Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Plan for Freedom in the New American City

It’s an ominous future if you think about Mexico City or Cairo, cities which are approaching 17 million habitants or more. But the infrastructures of these very old cities, especially Cairo, Bombay, Karachi or Jakarta, etc. are still the same as they were at the beginning of the 20th century in some districts. And the actual city policy is far from considering the new problems of urban areas and the pressures on urban areas. The cities are becoming a place of confrontation, a place where the collective memory disintegrates, a place of social ruptures, a place where frustration accumulates, where people backtrack to their individual level or to the level of a group what we fearfully call communitarianism which becomes more and more important in urban areas, and not only in rural areas as it was before.

Something I've observed from staying in Freiburg (on the right) is that a city which was leveled during WWII can subsequently be rebuilt with more care in its design than most American cities, even though Freiburg was under extreme pressure to rebuild immediately after the war ended. There is a problem of a new architecture, our problem is American urbanism. Cities have to create urban areas which are a discussion forum of different social classes, a place of common undertakings, a place of parting, a place of active and positive cohabitation instead of being places of panic, places which are divided into dangerous areas and areas of comfort, but of a comfort which is more and more troubled by menaces coming from the surrounding suburbs which are difficult to control as the urban concentrations press down more and more on the governments.

European cities, even if they are large, are so much smaller than American cities. As I walk through the small and narrow streets of Freiburg, I realize that big American cities which are spread out and distant make little sense. While European cities have suburbs, they are often smaller and more compact than the American boomburgs and exurbs.

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