Cities Are People Too

IMG_0157High Line, 2010

I believe that a strong commons (physical, digital, or whatever) reflects a healthy nation. (As I write, I’m sitting in the commonwealth–of Virginia, that is). What I saw on my recent three-month trip through the US confirmed that others feel the same. The public is fed up with bad urban design, and they are actively creating and restoring shared spaces. Stanley Park (Vancouver), Kapiolani Park (Honolulu), City Park (New Orleans), and Piedmont Park (Atlanta) are just a few of the fantastic urban spaces plopped in city centers. And while these examples aren’t necessarily new creations, they speak volumes about each city’s stand on public health.

The High Line in NYC is perhaps the best known urban renewal project in the last few years. I fondly remember visiting in 2010 when section one (of 3) had just been completed. It’s striking how a subtle change in perspective–in this case vertical–so drastically alters your sense of place. Fast forward to today, and you can imagine I was pretty excited to come across this TED Talk from the city’s former top urban planner, Amanda Burden. She makes a splendid case for why public spaces are the heart of a city, because, as she says, “cities are about people.” So in honor of Earth Day (which is actually tomorrow), give this a gander.


If you’re like me, and can’t get enough of the commons, explore these links ideas. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this stuff in a future post.

The Typology of New Public Sites is a field guide and manifesto penned by Baltimore artist Graham Coreil-Allen. He argues for “radical pedestrianism,” so if that excites you, by all means, reclaim those invisible sites!

Lewis Hyde’s Common as Air is a epoch-defining book on our cultural commons. With the same eloquence that he previously argued for creativity in art as a gift, this book focuses on our Founding Fathers’ views on ownership and sprinkles in a few maddening contemporary case studies of the James Joyce and MLK estates. I dare you not to become a commie bastard after reading this. However, Hyde’s more interested in updating our incredibly antiquated copyright law than waiting all day in line for bread.

The Common is an online journal that publishes “fiction, essays, poetry, and images that embody particular times and places both real and imagined.” In short, they seek “a modern sense of place.” What I’ve read so far is quite good. Be sure to look into Denise Von Glahn’s book The Sounds of Place: Music and the American Cultural Landscape if you’re interested in the aural markers of place.

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