Limited Expansiveness

Sirius, 2006, by Lita Albuquerque, photo by Jean de Pomereu (Domus)

From 1800 to 2000, planning, engineering, and architecture, served to create a vast expansion of the urban world. It was not until the beginning of the 21st century that this work’s consequences turned elusively unpleasant.

Rex L. Curry

In 2010, over eighty-five percent of Americans and half the world lived in the midst of the urban world, yet it remains a vague notion. Despite the super-usefulness of dense urban living, the word “city” stays threatening. From low-density suburbs to the towers of Manhattan’s Eastside, the city has to work, it is all we have, and they don’t work very well.

All settlements have finite political boundaries that yield the average number of people (or workforce) per square mile, kilometer, hectare, or acre per year or decade by day and night.  Density is a ratio of a building’s size to the lot area.  It can include a percentage of total floor area expressed as green space, parking lot, setback, even balcony.  Determining the potential of density in these places starts with mass measures. The test will be if the services essential to well-being. The integration of self-awareness with community awareness in this way demands the urban world to stand before Nature and an essential, untouchable Wilderness, bow and ask forgiveness.

Medically, the term “critical” means ‘short term.’  Its frequent use in the 21st century is telling on many fronts. The epidemiological characteristics of urban settlements present a series of disasters.  I see novelty and opportunity here because only a third of the earth’s landscape is urbanized, and each part of it is instructive of an adaptation to restraint.  The densest regions are near a natural resource and an ocean.  They range from heartbreaking failures to soaring enclosures of fully actualized human potential. This duality is now squarely before the change-makers.

Without a stable boundary, the densities of metro areas such as New York or Los Angeles remain abstract.  The articles tagged “density” look for ways to make that boundary. Draw a line around “the city” and stop it in its tracks. Everything inside that line will become super urban with unlimited potential. All found outside will become less and less so.  A win/win for all is implied.