The Computer And The City

Written in 1995
by Alex Marshall

When the computerized letter sorter at the central post office in Washington, D.C., can’t read the handwriting on an envelope, it flips it into a slot where a live person can look at it.

A person in Greensboro, North Carolina. There, the worker sees an image of the letter on a small computer screen, reads the address, and types it into the computer. Back in Washington, a printer spits out a thin black bar code across the bottom of the envelope-which routes the letter to its destination.

The facility in Greensboro is one of the remote encoding centers that the Post Office is setting up around the country. In these facilities, rows of workers will help computers in other parts of the country route letters.

Urban Renewal in Norfolk

What Was Lost: A lot.
What Was Gained: Not Much.

BY ALEX MARSHALL
Tuesday, August 10, 1999

The 1950s was about new stuff, not old stuff. The United States had spent two decades postponing consumption as it fought the Great Depression and then World War II. It was ready for new cars, houses, roads and ways of doing things. With a vengeance.

It was in this spirit that from 1949 into the early 1960s, Norfolk proceeded to tear down most of the buildings and streets built over the previous 275 years. A city founded in 1680 was left with little built before 1900. Cities around the country followed its example.

Building New Urbanism: Less Filling, But Not So Tasty

This Article first appeared in Builder Magazine
NOV. 30, 1999
BY ALEX MARSHALL

The old commercials for Lite beer by Miller which were once so popular gained their fame by having ex-jocks and other assorted celebrities stand at a bar, hold up a glass of amber-colored liquid, and repeat the slogan: “Tastes great, less filling.”

The advertising pitch worked for a while, but as any beer lover could tell you, all the “lite” beers were a pretty thin, tepid brew. The designer beers, which actually did taste great, but were also filling, shoved a lot of them out of the marketplace.

Trading Places

The City and the Suburb

[Excerpt From Chapter Four]

“The sloughed-off environment becomes a work of art in the new invisible environment.”
— Marshall McLuhan in a conversation with William Irwin Thompson; quoted in Thompson, Coming into Being

“The bloodthirsty national merchants and the Chamber of Commerce have pretty well gutted the place I remember and taken and hucked the town’s original character into the overall commercial park. The center of town, which when I was a kid hadn’t changed much in the century, and was pleasingly timeworn and functional, has now either been torn down or renovated for artificial preservation as an example of itself.”
— description of Lexington, Kentucky, from Richard Hell’s autobiographical novel, Go Now2

The Deconstructed City – The Silicon Valley

[Excerpt From Chapter Three ]

Urbanism and Underwear

Anne (not her real name) had worked at the small used bookstore in Menlo Park since 1967. During this time, she watched the downtown change around her. It used to be a place where the city’s politicians came to meet, a place where the average person came to buy a television, some furniture, or some shampoo. Downtown was the area’s commercial, political, and economic center. Then, hard times hit. The furniture and appliance stores closed or moved out to the malls. McDonald’s out on the highway replaced the everyday restaurants on Main Street.

The End of Place

[Excerpt From Chapter Two]

The Nature of Place

Before the car, or more particularly before the highway, the essential challenge of cities was to keep everything from being in the same place. The city was centripetal. Like a black hole, the nature of a city or town was to suck everything to one point. People needed to be near the railroad, the port, the factory to get to their jobs, and factories needed to be near the people and transportation links. This was why reformers championed public parks. Called the lungs of the cities, they were spots of greenery in the tightly packed clumps of buildings and streets. And it took real community effort to put them there. Valuable and scarce land, which could have been converted into homes and businesses, had to be set aside by the public. The tendency of the pre-automobile city to suck people to specific points only intensified with the transportation advances of the nineteenth century, which drew people, machinery, businesses, and money toward the subway stop, the streetcar stop, the railroad terminal.

A Tale of Two Towns

Kissimmee versus Celebration and the New Urbanism
[Excerpt From Chapter One]

“When you’re building your own creation,
Nothing’s better than real than a real imitation.”
-Lyrics from the song “Frankenstein,” by Aimee Mann

On the edge of two lakes about twenty miles south of Orlando are two small southern Florida towns. Both have old-fashioned main streets, with stores, restaurants, and a movie theater that open onto their sidewalks. Both have old-fashioned homes with front porches set on streets which lead into their downtowns. Both have parks that wrap around their lakes, where you can stroll and take in a sunrise or the night air. They both lie off a road called U.S. 192, and are just a few miles from each other.