“Cities resemble lovers, offering allure, annoyance, and late-night availability.” -Emilie Buchwald
I am a self-described urbanist.
I grew up in a city, I have lived near city centers, and I have relished in the urban renaissance being experienced across the United States. Here in Rochester, Minnesota I have been a passionate advocate for grassroots long-range planning in its urban neighborhoods surrounding downtown. And I see latent potential for an extremely livable city actualized by Destination Medical Center.
But before the pendulum swings back in the opposite direction, one must remember that other urban byproducts accompany the positive attributes. Increased noise, increased hardscapes, decreased efficiency, decreased personal space are to be expected. You must not expect to enjoy the good parts of urban life without these other realities. The fact is urban life is not for everyone.
That being said, higher percentages of people are seeking out urban living. The globalization of information, business, and economies has put intense pressure on cities to attract people to live in them. Density is not a given, and lack of diversity acts as a deterrent to attracting the creative class. It is precisely because you can choose to live anywhere that now cities are in fierce competition to attract the new workforce and tax base of the next generation.
Therefore, it is not just the ability to build a custom house in a convenient subdivision near a P.F. Chang’s, but a unique “sense of place” along with the amenities and enrichment of the urban environment that is required. And each of the communities that I visit and the neighborhoods that I work with has the same desires to enhance and preserve; to increase vibrancy and ensure sustainability. If that means learning to wait an extra 10 minutes to catch a bus to work as opposed to driving door to door, then we should be patient. If it means welcoming people of all ages and income levels into our neighborhoods, then we should introduce ourselves. If it means advocating for a mix of land uses over segregation of residential and commercial, then we can start writing letters to City Council.
And quite frankly Rochester has both. It has sleepy bedroom suburbs (55th Street NW) and a vibrant city center (1st Avenue SW). So if urban living is not something you crave, take a pass, and allow those who desire a dose of urbanity to situate themselves proximate to our downtown.
[Below is a link to my PechaKucha presentation from the Mayo Clinic Transform 2015 Symposium.In small and mid-sized towns across the United States, the daily decisions on design are literally making our health worse. We need to go back to a system where we designed cities for humans. ]