With the publication of their latest issue, The Atlantic Monthly launched a month-long sub-site that they’re calling “The Future of the City”, which interests us for obvious reasons. In particular, the articles on the potential of private transit and post-Jacobsian urbanists are worth reading (and if I get a chance I’ll pull excerpts from them later), but the purpose of this post is to point you to a rather revealing (though somewhat absurdly titled) interview the Atlantic has conducted with Andres Duany. Within the a few short paragraphs, Duany manages to confirm some of my worst suspicions about New Urbanism (suspicions, which, I should note, by no means apply to all of the movement’s members or fans, plenty of whom are well-intentioned).
For instance, there’s the distaste for youth culture:
“There’s this generation who grew up in the suburbs, for whom the suburbs have no magic. The mall has no magic. They’re the ones that have discovered the city. Problem is, they’re also destroying the city. The teenagers and young people in Miami come in from the suburbs to the few town centers we have, and they come in like locusts. They make traffic congestion all night; they come in and take up the parking. They ruin the retail and they ruin the restaurants, because they have different habits then older folks. I have seen it. They’re basically eating up the first-rate urbanism. They have this techno music, and the food cheapens, and they run in packs, great social packs, and they take over a place and ruin it and go somewhere else.”
The clinging to the more destructive tenets of the magical thinking that characterized the real-estate-boom economy (renting is improper use of cities; buying is proper):
“…These people would normally be buying real estate by now. And we designed for them. We kept saying, “Aha, these kids, between 24 and 35, will be buying real estate.” Guess what? They aren’t. Because they can’t afford it. But they’re still using the cities–they’re renting and so forth. The Gen-Xers also discovered the cities; they’re buying in a proper way. The Millennials are the ones we’re talking about. And they love cities desperately. And they’re loving them to death.”
There’s also a Friedman-esque longing for an authoritarian government that would cut through all the democratic whinging and get things built the right way:
“But I think the most interesting experiment of all is Singapore. Singapore had nothing going for it. No raw materials. And you got a kind of top-down government that was almost completely enlightened, putting education first and so forth, and you have this city that is extremely livable.
While democracy does most things well, I think we need to confront the fact that it does not make the best cities. And that the cities that were great were rather top-down. You know–Paris and Rome, the grid of Manhattan. What would those have been like if there hadn’t been some top-down stuff? Every landowner would have done a separate little pod subdivision. That’s one of the things that’s naive about Americans–extremely naive, I find, as an outsider having lived in places that are possibly less democratic, like Spain. This idea that you have an individual right to do whatever you want with your land is very democratic, but the result is pretty questionable.”
And, perhaps most troubling, apparent approval indicated for an instance of literally keeping the rural poor out of cities (within the context of praise of the preservation of Havana):
I think it’s more than just capital. There are two kinds of destruction: there’s the loss of the city, the high rises, which is what happened in Mexico City and Buenos Aires and Bogota. But then there’s the other destruction, which is the migration of the rural people to the city. And that was controlled in Cuba. They just said, “You don’t have your card, you don’t have your permit, you are not coming in.”
Interestingly, it’s exactly this tendency — the desire to preserve the city as an aesthetic and social experience for the privileged (you’ll note that earlier in the interview Duany describes New Urbanism as originating in aesthetic concerns) by maintaining controls on the movements of the poor — which, in another of the Atlantic‘s articles in this special report, Benjamin Schwarz finds and criticizes in the writings of post-Jacobsian urbanists:
“Confronted with this unstoppable process [of globalization-induced gentrification], Zukin proposes waving a magic political wand by calling for an assortment of mandates and controls to ensure that certain ethnic groups and social classes and the practitioners of certain livelihoods that contribute to the “authenticity” of the city be able to live there. Surely this is taking the fetishization of vibrant Jacobsian urbanity too far. It’s entirely reasonable—in fact, humane—to argue that the state must ensure decent living conditions for its citizens (and God knows we are terribly far from that situation). But it’s a wholly different proposition to argue that, in the name of what Sorkin calls “the protection of … the local” and to forestall “a landscape of homogeneity,” the state should create the conditions necessary for favored groups—be they designers, craftspeople, small-batch distillers, researchers, the proprietors of mom-and-pop stores—to live in expensive and fashionable neighborhoods or boroughs. That effort would ultimately be an aesthetic endeavor to ensure that the affluent, well-educated denizens of said neighborhoods be provided with the stage props and scenery necessary for what Jacobs and her heirs define as an enriching urban experience.”