“Everybody needs networks of other people. It is impossible to make a community without networks.”-Jane Jacobs.
The physical structure of the city has a direct relationship with the physical and mental health of its inhabitants. Every city has a different structure and can therefore effect people in many different ways. When we begin to recognize these relationships around us, we can decide whether they are positively or negatively reinforcing. A city or neighborhood that is well designed can provide the framework for better networks and connections that will create much more vibrant spaces. We need places that become nodes where we can live, work, and play and not have to drive.
“The greatest asset a city can have is something that is different from every other place.” This is what the suburbs of many US cities are lacking. Sprawl tends to create neighborhoods that lack any real sense of community or sense of place. Most developers are just trying to make a buck, and they almost will always fail to make a “community”. Subdivisions end up being islands that lack any real connection to anything important except the nearest highway or the nearest Wal-Mart. They are so separated from other parts of the city that using a car becomes essential to living there. This system is terribly flawed and I believe it is the cause of many economic, physical, and mental problems in our society. The most obvious problem is that the sprawling city becomes so expansive that it requires a greater lengths of highway, water line, sewer line, and other services that need to be carried to them. The highway is the most problematic in that we have become so reliant on the automobile to function. The highway also slices neighborhoods into pieces, making it difficult for people to move safely across them.
We move from box to box in these controlled environments that further and further disconnect us from the world outside of ourselves. We isolate ourselves to the extent that we develop mental illnesses. Then we have to medicate ourselves so that we can ignore the problems we have created and simultaneously eat ourselves into obesity because there is no need for physical work.
The developers don’t know this or maybe they don’t care. Those who regulate our cities see only the positive benefits of growth and fail to see the damage and destruction it is causing.
It may be true that not everyone who lives in the city can do so without a car, but it should be something to strive for. We need to somehow create cities that are healthy, walk-able, bike-able, and more socially connected. A collective self awareness needs to happen. The current state of development that I see happening is not sustainable and something needs to change within my generation’s lifetime. The future of cities is concerning to me and I think we will see further decline before we see improvement. Real change can only happen when everyone is aware of the problem and committed to fixing it.