Rewind the tapes ten-twenty-thirty years to the generations who were in their mid-twenties at that point in time. What was the idealistic 'American Dream'? Where did young professionals aim to be in ten years, both in their careers and geographically (let's speak in terms of cities, suburbs and countrysides). The landscape has changed for many young people and their families - literally - as they trade in quiet and quaint cul-de-sacs for bustling store-lined city streets. It's a change that has been among our generation predominant only in recent times but has prevailed as a high option for many, even those who may have some young ones running around. What ideological shift has promoted the move into urban conditions to revitalize our once invincible cities and left the suburbs as creeping ghost towns awaiting their fate of being returned to nature.
Since college began I always saw myself living in the city. Perhaps it's the increasing growth of pop culture's portrayal of our favorite characters and celebrities living posh lifestyles 25 floors above Manhattan or the character that is embedded in an old warehouse turned loft. Whatever the reason, I know that my dream is to wake up to the city noises and fall asleep to the low hums of vehicles scampering through the tiny streets below. There seem to be so many benefits to living in the city, but atop that there are still many improvements that could come along with it as well. I am going to chronicle just three reasons why cities are great and another three of how they could be improved, knowingly admitting that there is much more to be discussed at greater length. We'll save that for another post.
The City, What's So Great?
You want a cup of coffee? Well there are about fifty shops in either direction you walk from your upscale loft so just take your choice, they're probably all local start-ups too, so what could be better? The central location of a city to, well, the city is a great advantage of living there. Not only are you close to work and play, but you are helping preserve the environment by limiting your carbon footprint with reduced vehicular usage. Even if you work a little out of the city, the chances you will jump on mass transit instead of attempting to get your car (if you even have one) out of the garage is much higher. You are more likely to jump on a bus or train because it's more readily available to you. If it snows or the weather turns inclement in any way, you usually will see your roads, walks and spaces cleaned up prior to outlying areas because that is where the center of activity is. With all of this activity, you are probably also more likely to meet more people who have more intriguing lifestyles, this is the city of course where everything happens.
Even if you live in a newer condominium and not a warehouse loft, you still are in the midst of an eclectic collection of buildings and spaces that you cannot get in the suburban sprawl of mass-produced consumerism. A city makes a person adapt whereas the suburbs conform to human needs, the beauty of the city is you find out things you may never have because you are stepping out of your proper comfort zone. This builds character in you, all while you're in a space that has more character than anything you can get outside of the city proper. Cities are beautiful because they're eclectic. They are a collection of generations of planning, development and building that juxtaposes at one corner the 1900's to a brand new Gehry building. Additionally in a city you are more likely to live within a space or building that has been planned by a licensed and real professional such as an architect or urban designer.
The biggest draw for a lot of people and cities is the rarity of everything you will experience. Cities - while all modeled after a similar concept - are all different. You may go to different ones and note they may have similarities (and of course they will they share a common typology) but no two are the same. This level of uniqueness that exists is a huge reason why so many people travel to different urban areas and also why "city hoppers" jump from city to city, working and living for a short period of time before it's off to the next one. Admit it, you enjoy seeing all a city has to offer and the wide variety of experiences that can be had in each place, all while being completely different from the last.
What's Wrong With It?
Yes. The 'C' word of cities, CRIME! It exists, but it does everywhere. Cities are an interesting dichotomy of people and living situations. On one hand you may have a cluster of homeless but right next door you may have the richest person in the area living a lavish lifestyle. When you get these contrasts, there is bound to be some break in the peace because social inequality (as the homeless may see it) is only fought with 'taking' back what they think is theirs. Ultimately there is crime everywhere, even for those tucked away in their falsely created sense of comfort deep in the suburbs. The fact of the matter is wherever you have something somebody wants, they will find you and attempt to take it. In recent times, we have seen a surge of crime in the suburbs as the 'children of the city' are traveling farther away from home to commit the crimes to a much more vulnerable group.
While this also can be a positive, sometimes you just want some peace and quiet. Architects and urban planners are diligently working to find a way to balance the city with quiet spaces that we do appreciate from the suburbs. This can be quite a challenge when a city is quite the opposite. This is something that you can't really beat in a suburb and admittedly it is something even I enjoy when the day has been long and you only want peace and quiet.
At first, many thought the price of the suburbs was outrageous. This was because at the time, they were in high demand and were priced to only fit a selected type of people. As salaries have increased and quality of life standards have been pushed ahead, prices to live in the suburban areas have actually remained relatively stable (increasing only with inflation). The city dwellers, however, have seen the recent explosion of urban desire increase their property values ten fold. You will pay at least double if not triple, quadruple or even more per square foot in the city because of the demand. Usually these spaces are in much more of a central location and embellish themselves with higher quality materials and real designers thus making their price tag un-affordable to many. What we are effectively seeing is exactly what we once saw in the suburbs, selectively pricing living spaces to weed out any 'undesirables', a form of gentrification which is all too familiar with many people already feeling the pressures within the city.
Why the City?
So what is the urban appeal? I'd usually say it's the most current trend, but I know that with growing gas prices, increasing numbers in professional fields and greater offerings within cities people will continue to flock. Does this constitute a 'fad'? We will see as time carries on, but I'm predicting solid growth rates to continue. It seems the largest obstacle for most people including families is the price tag that is attached to such small spaces. To remedy this, cities are turning to a mass-production module, or at least the thinking of such. There will never be a production builder mentality about any city that holds any clout because it will effectively ruin the beauty it brings about. Instead, planners are seeing that limiting an expensive palate of materials and trendy designers is helping keep costs down while still driving people in. More expensive living is forcing out those who may be tempted to commit crime (although that is class-profiling and not just in any way) so we actually may continue to see the growth of crime in suburbs while cities grow safer by the day. Either way, you have a higher concentration of people in the city, so the crime per capita may be the same as in the suburbs just in a much smaller and condensed area. I predict cities will only grow in the next ten years with a stabilization occurring within fifty, our generation and (hopefully) ones to follow seem to appreciate the idea of self-containment and urban dwelling.