Looking back and looking forward
My readers will know these posts come few and far between. They also likely believe that's just fine--there's no Pulitzer-prize winning writing or prophecy coming out of these fingertips. If a blog is going to get posted, it requires the aligning of a few stars---namely, some inspiration AND some free time. So it is that the inspiration comes from this thought-provoking article by Eric Levitz from the Intelligencer I thought I would share. Read it, by clicking on the skinny image above, then come back to read my thoughts about it below.
Most of my time and experience practicing architecture in Arkansas is spent in small towns across the state. Indeed, most of Arkansas IS small town. If there is an "Urbanization Scale" that might describe Arkansas urban areas relative to other urban areas across the United States and the World... Little Rock, which is where I call home, would probably not qualify. Be that as it may, I can say with assurance that the potential problems highlighted by Mr. Levitz are just as relevant to Little Rock as it is to the "Big Apple". I do hope city leaders and planners are paying attention, because in my experience, they are more often reacting to problems as opposed to leading through smart and intentional planning. The successful cities, of course, aren't successful by accident--that should be obvious.
So for the sake of transparency, allow me to admit my bias and preference for small towns to perhaps be the beneficiary of such trends suggested in the article--that as an economy that allows for remote work to be more possible, folks might move back into the places that have been experiencing declines in population for decades. I admit my hope, that the trend that has been around for generations--a flock towards urban areas--might be reversed. Thus, maybe some of the great buildings and places that have been neglected for so long, where some rejuvenation might still be possible, would see a renaissance. So many small and wonderful places, and its people, deserve it.
Of course, I am no sociologist. I know just enough to know the forces and factors that cause trends in the movement of people are complex--and if there is a renaissance to be seen in small towns, it won't happen in the span of a few years. Conversely, if people are to move out of urban and suburban areas, for whatever reasons, it will probably be slow, hardly noticeable in the short span of time, but there should be unmistakeable indicators. Don't get me wrong though. While I do root for the small town, I do also love great cities. While I would love to see the trend for the past decades to reverse, I sure don't want to see our great cities crumble as a result. So I think we would be wise to look for warning signs, and to stay humble, in our race to build.
Could some of what we've seen recently be a harbinger of a trend in the move away from urban and sub-urbanized areas on a large scale? I doubt it. However, I do think our city planners should be very aware of the potential dangers of growing out on the fringes too quickly. Un-checked development that requires greater strain on city services, while sucking resources from our developed areas is a real problem--and has been, for a long time. I have no doubt cities need to constantly look to attract new business and development-- most of us definitely prefer the new and shiny over the old and dingy. Just beware of the costs of short term gain. Focus on what makes your community special and unique because that is what is going to make it desirable, and will attract people and investment, in the long run. And whatever you do, for the love of all that is good and right, don't destroy, or allow to be lost, your physical links to your past, i.e., your historic buildings.
May your 2023 be prosperous and joyous!