The Battle for Downtown
The Battle for Downtown
Before the financial crash froze the motion of money, the plan to repopulate thinned-out downtowns had become an article of faith among advocates of low-carbon urbanism. Where else could the blueprint for truly sustainable living be realized? The technical difficulty and cost of retrofitting suburbs for higher density was prohibitive, even in the postwar inner-ring subdivisions that were more compact in their land use than today’s sprawl counterparts on the urban fringe. It was in city centers that the biggest improvements in energy efficiencies and emissions could be achieved, and, since the carbon clock was ticking, there was a consensus that their repopulation by middle-class residents ought to be accomplished posthaste. Urbanists, guided unerringly by Jane Jacobs’s prescriptions for vibrant street life, had long argued that the kind of society fostered by mixed-use and mixed-income downtown neighborhoods was more open-minded and mutually gratifying than the atomized lifestyle of the master-planned exurban community. After all, Jacobs’s version of the city had been driven primarily by concerns about quality of life, or what could be called cultural health. In her view, those who had planned the urban renewal projects of the 1950s and 1960s and hastened the population flight outwards had bequeathed a soulless, antiurban city—“a Great Blight of Dullness,” as she memorably put it. Hence, her full-throated praise for the daily festival of street life in mixed-use neighborhoods, even those condemned by the improvers as examples of urban blight. Compared to the presumed conformity of the suburbs, the humming, cosmopolitan milieu of her downtown sidewalks surely boasted a superior civilization. In the decades after Jacobs launched her downtown revolution, the argument for high-density core residence got a turbo boost from environmentalist quarters. Criticism of suburbia was no longer a matter of taste—how ugly and dull are these cookie-cutter houses and strip malls? Now it was backed up by estimates of the ecological costs of the unplanned, low-density tract development known as sprawl. In recent years, climate change had lent an extra sense of urgency to the case for downtown resettlement.
Keywords: Navajo reservation, adobe structures, civic idealism, convention centers, displaced residents, downtown revitalizations, medical centers, neighborhood destabilization, racial zoning, sports stadiums, urban renewal projects, urban village model, workforce housing
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