Not for the first time, I wrote what started as comments but soon morphed into an entire post on another site (this post at Uncouth Reflections reviewing a documentary on New Urbanism). This seems more likely when I've had a drink and am only focused on the now. You've heard of drunk texting -- this is drunk comment-spamming.
I'll just copy & paste the comments, rather than edit and fill them out into full posts. There's plenty more to say, so just riff on them in the comments, and I'll chime in again. (Like how I forgot to mention how much worse the parked car plague is where spics live. Six cars lining the curb in front of a "one-family" suburban house -- that's a sign of the Mexican invasion for sure. But I digress...)
The first is about how New Urbanism has turned out in reality, all these years after being an unheard-of movement, and being so widely adopted by the right kinds of people living in the right kinds of places. It promised a return to Main Street, but has built only playgrounds for the leisure class to publicly indulge in their status contests.
The second is more focused, on the topic of how clogged with parked cars the typical residential street is nowadays in suburban America, how recent of a change that has been, and what this example shows about the power of design and public planning to shape behavior when attitudes of individuals are pushing in the opposite direction.
* * *
The lack of reflection this far into the craze for New Urbanism is
unsettling. Y’know, it’s not 1992 anymore, and the movement isn’t some
underdog vanguard but the Next Big Thing that every SWPL enclave has
been pushing through for at least the past 5, and more like 10 or 15
That photo of the public square in New York sums up what’s gone wrong
(or has revealed what had always been wrong from the start): New
Urbanism has become (always was?) a brainstorming session / policy
bandwagon for how to make the wealthiest neighborhoods in the wealthiest
cities even more insanely epic playgrounds for the sponges who dwell
nearby. That could either be loafer / hipster sponges, or finance / Big
Law / PR / other bullshit sector sponges making a ton of money from
There’s absolutely nothing civic, communal, cohesive, or enriching
about these large playground oases in the urban jungle. Just a bunch of
sponges sitting around indulging in some conspicuous consumption
(where’s you coffee from? where’s your panini from?) and conspicuous
leisure (1pm and I’m lounging in public, with designer clothes and
perfect hair — jealous much?). There’s never any connection or awareness
of the other people in these places. They’re all drones vibrating in
their own little cell within the larger hive.
Don’t be fooled by the pairs of people who appear to be interacting
with another person. The other person is just a social image prop, and
gets no attention, which is instead directed at the hive in general.
You ever notice how loud and over-sharing their conversations are,
and how their eyes are always darting around to see how many other
drones are giving unpsoken “likes” to the speaker? When they aren’t
talking, they are dead silent for hours at a stretch, never looking up
toward the other, glued to their private glowing screen. No affection or
closeness — they only “interact” when their speech and mannerisms can
suck in attention from the hive.
Apart from the psychological segregation, contra the intimacy the New
Urbanist cheerleaders promised we’d have, there’s the naked
leisure-class nature of all the surrounding “small shops,” invariably
90% quirky foodie joints, and 10% quirky yoga, quirky doggie spas, and
quirky clothing. Somehow that’s not what my grandfather would have
imagined when New Urbanists spoke of a return to Main Street. These
preening useless faggots would have gotten food thrown at them from
passing cars back in those days.
Where do they buy their household tools? From a mom & pop
hardware store? No — by ordering some Chinese piece of shit from Home
Depot’s website. Where do they buy their music and movies? From iTunes
(if they’re old) or more likely from some online streaming service.
Consumer electronics? Amazon, or once a year a trip to the Apple Store
where they actually buy something.
It’s pathetic how little variety
there is in areas struck by the New Urbanist craze, and how much all of
that stuff has migrated online due to airheaded consumer choice. I could
have sampled a wider variety of stuff from a mall back in the ’80s —
and they had professionals’ offices there too.
Defenders of New Urbanism will say that it wasn’t intended, that this
is a hijacking or adulteration by wealthy interests, that the
originators were more populist. Maybe — maybe not. The point is: this is
what the mania has produced in reality, and it’s time to start taking
stock of that, and coming up with ways to wipe out all of this airheaded
elitist shit and return city and town life to more populist and
enriching ways. Not by continuing to cheerlead for the craze like these
designers and architects do.
It’ll be better if the new movement doesn’t have the words “new” or “urbanism,” to avoid confusion and tainting.
It would greatly help matters to identify designers, architects, and
policy makers by one of three types, so we know who we’re dealing with
and how to treat them.
1) Kool-Aid drinkers. These people truly get an endorphin rush from
turning entire neighborhoods into leisure-class playgrounds. Crazy, not
worth trying to talk some common sense into.
2) Sell-outs. These individuals started off with the populist Main
Street ideal as their model, but quickly figured out that
egalitarian small-town ecosystems are not exactly gonna fly off the
shelves in a climate of such intense status-striving and inequality. A
fella’s gotta eat and pay rent, so whaddayagonnado? Not worth trying to
convert, since they only worship the almighty dollar, and they will not
fall for the lie / clueless naive suggestion that somehow, someway the
Main Street model could be made to be as profitable, or more, than the
leisure-class playground model.
3) Frustrated idealists. Bitter, overlooked, unappreciated, disgusted
by what the formerly idealistic movement has devolved into (or again,
how the hidden variation among the originators has made itself
manifest). They feel sick for being a part of a movement that has swept
aside the variety of stores that used to be found in suburban strip
centers as recently as 25 years ago, all in the name of converting the
place into a “lifestyle center” with food, drink, food, drink, food,
food, food, spa, salon, crappy cell phone outlet, food, and food. All
chains, all oriented toward leisure-class strivers.
Naturally only the last group is worth the time for ordinary people
to talk to. But if they won’t identify themselves, and their distaste
for where the New Urbanist craze has gone, it will be hard to start
* * *
The designer in the documentary is Danish, so I don’t expect him to be in touch with American
trends. But New Urbanists have overlooked the most pedestrian-unfriendly
car phenomenon of the 21st century — suburban streets that are narrowed
into de facto one-lane paths because residents park their cars all
along the curb, at every house.
This is not a design / planning problem, since just 25 years ago,
roughly the same number of cars belonging to roughly the same number of
residents on a suburban street, were parked in the driveway, carport, or
garage. It was normal for two-car houses to have both parked one behind
the other in the driveway, and for someone to have to get out and move
the back one if someone wanted to take the front one out. I remember
doing that in the ’90s, though it was also starting to become common to
park one in the driveway and one on the street.
What changed were attitudes toward private vs. public welfare.
Individual convenience is maximized by parking one in the driveway and
one or more on the street. Say goodbye to those unbearable 30 seconds of car-shuffling. But when everyone feels and acts that way,
suddenly the whole street is clogged with parked cars. The two-way
street is now one-way, and pedestrians who could have walked along the
side of the road (the way we all used to) have nowhere to walk, unless
there’s a sidewalk.
(Sidewalks are not the most common thing in suburbs, sadly, and even
if there is one — how drone-like to have to follow a sidewalk in a quiet
residential neighborhood, when you’re supposed to be walking through the
streets because you own them, and only moving aside when you see a car
This state of affairs points to the larger problem that is rarely
discussed in New Urbanist forums — how easy does design change
attitudes, and can a change in attitudes over-turn the utopian design
plan? (Answer: yes.) Driveways, carports, and garages were a design
solution to the problem of streets clogged with parked cars — provided
that folks who lived in multi-car houses put the good of the community
above their own stingy quest for maximum convenience. You don’t see cars
parked in driveways in the city — it was supposed to be a way that
suburbanites could lick one of the city’s worst problems.
In the end, though, attitudes trumped design plans.