Centers of Stuff

Yesterday's faux-post (fauxst?) highlighted an article about the Humane Metropolis. I had one of those awesome moments, reading that article...it was the kind of moment when you see/hear/read something from someone else that alligns perfectly with what you've come to believe, independently. It was a "Yeah...that's what I've been sayin'!" moment. I love those, don't you? So now, in response to said article:

Today, everything is a commodity. Health, love, security -- there is very little that people have not figured out (or are trying to figure out) how to buy and sell. We've even managed to do this with history. For proof, one need look no further than architecture, where wildly popular contemporary developments like New Urbanist villages, Lifestyle Centers, and even urban infill have completely abandoned contemporary architecture for cutsey, Disney-esque historicism. Walt, himself, created the now infamous Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland to play to peoples' sense of nostalgia during a time when many real Main Streets across the country were being abandoned and/or destroyed. People long for the past, which they remember as "simpler" almost without reservation. (This is all kinds of stupid, but I'll resist the tangential rant.) As a result, developers are now making theme parks of our neighborhoods.

The commodification of the past, and the resulting creation of "historical" buildings and places (like that horrific WWII Memorial in D.C.) makes quite a bit of sense, especially in urban/suburban areas. As the beginning of the article on the Humane Metropolis hints at, cities have always played an important role in society: that of the Center. Cities, by their very nature, are often the largest concentrations of just about everything. It follows that cities would then be excellent barometers of social values. E.g. whatever there is the most of in the place where there is the most of everything...well that must be what people care the most about. So it makes sense, then, that in such a materialistic era, where culture and commerce have been (con)fused, cities have become free-for-all zones. Cities are the Centers of Stuff.

If the Material Metropolis is the urban model for today, the Humane Metropolis is simply the healthiest response to this chaotic period in urban development. Cities are communal environments that exist because people need (and like!) to live near each other. Currently they are viewed simply as economic machines. We need to learn to see them as places again. Places for people.

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