Aesthetics seem completely subjective. Although some people have similar tastes (based partially on shared experience?), variation is more the rule. So when it comes to the look of common spaces, attempting to please everyone may not be the best approach.
Quality might be a better standard. By quality I'm thinking of things like healthy environments, strong materials, ease of use, sound construction, and responsiveness to changing needs. Maybe quality can be attended to by governing bodies, but the direction must come from those who live in an area.
Shared space reveals distinct and often conflicting values. There are many who aren't concerned with the quality of urban settings. They may be more interested in maximizing profits, or just surviving from day to day. At the same time, they may have a high degree of influence over the way cities take shape. This combination often leads to inhospitable environments.
Part of the appeal of suburbs must lie in the provision of small plots of land over which we have control, places we can maintain, separate from the disorder of the commons. It's more difficult to care for areas shared by many people with different sensibilities and ways of doing things.
Although everyone's ideas for better cities are subjective and often conflicting, this doesn't mean we shouldn't gather as many people and resources as possible to realize them. I'm inspired by people who take account of their surroundings and make improvements one place at a time. While the improvements may be valued only by those who make them, their ideas will be tempered by the ideas of others, and the results will always be subject to change.
When it comes to shaping environments into places we love, it's up to us to care enough to make this happen. Those who aren't concerned with the quality of urban settings are pursuing their interests, so there must be others who will counter these interests. It takes people like Arthur Ziegler, urban farmers, and squatters to reshape cities.
But how can we find the time? Ideally, this would be something rewarded, or at least facilitated, on a societal level. As things stand, we have to make a living. The work that takes most of our energy is usually disconnected from the places we live. Unless we start some kind of enterprise dedicated to improving our surroundings, we have to struggle to find time in between other commitments.
If we don't have time, we can still support those who are working to realize ideas we believe in. Neil Smith has said that many people support movements for change when they feel desperate or when they see a chance of success. What would it take for us to get involved in improving our surroundings? And what would this improvement mean?
(Photo of Dharavi residents by Peter Sigrist)