Thoughts On P.D. Smith’s City

“ … the most courageous act of prediction in Western civilization,” Rem Koolhaas wrote in citypdsmithDelirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan, talking about the early 19th-century Commissioners’ Plan to develop Manhattan, “the land it divides, unoccupied; the population it describes, conjectural; the buildings it locates, phantoms; the activities it frames, nonexistent.”

I want to focus on the word ‘courageous’.

We haven’t seen a whole lot of that around these parts lately.

It’s been all about limitations. What we can’t afford. Who we can’t help. Why we can’t have nice things.

Aspiration’s in short supply. Expectations lowered. Let’s just aim to get by.

That’s no way to build a city, at least not a city many people actually want to live in.

We need to start seeing the possibilities and ignoring the restraints, most of which are arbitrarily self-imposed in the first place. aimlowToronto is not broke. Torontonians are not over-taxed. What we are is lacking in a little civic nerve. We’ve got challenges but not the constitution to face up to them.

Transit is the big file in the cabinet, obviously. Hardly the only one but the one most concrete, tangible, doable. All it’s going to take is money and a boat load of moxie. We have plenty of the former despite what all the naysayers tell you. The latter? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it.

And while we tangle and tussle over the details, what taxes and tolls and charges to implement, there’s plenty of little things we could be doing. For years we’ve fussed and farted half-heartedly over possible innovations in parking and car flow along the heaviest used parts of King Street. We know there are simple solutions we could try. putourheadstogetherWe’ve just balked at trying them.

One of an infinite number of ideas we could employ in order to get the city moving more smoothly.

In his keynote talk at a transit forum a couple weeks ago, former city planner Larry Beasley laid out the new approach cities need to adopt in order to increase both mobility and liveability in terms of transit planning. A hierarchy of priority that is pretty much diametrically opposed to how we do things currently. 1) Pedestrian. 2) Cycling. 3) Public transit. 4) Movement of goods. 5) Private vehicles.

That’s a sea change in urban thought, folks. Our urban thought, any rate. Doing things drastically different than we’ve done before. It’s not easy. It goes against our inclination to sink deeply into the status quo. notgoodenoughIt’s outside our comfort zone.

But that’s where brave people go to do great things. ‘Courageous acts of prediction’.

This is what we must start demanding of our elected officials. Demanding and encouraging. When we ask what we’re going to get in return for our vote, and the answer goes something like: Lower taxes and Efficiencies, it is not a bold or dynamic politician we are talking to. They are fearful, backward looking and not up to the task of representing us.

They embrace casinos as a solution to our fiscal situation.

They thrive on division and resentment.

They sloganeer instead of lead.


In 1811, then Mayor of New York, De Witt Clinton, looked up at the largely uninhabited northern 75% of Manhattan and imagined what it might become one day. He decided they needed a plan. A plan he would not share in except as part of history.

Let’s start asking our politicians what their plan is for our future. Insist on being inspired not mollified.

inspirationally submitted by Cityslikr