A couple weeks ago the folks at Cracked told readers that "living in a city makes you dumber." There are a number of flaws here — beyond the obvious one of getting your science news from Cracked — but the research at the center of the claim has some relevance to cities worth considering nonetheless. What it tells us is not so much a story about the hazards of city living as it is about the benefits of city parks.
A ride on the subway is an exercise in solidarity by shared banality. The paradox of the subway allows us to work things out in solitude but to do so in the comforting presence of other people, under the shared solidarity of subway introspection.
As Senator John Kerry put it in 2009, “We are building some of the ugliest embassies I've ever seen…I cringe when I see what we're doing.” Harvard International Relations professor Stephen Walt wrote that our embassies were like the "vivid physical symbol of a powerful Empire striving to keep the outside world at bay."
More often, when we do picture the future, it looks either like a reproduced version of the present or like some apocalyptic landscape. But this exercise requires a lot more imagination: What will be the next carriage without a horse? The next car without an engine?
In 1989, the city turned this regulation on its head by adding parking maximums to their code. A parking maximum is a device for protecting the city from having too much parking that could degrade the urban character of the city. Having a parking maximum is much more in keeping with the 'city friendly' transportation planning approach that has been practiced in Zurich since the 1970s. As usual, changes in parking policy took awhile to catch up with progressive changes in other aspects of the transportation system.
When it comes to transit, however, the countries have gone in very different directions in the past fifty-some years. Today, transit use in the United States is much, much higher in cities than it is in rural areas. In Germany the disparity isn't nearly as great. In small metro areas, Germans ride at 18 times the rate of Americans (a 7 percent share to .4 percent.) In major cities the difference remains high: transit use is nearly six times greater for Germans.
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