Cities are our rule now, anything else the exception. I’m biking most workdays, on concrete over the ocean into the stone heart of a small big city, getting ten dozen channels of nonstop urban input and every day I wonder where we’re all going. The future is distributed unevenly and cities concentrate the unevenness.

Building in Vancouver’s West End

The balconies and windows are full of stories.

That building’s in the West End, a super-dense part of a pretty-dense city. As you can see, it’s not all pretty; the upscale condo developers, fueled (the story goes) by overseas capital, circle these towers like vultures, looking for a chance to evict retirees and immigrants and singles to build anew. What replaces this will be prettier and slenderer and much, much more expensive.

Orange on green on metal

What Rodney King asked: “Can’t we all just get along?” And by “Get along” I mean “Not let Late Capitalism inexorably grind down the luckless many who surround the small bright cadre of Creatives and Financials and Managers who’ll be living in the shimmering tower that replaces that grubby pile of West-End stories.”


Good typography is durably effective
even in the face of adverse conditions.

Vancouver’s embedded in Nature and generally does a decent job of promoting internal natural eruptions, and yeah, I more often run pictures of those than these. But I’m less able these days to look away from the hand-and-machine-mades occupying most of my visual field most of my time. Some explode with unintentional beauty.

Graffiti on wet metal

The “VWW”, upside down under the top graffito,
stands for Vancouver Water Works.

Cities are our best hope, to concentrate us, get us off the highway, and leave space for the planet to breathe. To get enough people together to have the conversations that lead to action, and to co-locate care-givers with care-needers, artists with patrons, police with thieves.

I can’t see living outside one of these. Actually I’m optimistic that we can save ourselves from ourselves, at least partly. And if we do it’ll start downtown.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: John Cowan (Mar 08 2016, at 15:23)

Indeed, sometimes the larger and older a city is, the greener it can be. New York City is enormously dense (and housing is very expensive, although there are some countervailing forces in the form of rent control and stabilization). But environmentally it's the greenest city in the US.

Our gasoline per capita usage is about the same as the American per capita usage in 1920 (though I fear the same cannot be said for diesel fuel). Total carbon usage is about 25% of the national average and dropping.

Our electric consumption is about half that of San Francisco and a quarter that of Dallas per capita. Our traffic lights are all LEDs now, and many of our street lamps are high-efficiency as well. On the generation side, we are beginning to use wind and tide as well as natural gas; oil is mostly used for backup power.

Over half of us don't own cars (75% in Manhattan). Of course, that's because of our excellent mass transit (and also because if we owned cars we'd have to fold them up and put them in our pockets). In addition to electrically powered subways and many of our commuter trains, we also have hybrid and natural-gas buses and even some hybrid taxis (which are cheap enough that people actually use them).

Our drinking water comes from way upstate, and is clean enough that it doesn't need treatment (other than chlorination and fluoridation) on the way in. On the way out, we do have the problem that our storm overflow sewers are the same as our sewage sewers, so in heavy rain we end up dumping diluted raw sewage.

What is bad, of course, is our air pollution, which is pretty severe (though not at L.A. levels), especially particulates. We also have the problem that we don't have back alleys, so our trash has to be collected from in front of buildings, which makes our streets look messy.


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March 07, 2016
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