New York. Seattle. Cleveland. Orlando. As an architect, I've lived, worked and traveled to different cities around the country. I've seen each city's array of unique qualities, both the strengths and the shortcomings. But as these urban centers change and grow and as I stand witness to it all, I can only wonder: What are our visions for these future cities?
When I visit my family in their small town, I'm faced with the same bombardment of questions regarding why I live in the "city." Sure there are plenty of reasons not to. The city certainly provides endless amounts of unusual events and intense situations. I've experienced my fair share of stress inducing jobs. There have been multiple cellphones stolen, not to mention strange run-ins with people of all kinds. But, you can have a series of stressful jobs, get your cell phone stolen and have run-ins with odd people well... just about anywhere.
But, where else can you find such an abundance of unique and fantastic opportunities? In New York City, you can walk into Times Square at 1 in the morning to find yourself in the middle of practically daylight. In Boston, you can experience decades old historic buildings next to modern giants. But, perhaps most importantly is that in almost any urban center you can find diversity. Sure there's that guy with five purses, but there's also amazing restaurants and cultural events of every sort.
If my own experiences haven't quite convinced you that cities are desirable, perhaps the numbers will. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, densely developed areas now account for around 80 percent of the U.S. population and that number is currently rising. These urbanized areas are defined as 50,000 or more people and can also be in clusters, which are of at least 2,500 and less than 50,000 people. This is drastically different from the first years of America's nationhood where cities were small and quite dissimiliar from the1950s, when suburbanization was relatively popular.
America has certainly gone through cycles of urbanization. There have been ups and downs of our country's city centers as well as movements toward different regions such as the Sunbelt. But the America of tomorrow, will certainly not look like the 1950s. Sure, people will always like their space and certain lifestyle options. That will not totally go away. But we're looking at a more diverse America, one that will need to address pertinent questions of today. How will our current infrastructure handle such an increase in urban growth? Where will we place much needed housing? What happens to our aging population?
In order to answer these questions, we will need to also address a distinct national tension. We as Americans like our modern conveniences. There's clean water and smooth roads to ride on. We certainly can't forget electricity, which could not have been created without the development of cities. But at the same time we Americans strive to be off the grid, fiercely independent and wanting to be self-sufficient. We endeavor to keep our freedoms, defending our property and ourselves. Whether or not we like it, we're in this together, striving for a kind of connected independence. Our cities will need to mediate successfully between these two desires if they are to flourish. But it will take compromise, patience and most importantly respect for both of these aspects of American life, if our country is to move forward. We have to believe it will happen. Things are changing and something is next. America is acting.