January 21, 2014

The Chapters of ‘Happy City’ – 12

Selected quotes from each chapter in Charles Montgomery’s new book – Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.  happy-city

Today: ‘Retrofitting sprawl.’

“Cities have been blown out of proportion, as though we were designing them for giants.  What we were doing, of course, was designing for the scale of cars.  Now we are returning cities to a human scale.  We are returning the balance of life to neighbourhoods.” – Galina Tachieva

True repair addresses the systemic problems of sprawl.  By mixing shopping, services, and public space with housing, it allows people to escape the bonds of their seat belts and walk if they wish.  It creates a critical demand for transit, and comfortable places to wait for it.  It links streets to surrounding networks, making walking easier and extending tendrils of easier living, good health, sociability, and connectivity.

The problem is that most sprawl has already been sold, zoned, and occupied, locking the existing system of land use into place.  … “However neutral the language is (of codes), however neutral the metrics, however fair it seems to be, the outcome it has in mind is sprawl.”

The greatest problem facing anyone who would repair sprawl remains the godlike power of code.  Code is to the city what an operating system is to a computer.  It is invisible, but it is in charge.

Even when communities and decision makers agree that the old sprawl patterns are not sustainable, the dispersal system can rumble on a like a runaway truck, propelled by the momentum of a century of rules, guidelines, and state-mandated community plans.

… the dispersed city that the Tea Partiers defend so passionately is, itself, a product of centralized control and legislation.

Cities have always expressed a tension between individual property rights and common benefits.  But the Tea Party urbanists take a dangerously narrow view of liberty.  Surely a city of true freedom would provide maximum choice about where and how to live.

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