Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Space Shift: The Basis of Good Space

-Part III of a series-
Click here for Part I: A Historical Perspective
Click here for Part II: Technology and Social Change

We've gone through some history of our built space--the how we got to where we are--and the technological drivers that are pushing our society. The question becomes, where are we headed? I would like to start by laying out a series of six benchmarks that any good city should aspire to.

A city should not infringe on the potential for future generations to exist. As a species of individuals that greatly value opportunity for their offspring, it seems obvious that we try to avoid conflicts of interest between opportunity for present individuals future ones. If a child wishes to attend a university several thousand miles away, or if a promotion is offered on the other side of town, the transportation costs to the present individuals are substantial, but they are nothing compared to the costs imposed on future generations through climate change and resource depletion. Our built space should encourage sustainable behavior.

Good built space promotes equality. What can I say about this? We live in America, the country that (claims to have) invented the idea of equality. While I think the rationale for this point is self-evident, any objectors to equality should consider the animosity and conflict that inequality breeds.

Cities are always places of opportunity. Good built space must maintain that opportunity and provide it especially for those working towards the common good. Those looking to take and not give (economically, culturally...etc) should be discouraged by the very built space of a city.

Good built space is pleasant. It looks nice, it smells nice, it sounds nice and it feels nice. How many of the paintings hanging on your walls do you consider ugly? How often do you linger by the tailpipe of an old school bus? Do you consider it a treat to be waken by the banging of pots and pans? Does anyone in downtown Chicago actually appreciate the 50 mph winds that throw grit and garbage into their faces? If unpleasantries can be avoided, they should.

Good built space takes investment, but money is only part of the puzzle. A good city encourages it's citizens to be personally invested in their built space. Money and the people that move it around are a distortion in the system. They have no interest other than an increase in the number of dollars at their disposal. Only the involvement of people just as--or more--interested in the quality of the space than the financial bottom line will result in good built space and the continual improving of it.

Lastly, good built space should encourage individual health, both physical and mental. Our interactions with our build space have an enormous and well documented effect on our physical health. As the last couple generations of social commentators can tell you, our mental health is not immune to the the dehabilitating effects of poor built space. There's no reason that our built space should hurt us.

I highly doubt if any built space has fully attained all of these characteristics, and I doubt if any space ever will. In the next installment, I'll discuss some of the implications that these six targets have for cities.

Update[7/22/09]: I should add that if you take issue with any of these, or feel some additions are required, the comments are wide open.

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