Cities of the past embodied their local culture, reflected in many ways but most visible in the uniqueness of their architecture and street patterns.
Today, the grid plan is a result of the appeal of science, industrialization, technology, and the perhaps most of all the economic rationale. The physical difference between newer cities and their cultures has decreased because of the spread of this logic. You will find older cities are beginning to transform as well. Their street plans are not necessarily changing but the locations of residential and nonresidential areas are.
What we see in most cities in the US is the agglomeration of places for distinct purposes. Places for play, work, learning, spending, and relaxation are grouped together and separated from people’s homes. This is a well planned and conscious districting of areas in the name of economics. The divide necessitates more frequent use of the services once away from home. If you pay attention you’ll notice that many shopping centers can only be accessed by car. It would be naive to think the lack of a sidewalk is due to an oversight by the planner. It is more likely that the shopping center is designed to pull in a certain consumer while keeping others out.
In the grid plan’s defense, it is an important form of communication and the center of urban planning. Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather live in a city than in suburbia but we should study what impact our intense focus on economic efficiency has on our minds.
In the vast majority of cultures all over the world, there exists some form of cosmology. The home and village exists as a microcosm of the universe. They usually reflect the creation myths of the culture in some way. The town center being was of utmost importance, used as a meeting place or a point of orientation. Today, we can see that in the center of our major cities are places to spend money. And in a way, this is our capitalistic creation myth. It’s Edward Bernay’s idea, free market capitalism is what guarantee’s life, and therefore we must spend in order to sustain ourselves.
Now, I’m not advocating having a day of rest but it did serve a purpose. It wasn’t necessarily to designate a day of worship but to take a break from work. It was believed by some that one’s soul would become corrupt if they would be focused on their trade seven days a week. If we apply this idea to the organization of our cities, a potential danger becomes apparent.
I’m not against progress but we need to find some sort of balance between being able to have the freedom to spend money and live a healthy lifestyle. Ultimately, how you spend your money is your choice but don’t underestimate the influence of marketing and planning.
See my previous post: Changing the Grid Plan