What mostly happens and what is truly important to people rarely cross paths.
Talk privately with most urban designers, landscape architects, or any of their ilk, and it is interesting to watch their humanity emerge, subtly shifting their conversation from economic and political concerns, or the present “business as usual” paradigm, to thoughts about the creation of a place that is about beauty, the enrichment of people and of a built environment that has a human scale.
People instinctively seem to know what it is that their fellow humans need, but the economic and political wants, as opposed to those simple needs, have a deadly momentum that has corralled most of us, resulting in our towns and cities that, with rare exception, are about machines rather than people.
Mostly, however, this almost unrecognised public dichotomy seems to melt away if people are allowed to pursue design and structure of place in a way that makes their heart beat faster, rather than being trapped by, and working within, an ideologically driven, and frequently emotionally uncomfortable, paradigm. That crushing concept is about business as usual and, in a psychologically disjointed way, the designer has evolved as a critical part of a project that is assembled in such a way that it allows for the harvesting of every dollar, even if it means prostituting all that is important in the creation of a beautiful human-scale place, that is in balance with its surrounds.
American academic and author, Sheldon S. Wolin, alluded to such processes when writing in “Managed Democracy” arguing that his fellows long for much but find it nearly impossible to achieve it because of what he calls “inverted totalitarianism”. Something similar is happening with the design and creation of our towns and cities – our urban designers, architects and others feel their chests throb with excitement, only to been overtaken by a common ache when the prevailing social mores, be they economic or political, begin to crowd their thoughts, and crush ideas.
Some have avoided the totalitarianism Wolin discusses, but frequently the most celebrated are those who fall in with the trilogy of money, money, money, although occasionally a rare soul, willing to risk all, creates something that is about the greater good. Simply living demands a certain courage, but living in a way that takes a person beyond the rude and brute values of the commercial world to create something that is beautiful, human and self-sufficient, exacts a discipline, and courage, of an order few can understand.
Our communities need bold, lateral and innovative thinkers emboldened with a rare courage enabling them to work for society’s greater good.