I am in search for my Urbanist Tribe. For the past few months, my urbanist friends seem to have lost their way, and have become scattered across the changing landscape. This once strong group of intellectuals seems to have forgotten their common interests and have begun to cannibalize one another.
Tribe: a group of persons having a common character, occupation, or interest,
-Merriam Webster Dictionary.
Urbanists are a unique group of individuals, that represent a wide variety of professional experiences. There is no cut and dry definition or certification for “Urbanist”, because the practice or study of the built world is as complex as the built world itself. Some professionals are Designers, while others are Social Scientists. Some focus on small parts of cities like localization of food, while others look at global issues like climate change. The profession can me a lot of things to a lot of people.
The common interest, and what what I feel makes up my tribe, is the continual work to make the places we live better. My tribe is filled with people make to make sure that the investment at the scale of the region, city, block, or building, adds and enriches the life of the place. My tribe is well versed in the examples of projects and the untested theories that have eroded our urban environment.
The members of this tribe came together through a renaissance and re-discorvery of urban design that began less then 25 years ago. Through this new enlightenment a lot of incredible work has occurred. This body of work includes the documentation of great American Urbanism and the grand tours of Europe and Asia in search of traditional patterns of development. It has inspired writings and new discoveries of theories that organize around the natural and rural transect. They have developed new tools to make it easier to do the right thing through the development of Smart Codes and de-regulation through Pink Codes. They hace also uses the latest data that helps us to do the math and to understand the return on investment that can be found through the development patterns in our cities.
For many years, my tribe was strong because we had a common enemy: bad urbanism. In very broad terms bad urbanism includes sprawl, urban renewal, disinvestment in communities, poor or lack of planning, regulatory nightmares, highways through cities, and anything that prevented, demolished, or eroded, the places we love. Their work was counter to the great urban experiments that took place post war that all but obliterated the knowledge and library of traditional town building. We all could find our own passages in Death and Life of Great American Cities to support our efforts.
The work of my tribe led to a crafting of ideas and core values into a Charter. The Charter was crafted that organized ideas at the appropriate scale for the built world. This timeless document and was crafted to be agnostic to the political flavors and architectural styles of the day. The broad reaching nature of the document put forward the structure of urbanism as the guiding structure for what my tribe stood for.
My tribe was under a very big tent which makes the search for them more frustrating. Within the tent, small groups formed focused on various issues or theories. This created healthy debates that strengthened the current body of work and inspired more working groups. The fight was about expanding and strengthening the content. All of this work under the tent was for the common goal of supporting and advancing urbanism.
The tribe is now scattered, which is eroding the relationships we crave as urbanists. We have not rested on our laurels, we have actually begun eating them and seem to be on some bad the oracle drug induce trip. Today, healthy debate has been lost, and been replaced with very nasty personal attacks. Every subject and topic has become polarizing. We are not strengthening our positions, we are cannibalizing on each other.
I am not sure when the tribe began to break apart, and how we all lost our way. Conversations are now polarizing which is creating a deeper divide. My tribe’s common enemy, bad urbanism, continues to exist, and in many cases thrive. We seem to have all lost focus on our common enemy, and forgotten about the strength we can have through consensus building and common purpose.
This is something that has been building for sometime, which is a surprise for such a young group. We seemed to have allowed the politics of the moment fill our discourse, and allowed this to divide us. We need to return back to our common purpose so I can my tribe.