A Country of Cities

Video: A Country of Cities

Vishaan Chakrabarti, A Country of Cities, abridged lecture video | Recorded June 17, 2013 | Running time: 14:57

From 2009-2011, Vishaan Chakrabarti wrote a series of opinion pieces here on Urban Omnibus arguing that urban density can be the answer to many of the nation’s most pressing contemporary issues. He has since expanded upon these writings in a book, A Country of Cities: A Manifesto for an Urban America. On June 17th, 2013, on the occasion of the book’s release, The Architectural League hosted a lecture by Chakrabarti, in which he shared some of the ideas and strategies outlined in his manifesto.

This week, the League published a video of highlights from the June lecture, embedded above. In it, Chakrabarti outlines how government policy has created a national landscape of low density growth, the problems that it has caused, and how strategies like the “high-low city” are the key to solving the environmental, cultural, economic, and social problems that confront the future of 21st-century America.

From the lecture:

The suburbs are largely a creation of “big government,” an explicitly, policy-driven, subsidized scheme that has guided how we live, work, and play.

One of the fundamental premises of the book is not whether people should live in the suburbs or not; I believe in free choice. The question is whether they should be paid to do it.

Contemporary planning practice has become a bit too dogmatic… you can put the tall stuff next to the short stuff and everyone still interacts and it’s okay. To me this notion of a high-low city, where you could create an up zoning but allow highs and lows, peaks and valleys, that would occur through the natural exchange of air rights in a marketplace, to me would be a much more interesting experience… It’s not about mindless density that’s still auto oriented, but hyper density that’s centered on this notion that I call an infrastructure of opportunity. We usually think of infrastructure as the systems that move things, people, electricity, sewage, water. I like to think of infrastructure in a broader way that includes schools, parks, medical care, all the things that provide urban dwellers with the ability to move up and be socially mobile.

We need to get away from this notion that we are going to do this without subsidies… we’re going to beat up the rail system because it takes subsidies? As if the airline industry doesn’t take subsidies, as if cars did not require massive subsidies? We have to find a way to create equilibrium in this conversation.

Turning a country of highways, houses, and hedges into a country of trains, towers, and trees |  Image courtesy of Vishaan Chakrabarti
Turning a country of highways, houses, and hedges into a country of trains, towers, and trees | Image courtesy of Vishaan Chakrabarti