Home > Editorial, Guest Writer > “The Way You Get Around Determines How You Live.”

“The Way You Get Around Determines How You Live.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Strong Towns BLOG has received a lot of attention on MyWHaT of late. Today’s post is a rift by guest writer Henry Morgenstein after he discovered a perusal of their site-as usual, it’s provocative.  Tomorrow next week,  I’ll have my rift off of their recent Starter Strategies for a Strong Town post-my attempt to look at some economics.

“The Way You Get Around Determines How You Live.”

by Henry Morgenstein

I was just reading a blog called Strong Towns. Like everybody else, they are trying desperately to come up with a formula that would make modern towns look like towns used to look like: places full of people, full of local stores. The blog was realistic. It admitted to that we have many benefits now — computers, cheap consumer goods — that we did not have then. The wish for the past was not a stupid wish to be transported to a golden time. We are better off now, but our cities are soulless.

Is there a single solution to our soulless downtowns? Is there a silver bullet, a way of making the downtowns of all cities more vibrant, more alive? In short is there a way of making a social life exist inside cities?

Our urban life does not throw people into the street. It rakes them up, shuts them into office buildings and houses….instead of squares & fields, modern cities devise means to keep crowds moving rather than gathering. Streets work as thoroughfares, channels…social circulation, ventilation, not congregation…Architectural means to disperse, direct crowds.”

That says it all. I have always known that architecture creates the environment we live in, but I never fully realized that our streets are the architecture of our lives. Wide streets, streets devoted to cars, not people, create the life we live. We are dispersed, herded, moved through. Loitering is not encouraged. Stand still or walk slowly & dreamily & you will be dead.

Or, to sum it up, “The way we get around determines how we live.” How we live means how we shop, who we befriend, what we eat. The list is endless. A car culture is radically different from a subway culture.

Conversation Cars on Subways (Sabo/News)

Think of cities that have subways & trolleys. What you see is people on the street, in subway cars. You see crowds, you meet people — some of whom are bound to become your friends — or at the very least acquaintances. One way or another you will get to know them, recognize them.

Think of a car oriented city. People hurtle buy in closed containers. Life on the street is zilch, zero. Life on the street is dangerous, non-existent.

If you want to bring back vibrant downtowns, local shops, street life, you must change the way people get around.

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“The way you get around determines how you live.”

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There is only one way to go back to what we love about the past, towns that are full of people & local stores. That is to change the way we get around — and instead of focusing on banning cars — and we must eventually ban cars — we must first focus on alternative means to get around — busses & trolleys, bicycle pathways & pedestrian paths. If, and only if, there are efficient public ways to get around, can we begin to do what must be done. It’s already beginning to be done. Just today I read that Paris (& many other French cities) are considering banning SUVs. As the article says, “SUVs are not compatible with city life.” Truthfully, cars are not compatible with city life.

We all want city life; we really do. We are sick of our current landscape: deserted city streets because city streets, nowadays, are pieces of the highway. We want towns that are full of people & shops & cinemas & our friends & our neighbors.

What can we focus on to make such cities live again? “The way we get around determines how we live.”

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