5. The Future
5.1 The Case For Edge City
“As centralization was the natural “monarchy”, men were compelled to centralize and revolve as closely as possible around an exalted common center, for any desirable exploitation of the man-unit. The idea of democracy is contrary. Decentralization – reintegrated – is the reflex: many free units developing strength as they learn to function and grow together in adequate space, mutual freedom a reality.” (Wright, p. 83)
Simply, Edge City offers what Americans want. They have voted with their feet for it. Whether or not the architects believe Americans really know what they are doing, there is a definite, purposeful movement to the periphery. Americans want freedom of choice, privacy, and the security of the edge.
Edge City offers choice. Anyone can have his own private castle. Everyone can pay for just what he wants. Anyone can live just where he wants and can go anywhere, too. Automobiles promise nearly unlimited freedom of mobility, and Edge City is set up to exploit that power.
“Spaciousness is for safety as well as beauty.” (Wright, p. 96)
The vast distances over which Edge Cities sprawl does much to affect crime rates as well. Though not completely unknown, crime is far rarer in Edge City than in old cities with comparable institutions. Not only does Edge City dilute the density of street crime activity, it also works to prevent it. It is much more difficult for a fugitive to run and “blend in” in a suburb than in a city. The individualized culture of the edge would cause anyone less than middle class to stand out. Also, some criminals simply would not know where to rob in an edge city.
On the other hand, Edge City has also spawned the largest, most effective type of crime: “white collar” crime. Illegal financial trading is no longer limited to Wall Street, thanks to the emergence of computer networks. Indeed, since many high technology (and high dollar) companies populate the edges, it is not possible for a white collar criminal to work out of the same pastoral setting so propounded by Frank Lloyd Wright and Ebenezer Howard. Neither of them would ever have dreamed of the theft of millions of dollars out in the gardens.
Another safety issue not predicted by the visionaries is that of direct assault. Wright believed that, exposed to Nature, man would evolve to a more peaceful self. Rather, man has taken his traditional practices of rape, assault and molestation out into the privacy of the edge. Here, such crimes are even harder for authorities to spot. Indeed, some authorities (ie. tenants’ associations) may even be unwilling to interfere with such practices, judging them to be out of their jurisdiction. It seems odd that developments are so well protected against crime by outsiders, while that of insiders continues unchecked. Such is the price of extreme privacy.
5.2 The Case For Old Towns
Old towns and cities still do have a great deal going for them. People are simply used to living there. Forms of government have evolved to address problems of inequality and to protect and serve citizens. Cities today have all the necessary infrastructure to support large populations in place and it is much more efficient and concentrated there. The values and norms of city life are also widely accepted and enforced and they seem to function well enough for people to get by happily.
Cities have evolved functions and infrastructure over a long period of time to address the needs of their inhabitants. Water pipes and sewers have long been placed and necessary utilities are in place. Other “infrastructure”, such as police, fire, and government, are in place as well. Over hundreds of years, cities have developed the necessary skills to use these services effectively. It is also very efficient for people to be concentrated, since infrastructural members then only have to be larger, not reaching greater distances as in suburban development.
5.2.2 Community, values, and traditions
Cities also have developed social functions to control their populations effectively. The pubs of the nineteenth century have given way to bars and restaurants for entertainment and socialization. Social, service and political clubs allow people to feel involved in the shaping of their surroundings. Also, people are used to living in traditional urban settings, and have gotten quite good at it. Norms control behavior in the numerous public places found in cities, and people value the knowledge that others will behave in predictable ways.
Cities just work. Cities effectively allow people a say in their future. They open up possibilities for self betterment. They allow for cultural and normal diversity. Cities really do allow all of the benefits so admired by historians. However, this love is often vastly overstated. “The way things were” is romanticized, painting a false image of perfect hamlets of happy peasants. Cities have always been “in the midst of a crime epidemic”, “filthy”, “dangerous”, and “shockingly inhumane”. Cities do work, just not as well as some people seem to believe they once did.
5.3 An Alternative
“Town and country must be married, and out of this joyous union will spring a new hope, a new life, and a new civilization.” Ebenezer Howard, 1898 (Fishman 2, p. 23)
There is also a group of people who believe that there is indeed an alternative to Edge City living for the upper class. Though the “New Town Movement” is not a new one, it continues to explore the alternatives to Edge City. This movement was founded initially to answer two great 19th-century concerns: moral and physical decay in the urban core and the need for suitable housing for the emerging middle class. Basing themselves on the premise that Edge City is indeed not the fulfillment of Ebenezer Howard’s vision, numerous planners have labored to create new expressions of Howard’s answer.
5.3.1 The Pedestrian Pocket
“the Pedestrian Pocket is defined as a balanced, mixed use area within a quarter mile or a five minute walking radius of a transit station. The functions within this 50 to 100-acre zone include housing, offices, retail, day care, recreation, and parks. Up to two thousand units of housing and one million square feet of office space can be located within three blocks of the transit station using typical residential densities and four-story office configurations.” (Kelbaugh, p. 11)
There is another possibility besides the unchecked expansion of edge city. In 1988, a meeting of architects at the University of Washington discussed the possibility of a completely new, and certainly workable, urban/suburban form: The Pedestrian Pocket. Pockets would be based on free markets, just as Edge Cities are. Cities would zone certain 50-100 acre sites along their light rail system for mixed use and let developers build houses, complexes, or even entire pockets. Pedestrian Pockets are based on the human scale of walking time and foster the use of public transportation and the creation of community space. They can even coexist peacefully with other forms of Edge City construction and stand a good chance of being more attractive than competing condominiums and office parks. The only problem with the Pedestrian Pocket concept is that it requires a light rail system, and most cities simply do not have such a system. If commuter rail was to once again be built up and if companies once again situated themselves either along these rail lines or in the central city, the Pedestrian Pocket concept would work. Without light rail, though, it is doomed.
5.3.2 The New Town
Another alternative to suburban growth is an outgrowth and continuation of Ebenezer Howard’s planned towns. Popularized, and made viable in America, by the architectural team of Plater-Zybek and Duany, the New Town is also an attractive alternative to Edge City. Like the Pedestrian Pocket, the New Town is a “back to human scale” concept. It focuses on compact, planned towns which, though allowing entry by automobiles, encourage pedestrian movement. They rely on a complex and strict building code to force the market to create a compact, new version of the old village. These regulations require porches and “harmonious” architecture and outlaw front yards and driveways. The most successful example is the Plater-Zybek/Duany village of Seaside, Florida, which has indeed evolved into a charming village. However, as pointed out by Peter Calthorpe in The Pedestrian Pocket Book, the New Town is a difficult sell. It is too big and expensive for a single developer to afford, and it must initially be relatively built up for it to be viable. Also, though retail and commercial locations were planned for New Towns from the beginning, these urban forms have been slow to appear on the New Town scene. When they have come, as in Reston, Virginia, they tend to be built in a more Edge Cityish manner than desired by New Town planners. New Towns have so far only replaced the residential portion of Edge City. It is unlikely that they will succeed beyond this level.
5.4 The Big Problem
Finally, there is what has been called The Big Problem with both Edge Cities and private governments: exclusion. Put bluntly, Edge Cities are no place for the poor. Neither are they a place for proponents of the “soft path” of energy independence. Edge Cities require money from every participant. Private governments do not serve those who can not or will not pay for them. The edge City future has no place for the less fortunate, and these people are already being left behind in the old cities.
5.4.1 The requisite car
Edge Cities require the use of an automobile. Without an automobile, the geography of time is returned to the scale of space. A person on foot, or even on a bicycle, simply can not use an edge city as a city. The most he can hope for is to use a few of its services as an individual entity. For instance, a pedestrian might be able to reach a movie theater or a shopping center. However, a pedestrian simply can not conceive of an Edge City in time terms. He must settle for the physically coherent old cities. He can conceptualize of Edge City as a place, much in the way 19th-century workers could imagine life on an English estate. However, like the wage-earning worker, the strict pedestrian is locked out.
Furthermore, pedestrians are pointedly shunned by the time-scale buildings of Edge City. The automobile demands an architecture on massive scales. The designers of Edge City responded to this demand with extremely spread-out construction linked with highways and pedestrian-inaccessable streets. No one in an Edge City office, condominium, or mall could conceive of a pedestrian in their midst. Most people have trouble navigating too-large parking lots, sometimes preferring to drive their cars from one end of a mall to another! (Garreau, P. 464) A mere human would be dwarfed by time-scale building and signs anyway, perhaps even finding it difficult to locate an entrance. Even Frank Lloyd Wright could not get around this. He designed highway interchanges with pedestrian walkways, but he realized that the scale of a highway is far too large to expect a pedestrian to be able to use it. (Wright, pp. 115-117) His solution to this problem was to eliminate it: In his vision, every American would live in Broadacres. As we have seen, this is simply not possible. Even if it was desirable for every person to live in Edge City, which is highly debatable, it is inconceivable to expect every person to be able to afford it.
5.4.2 The requisite cash
This brings us to the next part of The Big Problem. Edge Cities are built upon capital. They are primarily an expression of consumerism and industry. They require a well-paying job. Edge City housing, though not in the estate range, is extremely expensive. This is done for both practicality and purpose. Practically, building a large, spread-out, Edge City housing complex is an enormous expense, requiring far more land than an apartment tower. Developers feel justified in charging a similar amount as a typical suburban house. After all, Edge City housing is always “centrally located, located on manicured grounds, and newly constructed.” Edge City housing is also purposely priced outside the range of the urban underclass. Edge City considers non-salaried people “undesirable”. After all, they might not have a car and insist on walking to work!
Excluded from housing and lacking transportation, the underclass is excluded from Edge City. They cannot live near a corporate campus so they cannot walk to an Edge City job so they cannot have one. Without an Edge City job, they cannot earn enough to afford an Edge City house. The most they can expect is public transportation to a mall. Here they can either compete with upper-class teenagers for low-paying jobs or spend their wages on upper-priced goods. Increasingly, too, the mall is driving inner-city businesses out of business, forcing the city dweller into the untenable position of shopping at Edge City malls or sticking to “strip mall” chain stores that cater to, and prey on, their needs. Edge City leaves the underclass working in a low-wage service job, living in a decaying apartment, and shopping and playing either in the remaining city establishments or “invading” the fringes of Edge City. The upper class escapes to their own, time-based cities, leaving the underclass with the problems of the old space-based cities.
The old cities, too, are drained. Without upper-class dwellers, banks are unwilling to loan money for city improvements. Without money, the old cities are decaying. Though this practice of “redlining” is explicitly illegal, it has been documented many times and certainly continues and will continue. (see especially Mohl) Banks feel perfectly justified in denying loans to those who they feel cannot repay. It is their business to make money from loan repayment, not to lose it on bad loans. However, it seems certain that their judgment of risks is questionable in many cases. The Savings and Loan establishment of the 1980s was perfectly happy to loan huge amounts to high-risk developments and ventures in Edge City, while starving the inner city. Perhaps it seemed that a loan for the development of the periphery was an investment while one for the reconstruction of the core was throwing good money after bad. Perhaps instead these decisions were made more because those with power and influence lived in the periphery. It is extremely unlikely that a Savings and Loan decision maker would live in an urban core.
5.4.4 The best
The best a modern old city can hope for is to attract an upper-class colony in a downtown core. These redevelopment plans usually call for redeveloping the city into an Edge City! Any number of examples can be provided of redevelopment plans that call for auto-oriented construction in the city core. Often these plans fall flat because, all things being equal, the upperclass will head for free parking. They see the redeveloped core as no more than another pocket of their own time-scale city. Only a very well thought-out urban core can compete with a freshly designed mall.
Even if they do compete, though, urban core redevelopment is usually built to attract the upperclass, further excluding the underclass. Wage earners cannot afford to shop on Newbury Street in the center of Boston any more than they can go to the Atrium in Wellesley Hills. Though central Boston is, without a doubt, one of the most successful redevelopments of an urban core to date, it is important to remember than it is built on top of none other than Herbert Gans’ Urban Village of West Boston. Perhaps that definition of success should be rethought.
5.4.5 The rest
Boston has survived the transition to a central hub of a vast Edge City, but at what cost? West Roxbury is just as blighted as any underclass inner city. The T system’s Orange Line, which runs into West Roxbury, is avoided by the majority of riders and suffers without proper funding and maintenance. Gans’ West Boston has been levelled and replaced with the imposing, time-scale Government Center. Even with an “unqualified success” on their hands, Boston city managers often run short on necessary funds. Meanwhile, the city continues to fight for Edge City dominance by spending billions of dollars to extend the Massachusetts Turnpike right into the center of the city so Edge dwellers can reach the heart of the city with less trouble. Recently the city centers of Quincy Market and Newbury Street were flooded with an inordinate number of police officers in order to keep the peace so Christmas shoppers would not be frightened away. The local news station, meanwhile, reported that the West Roxbury force could not keep up with their casework and that enforcement there would have to suffer. Boston, and any other old city wishing to compete with Edge City, must ask itself if the struggle for Edge City dominance is really worth the sacrifice of the “real” population of the city.
5.4.6 Who pays?
Simply put, the people who core redevelopment efforts cater to do not pay the bills for the efforts on their behalf. Cities still rely on property taxes for their main source of income. Edge City dwellers, though, can live anywhere they want, usually staying sidestepping the central city for the more suburban living of places like Garreau’s Lordvale. They pay their taxes for the benefit of Wellesley Hills, while Boston spends their precious resources to attract them to the core. Though, doubtlessly, their expenditures on Newbury Street do benefit the City of Boston, those expenses are repaid in spades with projects like the central artery expansion and increased police protection. The underclass of Boston spends its precious wages in other areas of the city, only to receive inequitable, even questionable, benefits.
5.4.7 Privacy and government
Finally, there is the issue of private governments. These institutions are ,by their very nature, exclusive. The fundamental rule of private governing is the traditional law of capital: You get what you pay for. The underclass simply can not afford the protection of a private government. They cannot spend enough in an urban-core mall to justify the immense security often found in suburban malls. They cannot afford to form a tenants’ association to protect their homes, let alone the elaborate security precautions often found in Edge City housing developments. Without a private government of their own, the urban underclass is not party to the benefits of private government. Instead they must rely on the strained resources of the traditional municipal governments that, as has been illustrated above, often cares more about catering to the extra-urban population than its own constituents.
Indeed, it is often the very purpose of private government to exclude the underclass. Private security, from the mall to the corporate campus to the condominium, is instructed to keep at bay those who do not “belong” in such places. This is based partly on the upperclass’ real fear of the underclass. Quite simply, those who are excluded from both the material and social artifacts of modern society are often quite willing to attempt to take what they can. Edge Cities and private governments are, has been stated numerous times here, exclusive to those who “belong” there. While bringing freedom to the upper class, the emergence of the Edge City brings, at the very least, trouble for the rest.