The Not-So-Distant Future: Cities in 2020, Part 3

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In this section of “Thriving as a City in Year 2020, the authors begin dissecting the “city” and enumerate their understanding of the necessary components and functions that must be present for a location to earn, in their opinion, the name of city.

The Not-So-Distant Future: Cities in 2020, Part 3

Posted By Megan Wildhood

Oct 9, 2012

In the previous post, we looked at Weis and Arnesen’s extended definition of a city – that is, what size must a population be and what arrangement must it be in to earn the name “city”?  They further their discussion by listing what they believe are the necessary requirements for a city.  But, as you’ll see below, they actually include a key piece of information to our entire discussion on cities.



            In the previous section we began to convey what our vision of a vibrant city in 2020 will look like, as we defined our threshold standards for labeling a population concentration a city.  In the sections to follow, we will give more definition to the elements that comprise this vision, and offer a blueprint for the kind of urban construction and remodeling that will be necessary to meet the substantial energy and environment challenges that are imminent in year 2007 those challenges that we have been pretending are not real.  Even without the real and accelerating rate of global warming, which renders our present housing and transportation patterns untenable, the remaining stock of fossil fuels is problematic to meet expanding energy needs even into the next decade. 

            Given this spectacle of unsustainable housing and transportation patterns, urbanization will become not so much a lifestyle choice as a collective survival mode.  Waiting for the canaries to fall will only exacerbate the cataclysm we will soon be facing.  Returning to a model of urbanism, proactively, will avoid much of the upheaval and human suffering that comes with chaotic change.

            The components of a vibrant, sustainable city are outlined and described below.  They include:  high-density housing, effective mass transportation, urban beautification, urban amenities, modernized street grids, removal of structures and obstacles to urban vitality (for example, throughways and above-ground parking lots), and investment in sustainable infrastructure. Finally, we follow this framework with a discussion of the genesis of the modern European city, and the political obstacles that need to be surmounted in order to move forward with the necessary changes to restore America’s urban life.


        As we continue to walk through the paper we learn the most important piece of information in this section is this: “urbanization will become not so much a lifestyle choice as a collective survival mode.”  It is for this reason that we are taking the time and depth discussing cities.  The impacts on non-sustainable ways of living – like hopping in the car for every short trip (three quarters of our trips in the United States are less than two miles) driving from one end of town to the other every day to drop kids off at the “better” school, jet air travel for pleasure and business, etc. – are already evident.  

      Weis and Arnesen are not arguing for more sustainable cities (as if sustainability will save them), however they are asserting creating cities is sustainable, and necessary for our survival.  Returning to urbanization instead of suburban sprawl will avert much of the human cost of catastrophic climate change.  Creating walkable communities is at the heart of creating sustainable cities; a key tenant to the work we do at Feet First.  Stay tuned next week for a continued discussion on how to build healthy cities the sustainable way!

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