The final word on Edge City lies not with the architects, the government, or even the developers who build it. The decision as to whether or not to build out into the edges, to base cities and lives on the automobile, and to “buy” governmental services lies with the people as a whole. Every person exerts his own pull on the grand network of things, and in the end a decision will be made. That decision, it seems, will be to continue building into the edges until the demand for such a structure is met. After that, it is entirely possible that the Edge Cities themselves may fall apart, giving way to an entirely new paradigm.
Perhaps the move from a geography of space to one of time has not even begun to come. Is is possible, and indeed likely, that the transition to spread-out cities is only the first step in a cultural transition toward individuality and diffusion. If the promise of “telecommuting” actually came to be, the consternation about gridlock and over reliance on the automobile would be made invalid.
6.1 The Underclass
Regardless of the outcome, the poor will suffer. They are excluded from Edge City, and even more so from New Towns. Even Pedestrian Pockets are not designed with the underclass in mind, though they could easily be adapted for such a role. No matter the final form the diffusion of the city takes, it is clear that it leaves the poor behind. The upper class, now served by efficient systems of private infrastructure, will balk at helping to rectify the problems that their exodus from the city has caused. Indeed, it is probable that the upper class will eventually legislate away it’s public responsibility to help pay for the problems of the poor.
Indeed, the wider cultural shift toward information-based power and diffused location of progress leaves the financially- and information- poor out of the race. Just as a blue-collar (or even no-collar) person has no place in Edge City, one who is computer-iliterate has no place in the information age. With the wider and wider acceptance of technological change, a great many people will be left out.
This problem must be addressed. A concentrated effort must be made to include those who have not had the opportunity to take advantage of technological and social advances. If not, those people may fall so far behind as to effectively be citizens of another country. Perhaps, indeed, this is the direction pointed to by Edge City: complete gentrification. Already the old cities which have not been able to include themselves in an Edge City network have become islands of poverty in a sea of wealth. This sad future may be upon us.
6.2 The Overclass
In this future, the other half will live very well indeed. Telecommuting not only to work, but to wherever they desire, the overclass will live in relative comfort in planned communities in the country. They will travel on wide, smooth highways to oases of artificial opulence. They will rebuild the old forms of community over great distances. The new city will serve them well.
The computerized back office is already a reality, and the home office is rapidly advancing. The physical workplace will not disappear entirely, though. There will always be a need for human contact, and at the very least, physical locations must exist for periodic meeting and interaction. People enjoy physical contact and being “outside”. They will always venture out to meet, talk, shop, and even work and Edge City will provide a pleasant, though a bit sterile, atmosphere for these activities.
The future of the urban forms proposed by Garreau, therefore, lie in the model of the completely dispersed city hinted at by Edge City. It will ramble across the countryside, leaving bits and pieces untouched and coalescing into pockets of development here and there. A network of highways will connect these pockets, with some heading to residences, some to commercial campuses, and some to stores. Those spaces where the highway does not run, and where the old roads are not so good, will either be settled by overclassers desiring a more natural setting or untouched by “modern” civilization.
6.3 The Dream
Is this not the fulfillment of the dreams of the “big three” visionary planners rolled into one? The future “Edge Civilization” will look like Howard’s settings and Wright’s buildings in Le Corbusier’s transportation network. An additional ingredient will be a network of highly specific private governments which will efficiently address the needs of its financers. as has been shown, though, this new model will be extremely lacking in the crucial area of equity. None of the visionaries expected the poor to be left out of their designs. It is difficult to see where the Big Problem came about.
Perhaps, like the wildly unsuccessful interpretations of Le Corbusier’s tower designs in public “project” housing, the problem lies in the execution. Every planner envisions total control over the development of his plan. None plans for the forces of the market, the bargaining of the government, and the remains of previous attempts. Indeed, none seems to plan for the variability, and unpredictability, of human society. The New Town and Pedestrian Pocket designers at least attempted to address these concerns by allowing for the forces of the market, but more is needed. People dislike living in sterile, planned environments. Just as when behind the wheel of a car, they want to feel that they have control over their destiny.