Melting Away; A Short Note on Designing Cities for Everyone

Being educated in planning barely scratches the surface of how the way we design and build our urban, suburban and rural environments affects the way we live. My life has changed in profound ways since I graduated with that beautiful Master of Urban Planning degree. Travel, work, living situations and starting a family have all opened my eyes to how the design of our man-made environment can affect us.

Designing good environments (walkable, connected, affordable, etc) isn’t just for attracted new talent, the creative class, corporate relocations, it’s for all residents. The lower income portion of our cities are the most disadvantaged when it comes to lack of connections. Despite what some people say, owning a car is not feasible for all, and even when some people get a car, it’s hardly reliable or safe transportation.

Today I saw something that gave me pause (a long 5 minutes of pause, actually). It made my heart hurt and it reinforced that planning and urban design are extremely important. My thoughts about the person’s exact situation are pure conjecture, and I actually hope I’m wrong…

Below is an aerial photo of my office building and the area surrounding it. To the southwest is an apartment complex, to the northwest, north, and northeast are office buildings and medical complexes. I sit at the NW corner of my building, overlooking the lake. The red line on the aerial represents a fence that’s intended to stop people from walking to/from the apartments. With the dry weather and some destructive people (knocking out the fence panels), one can walk between regardless.

Paths
Paths

After lunch today, I saw a young father pushing a young child (who, from my vantage point above, couldn’t be older than 18 months) in a cheap stroller. He pushed his child across the dam, from the apartments and into the parking lot to the north. He wasn’t wearing his coat, but his child appeared to be. He struggled a bit on the uneven ground, but made it safely to the concrete of the parking lot. He then proceeded on to what I imagine was a doctor’s appointment.

I have no idea if he had access to a car today. The weather hasn’t warmed up too much since yesterday, but I doubt most people would willingly make that walk if they had a car. The overall distance is barely 0.5 of a mile, but without connected sidewalks/paths, the journey is much more difficult and dangerous. The bridge over the highway lacks what you’d call sidewalks, and there’s little concern for pedestrians around here.

Being a relatively new father (2 years in, I’m still new, right?), it hurts me to see another father having to risk his and his child’s safety just to get somewhere. Had this been yesterday, their journey would have been downright miserable and nigh unlikely, due to the mud and the moisture all around.

We shouldn’t be designing our cities for the middle to upper-middle class; we should be designed them for all. That means all forms of transportation should be considered and utilized.

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