It seems American’s are generally starting to reconsider how streets function. If you build places for people then people will come and enjoy them… Pretty logical idea.
The incredible wise and creative Mr. David Byrne lectured in Providence at the invitation of the Mayor earlier this week. I hope this is an indication that the city is ready to look seriously at its bicycle infrastructure. Biking can be such a pleasant, and affordable, way to travel the city, and with Providence’s compact size we are missing a huge opportunity. The number one excuse I hear from potential bikers in Providence is the hills. Well, San Francisco has hills and they have still managed to embrace a bicycle culture. Real cities all over the country are putting biking on an equal footing with bus, rail and streetcar as a serious transit component. It was great to hear Mr. Byrne’s thoughts on the subject.
If you have not had the chance to read Mr. Byrne’s latest book, Bicycle Diaries, I highly recommend it. There was one particular chapter that has kept me thinking. Here is a quote:
“It is as if some genetic architectural propensity exists in us, that guides us, subtly and invisibly, as to how to best organize first a kiosk, then a stall, and from there add incrementally as our innate instincts guide us. Until soon enough there exists a whole marketplace and neighborhood.” – Bicycle Diaries, p.138
He is pointing out an interesting occurrence where public markets found throughout the globe are organized in strikingly similar forms. These forms are perhaps patterns that emerge from us humans as naturally as bees construct their hives or beavers their dams. The contemporary practice of urbanists and architects might be fancied with the theory of Emergent Architecture. However, I still think more focus is needed to fully apply this natural occurrence to the planning of our cities and towns.
Photo by marc dalio
My good friend Matt rang me up the other day with some great news. He and his wife are expecting their first child. I am thrilled for them. However, his next questions was “where should they move?” His main reason for moving from a nice street in San Francisco was the public schools are better in the suburbs. Matt has always been a big fan of city living which made this news even more puzzling. His search for the great walkable neighborhood in the ‘burbs has lead me to thinking about children and cities. This will be the first of several posts that I hope will persuade Matt to reconsider the value of living in a city with kids.
Position 1: There are better schools in the suburbs.
I understand that schools are the primary reason for young parents to leave America’s cities. I have been able to learn about America’s public school system troubles by talking with my friend Damian Ewens at Big Picture Learning. I had the pleasure of hearing Dennis Littky, Big Picture’s co-founder, give this passionate talk at BIF-4. The Big Picture program clearly gives me hope that the American education system can be fixed. However, I fear not in time to keep my friend Matt from leaving San Francisco.
Position 2: There are better extracurricular activities for kids in the city.
There are a great number of other opportunities for education in the city. The cultural institutions, museums, parks and historic sites can be an important addition to a young persons education. Here are the top three (1, 2, 3) from a Google search for “San Francisco kids education programs”. These institutions are in close proximity to kids in the city giving them better access. Keeping true to the single use nature of the suburbs, sprawl is often devoid of these institutions. The time a parent can safe on commuting to and from the suburbs can be used to frequent these institutions. I propose that it is far easier to give a child a well rounded educational experience in a city than the suburbs.
Position 3: Do you want to put gas in the car or money in the college fund?
The cost of owning and driving a car must be considered when moving from a city to the suburbs. AAA calculates that it can cost between $5,514 and $9,095 a year to drive 10,000 miles. Let’s say my friend Matt goes from not owning a car to owning a minivan and an affordable sedan. Their auto expenses have now gone from a Zipcar membership and some car usage fees, that might average $2,780 a year, to $14,588 for the two cars. In addition to the Zipcar, I am sure there are some additional transportation costs that I have missed, such as a monthly BART pass, that living in the city demands. However, there is at least a $10,000 savings between living in the city and driving in the suburbs. If Matt put $10,000 in the bank for the first 6 years of his child’s life he would have a pretty good start to saving for their college education.
As a disclaimer, I do not have any children. Stay tuned for the next post exploring children, cities and why my friends should reconsider a move to the suburbs.