The following is an adaptation of the post by the same title appeared in el-oso.net, with a few of my own conclusions. In the original post “oso” explores some of the common patterns in the evolution of cities.
Chapter 1: Make-shift Slums
As Kevin Kelly rightly points out, “every city begins as a slum … a seasonal camp with free-wheeling make-shift expediency.” Cities are founded on economic opportunity, spontaneous slums, and lawless saloons. Eventually gender ratios equal out, churches move in, government takes shape, and urban planning is institutionalized.
Chapter 2: Hegemony Rules
During the transition from slum to civic center some social group usually takes power and dictates policy. It tends to be the ethnic majority though in the case of colonized countries that was almost never the case. In most cities in the United States power lied among the WASP community. Ethnic minorities were pushed out to the edges while the elite built Victorian homes around the downtown business districts and plazas.
Chapter 3: Suburbanization or scalability of the dream
This is the chapter that takes on different manifestations depending on the ethnic and class make-up of a city, but the basic concept is still generally applicable. During WWII in the United States there was an influx of black americans seeking work in urban centers. After WWII four developments (other than blatant racism) led to white flight from urban centers to suburban communities. First was population density. After the war soldiers returned home to urban centers, but those who moved in while they were gone also remained. Then there was the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, which began the process of desegregating the country’s public schools. White parents felt that their children would receive a lower level of education in a desegregated school, and so they moved to suburbs where neighborhoods and their schools were all white. Third, the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 enabled the workday commute from suburb to city center. Lastly, suburban developers had large returns to scale as they could purchase a single large plot of land and build hundreds or even thousands of nearly identical homes.
Chapter 4: Urban Gentrification
While the majority of white Americans from my generation grew up in mostly white suburban neighborhoods, our schools and public institutions became increasingly integrated and multicultural. Television and mass media brought the Cosby Show, The Jeffersons, Fresh Prince, and Family Matters into our living room. And then came hip-hop. All of a sudden there was nothing less cool than to have grown up in the suburbs. Young people from affluent suburbs moved into lower-income urban neighborhoods where they opened coffee shops, art galleries, and cocktail bars. Awkwardness and antagonism between the newly arrived affluent and the established lower-income population were inevitable. In the worst of cases property prices increased and low-income renters were forced to move out to other neighborhoods. However, there has also been an effort by young people across different classes in gentrified neighborhoods to shape a common aesthetic around hip-hop, indie rock, street art, and skateboarding.
Chapter 5: Back to the basics?
For a long time one of the ideas that persisted across many of my posts was that in the future all cities would share a common global culture. I wasn’t predicting the future as much as I was describing what I believe to be the advanced society in which I have the honour to live. With one of the most multicultural societies in the world, Toronto does well in integrating such diversity. But often times the protocol to coexists without incurring into cultural mishaps leaves us with a very superficial relationship. I sense that many more people would want to get closer and more integrated. While it is difficult to predict how cities will continue to evolve, I’m suggesting there is plenty of interest in creating spaces where the spirit of spontaneity, chaos and lawless goodness can favour a far more amenable environment, with smaller communities of people more open to experiment with their relationships. All we need to do is figure out what factors will promote such an environment.