Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Streets of Philadelphia

While I work on the M.I.A. post, I wanted to link to this great article by Bruce Schimmel in the most recent issue of the Philadelphia City Paper. He takes a look at the genius of the grid designed by William Penn in the 17th Century for the City of Philadelphia, and the health benefits that result from a walkable city. It is a nice look at a topic in urban design, walkability, a concept that makes this city, and cities in general, so special.

This article does a nice job of highlighting the joys and benefits of urban living. The fact that we can live, work and play without the use of a car leads to a healthier life for ourselves and our environment. It doesn't just mean losing a few pounds however (though, G-d knows, I would take those benefits). Walking forces us to encounter the world daily, as one encounters different people, places, sounds, smells. The world is there, in all of its glory and ugliness, and this is a wonderful thing. It is the antithesis of suburbia, which was created to put up barriers and allow people to cut themselves off from their fellow citizens and the uncontrollable. I will deal with these issues in the context of democracy at some point, and maybe even mention Manuel de Certeau's writings, but this is a start.

At the same time, we must respect this grid when design issues come up. Any deviance from it cuts the city off from itself. As someone who walks from Fairmount to Center City quite often, I am intimately familiar with the nightmare that is crossing the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. This is a street with tons of traffic, many lanes and difficult to figure out patterns of traffic. You often see people running to beat traffic, or paralyzed by all of the different stoplights one must take into account. This driver's paradise has cut off the city center from one of its most vibrant neighborhoods. The Vine Street Expressway was a similar gash in the city body, and one that has never been healed. It divides the city, which in turn takes away from the walkability, lessens the benefits of city living and limits any sense of living in a city (as opposed to a neighborhood).

Anyway, more to come on all of these issues, as they are of the utmost importance to our daily lives and this blog. Read the article, and if you see someone running across the Parkway, please don't swerve to hit him. Thanks.

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