EDITOR’S VIEWPOINT/The future of cities: Let’s talk about it now
By the end of the next decade, more than half the world’s population will live in urban areas. That is good news for those of us who like company. It is bad news for those who like to drink clean water.
Clean drinking water will be one of the first casualties of this great migration; indeed, in many cities it already is. Robert Geddes frets about this.
In fact, Geddes frets about most things involving cities. But unlike those of us who consider our part done if we write an occasional letter to the editor, Geddes, who has a bunch of titles behind his name and the fire of urbanism in his heart, takes the bull by the horns. An architect and urban designer, as well as Dean Emeritus of Architecture at Princeton and a Fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU, Geddes was one of the driving forces behind a conference that was set up in anticipation of last year’s Habitat II conference.
Habitat II was the second United Nations conference on human settlements. The first, some 20 years ago, resulted in the release of Home of Man by Barbara Ward (no relation), a book that Geddes says “made a lot of people start thinking about urban growth and the future of our cities.”
Geddes’ conference involved academic types from Harvard, NYU, Columbia and Berkeley who were charged with looking at five metropolitan regions — New York, Toronto, Mexico City, Los Angeles and the Vancouver-Seattle-Portland area known as Cascadia. They studied the built environment of each of these areas to determine what was good and what was bad and how the former could be applied to metropolitan areas around the world and the latter addressed. The result of the conference was a book, Cities in our Future: Growth and Form, Environmental Health and Social Equity, edited by Geddes and available from Island Press (Box 7, Dept. 2PR, Covelo, CA 95428; (800) 828-1302.)
The built environment, Geddes believes, is the key to everything. He doesn’t talk about the sexy issues like crime and poverty for two reasons: Everyone else does, and he thinks if we address the problems of infrastructure, crime and poverty will become moot.
“The key,” he says, “is to create centers and create edges. You have to have some sense that the form of a city has limits. Portland (Ore.) does that best. You have to create places that people want to be together in. That involves natural systems, transportation systems, the whole thing.”
The time to talk about it is now, Geddes says. We can’t wait ’til our new neighbors get here.