Cities in the United States are generally built one of two ways. First, the older cities: in the East, these monstrosities crept up over decades, generations building on their fathers and weighing down their children. Eastern cities are (with one exception that everyone knows) built haphazardly, without either rhyme or reason. Nearly every major city was established long before modern ideas about transportation, work, and play, and altogether they're every bit the headache they're portrayed to be.

Secondly, there are cities built in the West, what – once upon a time – was somewhere 'new', a limitless land full of inexhaustible bounty. Or at least, inexhaustible enough compared to the effluent and miasma of tombs like Baltimore or Boston. The delination between the old and the new is best exemplified by Minnesota: West of Minneapolis-St. Paul the cities are much more planned and built with a car in mind.

If there is to be a 3rd phase of building cities, what will it look like? What will we (or our children) need to consider when we build?

The Seven Stages: Public, Or Private

Erik Erikson’s Seven Stages of Life are an illustrative starting point. Broadly speaking, we are born, and with our parents we develop a sense of self, a sense of others, and a clear delineation private and public spaces. As we grow, we begin our public lives in society.

This is the step into adulthood: part of being an adult, contributing human is this function in the public, social space.

My observation here isn’t deep or hidden: it’s right in front of us, all day, every day. Anyone who lives in an American city, with very few exceptions, lives a detached, atomized life. We wake up in our homes or apartments, we get dressed, we go to work, we work, we come home. The covid pandemic has made us more atomized yes, but we were well on our way prior to this crisis.

What’s missing? A public, non-transactional space: what used to be filled by a public square, a religious affiliation, or even a European-style terraced cafe. In America, our society is structured such that we only have the private space and the transactional, capitalist space.