I need to be honest. Sometimes I don’t want to write this blog anymore. Yes, I’m in love with the city and the greater sense of place found in all forms of natural and unnatural terrain. However, we all know that just because we love something, doesn’t mean we want to be with it or them all the time. Sometimes they might even drive us crazy and make us want to either throw it away or cut off the relationship for good.
Honestly though, sometimes we are just lazy. That’s not a bad thing, especially with urbanism. Yes, the urban environment is largely an object of creation and reinvention, but eventually, you want to get to the point where all you NEED to do with it is to provide maintenance. If you want to make something new, great! Here’s to you great urban pioneer!
However, some people just aren’t the pioneering and creative type. They like that there’s sidewalk cafes, but they don’t want to build them. Or maybe they are the lounge singer, but not the painter that owns the art gallery. Just because someone is creative doesn’t mean they can create and engineer everything about a city. Some things are meant to be felt, not made.
With that, I would now like to make my case for a “lazy” urbanism. What does your city need for people who like or have to just “be” in a city and not build a city?
Connected transit with 5-15 minute headways
In plan English, this means that the bus or train is there when I get there, no matter when I decide to walk out my front door, leave my job, or leave the club. I don’t have to worry about downloading the latest transit app. Heck, I don’t even have a cell phone. I’m old and I don’t like them, but I need the bus to be on time. Oh and please don’t break down train. Ain’t nobody got time for that. (Seriously, it fit and it’s true.)
A 50-50 mix of chain and local establishments in the urban core
Sometimes I want my Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate. Sometimes I want my hand-mixed Sprite substitute with the lemon and line syrups and club soda. The coffee shops don’t have to sit side-by-side, but they need to be close by. If we expect people to live a more urban lifestyle, then we need to start building the chains they love back into the central business district.
Everything I need in walking distance
Some folks measure this in a concentric circle, with the inner layer being 5 minutes away and the outermost layer being 15 minutes. Yet, some people walk everywhere and it’s not because it’s fun and cute. Those folks are walking to the doctors office, the unemployment bureau, maybe even the homeless shelter. The fun and cute folks don’t want to be more than five minutes from your car if you decided to drive to downtown (or the “town center”). Either way, people who are lazy urbanists expect to have things on their doorstep. Or, they can’t help themselves unless the help is only a few doors down.
The right housing at the right mix and price
Housing is bankrupting people across social and economic classes. Much of it built in the last 30-35 years has also been made cheaply. Despite this, many people are paying far more than its worth because the first three principles above are in full effect in some areas, but not all areas. Or, you need more space for kids or you need room for accessibility. It’s really sad that both housing (and food for that matter) are our two largest expenses (if you exclude health care and education, two other major necessities).
No logos, no slogans, no special “make the city better” organizations
The city is just because it is. Having a brand is ok, but at the end of the day, you don’t live in your city because it has a logo that looks suspiciously like Walmart’s. You live there because it provides everything you need (or a job that lets you get to everything you need, there’s a difference). I like having special programs, but if that’s the only thing driving folks to the city, then there’s a deeper problem. Cities work when all forms of economic development, as well as sensible architecture, are employed, not one or two, with haphazard plans.
I need urbanism to mature to a point where I can have a conversation with my family about what I write about and not have to dumb down the language. Where sprawl repair, tactical urbanism, and good governance are just simply