Is there a need to redefine the American Dream?
As the American Dream started to become true, its negative side also became true. This negative side has not just affected people socially, but also culturally, ecologically, and environmentally. The American Dream turned to a cancer called sprawl that spread in city fabrics causing damages that tough to cure. If this kind of dreams would keep growing, our cities would disassemble, our communities would disconnect, and we would deplete our chances to survive longer on this planet. Therefore, there is a need to have another dream that keeps us together, a dream that reminds us of our old cities when people used to be happier, a dream that keeps us longer in our first home, earth.
How do urban theorists propose to revision it?
Peter Calthorpe, an SF-based architect, urban designer, and urban planner, proposed a dream for the next American metropolis that needs to redefine the American Dream.
He described that the American Dream has left America with a crisis of place that resulted in placelessness, mismatch between social order and housing/work, and disinvestment/economic hardship. He felt strongly of a need to revisit the traditional American town because cities now have failed to put in place diversity of use and users, smaller scale streets, and walkability.
This resulted in dividing of public space and gained it a lack of identity, where private spaces became independent and thus led to the rise of commercial centers. This division caused the settlement pattern to be spread over larger piece of land, which consumed more areas with less income.
Additionally, the spread of the new settlement pattern forced people to depend purely on automobile, which isolated people from daily social interaction and also increased the environmental impact resulted from the unsustainable use of energy. Eventually, it resulted in need to build more infrastructure, which is economically expensive that it costed more to build them, and raised the cost of housing, which affected affordability of housing and communities.
In addition, because of using more land and energy, sprawl had a negative impact on the ecology and loss of nature. Therefore, Calthorpe advocated to bring identity back of public space, make greater diversity of land-use to better utilize transit, and decrease the cost of making these places to provide affordable/dense housing within walkable distances. Additionally, in a mean of curing the ecological impact, Calthorpe proposed to integrate nature in buildings, streets, and parks.
Other architects such as Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Elizabeth Moule, and Stefanos Polyzoides, who based their work on similar approach which was through the Charter of the New Urbanism. They proposed redefining the American Dream through three major scales, the region: metropolis, city and town; the neighborhood, the district, and the corridor; and the block, the street, and the building.
While several aspects of their proposal overlapped with Calthorpe ideas, such as the scale of the street, walkability, the integration of landscape design, and pushing through a transit-oriented development, they involved the community in the planning phase where people were exposed to plans and presentations that taught them how to put their thoughts in such a professional process.
Both sets of ideas were based on reactions to the loss/fade of the American Dream, these reactions were certainly mixed with feeling about nostalgia and the return of the traditions of the old American towns.
- Calthorpe, Peter. 1993. “The Next American Metropolis: Ecology, Community, and the American Dream“. Princeton Architectural Press. P.15-38
- Gomez-Novy, Juan & Stefanos Polyzoides. 2003. “A TALE OF TWO CITIES, The Failed Urban Renewal of Downtown Tucson in the Twentieth Century“. Journal of the Southwest, Volume 45, Numbers 1 and 2