The Role of Government in Building Cities
[Excerpt From Chapter Six]
In 1817, the governor of New York convinced the state legislature to spend $7 million to finance a canal from Albany to Buffalo. Eight years later, after thousands of workers had carved a channel through rock and earth, the Erie Canal was complete. The 350-mile canal opened the entire upper Midwest to shipping, and cemented New York City’s role as transportation hub for the nation, and as the country’s greatest city.
[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.
[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.
Taming the Forces That Create the Modern Metropolitan Area
[Excerpt From Chapter Seven ]
Let’s take a drive out of Portland, past the suburbs and the highways and the new homes, out past the growth boundary. You’ll find your journey a pleasant one. You’ll drive over rolling hills of farms and forests, until you come to small towns, sitting compactly in the countryside. These small towns, like Yamhill, Dundee, or Forest Grove, will be surrounded by new development that hugs the existing town. You will not be greeted by the usual display of scattered subdivisions, Pizza Huts, and strip centers that now rings most smaller towns in the country. Because of this, the downtowns of these smaller towns are more viable and alive than most.
Community at the Millennium
[Excerpt From Chapter Eight]
“Another question: what is a community at the end of the 20th century? A focus group, a concentration camp, a chat room on the Internet, an address book, a dance club, all those afflicted with a particular incurable disease, a gender, an age bracket, a waiting room, owners of silver BMW’s, organized crime, everyone who swears by a particular brand of painkiller and a two-block stretch of Manhattan on any weekday at lunch hour.”
–Herbert Muschamp, from “The Miracle in Bilbao,” New York Times Magazine, September 7, 1997.
An Anachronism Finds Its Way
[Excerpt From Chapter Five]
The Star restaurant it was called. It sold “Chops, Steaks and Seafood.” It was the kind of small Greek coffee shop that used to abound in Manhattan, but has been dwindling even there. Here, it stood out as a leftover from a bygone world.
The shop sat on Thirty-seventh Avenue, the principal shopping street of Jackson Heights. The street was a swirl of color and activity. Colombians on their way to Ecuadorean restaurants to eat yucca or ropa vieja. Koreans and other Asians came out of small stores selling herbs and spices. Indian women walked by wearing scarfs and other components of traditional dress. The street was a river of life, bustling with people and commerce.
Getting There: Building Healthy Cities
[Excerpt From Chapter Nine]
Of all the public decisions that go into place-making, the most important is what type of transportation systems to use. They will determine the character of the city and much of its economy. Do we pave roads or lay down tracks? Do we fund buses or subsidize cars? Do we lay down bike paths or more highway lanes? Do we build airports or high-speed train lines?
What is transportation for? That’s the essential question Lewis Mumford asked forty years ago.
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.
[Excerpt From The Introduction]
Children are supposed to turn to their parents at some point and ask innocently, “Daddy [or Mommy], where do babies come from?” Faced with such a basic question, parents then decide how directly to answer it.
I doubt any child has turned to anyone and asked plaintively, “Daddy, where do places come from?” Or, “Daddy, where do cities come from?” But it is these questions that I hope people are asking, even if not consciously, and which I seek to answer in this book.
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