January 22, 2014

The Chapters of ‘Happy City’ – 13

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

The last chapters: ‘Save Your City, Save Yourself’ and ‘Epilogue’

Who has the right to shape the city?  The French philosopher Henri Lefebvre once offered a straightforward answer.  This right is not something that can be bequeathed by the state.  It is not an accident of ethnicity or nationality or birthplace.  It is earned through the act of habitation.

… that great irony of the American city: a nation that celebrates freedom and weaves liberty into its national myth rarely gives regular people the chance to shape their own communities. … Scant few neighbourhoods in North America feature places that draw people together regularly for anything other than buying stuff.

We have been seduced by the wrong technologies.  We gave up true freedom for the illusory promise of speed.  We valued status over relationships.  We tried to stamp out complexity instead of harnessing it.  We let powerful people organize buildings, work, home, and transportation systems around too simplistic a view of geography and of life itself.

This is the truth that shines over the journey toward the happy city.  We do not need to wait for someone else to make it.  We build it when we move a little bit closer.  We build it when we choose to move a little slower.  We build it by choosing to put aside our fear of the city and other people.  We build the happy city by pursuing it in our own lives and, in so doing, pushing the city to change with us.  We build it by living it.

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  1. Speed brings the promise of saved time, but too often the time saves is spent to go further and make more trips, thus slowly adding to sprawl. When the first-choice mode is the fastest, there is no plan B when things go wrong. Frantic rushing ensues. Another time saver in driving is the elimination of waiting that is part of using transit.

    Driving also induces a feeling in the driving of being as good as other drivers, and better than non-drivers.

    But speed has two bad side-effects: it comes with endangerment of others, something that I have never seen quantified or analyzed in print. How is a driver’s psyche affected by the awareness that a simple error can cause serious injuries or death to others (including passengers) and that near misses cause surges of adrenalin in other road users nearby.

    And it eliminates the fun in travel, the serendipity of chance encounters. The responsibilities and the car body mean less is seen and experienced. Even though a motorist spends fewer minutes traveling, each of those minutes are pure dead time, a cost, with no upside. That means every delay is detested.

    I would commend, for your next book, a slightly older tome: Taras Grescoe (2012) Straphanger. He, like Montgomery, is a Canadian. I am reading it now.