Bourgeois Deviant

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Ryan McGreal Nails It!

I have always tried to put my thumb on what was wrong with Washington D.C. (aside from the current administration), town of my birth, and settled on its built environment. However, I was never abile to articulate it quite this well. Ryan McGreal over at Raise The Hammer sums up what a city should be in a most excellent fashion. Go figure, he's from Canada. So, the points below should be held up to D.C. in contrast. Read, think and enjoy:

May. 16, 2005

1. Cities are not suburbs, towns, or villages. The great benefit of cities is their complexity, diversity, variety, anonymity, and privacy.

2. The normal comings and goings of various individuals in the city generate neighbourhoods, local nodes, and distinct characters. This complex process cannot be duplicated in the laboratory or manufactured.

3. When a city tries to deny its true nature as a dense, complex urban ecosystem by micromanaging, regulating, and separating its various functions, it begins to kill itself. "Rationalizing" the city is like clearcutting a rainforest to plant wheat. After a few years, everything starts blowing away.

4. The downtown core is the heart of the city. Without a healthy core, the city as a whole cannot function.

5. The public life of the city is in its streets, or it's nowhere.

6. Public policies (tax and regulatory) should not subsidize sprawl or car-based transportation. If people had to pay the real price of living in the suburbs, fewer people would do so.

7. When a city tries to let everyone drive everywhere, it begins to turn into a massive suburb, with roads and parking crowding everything else out.

8. The built environment should support a vibrant street life: wide sidewalks, street walls, street-level businesses, and mixed uses.

9. Regulations should be as simple as possible, and they should encourage open, diverse, creative development within a coherent framework that supports street life.

10. To encourage good streets: build to the sidewalk, make buildings compatible with their neighbours, open directly onto the street, let owners decide how to use their buildings, and never put parking between the sidewalk and the door.

11. Buildings should face out, not in. Plazas, parks, and atria are insincere attempts to transform city blocks into pastoral theme parks. They also display a contempt for the fabric of city life that make them immediately suspect.

12. Streets are for everyone, not just drivers. Two way streets, lower speed limits, and market priced curbside parking can slow the cars, make it easier for cyclists to share the road, and make sidewalks safer and more relaxing for pedestrians.

13. One way streets are de facto expressways right through the city. No one wants to walk, stand, or sit next to an expressway.

14. It looks very much like cheap energy is soon going to be a thing of the past. Our transportation infrastructure should reflect this fact, emphasizing and promoting the least energy-intensive ways of getting around.

15. Developments that are small-scale, localized, and idiosyncratic are better than developments that are large-scale, centralized, and dull.

16. Everyone deserves a decent place to live, and dreary housing projects, decaying ghettoes, and park benches do not qualify. The best way for cities to assist low income residents is simply to help with their home payments (even better is to require that employers pay a living wage).

17. Mixed housing is a good way to avoid both ghettoes and quasi-gated communities.

18. Public mega-projects are almost always a bad idea, costing too much and delivering too little. They demolish neighbourhoods to bolster politicans' egos. (RTH)
I am deadly serious when I say I would love to know what my blog piers think. Please comment anon.


  • Veddy interesting. Having also lived in DC myself, as you know, I think the root of the problem for me lies somewhere between #'s 4 and 5 on McGreal's list:

    4. The downtown core is the heart of the city. Without a healthy core, the city as a whole cannot function. -- I mean, how true -- and what is lacking more in DC than a vibrant city core in the downtown? While there are pockets of interesting neighborhoods (Adams-Morgan, U-Street even to some extent), the downtown itself lacks any real character in it's core.

    5. The public life of the city is in its streets, or it's nowhere. -- True, true -- DC lacks a real "scene' in the downtown core (see #4) after 6PM. Workers abandon their office buildings and the place just clears out. You can hear the wind whipping through the metro stations and see the tumbleweeds of fast food wrappers and spent farecards blowing around the streets.

    and aside from those two points, I think the inconsistency of public services has also been a problem.
    I remember living near AU and practically dancing in the streets one day in 1997 when curbside TRASH PICKUP was resumed. It had been weeks. In the summer. Trash hadn't been picked up in WEEKS, and forget about recycling. There were also many MANY times our water was deemed unsafe to drink, unsafe to shower in.

    And then there was the ability to take care of it's own. Once the streets cleared of the downtown desk jockeys and partying college students, the real DC residents were forgotten -- the neighborhoods behind the capitol building -- dozens of blocks deep -- of some of the worst poverty and abandonment I've ever seen. Such an embarassment for our nation's capitol.

    We had a great life in DC - I wouldn't trade those 5 years for anything. I met some of my best friends in the world, and created adult relationships with some of my dearest college friends outside of the campus scene bubble. But my love for those 5 years had nothing to do with the city itself. When I have occasionally pined for life the way it was back in DC, it was missing the circle of friends we had, and the wonderful underground artsy scene we were part of. Well, and maybe one or two funky restaurants.

    My office is still in DC -- I'm there quite a bit. There is a revitalization going on and there are neighborhoods being resurrected, and new life breathing into what were dark boarded up streets back in the late 90's. Maybe there is hope??

    Interesting topic, B.D....

    By Blogger Martha Who?, at Monday, December 05, 2005 10:21:00 AM  

  • I am officially in love with Ryan McGreal.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Friday, September 05, 2008 8:11:00 PM  

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