Thursday, December 11, 2008

Imitation Is Not Flattery

As a city planner the aspect of cities that I love the most is the hodgepodge of styles that make up the facades of cities. Layers of history, culture and style are all brought together as one like a quilt. And like a family quilt some of the sections of the facades of the city are well worn while other sections are brand new but once you bring it all together it defines character and place.

For most of us that quilt would be in our living rooms which serves us as the space that we relax in, the space where we entertain in, the space that we reflect in, the space that we celebrate in and the space that we mourn in.

Our living room are almost never perfectly designed as heirlooms and hand me down furniture will almost never match your new furniture or entertainment system. Your favorite painting may not match with color of the walls but makes you admire it every time you reflect on it. And your favorite chair maybe fading in color and you may drape a blanket over the part covering it's tear but you can never part with it because it's the most comfortable chair.

To me, that is what a city is, a living space where all forms of emotions are celebrated, architectural stylings clash and your favorite building could you a fresh can of paint.

What baffles me as a city planner is when so many developers and some planners try to replicate the fabrics of cities with cheap imitations. While they try to imitate the look of a city it's like replacing your favorite cotton shit with doesn't feel right. The problem is that most of these imitations are based on the belief that creating high density is creating an urban place, like a city.

These imitations are almost always designed to have perfect symmety. Every building is the same height, every door and window is of the same standardized width and distance apart all the building are aligned and to break the monotony the developer will offer you four or five versions of the same styled of house of your choosing.

What should become a living space becomes a museum space where order is the hierarchy of the space and you are to peacefully admire it's arrangements you continue to walk on by. These museum spaces encourage you to all always be presentable and to keep your voices down for ranges of emotions are frowned upon here.

Amazingly enough these dense imitations of cities become what they were intended not to be...another boring suburban development. The creativity and individuality of personal expression gets canned for what others think creativity should look like.

If your living room was replaced with museum furniture that you could arrange, would you still play your music loud...or even have a drink with your friends? If your family quilt only had 4 repeating patterns would it still hold the same character? And if you built a dense standardized development can you would not call it urban community.

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