Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Density

I have been thinking a lot about cities and density: what it means for a city to have such a thing, what the trade-offs might be, and if density is, overall, actually a better strategy for urban development. First and foremost, I obviously believe that a higher density is always better than a lower one, what I am attempting to figure out is which level of density is appropriate for the average urban environment. I know that attempting to generalize between diverse urban environments is foolish, but there might be some merit in what I have to say.
While in New York, I couldn't help but compare it to other urban experiences I've had- namely Los Angeles, Chicago, and St. Louis- and whether or not New York was actually any better as a city (I mean this in an overall sense, both quantitatively and qualitatively). I realized that it takes an incredible number of resources for a place like New York to exist and function. If there is anything that I have learned about big cities, its that every big city needs a vast support system of surburban enviroments in order to function, period. I know New Yorkers and East Coast people, in general, love to derride the sprawl of California, but really, New York has as many, if not more suburban environments than Los Angeles does. The only difference is that the suburbs on the east coast support great metropolises like New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington DC. In California, these suburban environments are the great metropolises. Not that California's situation is any better-because its not- it's just slightly different.
The point I am trying to make is that New York does not end at the Hudson and East Rivers. And it definitely goes further than the five burroughs. Instead, it goes on to encompass three states, 23 counties, and 11,842 square miles. While I am not trying to necessarily compare New York to LA or Chicago (and its safe to say that New York would win people/sq mile-wise), its clearly obvious that the boundaries of major cities fall far outside the city limits. I'm trying to figure out why this happens and if there is a better way.
The reason for this is very simple: price. Cities are meccas of culture and wealth, people and activities, they are places within which things can be done, enjoyed, and created. This fact makes urban areas valuable in a cultural sense, as well as in a monetary sense. Cities are expensive. Suburbs exist not only because of cultural practices and government policies, but out of sheer necessity: people want the proximity and culture of a city but are unwilling or unable to pay the monetary costs associated with living in such a valuable place. This realization doesn't absolvethe wealthy suburbanites who live in giant houses drive to the city in any way, instead, it serves to begin to understand those who live out in the suburbs out of necessity.
I wonder how we can begin to redesign our existing urban environments so that necessary sprawl can occur in a tempered and controlled manner that works with metro systems and ecologies, instead of agains them.

Upcycle, please

Antonio Pacheco

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