TED curator on moving away from McMansions to better-designed cities

TED Curator Chris Anderson recently spoke at Harvard and envisioned a bright human future in cities rather than McMansions:

Designers have the answers to “the most important question we all face,” TED curator Chris Anderson told imminent Graduate School of Design graduates on Wednesday. “Can the coming world of 10 billion people survive and flourish without consuming itself in the process?” The key lies in finding “better ways to pattern our lives,” he added: “There is nothing written into our nature that says that the only path to a wonderful, rich, meaningful life is to own two cars and a McMansion in the suburbs.”…

Much of a successful future lies in “re-imaging what a city can be,” Anderson said. People will live closer together—“if only to give the rest of nature a chance,” and cities already offer “richer culture, a greater sense of community, a far lower carbon footprint per person—and the collision of ideas that nurtures innovation.” But architects have the means to incorporate “light, plant, trees, water, and beautiful forms into the city’s structures and landscapes” and imagine new ways for people to work and connect “without sacrificing your grandchildren.”

Technological trends in computer-assisted programs and construction techniques and materials, he said, make design more adaptable and effective than ever in terms of large-scale projects that affect millions of lives. “Suddenly the fractals and curves of Mother Nature are a legitimate part of the architectural lexicon.” Moreover, cultural and intellectual notions around common human values are changing. “The toxic belief that human nature and aesthetic values are infinitely malleable, and determined purely by cultural norms” is dying, Anderson asserted. In its place, there is growing agreement that “we should think of humans differently, that far from living in separate cultural bubbles, we actually share millions of years of evolutionary biology.”

Anderson is right about the powerful cultural narrative of the American dream of a single-family home in the suburbs: it is a narrative that could change in the future. McMansions and suburbs seem to operate here as the antithesis of Anderson’s vision: sprawling, mass produced places that separate people into different “cultural bubbles.” This story suggests that Anderson thinks designers can offer an alternative that would change how Americans think about the city. Besides participating in TED, how exactly would designers make this pitch to the broader culture?

I wonder what exactly Anderson’s cities might look like and what cities (or city neighborhoods/areas) might serve as models.

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