A Country of Cities – by Vishaan Chakrabarti

I need space, I need trees. The concrete jungle is a great place to frolic and visit and spelunk through, but I don’t to live there. I want to live in a environment as far away from the urban landscape as I can conveniently be. But apparently this belief of mine, is not mine. The dream of a nice house in the suburbs and the freedom of the open road was a marketing conceit. At least that is Vishaan Chakrabarti’s take on things in his book “A Country of Cities”. I don’t buy it.

Chakrabarti’s states that America’s have been deluded, influenced, corn-squabbled even into thinking that exiting the city is how to live the dream. He points out that it was Carnegie, Rockefeller etc., that turned Americans against mass transit and towards mass consumption to fatten their wallets. It was Sinclair’s dangerous and toxic urban landscape people were fleeing, which they don’t need to anymore. Chakrabarti went on to point out that even Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway Act was dressed up as personal freedom and upward mobility, when it reality it was simply a plan to ensure ballistic missiles could be safely transported around the country during the Cold War era.

All of these may be true, or stretch the truth, but this still does not take away from the fact that not all people wish to live in the city, in such close proximity to one another. And this is what he is arguing in his book: that in order to save America and make it great again.. we need to embrace Hyper Density!

Hyper Density! Instead of one large high-rise building that gets zoned to 50 stories… the Chakrabarti says scrap all zoning restrictions and lets build 50 such buildings and lets all move out of the woods and embrace urban living. In addition to the buildings, they will of course make space for parks and public spaces and a seamless balance of life and work in the same square footage.

Yes, this will dramatically drive down the cost of living per person, substantially reduce our individual carbon footprints and make transportation and the delivery of all good and services much more cost-effective and super convenient on a per user basis.

Can’t argue this on a cost/footprint level. He writes:

“Sustainability is decidedly not Henry David Thoreau’s misanthropic vision of a virgin forest occupied by one person. In the contemporary context, it is not about camping, or visiting Eco-resorts in area that should remain untouched, or living in “green” McMansions in the wilderness. To the countrary, sustainability is about running toward people, not away from them. Is it about embracing all of humanity in order to leave most of the natural world just that – natural. Put it in simplest possible terms, if you love nature, don’t live in it. Cities represent the best chance of realizing this aspiration of global sustainability on a rapidly growing world.”

I get it.. we all can’t be Thoreau’s, but does he not jump way too far the other way? I don’t want to live in the concrete jungle.. no matter how airy and open and how much natural light and manicured landscaping is designed and implemented. I want real light and untamed nature!

The book is a well written manifesto, like many others, but always hard to get past the midway point. The reason is that unless the author has a revolutionary take on a subject, or has a solution to offer, about halfway through the book you clear the hurdle, clear the hump.. or fall off the cliff. There just is nothing more to say after the midway point it gets tedious, repetitive.. boring. Like smoking a cigar more than halfway through, you hit the Law of Diminishing Returns and at that point you can close the book and not miss anything.

This book is one of these books.. although I did finish it. Not that it is bad, the author Vishaan Chakrabarti’s manifesto is laid out between the covers – with lots of great info-graphics – and we get it: We can’t save this country from drowning in unsustainable debt in every segment of society without embracing our humanity and moving in together. Literally.But not everyone wants to do this. Not everyone wants to give up their space, their quiet, their trees.. their whatever!

And there it is… the reason why real change is very difficult. No one wants to give up nothing.

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