I watched this interview with Jeff Speck the day after it took place. It’s rare that I would consider myself ahead of two of the people whose thoughts I have so frequently repurposed here on my blog, but such was the sensation I got from this conversation. I’ve never believed that suburbia was reformable, or that a generalized return to traditional, walkable, urban places would be achieved in any way other than it being thrust upon Americans because there was no alternative.
The introductory page to Rational Urbanism, unchanged since day one, names my target audience as people who want to live in an urban environment in places where it doesn’t seem reasonable to do so. When Jeff Speck, addressing the same idea of in essence making city living a viable option for people of average income whether living on the coasts or not, he simply restates my message. It’s also interesting that Chuck doesn’t push back on the anti-populist conclusion Jeff Speck draws regarding public input; I agree as well, it’s getting to the right outcome that matters.
Unfortunately he makes many of the same errors regarding his assumptions specifically around schools. He parrots the same line about “middle class parents fighting for good schools” when the fact is and the data shows that the “fighting for good schools” is window dressing; by the time enough parents arrive to “begin the struggle” to improve the schools…the presence of their kids with the inherited competitive advantage of higher parental incomes is already doing the trick. City schools aren’t “bad”, the students they are trying to educate are not prepared to learn. That is what the data shows. Again, take the “best school” in your region and the “worst school” in your region, swap the students with the building and the faculty. Will the higher test scores go with the kids, or with the building and the teachers?
So all the parents’ huffing and puffing about improving this and changing that means infinitely less than just the fact that they’re sending their kids to the urban school in the first place. People think their advocacy has produced change, but that’s just post hoc ergo propter hoc.
Which brings me to video number two. I love Chris Hedges and we see eye to eye on everything but atheism. In this interview about Detroit, though, I hear the same complaint I often hear about cities being under supported especially in the areas of education and public parks. Is it just Massachusetts then, or just New England, where that clearly isn’t the case? I live in a very poor neighborhood and, before MGM even entered the picture, it was the case that the city and the state were pouring a lot more money not just into the city, but into the poorest neighborhoods in the city to build new schools and upgrade parks. Even now 4 new schools are being proposed, each of them in the two poorest parts of the city. It should be said; not just the poorest but in each case, the North End and Mason Square, the two neighborhoods most closely tied to the city’s most significant “minority” groups; Puerto Ricans and African Americans respectively.
Don’t misunderstand me, this is as it should be, and perhaps these efforts have really begun to pay dividends, but any underachievement on the part of the poor and minority students can’t be blamed on a lack of investment therein by the city and the state, not here at least, not now.
William H Whyte, when I think about it, would have to be the first urbanist to influence my thinking. Long before I discovered Kunstler through the serialization of his “Nowhere” books in the Atlantic Monthly I found the aisle in the Central Library where there was a smattering of books about cities. City: Rediscovering the Center, a book I still read from time to time, started me down the pro-pedestrian, anti-car pathway, but I had never seen the film which preceded it: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Watch it here. The anachronisms of dress, and even of some behaviors are as informative as the insights which are still salient:
Finally, a video suggested by YouTube served as “Whyte” noise as I made tortilla española for dinner:
I had never heard Fred Kent speak before. Founder of the Project for Public Spaces, an organization inspired by the work of William H Whyte, he elaborates and elucidates ideas hinted at by Kunstler and which have become the bedrock of my philosophy: Love of place is what we need to heal what’s wrong with our society, we’ve produced very few places worthy of caring about in recent times, and real place making is the art of creating spaces worthy of affection. Amen.