Posted by: jdantos | November 21, 2005

The City of Everything

Urban Age thoughts, continued.

The Mayor of Barcelona, Juan Clos, told us this story where the Regional Government of Catalonia approached him with their plans to concentrate a number of courthouses and related offices in Barcelona in one big development site they wanted to call “The City of Justice.” It reminded me of La Villette in Paris. He said he rejected the plans, even though they would bring the city investment and revenues, because they would concentrate uses and cut down on mixture, “in all senses of the word.” You must pay a price of this integration, for sure, in terms of racial tension, disagreements, friction, conflict – but in the long-term, mixture is more sustainable for society that segregation and separation. In his words, “don’t call this project a City of Justice, because a city is not a city of anything – it’s a city!”

I agree with him, mostly. I think mixture of uses, people, races, classes, modes, and everything, even though we may not like it, is probably the only way we can teach ourselves to live with the staggering diversity of our fellow man. Not to mention environmental sustainability. Given the globalizing direction of technology and economics, the escape-ism of suburbia or racial segregation is simple not a sustainable long-term survival strategy.

But from an urban planning perspective, there is a point where mixing is bad – a highway right next to a kindergarten or something – and sometimes separation can give an area a certain identity or character. I mean, you need something to set yourself, your neighborhood, or your city, apart from everything else to have uniqueness. Even the mixture of Barcelona has something about it that is uniquely Barcelonian. And as we planners try to do “smart growth” and “revitalize through redevelopment” and all, we shouldn’t sacrifice authenticity at the expense of mixture for mixture’s sake.

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Responses

  1. Fascinating…
    I am greatly enjoying listening in on your thoughts. I wish I had more time to respond and chat with you about it.
    Unlike your worldly self, my geographic experience is limited (or you could say focused) on the Los Angeles experience. The patterns of life here are fascinating, because they are so blended. The city and its population, though huge in spatial extent, can in fact be fairly easily broken down into cities, towns, neighborhoods, communities. And, though we have these localized identities within the greater LA area, they are not powerful enough to prevent the majority of us from commuting great distances every day for work, pleasure, business, school…
    I would think the problem here for your field is a very challenging one. How to change LA?


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