19 December 2011

A Reading on Cities

Last week, while reading David Byrne's The Bicycle Diaries, I encountered two passages that seemed to be straight out of The Geography of Nowhere. Byrne is a musician who has traveled the world and enjoys exploring the cities he lands in on his folding bicycle.

"Cities, it occurred to me, are physical manifestations of our deepest beliefs and our often unconscious thoughts, not so much as individuals, but as the social animals we are. A cognitive scientist need only look at what we have made -- the hives we have created -- to know what we think and what we believe to be important, as well as how we structure those thoughts and beliefs. It's all there, in plain view, right out in the open; you don't need CAT scans and cultural anthropologists to show you what's going on inside the human mind; its inner workings are manifested in three dimensions, all around us. They're right there -- in the storefronts, museums, temples, shops, and office buildings and in how these structures interrelate, or sometimes don't. They say, in their unique visual language, 'This is what we think matters, this is how we live and how we play.'"  (p.2)

"I try to explore some of these towns -- Dallas, Detroit, Phoenix, Atlanta -- by bike, and it's frustrating. The various parts of town are often 'connected' -- if one can call it that -- mainly by freeways, massive awe-inspiring concrete ribbons that usually kill the neighborhoods they pass through, and often the ones they are supposed to connect as well. The areas bordering expressways inevitably become dead zones. There may be, near the edges of town, an exit ramp leading to a KFC or a Red Lobster, but that's not a neighborhood. What remains of these severed communities is eventually replaced by shopping malls and big-box stores isolated in vast deserts of parking. These are strung along the highways that have killed the towns that the highways were meant to connect. The roads, housing developments with no focus, and shopping centers eventually sprawl as far as the eye can see as the highways inch farther and farther out. Monotonous, tedious, exhausting...and soon to be gone, I suspect."  (p.8)

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