The way(s) forward: the bright future of urbanism

All good things come to an end, and my series The Way(s) Forward for Urbanism, which goes back all the way to July of this year, is no exception. I consider this the seventh and final part in that series.

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Here’s the New York Times’s David Brooks:

According to recent polls, 60 percent of Americans think the country is heading in the wrong direction. The same percentage believe that the U.S. is in long-term decline. The political system is dysfunctional. A fiscal crisis looks unavoidable. There are plenty of reasons to be gloomy.

But if you want to read about them, stop right here. This column is a great luscious orgy of optimism. Because the fact is, despite all the problems, America’s future is exceedingly bright.

There’s a good beginning! And then a little later:

In his book, “The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050,” über-geographer Joel Kotkin sketches out how this growth will change the national landscape. Extrapolating from current trends, he describes an archipelago of vibrant suburban town centers, villages and urban cores… Over the next 40 years, Kotkin argues, urban downtowns will continue their modest (and perpetually overhyped) revival, but the real action will be out in the compact, self-sufficient suburban villages. Many of these places will be in the sunbelt — the drive to move there remains strong — but Kotkin also points to surging low-cost hubs on the Plains, like Fargo, Dubuque, Iowa City, Sioux Falls, and Boise.

Sounds accurate. And  Christopher Leinberger, a professor urban planning and a fellow at the Brookings Institution, had this response:

This conclusion is exactly in line with my research; there is pent up demand for walkable urban places and upward of 70 percent of this demand will take place in the suburbs while the rest will be the redevelopment of center cities… What is needed to catch up with the pent up demand for walkable urban places, especially in the suburbs, is complete transportation policy reform. Since transportation drives development, we need to build the second half of the American transportation system–rail and bus transit and bikes and walking– while repairing our existing roadway system. Only this will allow for the emergence of the walkable urban places that the market, economy, and environment demands.

Good points all around. And this is what the future of urbanism is about: it’s about finding potential in the future and exploring. Fundamentally, it’s about applying our tremendous human problem-solving skills to what we’re up against. And I have a strong feeling that we’re going to do a damn good job of it.

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This series came out of my April piece about the follies of looking to the past and the necessity for bold ideas that tackle the problems of the future head-on. I set out in the series to present the best of those ideas that I found around the Internet, and I’m pleased with the result. This serieis included a video of Christian de Portzamparc’s discussing his ideas; a piece advocating for more government money spent on high-speed rail; a piece about those instances when preservationists are in the right; and much more. You can explore the entire series by clicking ‘Urbanism’ in the menu above.

By no means am I done writing about urbanism. The future of urbanism on this blog, not unlike the future of urbanism is America, is unmistakably bright.


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