working person the whole of their salary for the next twenty years. Jacobs’s vision has supply-and-demand issues. What you need, Teddy Boy, is a vision of your own making.

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To my mind, that would entail you devising a Utopian vision, and overlaying it upon the city you live in, the city you move to, or the city you build from scratch. You have a few options: intensional communities on hand-me-down sites (think Christiania or Red Hook in Brooklyn); rebadging a district that is so banal that it provides your cronies and you a blank slate (build a presence in a suburb where the grandmas are dying); or how about a more subtle approach:

The town planners’ vision that they got from Jacobs and Big Bird, as well as the road engineers’ vision that they got from the Jetsons and General Motors, both seek to be imposed everywhere, which is why town planners and engineers are constantly fighting. What would happen if a third utopian, totalising vision, jumped into the ring and fought both?

2 Comments

  1. brianingreenvillenc says:

    Stop — I think I’ve heard this one before.

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