The cities we have disappoint. Too many do not work as a fine, webbed whole, although there are urban delights in parts - the well-crafted building, an occasional housing estate, an uplifting icon, a buzzy retail centre or a comforting, small park. Too often we turn to the past to look for urban features we like: in Britain this might be the sweeping crescents of Bath, the streets of York, the lanes of Brighton, London's Regency squares, a village neighbourhood like Hampstead, the market hub of Norwich or the gardens of once grand houses. Think of Italian cities, which in our surveys of cities people like usually come on top. Again people usually refer to the older fabric and not the new. There are too few examples from today. What went wrong? Have we all lost the art of city-making? Is it to do with us, our addiction to cars, our love of asphalt and our blindness to pollution? or is it down to forces beyond our control, such as the overwhelming needs of global companies? The fact is that when you try to replicate the principles of those places we like the rules usually forbid it. For instance, the intimacy we might try to create is seen as a safety problem, because a fire engine cannot drive down as it needs at least twice its own width or a turning circle needs to be extra wide just in case an articulated lorry comes your way, so making a physical setting lose its sense of place.
We have increasing expertise in the technical aspects that make up the city, a neighbourhood or a building: the qualities of materials, heating and ducting systems, air circulation, sound- and damp-proofing, road-building methods, the carrying capacity of new engineering structures, demographic prediction, spatial modelling. We can speed-build with new techniques. Scientific studies on every conceivable microscopic aspect multiply and proliferate. We go down narrow funnels, increasingly separating the parts from the whole. We consider feasibilities, we cost, we predict, we project plan, project manage, review, assess, monitor, evaluate. Yet we still seemed to have lost the plot. We regenerate one kind of area - former light industrial zones, say - and no sooner than we have done this, another type like inter-war housing estates raises its ugly head. But somehow it does not hang together and we seem no closer to better cities.
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