8. Atlantis Needs Good Cities

Balaji Srinivasan and Parag Khanna wrote an excellent set of takes about how the internet will affect politics and the world in the 21st century.

read this first

However, the internet is adding a new dimension to this. It is not merely a passive data layer that states enable and contest but a new kind of geography comparable in scope to the physical world. Think of it as a digital Atlantis—a new continent floating in the cloud where old powers compete and new powers arise. Within this cloud continent, the unit of distance between two people is not the travel time between their positions on the globe but rather the degrees of separation in their social networks.

This whole list seems basically true to me. Internet is taking over, and US hegemony is waning. China is obviously up and coming, but it’s not going to be another US. So the paradigm is fundamentally shifting, and it’s shifting to this kind of more-online more-network driven more-dispersed and overlapping kind of world.

In a world where anyone can be and work anywhere, what’s going to matter most is quality of life. That means livable cities. There’s a small but vocal minority of people who don’t want to live in cities, but fundamentally 80% of the population is urban, and people who have the option to not be in cities will choose to be and stay in a city rather than in the suburbs or rural areas. The great morning busing from SF to offices down the peninsula is a perfect example of this. Cities are great, people want to live in them.

The best cities are going to win.

Maybe we’ll see that best city within a given time zone (or band of time zones) is going to win. People will pick the place with the best weather, the best livability, and just work for their same job from there. If you could be anywhere of vancouver, seattle, portland, SF, LA, san diego… where do you choose? What if we expand to the neighboring time zones including phoenix, denver, austin, calgary, mexio city?

Or maybe this whole attitude is too winner-take-all. People will move to 2nd and 3rd tier cities that do the best job skating to where the puck is. The 1st tier cities are too overpoliticized and sclerotic, but the maybe smaller places still have that youthful malleability.

The current era in architecture has been one defined by the idea that art needs to challenge your emotions and sense of the aesthetic. This experimental avant-garde era is over. People don’t want to live in a place that challenges their aesthetic sense, they want to live in a place they find beautiful. Art can and perhaps should be challenging (not making policy decisions here either way), but architecture and our built environment is not the place to be messing around with this kind of experiment, it’s irresponsible and megalomaniacal.

The US is wasting our resources and our current (waning) advantage, if we fail to invest extremely heavily in our cities. This means more walkability, more human-scale architecture, more public transit. More beauty in cities. We need to think about beauty as a first class design goal rather than an afterthought.

The best cities in the western hemisphere might not be in the US at all

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