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The Past Begets the Future

September 23rd, 2010

Urban renewal gained a justifiably notorious connotation following World War II. For more than 70 years countries followed architectural, city planning and governmental policies that were based on the ideas of a few and the will of even fewer .   In putting commerce ahead of community we built places that ignored how people interacted. Now we collectively face stagnant brownfield sites, cultural commercialization, unsustainable industrial development, hollow urban centers and significant damage to our natural resources.

As we reconfigure the places where we live, as we strive to bring the suburbs and urban core into alignment, we can not ignore anthropological necessities nor forget historical lessons of the past.  People want to connect, people want to interact, people need community.  In this century, we will face significant challenges stemming from population growth and breakneck development in many developed nations and a growing list of last century’s developing countries.  To survive we must seek balance between the common good and commerce.  To thrive we must incorporate lessons learned with thoughtful design, focused on our human existence.

Here’s the funny thing– we had it more right than not before the era of “modernist” urban planning (circa 1920 – 1970).  Cities with strong growth at the turn of the last century featured many of the features and concepts that are so necessary for our future.  Greenspace, mixed use neighborhoods, entrepreneurial populations, and more. Which today must be coupled with multi-disciplinary approaches including design and project  -based thinking, sustainable alignment of suburban and urban considerations and grassroots, community lead involvement.

Today, many of these citiesthat served as the bedrock on which we grew  are considered also-rans or, even worse, dead. Yet they serve as both yesterday’s lesson and tomorrow’s classroom and some will find the will to emerge as leaders in authentic city planning and revitalization. We must learn from our past, both good and bad, to ensure our future.

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