I’m posting another paper from my CRP class, this one describing my ideal city. It touches on some of the things I like about Baltimore and Washington, DC.
My ideal city is probably too perfect to be real. It is most likely a large metropolitan city. The urban composition and cultural offerings of small towns or cities like Ames and Des Moines simply don’t cut it. If I am going to be settled somewhere for a long time (or even the rest of my life), it would be nice to have something new to see and do on any given day. I don’t want a city that I can thoroughly explore in just one day. However, I also don’t desire a city that is endlessly sprawled and sterile of unique or local character. A smaller city with exceptional urban form and culture would be much better than a larger metro made up of only cheap sprawl.
My ideal city is centered around a historic, yet vibrant, downtown that is built up densely with pleasing urban form. Row houses and mixed-use neighborhoods are the norm. There are no freeways slicing through neighborhoods and the automobile is not the dominant mode of transportation. The city provides the convenience of chain retailers and eateries, but is not oversaturated. Locally or regionally-owned, neighborhood businesses dominate, exceeding typical big box stores and drive-thrus.
Strong urban form is very important. I particularly enjoy Colonial era architecture and cities. It’d be wonderful to live in a historic row house in a dense, diverse neighborhood of a great old city. I definitely do not want to live in a modern suburban subdivision. Even older, detached homes in dense neighborhoods aren’t that attractive to me. I realize different people have different tastes, so a good city obviously needs a variety of housing types. However, I’d prefer a dominance of traditional neighborhoods of townhouses mixed with non-residential uses. Less dense housing further from the core should still be designed with urban form and public benefit in mind.
In my ideal city, people of different races, religions, and incomes would be able to live together in harmony. Low-income housing is intermixed with middle and upper class homes in the same neighborhoods. Citizens take pride in their neighborhoods and city. Diverse and mixed-use neighborhoods keep crime down, allowing for more “eyes on the street.” By celebrating its diversity, this city affords a multitude of cultural, educational, and entertainment opportunities.
Sustainability and efficiency is important for a good city. This means environmentally friendly buildings, compact urban design, and of course transportation. The ideal city has minimal sprawl and retains its historic urban form and density. Public transportation is an integral part of the city landscape, comprising of both rail and bus modes. The city also has an intensive bike and walking trail system, providing another legitimate mean of transportation, in addition to recreation.
The closest, real US city to my ideal is probably somewhere on the East Coast. I really like old Georgian architecture and dense urban neighborhoods that can only be found in the East Coast’s historic cities. I particularly enjoy the cities of Washington, DC, and Baltimore. Both cities are rich in historic buildings and urban neighborhoods. I love how in Washington, nearly every decision made about development has been well thought out and planned. Another strong point is its extensive Metro system, allowing residents and visitors, alike, to get just about anywhere without an automobile. Although much of Baltimore is blighted with poverty and crime, its miles and miles of row houses radiating from the Inner Harbor puts me to awe. Even the suburbs appear more attractive to me than those in other regions. Many of them are built up as small urban centers along Metro lines. Others have actually been around for over a hundred years, maintaining their own historic charm. There are obvious drawbacks to the region, particularly social issues. Baltimore is inundated with crime-ridden, dilapidated neighborhoods and Washington is gentrifying at an alarming rate.
All cities have good and bad elements. I look forward to exploring more in the future to refine my definition of what the ideal is. Based on my experiences so far, the ideal city I describe is urban, sustainable, and diverse.