School Work

Dream cities

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“So, what makes a city successful?” I ask as I reflect on Leonie Sandercock’s Cosmopolis II: Mongrel Cities of the 21st Century. The response is found, in part, in a summary of what I believe is Ms. Sandercock’s thesis: “Just as a nation needs an array of different, successful cities, cities need an array of different, varied citizens whose success individually and collectively is ensured, in part, by the city they’re a part of. It can perhaps be argued that the more diverse a city is, the greater its opportunity for success will be. A successful city—a cosmopolis—needs people who are diverse racially, ethnically, culturally, religiously, and economically; who are different in their skills, their educations, their ideas, beliefs, and opinions; and who vary by their interests, their professions, their achievements, and their goals.” But perhaps, before the question on what makes a city successful can be answered, we must ask what a “city” is in the first place. “… [W]hat exactly is a city then?” I write. “To me, a city is more than skyscrapers, or churches, or subways, or parks; it’s more than civic and cultural organizations such as clubs,performing groups, and even city governments; and it’s more than something decreed by law or a statistical conglomeration of human beings. Rather, a city is this: people who have come together to accomplish something greater than themselves, where the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. Citizens,inhabitants, residents—call them what you may, when it comes down to it a city consists of the people who live, work, and play in it. Consider some of the world’s great cities—New York, São Paulo, London, Cairo, Tokyo, or Sydney, just to name a few—take away all of the people, and what are you left with? A beautiful collection of skyscrapers, monuments, palaces, markets, subways, and opera houses, but not a city; a vestige of what was once there, but not a city; in short, a ghost town, not a city. People, not physical structures, civic organizations, or government decrees, constitute a city.” I then walk through parts of Ms. Sandercock’s text, including her commentary on the challenges and successes of cities as different as Birmingham, England, and East St. Louis, Illinois; highlight three personal qualities I and other urbanists must develop to effectively contribute to building successful cities; and discuss the professional role of urban planners and the institutional context in which they act. “… [O]ur civilization for thousands of years has gone forward on the backs of its cities. The words city and civilization even share a common etymology: both are ultimately derived from the ancient Latin word civis, which means ‘citizen’ or ‘townsman’,” I write among the conclusions I draw. “As this country and others around the world become increasingly urbanized, the preeminence of cities in the sustaining and improvement of entire civilizations will only increase. Just as cities, composed of individual people, are only as successful as those individuals, societies and nations, composed mostly of individual cities, will only be as successful as those individual cities. Or, put another way, if our cities fail, so will our civilization.” University of Utah Salt Lake City, Utah, USA URBPL 5240 Planning Theory & Ethics (Spring 2005) 27 April 2005
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   M ODULE  T HREE |   D USTIN  T YLER  J OYCE |   1 MODULE THREE To build the open, lively, creative and tolerant cities of the twentyfirst century, that is ‘Cosmopolis’,  requires the combined effort of many people—not just planners, but residents and politicians.  It is ‘not only about mobilizing resources and power, and changing institutions, but about also organizing hope,  negotiating fears, mediating collective memories of identity and belonging, and daring to take risks.’ P  ATSY H EALEY    Defining City SK PEOPLE TO define the word  city  and chances are you’ll get a wide variety of responses. Many will talk about the physical components of a city—skyscrapers in the form of office towers and high-rise hotels and condos; religious structures such as churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples; streets, sidewalks, sewers, and bridges; civic facilities such as parks, schools, playgrounds, recreation centers, libraries, and city halls and county courthouses; and even the defining characteristics of many American cities, freeways, shopping malls, and far-flung suburbs. Others may comment on a city’s cultural institutions and other organizations, such as theaters, performance groups, colleges and universities, maybe even the municipal government. Yet others may spout off statistics and technical definitions of what makes a city a city. But none of these explanations really fit what I see as the true definition of a city. Even the dictionary/textbook definition doesn’t quite fit; dictionary.com  offers the following definition, among a few others: n 1: a large and densely populated urban area; may include several independent administrative districts; “Ancient Troy was a great city” [syn: metropolis, urban center] 2: an incorporated administrative district established by state charter; “the city raised the tax rate” 3: people living in a large densely populated municipality; “the city voted for Republicans in 1994” [syn: metropolis] (q.v. “city”) So, if none of these really define a city, what exactly  is  a city then? To me, a city is more than skyscrapers, or churches, or subways, or parks; it’s more than civic and cultural organizations such as clubs, performing groups, and even city governments; and it’s more than something decreed by law or a statistical By Dustin Tyler Joyce URBPL 5240 | WEDNESDAY, 27 APRIL 2005   M ODULE  T HREE |   D USTIN  T YLER  J OYCE |   2 conglomeration of human beings. Rather, a city is this: people who have come together to accomplish something greater than themselves, where the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. Citizens, inhabitants, residents—call them what you may, when it comes down to it a city consists of the people who live, work, and play in it. Consider some of the world’s great cities—New York, São Paulo, London, Cairo,  Tokyo, or Sydney, just to name a few—take away all of the people, and what are you left with? A beautiful collection of skyscrapers, monuments, palaces, markets, subways, and opera houses, but not a city; a vestige of  what was once there, but not a city; in short, a ghost town, not a city. People, not physical structures, civic organizations, or government decrees, constitute a city. Sandercock’s Thesis In order to understand Leonie Sandercock’s thesis in Cosmopolis II: Mongrel Cities of the 21st Century , you must understand this definition of a city. Sandercock’s approach deals with the invaluable human dynamic of a city rather than the typical technical and structural approach most urban planners are wont to take.  Through this approach, Sandercock unrolls before us an argument that is complex and abstract. It is an idea that is not well understood by most people, including educated city planning professionals, because of its complexity. Yet it is important to each of us, because it is something that we each contribute to. Her stance is this: urban planners, and therefore urban planning as a profession and cities as creations of that profession, have given dismal disservice to that most crucial component of cities—their inhabitants. This disservice has been institutionalized in cities worldwide for at least a few decades. Even before its institutionalization, this disservice existed on some degree and at some level because of laws, customs, and other practices that systematically and overtly, or perhaps even randomly and covertly, discriminated against the lowest ranks of society. In short, because our cities have almost always been built to serve the highest echelons of society, they have devolved into the lowest common denominator. Something is terribly wrong with our cities, and constructing new office towers, luxury hotels, affordable housing projects, or convention centers won’t fix them, no matter how much money is spent on   M ODULE  T HREE |   D USTIN  T YLER  J OYCE |   3 these amenities. (She uses the example of Birmingham, England, to show that.) Rather, what is necessary to fix them, as in the example of East St. Louis, Illinois, is a blossoming of the human spirit. Only when that human spirit is allowed to grow and flourish will injections of money, university studies, and light-rail lines (again, as in the example of East St. Louis) truly lead to healing a broken community. Just as healing an injury must be sustained from the inside first, before medications, bandages, surgeries, and doctors’ expertise can begin to heal a patient, healing of a city must come from the inside out and from the bottom up.  The implications of this thesis are broad and affect us at a much larger scale than we could perhaps imagine. Pessimistically speaking, misunderstanding and ignorance of Sandercock’s ideas could affect us nationally and even globally. That is because our civilization for thousands of years has gone forward on the backs of its cities. The words  city  and  civilization  even share a common etymology: both are ultimately derived from the ancient Latin word  civis , which means “citizen” or “townsman” ( dictionary.com , q.v. “city” and wikipedia.com , q.v. “civilization”). As this country and others around the world become increasingly urbanized, the preeminence of cities in the sustaining and improvement of entire civilizations will only increase. Just as cities, composed of individual people, are only as successful as those individuals, societies and nations, composed mostly of individual cities, will only be as successful as those individual cities. Or, put another way, if our cities fail, so will our civilization.  Taking it further, in order for a society to be successful not only must its individual cities be successful but they must be diverse and different from each other. America, for example, needs its New Yorks, its  Washingtons, its Charlottes, its Los Angeleses, and even its Salt Lake Citys and everything in between. Each city plays a different role in this nation and its success. Not every city can be a financial center, a national capital, the heart of the film industry, or a worldwide religious headquarters. Some cities, like New York, will show others the way to go and be worthy of emulation; others, like Los Angeles, will be shunned as the way not  to be as poor examples of urbanity. But America needs both extremes, as well as everything on the spectrum in between, and it needs each city to be successful in some way and to some degree (even Los  Angeles is an admirably successful city on some fronts) in order to be a successful nation.   M ODULE  T HREE |   D USTIN  T YLER  J OYCE |   4 So, what makes a city successful? Just as a nation needs an array of different, successful cities, cities need an array of different, varied citizens whose success individually and collectively is ensured, in part, by the city they’re a part of. It can perhaps be argued that the more diverse a city is, the greater its opportunity for success will be. A successful city—a cosmopolis—needs people who are diverse racially, ethnically, culturally, religiously, and economically; who are different in their skills, their educations, their ideas, beliefs, and opinions; and who vary by their interests, their professions, their achievements, and their goals. This, too, is something greater than the simple dictionary or textbook definition: “A large city inhabited by people from many different countries” ( dictionary.com , q.v. “cosmopolis”). Each resident must be committed to success individually, and he/she must further have sincere interest in others’ achievements and difficulties, and all must be committed to the creation of a thriving community, neighborhood, and, ultimately, city. Each person, regardless of personal characteristics, has something valuable he/she alone can contribute to a successful city. Sandercock argues that it is because of the negligence of the diversity necessary to build a great city and, in turn, a great nation and civilization that our cities have become, in some instances, piles of failures. She  writes of a Birmingham that for decades was controlled by its Brummies and who, in turn, built a city that promoted its Brummie residents at the expense of others. She reveals a “new” Birmingham that undertook a moderately successful project to revitalize its downtown but still neglected those residents who were “different.” She tells the sad story of a bankrupt East St. Louis that lost half of its population, including many of those of higher incomes and white-collar professions, leaving behind a city that was 98% black, low-income, blue-collar, and dirt poor. This city was subsequently rejected by governments and charitable organizations alike and left to die a slow and painful death. With it, a bit of our nation and society would die, too. But the residents of East St. Louis wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. Though the rest of the world had neglected them, they hadn’t neglected themselves or their spirits. And though their diversity greatly decreased during the time those who could were fleeing the increasing impoverishment, they took what diversity they had remaining—their different strengths, talents, and abilities—and exemplified it. 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