Determining which cities have a future

SmartPlanet looks into an infographic that supposedly says whether “if your city has a future or it’s destined to turn into the U.S. version of a favela”:

Meanwhile, according to the chart from PPS (click on it for a larger version), Atlanta is easily the most massively dysfunctional metropolis ever to be un-designed by a conspiracy of developers and compliant local government. From comedian David Cross (”David Cross Doesn’t Like Atlanta” – NSFW) to peak oil theorist James Howard Kunstler (”The Horror of Downtown Atlanta“), everyone who has ever been forced to live in or visit Atlanta knows that it is a city as ill-equipped for walkability and sustainable transit as any in the U.S., with the possible exceptions of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and pretty much every other city in Texas.

Many cities are teetering right on the edge of acceptability, by PPS’s measures. Austin, Texas may sound cool in theory, but in the past 20 or so years it has become a suppurating pustule of sprawl and the bane of commuters throughout its metro area. Similarly, university town Gainesville, Florida has a marvelously walkable historic core surrounded by a not-so-tasty shell of tract homes, McMansions and cul-de-sacs…

Ultimately, though, all these efforts are piddling when compared to what our resource and finance-starved future is going to require: shorter commutes, more walkability, and a relocalization of just about all the essentials of everyday life. Everything, in other words, that was present in Brooklyn about the time that the Brooklyn Bridge went up. And despite that city’s incorporation into New York City as a borough, it retains, to this day, the local character that made it such a high-functioning metropolis a century ago. I may be be biased, but when I think of cities that work, Brooklyn will always be at the top of my list.

The infographic seems to be based on New Urbanist-type principles: walkable cities with vibrant street life where the infrastructure serves people and not cars. More broadly, the infographic presents either a sprawl or anti-sprawl perspective.

The discussion hints that cities can change from being on one side of the ledger to the other. But large-scale changes (across an entire city or region) take time compared to neighborhood-by-neighborhood approaches. Particularly in this time of economic crisis and budget shortfalls, how many cities can even have a discussion about big New Urbanist-type changes?

Will anyone bother looking at this infographic in ten or twenty years to see if the predictions were correct?

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