I was moved to write this after reading a book review by John Buntin concerning the life of Jane Jacobs in the September 22, 2016 issue of The Wall Street Journal. Ms. Jacob’s book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”, made the term “urban renewal” politically indefensible. I never thought I would challenge her polemic position because the urban renewal results involved were deplorable, but it’s time for a fresh breeze to clear the air.
A city is no different from a forest or a farm. All must renew themselves to survive. The new term for the effort is “economic development”. It is a more sophisticated term because it implies that urban decline is a function of far more than visually blighted and deteriorating physical conditions. Blight is only a symptom of disease. We addressed these physical symptoms in the past, and Jane Jacobs recognized that this was not a cure for the modern equivalent of a plague. We killed the patient with our attempted remedies. It was another failure in our long history of deficient cures created in an effort to survive.
The problem has become worse because we have given up on the policy of urban renewal and adopted a policy of sprawl. It threatens to consume our source of life and suffocate the planet with a blanket of pavement as populations grow. Sprawl is nothing less than a carcinogenic disease. It must be cured with a policy of urban renewal that can shelter growing populations within a limited Built Domain that protects their quality and source of life – The Natural Domain.
This is not the final goal, however. Urban renewal cannot succeed over generations until it is guided by the knowledge required to correlate our presence with our source of life. Correlated answers will represent symbiotic solutions for survival that protect our physical, social, psychological, environmental, and economic quality of life. In other words, the goal can only be equitable urban renewal that contributes to symbiotic solutions for survival on a planet that is not a world without end. This will require an ability to correlate Big Data.
At the time of the Black Plague it was impossible to treat the illness effectively. The visible symptoms gave no hint of the cure required. The language, tools, data, and scientific concepts of the time did not permit the population to visualize the cause of the disease, or to pursue knowledge that would contribute to potential remedies. It has taken centuries to build the language, knowledge, and awareness required to diagnose the medieval problem.
Sprawl is the modern equivalent of a plague on the planet with no apparent cure. It is widely recognized as a problem but not a disease. Urban renewal is not recognized as a potential cure because the term has become synonymous with failure. The term is not the problem, however. It represents a goal symbolized by the term “renew”. The remedies created to achieve the goal were the problem. They were proposed because language, data, knowledge, and awareness were inadequate. The mistakes made have increased our knowledge along the torturous path we call progress.
I have attempted to improve the awareness and language required to correlate physical results with scientific urban imperatives in my book, “The Science of City Design: Architectural Algorithms for City Planning and Design Leadership”. It is my attempt to make a contribution after a lifetime of experience and contemplation. I have self-published the book and made it available on Amazon.com in both e-book and paperback versions at a price I limited to make it affordable. Reading the book represents homework. Completing the book will yield the awareness, language, and correlation potential needed to reconcile the physical, social, psychological, environmental, and economic issues related to the goal: Symbiotic shelter for growing populations within a limited Built Domain that protects their quality and source of life – The Natural Domain.