2. History To Today
Something else is happening in these new cities besides their physical growth. As Joel Garreau pointed out in Edge City , these are places without legal titles or even municipal recognition. Because they grow up along highways, and because Federal interstates were purposely placed outside established cities as much as possible, edge cities tend to grow up beyond municipal borders, often crossing one or more.
Edge cities have often been left on their own when it comes to such traditional urban functions as policing, infrastructure maintenance, and schooling, because of their odd locations and the lack of respect they receive. In fact, only on rare occasions has an edge city been allowed to take on the traditional municipal roles of a “real” city. However, people need police, snow plows, and schools, and, despite popular belief, edge cities often do have large residential populations. With a strong dose of traditional American spirit, new answers to the old questions of urban infrastructure have arisen in edge city. Perhaps the most intriguing of these is the emergence of the so-called private government.
As has been shown throughout history, urban areas demand not just government but strong, centralized government, and edge city is no exception. Lacking backing from the old central city governments because of both physical and social distances, edge cities have evolved their own practical governments. In the form of tenants’ associations and utility authorities, private governments have stepped in to fill the municipal void. What is perhaps most startling about these new governments is what separates them from the old governments.
Private governments are, as a rule, not freely elected bodies. Though relatively low on the governmental ladder, they are often not answerable to a similar higher authority. Because they are normally formed for specific reasons, they are often not prepared to take on all of the roles of traditional governments. However, being the only game in town as it were, they are often forced into the traditional roles. Also because of their mission-specific inception, they often have trouble coming to grips with their new authority, sometimes stepping outside the boundaries set by more traditional forms of government.
Private governments are an important by-product of the growth of edge cities. Are they the capitalist answer to a deficiency of traditional government, a sinecure ready for replacement, or a time bomb waiting to wreck the great edge-city experiment? In this paper, that question will be examined in detail.
2.1 What is An Edge City?
There must be no mistake made about this first point: Edge cities really are cities. Despite their large areas, segregated functions, and suburban settings, edge cities fit all the definitions of a city. They encompass residential, commercial, and industrial districts. They provide jobs and entertainment both for those who live there and those who come in from outside. Most importantly, they are recognized by the local population as unique places.
2.1.1 Urban thought
Certainly it is not the place of the academic to decide what is and is not a social form. Society is made up of individuals who, probably better than any sociologist, know what is and is not a city. To the inhabitants, a city just is. To an academic there must be at least a loose definition. A city in the sociological sense is a permanent settlement made up of dwelling, working, and playing sites. It must be dense relative to its surroundings and at least somewhat self-contained. Although most people see cities in a much more strict sense, envisioning Manhattan for instance, the majority of the population neither lives, works, nor plays in such a place. Though they would not know a name to describe the place they do frequent, much of the population increasingly finds itself in an Edge City.
2.1.2 What makes a city?
It is necessary, both for the purpose of this paper and in a more general sense, to decide upon a definition of a “city.” Louis Wirth came up with the “definitive” definition of a city in his essay, “Urbanism as a Way of Life.” Put simply, a city is “a large and permanent settlement, densely inhabited by a heterogeneous population.” (Abu-Lughod, p. 270)
Must cities be large? Indeed, it is apparent that, in order to rule out and compare to the “small,” we must agree that a city is large. However, does “large” refer to population? Cities are large by comparison to their surroundings. By Massachusetts standards, Worcester is a large city. However, in many other areas, a city of 350,000 people would be laughably small. Perhaps “large” refers to physical area. Philadelphia was just as much a city in 1854 when it sat on only two square miles as it was in 1855, after the annexation of Philadelphia County, when it sat on one hundred square miles. (Muller) Perhaps “large” refers to their economic importance. If this was the case, the city of Houston, with just 37 million square feet of office space, would be just one of many closely packed cities since there is an additional 101 million square feet outside the Houston Central Business District. This is just the problem with defining a city: They are just places. In the case of size, a “large” place is relative to the neighboring “small” place.
Therefore, it is logical to assume that “dense” is also relative to the city’s surroundings. However, extreme physical density is not always evident in cities. Los Angeles is the archetypal “wide city.” Density, though, is probably the primary identifier of a city: When a person is in a city, he can look around and feel that he is in a city. If density is based on the traditional equation of concentration per distance, how can Los Angeles be considered a city? There are certainly many small towns with more of everything than Los Angeles, just in a smaller area. For that matter, the one or two block “downtown” area found in most small towns would make them cities!
Wirth, though, specified that cities were “inhabited” by a population. Density, in the case of cities, also includes a “population” of things. That is, a city is a city because it is densely packed with large numbers of urban “artifacts,” relative to its surroundings. These artifacts can be square feet of office space, restaurants, apartments, or even automatic bank teller machines. A city, by definition, is “inhabited” with many of the artifacts of modern life.
Cities also must be inhabited with large numbers of people. These people must not only sleep or work or play there. A combination of these activities must be present. A Le Corbusier-esque apartment tower in the midst of Nature would not be a city. People must perform most, if not all, of their social activities within a city for it to be so.
2.1.3 Another definition of city
An interpretation of Joel Garreau’s outline of the seven activities that draw people to cities, and Edge City in particular, is helpful: (Garreau, Edge City, p. 26)
From offices to warehouses, including services such as restaurants, at least from the prospective of the workers there, industry is the expression of labor. This is one of the major draws to a city in human culture. Since we live in a diversified society, it is very important for people to be employed. Americans must work to earn money for food and luxuries. This activity is the main touchstone of Edge City. Businesses move out to rural areas for cheap land and workers and services follow.
Regional government normally resides in a city. Whether this is a primary cause for the city’s growth or an effect of that growth is disputed. Government, too, is changing as a result of the new city form. The old governments of the municipalities that play home to Edge Cities are ill-equipped to handle the huge population that lives there. However, Edge Cities, capitalist at heart, have come up with an answer to this dilemma: Private Government. The residents of the edges demand services the old, public, town infrastructure cannot provide. In much the same way as developers put in sewage lines where there are none, they create a body of government. This new body is chartered for the specific needs of the governed, and has proven very capable of taking care of its citizens.
People come to cities from rural areas for commercial activities since such locations are often concentrated there. This holds true in Edge City as well. One of the most frequently heard complaints of the old downtowners is that Edge City malls can, and do, destroy all commercial activity in the old town core. Clearly, then, Edge City is a focal point of commercial activity, surpassing even the old downtowns. Also, cities have traditionally acted as hubs for the distribution of goods to neighboring areas. The edges naturally have plentiful cheap land and excellent highway access. Truck farms were quick to sprout up in remote areas which eventually became Edge Cities.
This category includes, and in modern times is mainly dominated by, housing. No longer does the population worry about nomadic raiders or even government upheaval. The main need for safety is from nature and other people, in the form of housing. It has long been recognized that the suburbs are the place for housing. Many Americans would not even consider living in a city, due mainly to a fear of crime and the high cost of housing there. Transportation can also be included here, since it is, in effect, safety from the human form itself. Walking is not a widely used form of transportation in the modern city. Edge City is the home of the automobile: its trademark is “ample free parking”. Every part of Edge City is carefully designed with safety in mind. Then there is the crime problem. Despite the relatively low rates of crime there, suburbanites have developed many ways of combating and preventing it. These range from simple neighborhood exclusivity to actual private police forces patrolling the streets. Edge Cityites can afford to pay for the level of protection they desire, and through private governments, they get it.
The communication of culture is the primary activity of the educational system, most of which has evolved in cities. In fact, until very recently, cities were the only location for educational pursuits. In this case, “education” includes cultural institutions from schools and universities to museums and artistic performance areas. Lately, however, education has migrated out of the cities. It is not unusual to find the best public and private secondary schools in the suburbs. Indeed, schools were quick to move out of the cities in their search for low rents and cheap land. Now, with the gentrification of the cities nearly complete, the schools and teachers follow the money into Edge City. Universities are slower to respond here, due to their lack of physical mobility. In fact, universities, along with big government, are the only two major institutions to resist the pull to the periphery. Even these, though, are starting to move. With the Land-Grant colleges of the west settling in the suburbs, and the public universities in the East founded there, even this type of education is now fairly split between Edge- and old cities.
This is nodoubt the basis of Wirth’s inclusion of the word, “heterogeneous” in his definition of the city. Since they house large populations, cities generally are centers of diversity. Even the most unusual person from the country can find like fellows in the city. Also, since people who spend time together tend to build bonds to each other, the large populations of cities have traditionally spawned unusually large numbers of organizations and social institutions. This is the elusive quality of society known as “community”, and is found in abundance in the edges. No longer are the suburbs merely little bedroom communities or “rows of ticky tacky”. They have become thriving, diverse communities. The Edge City of Fort Lee, New Jersey is the fantastic Yaohan Plaza, a massive Japanese only mall. Most of the shoppers there work for high-technology companies nearby. No longer are immigrants thought of as poor farmers. Instead they come to America for jobs in high-technology industries and settle in Edge City.
In modern times, this term should perhaps be changed to include more non-traditional objects of faith and belief. A good case could be made to include such diverse institutions as mass media, the court system, and even traffic control. People congregate to affirm faith in their society. In a society based on faceless rules, it is important for the population to have faith in a judicial system. Also, until recently, the only extra-urban communication of culture other than religion has been mass media. From handbills to television, the production of media has been concentrated in urban areas. Now it is unusual for media to actually originate in the cities. Most magazines originate from Edge Cities. Only television news programs have remained in the old cities, while most production takes place in Edge Cities.
As stated above, cities have long been thought of in terms of geographic population density. If there are “enough” people living, working, and playing in the a small enough geographic location, it is thought to be a city. This paper does not seek to dispute this “density” definition, but rather to expand upon it. It is possible, as Robert Fishman pointed out in “America’s New City,” to envision a city that meets all of Wirth’s and Garreau’s criteria. However, this new city would base its density on a geography of time. Before this can transpire, though, it is necessary to discuss the ideas of community, neighborhood, and even distance.
2.2 What Is A Community?
Community seems to be the main thing Americans to want in a city. Time and again we hear of the problems inherent in our current urban forms. Often, the word used to describe the place where one lives is “community”. Indeed, it sometimes seems that, on the face of things, “community” is all around us. However, at the same time we are told of feelings of Anomie , or normlessness, of being “alone in the crowd”. Clearly, a community is not the same as a crowd. So what is a community?
2.2.1 Gemeinschaft vs. Gesellschaft
Louis Wirth, in his influential 1938 essay, “Urbanism as a Way of Life,” condemned our cities as lacking this mysterious element of community. He contended that urbanism inevitably led to the dissolution of community. Like Ferdinand Tonnies’ ideas of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, Wirth saw the transition of interpersonal relationships from primary individual-based relationships to secondary role-based ones.
A Gemeinschaft can be thought of as a traditional community. Here there is little division of labor. People do what must be done in all areas of production. People are grouped as families and base their dealings on kin relationships. Daily encounters are highly personal and tend to be with the same people. In any given day, a member of Gesellschaft-based society is likely to run into just a few people and regard them based on personal knowledge of their personality instead of their role in society. These societies are also highly homogenous. Luhman called this type of society “the multi-functional family” (p. 73).
A society based on the Gesellschaft model is very different but probably far more familiar to the modern American. Here most interactions are based on business relationships or social roles. Whether to support an “advanced” economy or to make life easier on the individual, there is a complex division of labor. People use their highly specialized skills not just to “earn a living” but as a basis for their existence. A person is judged by his role at a given time and is very likely to play out that specific part on a daily basis in a sea of strangers. Here there is far less family interaction. Families function primarily to prepare children to be on their own in society. Within this role-based society one encounters a great diversity of individuals. People are not bound by the opinions of others as long as they do not step outside their social roles. This leads to a diversity of norms: Each person or group of people may form his own ideas of the correct way to behave in society. Put simply, this is modern American society.
In cities, among a huge diversity of people and norms, a gesellschaft produces an air of freedom. Durkheim pointed out in 1893 that Gemeinschaft is a requisite of modern society. There are so many possible roles, and because these roles are so specialized, that individuals must focus on a few specifics in order for society to flourish. This position can be extended to say that because these roles are, generally, freely available in an urban society, urbanism inherently includes freedom. The German adage, “Stadtluft Macht Frei,” or “city air makes one free,” unequivocally states this.
2.2.2 Cities and norms
Cities are not completely free, however. Even with a great variety of acceptable norms, there still are many social rules to follow. Indeed, the variety of norms is not even so great as has been suggested. Mass media and religion enforce certain “overriding” norms. Also, specific economic roles demand absolutely strict adherence to a set of behaviors. Often, in fact, urban dwellers find themselves restrained by an extremely rigid set of rules while on the job or the street. Often, too, the diversity present in a city creates a climate of mistrust and fear. In order to protect themselves from others, urbanites often resort to “lowest common” norms: They look down while walking on the sidewalk and speak quietly, if at all, in lavatories and elevators. Instead of being forced to behave like other family members, urbanites are forced to “mind their own business” in order to stay out of trouble. The public places so admired by the Gesellschaft theorists require rigid adherence to the rules of normal behavior.
2.2.3 Neighborhoods and social groups
The concept of community is closely related to that of “social group”. We will define the social group as Gesellschaft equivalent of the Gemeinschaft family: a group of peers who share a common set of norms and values, agree to being part of a group, and frequently interact with each other. (Luhman, p. 158) It is evident from this definition that a social group need not live in proximity, only that they frequently are in contact with each other. Technology has blown apart the close link between “social group” and “family” (in the communal living sense) or even “neighborhood”. Social groups can be connected by telephones; they can work together; they can play together; they can even come about as a result of the formation of a specific group. Regardless of physical distance between living areas, social groups do exist even in the most spacious of geographical settings.
Herbert Gans’ study of the Italian residents of Boston’s West Side illustrates clearly the traditional notion of neighborhood and family defining a social group. All of Gans’ Urban Villagers live in a certain neighborhood and share a great deal of time together. Even though his goal was not to merely portray a social group, Gans did this well.
2.2.4 What feels like a neighborhood
The ideas of community and neighborhood are intimately personal ones. No one can force either of these things on an area that is unready for it. Similarly, as Gans found, these two important fundamentals can appear in even the most unlikely places, from the Urban Village to Levittown. Therefore, it seems certain that, since these concepts are based in the mind of the participant, they can exist where the physical surroundings would seem to make them unlikely.
2.2.5 Non-dense communities
The greatest obstacle to the formation of community would seem to be space. One would think that, where there is great distance between people, there can be no intimate, personal, regular contact. Without this essential ingredient can there can be community? Therefore, it would seem that there is no community in Edge City.
This analysis was based on simple logic, but it ignores one important thing: People need community in their lives and will create it where it is missing, as has been shown in many studies. In her anthropological studies of the Bahinemo people of Papua New Guinea’s Hunstein Forest, Edie Bakker was amazed by the complex community that had evolved there. The Bahinemos were a highly mobile people spread out over 8 open villages in 600 square miles. They spent most of their time migrating from village to village in family groups. Yet, despite this way of life, the Bahinemo had a very complex society and interacted a great deal. They created their own mobile communities based not around a village but around a group of acquaintances. Similarly, today’s American Edge City dweller is highly mobile, yet has created his own community based not on a particular neighborhood but rather a group of friends.
One of Louis Wirth’s main complaints about urbanism was that people interacted largely based on roles, not as people. (Abu-Lughod, p. 270) While this is certainly true in general, it does not obviate the possibility that people can still create community. Instead of basing this idea around a physical neighborhood, as Gans noted in West Boston, Edge City dwellers base their community on their network of acquaintances. Often, then, these communities are based around places of work. Since people are forced to interact frequently in an office environment, they tend to surpass the mere role-based interactions required of them and create genuine friendships. Similarly, non-working members of the family tend to frequent certain locations, from schools to civic group meetings. Whether there are one or two working members of a family, there is usually enough interaction in places of business, education, and leisure to spontaneously create a true, geographically independent community. The concept of community rises beyond that of neighborhood.
2.3 Distance As Time
“It is significant that not only have space values entirely changed to time values … but a new sense of spacing based on speed is here.” (Wright, p. 82)
With this geographic independence of community comes a startling new concept: That of geographic independence of distance. Put simply, Edge City dwellers no longer see distance in terms of blocks, or even acres as Frank Lloyd Wright had suggested, but rather in terms of automobile minutes. In other words, when asked how far he is from his job, the typical Edge City worker will answer “30 minutes.” Beyond the semantic curiosity of this statement, though, lies a more important truth. The automobile separates the perception of geography from the reality of space.
2.3.1 Physical conceptions of distance
Traditionally, cities were rather small, being only a few square miles. This lead to Wirth’s requirement of density in the definition of a city. As people began to specialize in terms of work, they found that they had to mentally separate work from living, and perform these functions in discrete locations. Since many types of specialization require special tools and resources, or simply make a mess, people physically separated their work spaces from their living areas. Since preindustrial people did not have the time to travel far to their work, and often work involved a number of people, they were forced to congregate in dense settlements.
Perhaps, then, it is not so strange for people to desire greater distance between working and living areas. All proposed planned cities have incorporated a degree of physical and emotional separation between living and working areas. Normally, this is in the form of a natural barrier such as a stand of trees or a wall. This allowed people to walk just a short distance to their work and yet be separated from its mental implications and possible physical noxiousness. It is only natural for people to desire separation from that which they have to do and that which they wish to do.
2.3.2 Distance as human movement
The separation of work from home is necessarily based on the distance people can travel in a relatively short amount of time. This time has been estimated at a maximum of 45 minutes. In human terms, this is only a short distance, 3 miles at most. Since there has been no easy way to overcome this barrier, it has become the normal distance to be expected. Most city plans, then, are no more than 3 miles in diameter, or 9 square miles. In fact, most cities until modern times have been far smaller than this.
2.3.3 Technological mitigation of space
“The introduction of streetcar services exerted a decentralizing influence on the urban form by facilitating an outward expansion that reached beyond the city limits.” (Papacostas, p. 281)
The nineteenth century saw the first real breach of the 3-mile barrier. The French and British development of the taxi cab and the American acceptance of the urban trolley at last allowed men to travel more than the traditional 3 miles. Finally freed of their main limiting factor, the growth of cities greatly accelerated. In the mid nineteenth century, “urbanism spread into the surrounding countryside, with the concentration of houses, markets, and workshops tapering off gradually, rather than ending abruptly.” (Abu-Lughod, p. 51) Cities were beginning to spread out over the countryside and new developments in technology have only increased this.
By 1900, for the first time, transportation facilities meant for inter-city transit began to be used for “commuting” by those living in the surrounding towns. Municipalities and private concerns were quick to respond to this new market with the development of “high speed” or “light” rail lines. These were not railroads in the traditional sense of coaches for long-distance travel between distinct urban points like the airlines of today. Instead, these links lead to “dead ends” in small towns surrounding the city. Often they were even run only at certain times of the day to cater to “normal business hour” traffic. This was an extremely important development as it allowed people to live in a rather different location geographically than where they worked. The process of “filtering” the upper classes out of the city, or gentrification, had begun. Soon, everyone with the means was drawn out to the surrounding countryside. The upper class even gave up the practice of maintaining both a country house and city apartment. With available transportation, it was practical to live in the country all the time, yet still visit the office regularly.
2.3.4 Distance as time
Soon, another innovation radically changed the face of the city: The automobile. With the advent of mass-produced, reliable automobiles, workers could both satisfy their desire for privacy and increase the number of possible housing locations. No longer fixed to specific stations and schedules, it became a reasonable practice to commute alone to work in an automobile. Without the regular schedules, and with this new dose of freedom, people began to take personal responsibility for punctuality. Commuting times were computed and housing locations were chosen not by town, stop, or even distance, but by the length of time it would take to drive to work. Work was not the only recipient of this thinking. All aspects of life were computed into the equation, leading to a mental map of distances based on time. America has become a country obsessed with time, to the extent that Americans rarely think of distance anymore. For the average American, and especially for the Edge Cityite, distance is time.
2.4 Auspuff Macht Frei or Freedom of the Road
“The best symbol of individual success and identity was a sleek, air-conditioned, high-powered, personal statement on wheels.” (Jackson, p. 1)
One of the classic American myths is that of the open road. The beautiful American interstate highway system, coupled with the American love of the automobile, is indisputable. It was only natural for Americans to fall for Jackson’s “personal statement on wheels”. Simply, the automobile is the ultimate expression of modern values: privacy, comfort, speed, and personality. Americans, and in fact citizens of most industrialized countries, see the automobile as their own little world, and the car makes possible much that people strive for.
First, the automobile is private. If there is one thing Americans have voted with their dollars for its privacy, both in the sense of protection from the outside world and as resistance to cooperation. Americans do not want to share, believing that the fruits of their work, especially material objects, are theirs alone to enjoy. They have always striven to separate what is theirs from what is not. It is only natural for the availability of a new technology that can make them more private to be widely accepted. Automobiles have really become an extension of the “personal space” that begins in the bedroom and extends out through the home and lawn. With an automobile, a person does not really have to be out in the world until he sets foot on the property of his workplace.
Furthermore, humans in general have consistently demonstrated that they do not want to cooperate in public transit. As Joel Garreau put it, “once a person is in his car, you will never get him out of it into a different mode, no matter how bad the traffic is.” (Garreau, p. 467) People would rather waste hours in gridlock, and waste money on gas, than share a mobile public space for a while each day. Many people think of public transportation in terms of undesirable fellow riders, late arrivals, and fumbling with payment, while never thinking of the negative aspects of automobile travel. The fundamental problem with public transit seems to be twofold: people want to be as comfortable as possible for as long as possible without changing positions, and people do not want to have to worry about someone else’s schedule. While one-switch (ie: car-bus, foot-train) travel is sometimes practiced, two-switch travel is virtually unheard of. Switching modes and depending on the punctuality and manners others is a hassle most people would rather do without.
The next “big draw” of the car is comfort. Modern automobiles are enclosed, impervious to the weather. Climate control is a stunningly accurate name for not just the heating/ventilation/air conditioning system, but the entire automobile. Automotive seats, at least lately, are usually more comfortable than the typical easy chair, while subway and bus seats are notorious. A person’s automotive sound system is almost always better than his home stereo. In fact, many audio experts would call the automobile the perfect location for the installation of top-quality stereo components. In public transportation the choices are usually tinny personal stereos, the noise of fellow passengers, of the sound of the vehicle itself. For many people, as said above, it is not even necessary to set foot outside “private space” to get to an automobile.
2.4.3 Superhuman power
Another benefit of auto commuting is the feeling of power and speed. Even with commuting traffic running far slower than the posted limits, automobiles are designed for high speeds. Lately, auto manufacturers have discovered that top speeds are not generally as important as power. Most commuter-targeted cars are not even capable of 90 miles per hour, but their acceleration would put many older “sporty” cars to shame. It is the feeling of power and speed that customers want, not the ability to actually travel well above legal limits. Most public transportation modes, busses excluded, actually do travel faster than even expressway commuters. Autos, though, offer the possibility of speed. They offer the driver personal control of his own course and speed, and by extension his destiny. Trains cannot leave their tracks, even their planned courses. Automobiles offer at least the possibility of travel anywhere the driver wants to go at any time.
This sense of self-guidance leads to the auto’s most irreplaceable aspect: personality. While overstated, the slogan, “you are what you drive” is not entirely incorrect. Drivers can sing, shout, and talk openly in their cars. Being an extension of private property, people feel that they can be themselves in their cars. In fact, the private automobile comes close to delivering the true diversity of norms promised by the city. Drivers feel that they can be themselves behind the wheel, be they aggressive, defensive, hurried, or leisurely. The constraints of traffic laws do not seem as restrictive as the reproach of a stranger on a sidewalk. Drivers can even make a statement about themselves with their choice of “wheels”. The care taken maintaining their vehicle can be as visible as personal hygiene. Even the choice of which car to drive can show different aspects of one’s personality to the outside world.
A fitting restatement of the German adage, “Stadtluft macht frei,” tells the story of the auto’s place in the shaping of Edge City: “Auspuff macht frei,” “auto exhaust makes one free.” The fumes that pour out of the millions of cars that ply the roads of Edge City each day tell volumes about the habits of this new form of urbanite. The citizens of Edge City carry their privacy with them wherever they go; they express themselves with their possessions; and they rely on highly individualistic and capitalistic mechanisms in their daily lives. Automobiles have reshaped the face of the urban landscape, indeed of the entire world.
2.5 The Open City
“It is in the development of flying, too, that the present city disappear eventually to reappear as well spaced structure in spaciousness.” (Wright, p. 84)
The spread of the city into the country should come as no surprise. It has been predicted, contemplated, and planned for over a hundred years. Initially, grand utopian plans were drawn up for green cities. It was thought that man could be liberated intellectually by moving out of the cramped, old city into Nature. Though this, like all utopian schemes, never came to pass, the visionaries of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did predict the shape of Edge City surprisingly well.
2.5.1 Ebenezer Howard
The visionary Ebenezer Howard began the movement to reinvent the town with his 1898 book, To-morrow: a Peaceful Path to Real Reform. Here, he envisioned vast belts of green to enhance and separate living, working, industrial, and recreational areas. He proposed master-planned “Edge Cities” that would surround existing metropolitan areas. Of course, his plans were on a human scale, but they still entice the planners of today. Howard designed his cities for cooperation and community, carefully laying paths and roads to focus on recreation areas and to avoid the disagreeable factories of his era. Howard believed that there were two main forces that bring people together in a central place: leisure and consumption. (Fishman 2, p. 43) Therefore, his Garden Cities would focus on a central “Crystal Palace”. Today, we would call this a shopping mall. Additionally, Howard placed housing in clusters with direct routes to clusters of commercial and industrial development. Though Howard could never have predicted an Edge City on the massive time scale, he did predict its general structure.
Howard also provides a general framework for the future of urban development. Howard recognized the pull of the rival magnets of town and country and drew up a diagram of these magnets. (Fishman 2, plate 1) Today, his ideas offer a basis for the development of a new expression of Howard’s town-country. Howard recognized that the town and the country were neither paradise nor hell. Rather, each offered many positive and negative aspects. From safety on the streets to the opportunity for beautiful architecture, both offered many conflicting benefits. Howard was able to conceptualize a combination of the town and country and, though his geometrically strict plans were never adopted, it seems likely that they continue to influence development even to this day. In a way, Edge City is a grand expression of Howard’s “Garden City”.
2.5.2 Frank Lloyd Wright
After Howard, two important, and equally influential visions of this new city were put forth. The French architect, Le Corbusier, espoused a radical new style of monumental buildings set apart from one another in natural surroundings. His plan, called the Contemporary City, called for diverse communities within these huge buildings. The American Frank Lloyd Wright followed this concept with his opposing notion of the city of small, personal buildings spread out throughout a natural landscape. Wright’s Broadacres would duck the transportation issue by placing small places of work and leisure within a short walk from the houses. It seems that, while both men foresaw the spread-out future of the city, neither wanted the automobile to be a part of it.
Wright came very close to foreseeing the auto-oriented city, but he seems loath to relish it. Instead, while all the time designing a multitude of automobile-friendly fixtures, he stuck to the notion that the future city should revolve around pedestrians as daily transportation. Wright’s highways were for transportation between focused communities with housing, leisure, and work contained within them. He never mentioned the possibility of the automobile-based commuter. Because of his fixation on the pedestrian, Wright was an avid proponent of human-scale buildings. Even his stunningly accurate design for a roadside market (Wright, pp. 98-101) lacks the Edge City trademark ample parking space. To avoid the problem of transportation, Wright located housing directly adjacent to the market. Even his stadium and airport lack parking! (Wright, pp. 103, 108)
2.5.3 Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier’s Contemporary City similarly avoids “the car question” by massively concentrating the population around public transportation links. Though nearly every one of his illustrations includes automobiles, not one includes an indication of parking. Indeed, Le Corbusier insists that people will happily live in “apartment villas” and take elevators to trains to journey to work and play. Unlike Wright, Le Corbusier’s cities would be instantly recognizable as such by the casual observer. Like Wright’s, Le Corbusier’s designs were influential, though the scale of his skyscrapers made them extremely difficult to build.
2.5.4 Edge City interpretations
The main idea adopted from Le Corbusier is that of the suburban office tower. Wright never predicted, indeed never desired, the migration of the skyscraper to the prairie. The modern corporate campus, though, is startlingly similar to Le Corbusier’s designs. Often tall, even monumental, the Edge City office tower dominates a “campus” of lush, and meticulously maintained, grounds. They are normally designed in the Bauhaus style, with vast expanses of glass and exposed structural members rhythmically arranged. As Le Corbusier would have wanted, though called a campus, the modern corporation resides in a single building, often consisting of many stories. As Garreau notes, the typical Edge City floorplate is 20,000 square feet, or 100 feet by 200 feet. (Garreau, p. 469) Since windows are seen as a symbol of status, office buildings are carefully designed to maximize the number of windowed offices.
Contrasting this is the design of the Edge City factory. Early on, American businessmen noticed that factories work much better on a single level. This was a problem initially, since factories had to be located near the available pool of labor, and that put them in cities with expensive real estate. With the advent of electric power and improvements in transportation, though, factories quickly uprooted and were moved to open areas where they could spread out on one level. In fact, factories were the first tenants of Edge City. Today, factory buildings are massive and flat, occupying huge tracts of fenced-in land. Because factories still need workers, and it is impractical for workers in a huge factory to all enter at the same place and walk to the remote edges of the building, modern ones, like malls, have vast parking lots surrounding them so workers can park near the entrance closest to their station. Therefore, since the very emergence of suburban workplaces, workers have been forced to drive to work. This point was missed, or overlooked, by both Wright and Le Corbusier.
It is difficult to say how much influence the “big three,” Howard, Le Corbusier, and Wright, had on the shape of the expansive cities we now live in. Certainly their plans were seriously considered by many. In all, four of Howard’s Garden Cities, and numerous also-rans, were built. None were very successful, but the ideas of natural buffers (ie: trees, streams, and hills) between home and work areas and clusters of uses along geometric lines have largely been adopted. Wright plainly set the plan for housing in Edge City. His prairie-style architecture was so influential that it is difficult to find a recent housing development that was not influenced by his ideas. However, like Howard, his grand social ideas were never enacted, and the tame interpretations of his designs which we see today do not do justice to his original plans. It is most difficult to find a relic of Le Corbusier’s plans. He, too, had utopian ideas, but the grand scale of his designs were too difficult to even prototype. Sadly, the only real legacy of his designs is in the clustered towers of American “project” housing. Widely accepted as a grand failure of both social engineering and urban planning, it is depressing that horrible places like St. Louis’ Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project are the lasting legacy of such a great thinker as Le Corbusier. Still, the devellopment of Edge City owes much to these three men.
2.6 The Shape of Edge City
The conglomeration which is today called Edge City is a synthesis of this history. Edge City really began after World War II with the migration of living quarters to suburban settings, and culminated in the 1980s with the wholesale migration of workplaces there. Edge Cities decentralized, based on technological innovations which allowed travel beyond human scales. They drew on the plans of visionary architects and thinkers, and based their final designs on the demands of the market place. Today’s Edge Cities are vast networks of roads with nodes of living, shopping, working, and entertaining places, all placed within a short car ride away.
2.6.1 The automobile is the key
Indeed, today’s Edge City is based on the automobile. Edge Cities would not even exist without them. Conceptually, then, an Edge City is the city an individual creates for himself based on the distance he can comfortably travel in his car. Historically, the maximum amount of time a person will comfortably travel without considering it a major trip is 45 minutes. In Edge City, with the excellent highways usually found there, this translates into a maximum radius of 60 miles. Since, then, all developments in a particular area are limited by this distance, few stretch out to fill all available space. Generally, Edge Cities sprout clusters of development around each highway interchange or exit. These cities cohere based on the people who populate them. Geometrically, Edge Cities have a focus in an area 60 miles in diameter and spread out in smaller pockets another 60 miles from there. Therefore, Edge City areas typically sprawl over 11,000 square miles, encompassing hundreds of towns and tens of municipal jurisdictions.
2.6.2 The time-scale city
Within these, individual areas of relatively high “edge urban” concentration can be identified. These are normally referred to by either a former small town that has become the focus of the new construction (as in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia) or a highway interchange (as in 128/495, Massachusetts). These concentrations, though referred to loosely as “Edge Cities” are not cities in their own right. Rather, they are pockets of the larger expanse of individual time-scale cities. Each resident of an Edge City area creates his own city, defining it within himself on his own terms. Normally, this time-scale city is centered on his residence and stretches out toward his place of work, encompassing at least one large shopping mall, many “strip-style” clusters of stores and services, and at least one old downtown. If a person dislikes a particular spot, he simply excludes it from his own mental city. If enough people dislike the same area, it suffers economically and disappears, to be replaced by new development. In this way, the citizens of Edge City vote with their pocketbooks and their feet for the development of their city. Suburbanites today feel that they are “citizens of a larger region, rather than participants in the fiction of an isolated town or city.” (Kelbaugh, p. 5)
Generally, too, many people share the same general boundaries for their personal cities. These evolve, through the above capitalist/democratic process, into definite urban areas without strict, Park/Burgess-style focuses. These, then, are the Edge Cities. Without names, without forms, but definitely existing. Today, these cities dominate the face of America.