Photo by Bridgette Wynn.

When people ask me why I write about architecture, design, and cities — why I focus on these topics instead of all of the others — I like to tell the story of a park bench.

I first read this story many years ago in a book of essays on urbanism. It starts auspiciously enough with the development of a new neighborhood outside of Los Angeles. The developers promoted the neighborhood as one of inclusivity, a place where community would reign supreme. They designed everything from the houses to the garbage cans and the sidewalks.