Life in a 19th century New York Tenement.
I am getting a bit roughed up here on issues related to the need for increased density in the next city. Friends, colleagues, even siblings are suggesting that my recent proposals to use existing rights-of-way (streets, alleys) as sites for new construction illustrate that I am a slap-happy historic homewrecker gleefully headed back to the miserably teeming tenements of the 19th century. Okay then.
I have in recent posts (in fact in many of the posts here over the last year or so) advocated a substantial increase in density as a way of increasing urban walkability, and access to a much broader mixture of uses, goods and services in nodal neighborhoods of a mile or two in diameter, connected to one another by geometrically increased transit options. I believe that a substantial increase in density enables and induces a host of urgently needed changes in the way we organize and inhabit our cities: new kinds of infrastructure to deliver and distribute energy, water, mobility and food, in radically revised and enhanced fashion.
I guess some of my readers think that I advocate this:
While I find much that is admirable and valid about slums from a variety of points of view, I am certainly not advocating this form of construction for Washington or Chicago or Denver (though the burgeoning tent city in Sacramento comes eerily closer to these images).
Some readers have asked me to make the suburbs more dense first – to stop fussing with existing, even historic urban quarters, and to go out to the land of shopping malls and quarter acre lots. Fine. I guess I have always taken that as a given. The house where I grew up, now altered almost beyond recognition, sits in a Chicago suburb made possible by cars.
The house where I grew up.
So – no cars, now what? I will leave rethinking the suburbs to another moment, but I do note that this pattern of auto-dominated human settlement is doomed, Chevy Volt notwithstanding. 3,000 pound personal transportation devices are officially obsolete.
Instead, I believe that there are perfectly livable, in fact highly attractive, examples of the good urban life lived in close quarters: dense, mixed use neighborhoods (much more dense than most, though not all, US cities). That seems to be a central issue with my critics – livability. Which seems to be equated with how close buildings are to one another, somehow.
I have shown these images often, but here’s a rerun of a few. Note that most of the buildings are not more than 6 or 7 stories, they are quite close together (often less than 20 or 30 feet apart), and they are not miserable tenements, but instead interesting, dense, mixed use urban places. Oh, and take a look at the fact that in most of these images the neighborhoods have been altered, adjusted, and added to over time. Most feature new and old in close juxtaposition. So here goes.
Gijon, Santa Cruz, Lisbon, Barcelona, Lisbon, Barcelona, Funchal, Cadiz, New York.
Dense. Not too tall. Close together – or very close. Changing and aggregating over time. Lots of mixed uses. Not slums or tenements. Interesting, textured, rich places. Jacob Riis indeed – add a few bio-swales and were ready to go, right?
On to the suburbs.