Image: cityscape from Wong Kar Wai's beautiful 2046 (2004).

Friday, February 8, 2008

Exorbitant Happiness?

Incredibly, an article in En Route magazine caught my eye tonight (discovered via Where). Yep. En Route, the magazine found on Air Canada airplanes, which I have pulled out of a seat-back pockets countless times, flipped open, discovered the crossword to be already half complete, and then closed with some small measure of disdain and a complete measure of disinterest.

But, now, En Route is writing about cities. The article, "The Happy City," explores initiatives recently undertaken in Bogotá, Mexico City and even Paris to make cities happier by making them more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly, less asphalt jungle and more urban Riviera, and more prone to positive encounter and intersection. The initiatives include turning motorways into beaches in the summertime... in Paris... who would have thought? The author, Charles Montgomery, has a lovely writing style that interweaves moments of flâneur-like urban description with some fairly strong reference to urban researchers and planners:

"There is a wondrous, stirring power to the Champs-Élysées. The street’s lifeblood pulses along sidewalks that are cumulatively much wider than those famous six lanes of traffic. It exists between paving stones, newsstands and café tables, in the dripping of ice cream cones, in long legs and gusts of wind and in the electric possibility of a thousand simultaneous stolen glances.

"The more time we spend on foot, on bikes or even on public transit, the more we slow down and the more we fuel this kind of social alchemy. Ironically, it may be the crisis of climate change – and the push for carbon austerity – that reinvigorates street life around the world."

It's a very interesting read -- again, from an airline magazine no less -- and dovetails with my dissertation's analysis of the function of intersection in urban narratives. In the films, intersection is calamitous, often fatal. In the brilliantly re-planned Happy City of (really?) the real world, close encounters with urban others is the idealized road to a more content, trusting and trustworthy populous. Whence the disconnect?

Also, for another marvelous late-night read about urban culture, head over to my favourite speculative architecture blog and check out Geoff's post on Cloud City (proposed by Studio Lindfors for a design competition aimed at concepts for a disaster-destroyed NYC). As is often the case when I encounter a seemingly impossible concept city, I find myself convinced that this zeppelin -based urbanism is inspired directly by Invisible Cities, but find myself unable to lay hands on the passage, given that book's uniquely confounding structure. Maybe I'll be able to find it tomorrow.

[image courtesy of Studio Lindfors]

No comments: