Sunday, December 19, 2010

Case Studies

The quest for the idle living environment is not a clearly defined task, nor does it present a clear path. The method I will start with, the case study, will look at cities across the United States and a few others beyond. Why mainly the US? Well, like it or not, the US is a powerful, influential nation. They invented the suburb and central business district, a model copied the world over, especially in emerging economies in the Middle East and Asia. Any global change is therefore likely to come once again from the US. It's heartening to know that a strong urban debate is brewing between traditional pro-suburb planners and more progressive models like New Urbanism and landscape architecture. The tide is turning, with downtown areas reporting greater population growth than the suburbs. 

These case studies will use historical and cultural facts, real estate information, and my own intuition in conjunction with photos and mapping services such as Google Street View and Bing Maps. A bit unprofessional analysing a city and making judgements without actually visiting these locations? Perhaps, if I weren't passionate about my interest in cities. This is not a hobby for me and I'm no layperson. I've been studying cities on a personal level for many years and am naturally critical of my surroundings. Of course a first hand account would be preferable, but this will have to do for the time being, until I find the time and resources to travel extensively. 

Beacon Hill, Boston. flickr : Wolfrage
When I lived in the United States, my family didn't travel regularly. Certainly like many families we visited Florida for a summer holiday, and I've been to New York, Chicago, and Austin but that's not much in my view. My small town is considered a "great place to live" and frequently features on lists of architecturally significant towns, but if anything that's testament to the low standards of towns and cities in the US. I never felt like I lived anywhere special. My town was nicer than many others in Southern Indiana but all in all it was your typical American town, with a small underpopulated downtown surrounded by miles of suburbs and quite a few big box chain stores (Wal-Mart, Target, Lowe's, etc.) and a shopping mall. Oh, and a Starbucks. Living there, I had no idea what life might be like somewhere more urban. NYC gave a taste, but I wasn't particularly interested in urbanism and urban living when I visited, several years. I was young. Now I know better, having lived for three years in London, that great metropolis. I also now know that the US has far more to offer than what I saw. Cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Boston offer urban lifestyles very similar to those in large European cities, and historical cities such as Savannah and Charleston have a large collection of beautiful old buildings. In turn, I'll present case studies of these locations and many more. Stay tuned for San Francisco.

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