density & diversity: the Kelo decision

Last month's Harper's Magazine had a scary (Halloween?) piece about the Supreme Court's recent Kelo decision. The reported described how often eminent domain is being used (or merely threatened) in order to expidite big box development.

I think Kelo is a bad idea, and I saw John Norquist, hunky head of the Congress for New Urbanism say as much on Lehrer the night the decision went down. I remember seeing him talk about how Kelo, and the large-scale urban redevelopment projects that it engenders, hearkened back to the era of 60’s Le Courbousier garden city disaster. City development ought to be bottom-up and decentralized. It ought to involve many actions by many individuals.

Here's a relevant bit from a recent Philadelphia Inquirer column about the legacy of their mid-century city planner, Kevin Bacon:

Although The Gallery [a shopping plaza] brought shoppers back to Center City, it did not bring them back to Market Street. Instead, it plunked a suburban shopping mall down on three prime blocks, following standard principles of mall design -- one of them being that the public must come inside the building to experience the action. Except at a few corners, the amll presents a blank wall to Market Street. Instead of adding life to the street, The Gallery sucks it into itself.

Or take Society Hill. Although the project succeeded in transforming a rundown neighborhood into a civic jewel, it did so by turning it into a monoculture. Except for a small commercial strip near its center and Headhouse Square at one corner, the entire neighborhood is strictly residential.

Contrast this with neighboring Washington Square West. Its residential side streets are as quiet as Society Hill's, but its main thoroughfares mix residential and commercial activity. Where Spruce Street in Society Hill is silent, in Wash West it hums with life both day and night.

People don't come to the city for a mall experience that they can get in any newly paved farm field. They go because the density and history of cities are palpable.

Except in New Haven. That place is a hole.

1 comment:

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