The urban landscape from A to Z
Infrastructure: There’s been a lot of talk about whether infrastructure is sexy or isn’t sexy, or how we can make it that way so that people care about it (when you Google “infrastructure sexy” you get more than 900,000 results). Well, even if it dresses up in high heels and fishnets, it probably won’t be able to get the attention of a Republican Congress that is dead set against stimulative spending of any kind right now.
Which is a problem. Because the other word that goes with infrastructure a lot is “crumbling.”
Janette Sadik-Khan: I had a chance to sit down with Sadik-Khan, New York City’s rock star Department of Transportation commissioner, a couple of weeks ago. Under her leadership, the primacy of automobiles on the city’s streets has been challenged for the first time since Robert Moses’s day. She’s pedestrianized Times Square and Herald Square, created hundreds of miles of bike lanes, and built public plazas where cars used to reign.
Here’s what she has to say to city leaders who would like to make similar changes in their communities: “The alchemy of sustainable streets is part art and part science. Be bold, have a vision, lay out where you want to go. That creates buy-in for the initiatives that you pursue.”
Kids in the city: Cities are nothing without their children. And more and more, parents are realizing that cities can be great places to raise kids. In Urban Family Values, Carla Saulter writes regularly about the ins and outs of raising kids (car-free, no less) in the city.
Livability: It’s such a simple word, and it really seems like it shouldn’t be controversial. But as with so many things these days (salad bars, anyone?), the concept of livability in planning policy has caused a rash of rage among Tea Partiers.
So what is livability, anyway? What it boils down to, as articulated by US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood (see entry under “R”, below), is this: “It’s a community where if people don’t want an automobile, they don’t have to have one.”
How un-American. Or is it?
Model cities: They’re the latest trendy ecotopias: model custom-built cities like Masdar, in Abu Dhabi. Masdar and its cohorts make use of the latest in technology, promising that all systems will be green, all streets will be clean and controlled, and (almost) all energy will be renewable.
They make sense as laboratories for emerging technologies. But as I wrote earlier this year, I’m skeptical that these places can ever live up to the hype, or that they will ever be real cities at all.
Neighborhoods: The important part of a city is made of people, not buildings. Get to know your neighbors. They may save your ass one day.
Open data: New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority recently launched an ad campaign saying “Our apps are whiz kid certified.” It’s promoting the MTA’s policy of opening data to developers so that they can write apps that might be useful to transit
riders. The release of such data is one way that cities can create a collaborative, dynamic, and creative engagement with citizens — and, as the MTA ad acknowledges, independent developers will probably do a better job than the agency would.