Visiting and photographing cities worldwide can take the metrics away, often amid economic recession, adjacent to revolution or facing or remembering the challenge of reconstruction. In such settings, qualitative and interactive experiences and comparison seem more important than documenting carbon emission, census data, rankings or ratings.
While data and catch-phrases have merit to enhance background principles and to support goals, so does the sense of wonder with which people reflect upon where they live, and ask about how other places are different, day-to-day, at the human scale.
Witness the frustrated commuter, who will authentically share perceptions, no matter the transportation mode. People will earnestly talk about neighborhood safety, a sense of economic well-being or challenge and and satisfaction or concerns about a child’s education. With sincerity, others will reference the weather, green or water surroundings or the music of place and time.
And transfixed, the world listens to and watches revolutions and disaster, where the urban setting is entirely disoriented and must rebuild again.
The fundamental reason that successful cities resonate is because they satisfy and/or complement some very basic human needs, often related to mental and physical health: congregation, safety, and the three “e’s” of education, environment and economy. In our policy and regulatory discussion of such urban settings, I continue to think we might achieve at a higher level by starting with reminders of the core: the basic human needs which cities can provide, or frustrate.
Only after acknowledging the fundamentals—and pausing to watch and listen— should we debate the circular arguments of ends versus means.