The Scar of Modernity
June 1, 2020

In In Scar of Modern Urban Planning I covered the disconnect between 'progress' and actually making something 'better'. Some of the traits I associate with good urbanism are; human-scaled streets, granularity in land uses and ownership, the ability to incubate something from nothing, and traditional architecture. I am someone who advocates for traditional urbanism and building more of this;


Cordes-sur-Ciel, France

So, when I see this happen;


Brainerd, Minnesota

Or, this;


The Boston neighborhood demolished for the Boston City Hall.

Get turned into this;


Boston City Hall and the plaza surrounding it. is destroying the stuff I consider good urbanism, and creating stuff I consider repelling to urban life. Thus, "progress" has lead to deterioration instead of improvement.

The United States has a shortage of quality urban places. There are two things we need to address to fix this:

  1. Stop demolishing quality urban places.
  2. Build more quality urban places, and allow existing urban places to evolve and get better.

There are a lot of people focusing on the former. We have citizen activists and historical preservation committees that protect many of our pre-modern buildings and neighborhoods. Sometimes they go so far to have glass-cased entire neighborhoods, which I consider a bad thing, because cities are living organisms, and when organisms stop responding to feedback, they die. This can take the form of many problems - buildings falling apart because they are not allowed to adapt and become financially competitive or a neighborhood that becomes unaffordable because it cannot respond to the demand to live there.

The solution to not having to be so protective, is to build more of our best stuff;

Beautiful townhomes in New York City.

...I get the desperation to hold onto the limited stock we have, because once it is gone, we will not get anything of that quality back.

This sums up today's blog post - the scar of modernity is more than just the physical damage it has made to the world. The scar of modernity is the fear of change.

I like to focus on the latter - on building more quality urban places. Imaging, a theoretical world, where if a plot of land in a city came up for sale, we defaulted to filling it in with beautiful places such as;


Dean Village, Edinburgh, Scotland


French Quarter, New Orleans


Somewhere in Italy


Takayama, Japan

..there would be less of a fear to desperately protect what we have because there would be no shortage of quality urban places. There would be no fear of letting our cities naturally respond to feedback (such as building more homes when the population increases or allowing property owners to repurpose or rebuild).

Quality neighborhoods would be plentiful in supply, so they would be affordable to working class people.

Homes that were built for and by the working class, in Philadelphia.

We would consume less land, building places that compliment rather than interrupt the landscape.


An Italian village. Everything you need, including the countryside, is within a 10 minute walk

We would be healthier, with cleaner air, living in complete neighborhoods, where most of what you need is within a 5-10 minute walk.


Imagine if that new development going up near you looked like Alsace, France.

The world would be beautiful, diverse, and exciting to explore.


Santorini, Greece.

...and some day our memory of this thing called modernism will fade.


Rochester, Minnesota.

Humanity's most difficult challenge will not be engineering some invention, but returning to building places that do not suck.


Istanbul, Turkey.