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Fisking Andres Duany

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

"The teenagers and young people in Miami come in from the suburbs to the few town centers we have, and they come in like locusts.  They make traffic congestion all night; they come in and take up the parking.  They ruin the retail and they ruin the restaurants, because they have different habits than older folks.  I have seen it.  They're basically eating up the first-rate urbanism.  They have this techno music, and the food cheapens, and they run in packs, great social packs, and they take over a place and ruin it and go somewhere else."

"I've known for 10 years about this destructive monoculture that's condensed in the suburbs.  These people would normally be buying real estate by now.  And we designed for them.  We kept saying 'aha, these kids, between 24 and 35, will be buying real estate." But guess what? They aren't.  Because they can't afford it.  But they're still using the cities--they're renting and so forth.  These gen-Xers also discovered the cities-they're buying in a proper way.  The Millennials are the ones we're talking about.  And they love cities desperately. And they're loving them to death."

Andres Duany is a man whose time has come and gone.  In the 1970s he founded New Urbanism, and helped set the stage for the revitalization of cities we're seeing across America today.  Unfortunately, when asked to survey the current state of affairs to The Atlantic's "Future of the City" project, he gave the two responses you see above. Here he is, complaining that Urbanism has essentially sold out, and the people that like it now and use it and live in it don't get it.  In fact, he sounds an awful lot like the apartment-renting hipsters he hates so much, who sigh that they knew about all the cool bands "before they were big."

If he'd only given the first quote in isolation, I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt.  He's essentially lamenting the bridge-and-tunnel nightlife of Miami, where kids drive into town and don't really heed the culture that's already there.  If he's complaining about teenage mallrats who have chosen to run around in urban neighborhoods instead, that's an argument that might have merit.  Still though, to complain that they congest traffic and take up the parking is to forget what he's worked his whole life for: urbanism that allows people to come from far and wide to enjoy a new part of town entirely without a car.  If these kids require a car to get there it is not their fault--the city has failed to build the infrastructure necessary to sustain Mr. Duany's urbanism.  Even more importantly, to complain that they're ruining things simply by dint of being of a different generation, one that has "different habits than older folks" and enjoys "this techno music" is to engage in petty, get-off-my-lawn-you-darned-kids fogeyism.

Tragically, the second quote makes no mistake about Mr. Duany's misunderstanding of the world as it is.  He's right that a destructive monoculture has condensed in the suburbs--it's exactly why all these people around my age lust for the vibrancy and diversity of cities!  Part of that destructive monoculture though is the direct result of people buying houses on large lots at the end of cul-de-sacs and only coming into the cities for work and the occasional fancy dinner or show.  Instead, our generation has chosen the city for work, for play, for our entire lives.  For the time being--until the supply of walkable urbanism catches up with the demands of our generation--living in cities will be expensive.

Like every generation before us, our lives between college and marriage/children of our own are fluid, and so renting makes more sense.  (Also note that our generation tends to marry and have kids later, so this urbanism-starved age group is growing.)  And besides this fundamental truth about life in your mid-20s, what the hell is "buying in the proper way"?  As best I can tell, mindlessly buying property because it's the "proper" thing to do--whether or not you can really afford it or it makes sense for your station in life--is a direct cause of the housing bubble/crisis we're all enjoying so thoroughly right now.  I'd count our choices in this regard as a net positive for society, and I'm not sure I'd be so eager to celebrate our older Gen X brethren for this.  (I'm also not ready to condemn them, because I haven't seen data that points to whether their home-buying habits are rooted in urbanism or sprawl.)

So, Mr. Duany: welcome to 2010.   When you build walkable urbanism in a dense, diverse city, you don't get despotic control over how it is used and by whom it is used.  That kind of central planning belongs somewhere else you're familiar with: the McMansion-filled subdivisions in the monocultural suburbs and exurbs.  Perhaps you fancy yourself ahead of the curve again and wish to retire there?

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