“After all is said and done, he – the citizen – is really the city? The city goes wherever he goes. He is learning to go where he enjoys all the city ever gave him, plus freedom, security, and the beauty of his birthright, the good ground.” (Wright, p. 82)
Just as biological organisms continue to evolve, so too do social forms. Probably as long as people have been living in cities they have been seeking to improve their way of life there. Improvements came slowly, however, due mainly to the limitations of technology and communication. Only in the last century have urbanites at last left the walking cities of our ancestors behind. Now, perhaps before these forms have even had chance to work, we seek to leave behind the closed, mobile city of just a few decades ago. Now, we watch another great experiment emerge: The Edge city.
1.1 Is suburbia worth looking at?
Before we begin our discussion of this new social form, though, it is necessary to pose the question: Is it worth our time? In Herbert Gans’ day, progressive social thinkers overlooked the inner city’s ethnic neighborhoods in their search for civilization. Just as they failed to see the value of the human settlements that literally surrounded their college campuses, we today miss the importance of the “sprawl” that extends outwards from our cities.
Many people, especially in the fields of civil engineering and sociology, fail to see these symptoms of the evolution of our urban forms as anything other than a wasteland. They believe that “strip malls” and “urban sprawl” are merely a sign of degeneracy, and that the really important innovations are occurring in other areas. What they fail to realize is that, while many of these “Shoppers’ Worlds” really are meaningless sprawl, there is something happening out there.
1.2 History Of the City
What is happening is no less than the birth of the next city form. Americans were tired of their walking cities, just as people all over the world were, by the time the industrial revolution came around. At that time, technology demanded tending by a concentrated workforce and gave back meager benefits, such as “mass-produced” housing, trolleys, and forms of communication like telegraphs and newspapers. This was the birth of what shall here be called the “vehicular city.” This is a concentrated rebirth of the walking city with a much bigger population, usually based on industry. New York City and Philadelphia are fine examples. As soon as these cities were begun, though, the residents found reasons to complain. Despite our predictable assertions the old “downtown city” days are simply recollections of the good old days that never were. Crime, pollution, and inadequate living and working conditions were the rule. The vehicular city was not Eden by any stretch of the imagination.
1.3 The Birth Of the Edge
Around the middle of the twentieth century, industrialization began to pay off. In reality, our modern culture, including our edge cities, are products of this “labor-saving revolution.” Automobiles became what horses could never be: private, quick, personal transportation. Television communicated to all of America a uniform set of ideals for daily living, but it also set us forth on a road to suburbia and something else: What Frank Lloyd Wright foresaw in The Living City as “all the city ever gave a man plus freedom and security.” (Wright, p. 82) The automobile allowed the average 45-minute commute to take a person 45 miles instead of 30 blocks without having to stick to a few set routes of travel or to switch modes of transportation. The city exploded. What we see now, forming along our highways and coming to a climax where they meet, is no less than a new stepping stone of urban forms. It is the edge city.