Design, public space, and reclaiming suburbia

This 2007 talk by James Howard Kunstler on the awfulness of our public spaces, especially suburbia, confirmed the darker notions I’d thought or felt about U.S. public spaces. He graphically illustrates what happens when public entities like cities and counties design things and not systems.

Kunstler’s confirmation of my dark notions left me discouraged. How do we design public spaces and communities that people can actually care about? Not being an architect, I had little idea about how to actually overcome all the design blights and blunders he points out.

(An aside: Living here in the Bay Area, I see a lot more graffiti than I have living in other cities. Some of it is stunningly beautiful; a lot is forgettable and ugly. But I think graffiti is one way people try to care about and personalize the very impersonal spaces that our poor public design has built.)

And then, a few days later,  I saw this 2010 talk by Ellen Dunham Jones and felt some hope. She lays out practical, achievable methods for reclaiming the poorly designed, even abandoned, things of suburbia and remaking them into integrated systems of community living.

Jones concedes that these reclaimed suburban places can feel like faux urbanism. I’ve felt that, too, in places where the bricks look just a little too new and the street trees a little too short.

Still, these reclaimed spaces to me feel like a way of living that a community can grow into, instead of growing tired of.

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