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a thought on the urban ideal.

April 5, 2010

it was a year ago today that i made my decision to join the toulan school of urban and regional planning at portland state.  it only makes sense for me to thoughtfully reflect about what this decision granted me with respect to my intellectual development and appreciation for the environments i habit.  accordingly…

kevin lynch is a stodgy old dude who wrote a book in the 1960s called the image of the city.  one can only imagine what he faced at the time, dealing with the world as it existed then, brimming with post-war potential, a newly auto-centric world.  while his work could, in my opinion, be more innovative and could have looked far further into the future, what i take away from his text is what the concept of the beautiful city means.  surely, there are very formalized approaches to city design and urban planning that aim to arrive at a city that can be described in no other way than as a work of art, but for this to occur so many ideas must come into alignment that it is nearly impossible.  on the other hand, there is this very beautiful celebration of the city, of environment, as a sensuous and physical experience.  this is where the idea of a beautiful city becomes very interesting.  when the institutional considerations of beauty pertain to aesthetic pleasure, streamlined efficiency and  infrastructure and citizen working in symphony it removes the chaos inherent in the urban machine and renders the city a disappointment.  though, there is this one saving grace when it comes to this problem and that is the power of memory, of personal connections, to the space that surrounds us, that enables us to consider the city more than just a space where interaction occurs, but a place where we live, the place where we are ourself.

i grew up in a city that is, from one angle, harsh, polluted and dirty and, from another, the most beautiful industrial space in the country.  the trick is looking past the ugliness so often considered its most dominant feature to see the gem obfuscated by grit.  i think there are a lot of places like this.  as i cover more ground in my travels, i am beginning to see cities in a new way, which i guess is really the entire reason i decided to pursue this field of study anyway.  i’m learning that cities are so much more than the bad rap they are so often given when compared to the unreasonable criteria i discussed above, but rather modest places that ache for communities to proliferate within.  as i connect more deeply with portland, i think more fondly of the places i once lived and see in them for the “beauty” i failed to notice before.  they hold a place in my memory not because they are beautiful but because they are places that harbored me during vulnerable years of growth, providing a security and safety that made things possible.  my hope is that portland, too, will prove to be a place that is as special to me as seattle and butte, particularly as she continues to encourage me to think critically about this city that is known the nation over as an urban utopia.

and before i go i want to ask you a question, what is the place you have most undervalued, considered less than beautiful, but have unending affection for?

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 7, 2010 12:24 pm

    Fremont, Ohio. Really not a bad little town.

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