// an ideal city//
Currently I can’t seem to get Johnny Cash’s ‘I’ve been everywhere’ out of my head but unlike the man in black, I have not been everywhere. But this is one of those rare moments where I don’t mock myself for not having Marco Polo travel credentials. My ideal city has been something I’ve been attempting to process for many years now. Researching cities I may, possibly, job permitting…happily call home after graduation.
Growing up in a rust belt city always made me long for a ‘real’ city. Now that I’m in one I find it increasingly more difficult to understand my old sentiment. Ever since parting Buffalo I have wished for it to come back to me. Not the poor economy or the less than stellar transportation system, but the people, buildings, and food. There are very specific things about my hometown (which I’m admittedly obsessed with) that I sincerely desire Washington, D.C. to adopt. Specifically, the people in Buffalo are the nicest, most helpful people I have ever come across in my life. I am only starting to realize this however, because when you grew up in the Mecca of societal niceness you don’t realize what you have. I often feel as though I’m in a shockingly real Twilight Zone episode and Rod Sterling is narrating my encounters with Washingtonians as if I was the kanamit in the production.
The Buildings within the city are not replicable, there is something about the Guaranty Building designed by Louis Sullivan that always gets to me (in a good way) when looking up at the intricate detailing from a cracked sidewalk. The idea that the Guaranty Building was built based on a ‘Form Follows Function’ principle still fascinates me…In a time when everywhere in America is anywhere in America, Buffalo seems to stick out. There is no other city where you can see the architecture of HH Richardson, Frank Lloyd Wright, Eero Saarinen, Daniel Burnham, Richard Upjohn and Louis Sullivan.
Buffalo food has been paid homage to on the back of bar menus for years (the ‘Buffalo wing’) but food in Buffalo is more than just a chicken limb. Food within a city tends to show the city’s roots, and while many of the standard dishes are something out of an American cookbook, other food outlets show the ethnic makeup of the city. Delicious Italian, Indian, Thai, French, Irish, German, Burmese (and many others) decorate the city- the influence of these tasty goods affects the happiness of your tummy but rarely the size of your wallet. Unlike mediocre, expensive, food that is all over DC, Buffalo allows a lot of bang for the buck you work so hard for.
Now, I’m not saying Buffalo is my ideal city- because there is always something to improve on, and the notion of an ideal city means something so good it could only be fictional (in my opinion). I would love to live in a city where mixed use is common; I like the idea of living next to your favorite restaurant, or bank or grocer. I think that mixed use is one of the only ways to bring together a community; you live where you work (a concept that was definitely neglected in the 1950s). With mixed use housing people tend to care more about their work environment because it is not just a place where your employer is, it’s your own neighborhood.
A compact city is also something I believe in. The reliance on foreign oil is insane, and a mid-sized city where people live where they work would significantly cut down on commuting. People will spend less of their time in a car and more time with family, and friends- I believe people would be happier (commuting everyday sounds like a torture mechanism).
Urban parks would cut through streets with barbers, vets, and other common businesses so that people could spend their lunch breaks eating a locally produced egg salad, instead of a processed burger patty at the local McDonalds.
I’ve learned that people are really receptive to improving their neighborhood if you let them. Overtly gentrified land, and crime related arson (two evils on opposite ends of the spectrum) would be a thing of the past if locals had a say in the urban makeup of their community. These grassroots groups and town hall meetings (they are shockingly effective in smaller areas) would help facilitate the development and retrofit of planning tools that use neighborhood design, green infrastructure, and iconic building retrofit. By involving community members the city can create walk-able green mixed-use developments that reduce the amount of ghg emissions released from transportation and building districts.