"The good times never end when you're in Busytown"

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A few days ago, Jon Swerens posted an entry at The Good City called "Politics can't save urbanism." Jon's point, in a nutshell, was that we can't use legislation and regulation to impose high-density urban living on a populace that believes it to be undesirable. The culture has to change.

I responded with a comment that in some ways the culture is changing and what could be done in cities like Tulsa and his hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind., to help that change along. Jon was kind enough to spotlight the comment in a subsequent blog entry. Here's what I had to say:

You make a good point about the cultural issue. Two generations have been raised to see the tidy segments of the suburbs as normal and the city as a messy mix that needs sorting out. That's starting to change, and a significant number of people have experienced the pleasures of urban living, either directly, or vicariously through TV shows like Seinfeld and Friends. (And it could be argued that the appealing depiction of urban life on those programs was made possible by Giuliani's cleanup of New York in the '90s.)

I think the starting point is for cities like Fort Wayne and Tulsa to create and preserve urban places for the many who already know they want to live there. As these areas thrive, others will see that urban excitement is possible close to home, not just on the East Coast or in Europe. Over time there may be enough demand to redevelop badly aging post-war suburban neighborhoods in a new urbanist fashion.

Politics still matters: You need councilors and planning commissioners with the courage and vision to approve a pilot project for form-based codes or special zoning with design guidelines to protect traditional neighborhood development from suburban-style redevelopment.

But mostly you need entrepreneurial types willing to reuse old buildings in traditional neighborhoods, and others who are willing to build new in a traditional style. Recreating a vital urban core will happen the same way it was destroyed: one building at a time.

Thinking further about cultural influences in support of traditional urban settings, I've noticed that a fair number of children's TV programs and books are (or have been) set in urban environments. First and foremost, there's Sesame Street, with its row houses and corner grocery. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood is a traditional mixed-use neighborhood with shops and a trolley line within walking distance.

When my oldest son was small, he watched "The Busy World of Richard Scarry" nearly every day. The cartoon, which featured characters like Lowly Worm, Huckle Cat, and Bananas Gorilla, was set in Busytown, a vaguely northern European small city, filled with street-fronting small businesses like bakeries and green grocers. Here's the show's opening credits:

If you can think of other pop culture elements -- novels, music, movies, TV series -- that make urban living seem appealing, please post them in the comments below.

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webworm Author Profile Page said:

What you suggest is being done now. All over the midtown area, new home construction is booming and older homes are being renovated. This is in spite of the disasters the city bureaucrats have imposed upon us in the downtown area. This renewal will proceed and the business section of downtown will progress with new housing and other improvements even though we will see many hardships and restrictions in and around the BOK boondoggle and the mess at the new city hall.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 30, 2008 12:51 AM.

Preview of coming destructions? was the previous entry in this blog.

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