The Evolution Of Urban Life
April 25, 2011
Last Thursday I attended the Downtown Denver Partnership forum on The Evolution of Urban Living Spaces. As a Denver architect I was interested in hearing the thoughts of the panel members. Unfortunately, the representative's answers were disappointing and did not address the concerns that I have.
Cities across America have grown at an incredible pace. Often, uninhibited, we created an urban sprawl that we have never recovered from. I recently reread a book I was required to read in school, City Life by Witold Rybczynski. The author's theory is that all of our city growth, suburban communities, and shopping districts actually had a solid basis that got sidetracked by political and financial aspirations.
Prior to World War II, American citizens lived in and around city centers. Many people rented flats and apartments because owning a house was not affordable, and mass transit was the preferred form of travel.
In the 1940's and 50's, with the end of the war, massive amounts of returning veterans made owning a home affordable because of the advent of the American suburb. And everyone owned a car. Now home was outside the city, the city was where you went to work.
In the 60's, 70's, and 80's, the nuclear family was the popular choice. Houses with private backyards and garages for our cars were the needs for a good quality life. Now the Millenials are on the horizon, and this is where the forum panelists focused their presentations last Thursday.
What the future holds is a residential move back into the city. The millenials, 20-30 year olds, needs and wants greatly differ from those of the previous two generations. Because of the financial situation of the country, many up-and-coming business men and women are seeking affordable living and life solutions.
Gas is expensive, so operating a vehicle is becoming more and more unaffordable. And, consequently, so is suburban living. And these younger residents want to be close to the center of activity, in most cases, the city.
So now we plan for the millennial. We have been designing high and mid-rise residential towers located downtown for these citizens who are looking for smaller living spaces with a proximity to restaurants, clubs, sports facilities, and offices. Frankly, I think this is great.
However, I believe just as much planning should be going into the development and renovation of the city suburbs. While the millenials, are the resident of choice currently, we still have two prior generations that have to be accounted for. And their idea of a good life is a bedroom community with single family homes and yards for the kids to play in.
I am not arguing for suburbs, I think they are a failure that we need to correct. But, I also think it is a mistake to focus only on urban living. Can we not find a way to plan moderately for all life styles?