Why Beards are like Good Urbanism

I always enjoyed a good challenge.

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“A man doesn’t grow a beard. A beard grows a man” – Internet Proverb

A beard isn’t something you grow overnight. Neither is a city.

Both these seemingly unrelated entities need to mature, fill in and be properly groomed, yet still maintain their distinct ruggedness. But why when it comes to urbanism do we attempt to do it overnight?

With few exceptions, our made-from-scratch urban districts and suburban expansions never seem to turn out as we’d like. We’re never happy with them. That should be no surprise. It’s like gluing on a fake beard onto a pristinely shaven face. It looks ridiculous and no one respects you.

We need incremental urban growth that can mature. This includes not only architectural context, but also urban design. Let me explain. So, we’ve got yourself some stubble. It looks good, but doesn’t quite cut it. If you let it grow for a week or two, you’ll notice that the hair gets slightly longer, but it mostly fills in. It isn’t until the beard truly fills in that you have yourself the start of a good thick, dense and rich beard. This is precisely when the beard gains character.

That is what our cities and towns need: to fill in the blank spaces.

Incremental scale grows into something successful. It’s usually small and builds slowly over time, but it is tremendously resilient. However, it’s not going to be easy. This new economy, which I firmly believe we are transitioning into, will require multiple players who can produce small scale, incremental development. This is how urbanism will be accomplished in the next 20 years.

Growth will have to come from within. If you can’t get hair on credit for that beard of yours, then it likely won’t happen with your downtown.

No two beards are alike. Neither are cities. Facial structures differ like geographies. Results everywhere are likely to be different. Some will succeed, others will be tolerable and a few will fail. That’s okay. It’s like having a patchy beard. With time, some spots will grow in. Others may not; but that formula overtime will lead to a place with a heck of a lot of character.

There is something sophisticated, intriguing, and dare I say irresistible about a man with a mature beard. The same can be said about a city. Each piece of hair is like a citizen; some gray, others are frizzy, while some are crimped and ingrown. Each may not be much individually, but together as a whole, they can accomplish something great.

In the end, it’s all about creating a place where people can live, work, interact, and most importantly, be happy. And in a world of limited resources, the city and town structure have demonstrated the most efficient and effective way to make this happen. We need to fill in our towns with people to keep this big experiment going.

A city doesn’t grow its people. A people grows a city.

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4 Responses to Why Beards are like Good Urbanism

  1. Chris Iverson
    Chris Iverson May 2, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

    Great challenge, and fantastic article! Im thinking MPLS of the 1960s resembles my (non)beard, as it can only grow pointy hairs with terrible spacing, I.E. Gateway District.

  2. Walter May 2, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

    As a beard lover and city lover, I find that this article does great justice to both. Your analogy of fake beards to fake cities was spot on, as was the insight as to what grows who. You rose to the challenge and then some. Good work!

  3. minneapolisite May 5, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    Well, yes and no. The problem is that just about any large-scale development is totally subject to the “creative” control of older white, suburban, high-income males: not exactly the types who would sport an awe-worthy beard.

    Now let’s say for example that one day someone just happened to have the money and it was spent to fix up all existing storefronts on an urban business district that need it (W Broadway) and even to renovate interiors to the needs of an entrepreneur who commits to a space along with rehabs for some homes in the area. In such an instance I could see an overnight change being a good thing because it’s coming from several independent entities that are more likely to produce a varied, authentic urban setting instead of one giant development that feels forced. We see the former happen typically over longer spans of time,but if the money were made available to get it done much sooner I doubt it would feel cheesier.

    In fact, Mpls has many more neighborhoods that have come back much sooner than its Midwestern counterparts where cities didn’t and don’t have a neighborhood revitalization program like Mpls did to expedite the process. I don’t think strips like Eat Street would be better urbanism if the process were dragged out and now only had a fraction of what it does today. In some Midwestern “up-and-coming” neighborhoods you’re lucky to see a new good destination open up once a year or even two, maybe longer. If there was a way to subsidize faster growth of real beards like we can do for the progress of lacking urban neighborhoods I’d think it would be a good thing.

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