Going from Nowhere to Nowhere

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis phrase comes from Alastair Bonnett’s Unruly Places. He uses it to describe train trips in suburban London where he lives. Bonnett is talking about the way in which so many places have become completely interchangeable, even in a country with much older structures than we have in the States, as well as an infrastructure that predates the car. The sameness of franchises, the many prefab objects of our world and the way zoning creates uniformity is oppressive.  And Nowhere is expanding.

In Who’s Your City Richard Florida makes a powerful critique of the “flat world” idea of Thomas Friedman’s. He talks about how, though technology has made some things possible to do from anywhere, the world has, if anything, become less flat. The world’s economy and innovation is increasingly localized to key places. Cities become specialized powerhouses. The world of finance is rooted in cities like New York and London, Silicon Valley is a magnet for technology companies and innovation, Boston and Philadelphia specialize in medical research and pharma. What we learn, discover, and the work we do depends heavily on where we are located. Read more

Where We Want to Live – Review

Where we want to liveRyan Gravel’s Where We Want to Live takes a measured approach to explaining the modern metropolis. He looks at cities through the lens of large-scale infrastructure projects like the New York High Line, the Los Angeles River Project, and especially the Atlanta BeltLine which he has been closely involved with since its inception. Gravel isn’t a fiery preacher of new urbanism, he’s a dedicated student of the city. It’s not enough for him to diagnose what’s wrong with Atlanta (and the book is more concerned with Atlanta than any other city) Gravel needs to get to the root cause. He’s tireless in his investigations of cities’ histories, pulling from the great events of a city’s past as well as his own anecdotal experiences. But Gravel is not writing history for its own sake, he wrings useful information out of the pasts of these cities. The projects he describes are informed by the history of the particular place in which they originate.

The project he explores most deeply is Atlanta’s BeltLine project, envisioned to take abandoned railroad lines that encircle the city of Atlanta and turn them into a 22-mile ring of parks and green space around the city’s center. Gravel knows the project well because it was born out of his own master’s thesis written decades ago where the idea was first proposed.  The history of the BeltLine, built to serve the growing 1900s Atlanta is key to the project. The pride in the city’s past and the diverse communities that have grown up around those train lines (including Martin Luther King’s own church) fuel the reasons for and the rationale behind the project. Read more