Note — May 24, 2020

The Spaces That Make Cities Fairer and More Resilient

Opinion piece at the New York Times where Nicholas de Monchaux, professor and incoming head of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reminds us of the value of public spaces in cities, of places for serendipity, and discovery. He argues that well thought out and truly public places have the ability to “bring many cities together, unexpectedly and instrumentally. And to begin to craft, out of many cities, one.” He also makes a parallel between the corporation-owned social spaces we have been stuck with during confinement, and the sterility of profit optimized pseudo-public spaces and developments we’ve been seeing in cities. We can do better, and a number of cities are seizing the opportunity.

From the needle-thin condo-towers of contemporary Manhattan to the needle-strewn gutters of San Francisco’s tech-gentrifying Tenderloin, it is hard to escape the prospect of profound inequity. […]

The fact that the same forces that bring us together to share and create also create the possibility of contagion is a design problem as old as cities themselves. And some of our best and most effective public spaces are the result. […]

[T]oo much urban investment of the last decade has focused on creating or revamping densely profitable urban centers, and not improving and expanding all the spaces between them. But it is on these in-between spaces — on our journeys, not our destinations — that our shared economy most depends. […]

[F]or every online happy hour that somehow avoids being simultaneously boring and stressful, the public spaces of the internet are laughably impoverished when compared with a simple sidewalk. Just like Hudson Yards, our online platforms mostly give us shiny, narrow simulations of public life — but only enough to sustain private profit. […]

With the death of unexpected discovery comes the death of creative, and economic, opportunity in any kind of space.