Whether I remember them very well or not, I’ve lived in large cities most of my life: Boston, Minneapolis, Houston, London, Dallas, New Orleans, and now, San Antonio. Although Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas rank fourth, seventh, and ninth respectively, in terms of population within the US, all three of these Texas cities are quite spread out geographically, with few limits to sprawl. Therefore, an urban lifestyle in San Antonio, for example, is often essentially suburban (perhaps even exurban), when compared to living conditions in many other cities in the US, and most of them elsewhere in the world. My workplace is not in downtown San Antonio, but even if it were, I could nevertheless live a few miles away and enjoy a stand-alone house with a yard of about 0.1 acre, for not much more investment than my current suburban residence required.
Because of my choices and specialization within academia, and my refusal to commute long distances (and, admittedly, to consider living in small town/rural US), I am tied to urban areas with health science centers and medical/dental schools. Accordingly, I’ve become increasingly interested in urban issues, and in particular, how varieties of city-dwelling strategies can in fact be green. I’ve started reading books on these subjects, and would like to discuss some of the ideas and controversies here at City Limits, as well as to hear about the experiences and thoughts of any other city-dwellers in the comments. As a disclaimer, these will NOT be zombie apocalypse/doomed urban dwellers posts, nor do I intend to be smug about my own (definitely non-exemplary) lifestyle (you can go blog-elsewhere for all that).
The catalogue of forms is endless: until every shape has found its city, new cities will continue to be born. When the forms exhaust their variety and come apart, the end of cities begins.
~ Italo Calvino
San Francisco, CA (Photo by G. Bobrowicz)
Are we beginning to see the exhaustion and dissolution of city-forms, and the end of cities, in the developed world? At his blog Aardvarchaeology, Dr. Martin Rundkvist links to a series of haunting photographs of abandoned buildings in a Shrinking City. Detroit, Michigan has been particularly hard-hit by the recession, with a dwindling population and a corresponding increase in residential vacancies; Yves Marchand and Romaine Meffre have documented architectural indicators of this decline in a photogallery titled Detroit in Ruins.
In The New York Times, Jonah Lehrer writes about the work of physicist Geoffrey West, who, with a team of researchers, analyzed huge amounts of data on cities worldwide, and developed elegant equations to describe urban variables. Lehrer reports that West can use these equations to predict numbers of violent crimes, or to estimate the dimensions of the sewer system, for cities of different sizes in a particular country. Such analyses of city infrastructure and consumption arose from West’s earlier work on the relationship between the metabolic rate of an animal and its mass. As in the animal kingdom, there are economies of scale in a large metropolis; in other words, big cities have the potential to be centers of sustainability. It’s that positive “green” potential, as well as the flip side, of urban sprawl and blight, which will be the main focus of this blog. There will be other stuff too – art journal images, silliness, natural history – and I’d love to read about the experiences of others living in cities, large and small, across the globe.