Last night I celebrated my 24th birthday in the company of my family. By some metrics, it would be considered a pretty low-key way of commemorating the occasion; especially those Miami metrics that consider anything short of an alcohol-fueled rampage at any of the city’s ritzy bars and nightclubs a bit of a bore.
But even if I didn’t “turn up” as hard as others would’ve in my place, I did take the time to reflect on everything that’s been going on in my life up until now and I must confess: the feelings in response to that reflection are mixed.
I’ve been reading a wonderful book about urban planning called Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream.
In this politely harsh critique on the idiosyncrasies of modern attitudes towards city building and the backwards promises of suburbia, Andres Duany and his team write one sentence in particular that could easily sum up the main problem with suburban living:
Nothing interests humans more than other humans.
I’m sure you’ve seen images like the one here before.
Cookie-cutter homes, sometimes all built exactly alike, placed along winding “community” roads that don’t really lead anywhere. These “communities” promise high standards of living sometimes afforded by 24-hour security personnel, reliable maintenance staff paid for by money-hungry homeowner’s associations, and most importantly, a peace of mind that only a staid arrangement of homes, homes and more homes could offer.
But the negatives in these communities outweigh the positives. I see this happen even in a highly populated city like Miami, whose outlying suburbs – Kendall, Miami Lakes, Cutler Bay – cause traffic jams daily as commuters travel increasingly longer distances than they should to get back home from their jobs in the city.
Traffic is only part of the problem, though. The very idea of people jumping into their cars, tuning out the world until they enter the safety of their gated home within their gated community, is one that’s tearing us apart as a society.
In Suburban Nation, Duany explains that suburbia grew out of a mid-20th century distaste with dirty and cramped inner cities whose factories, sweatshops and tenements were but infant children of the Industrial Revolution. “Inner-city living” became a phrase befitting of people who couldn’t afford to live somewhere nicer.
Nowadays, the opposite is true, with people paying premiums to live in city centers even if the extant appeal of suburbia has blighted them into a shell of what they used to be.
Downtown Miami and its surrounding neighborhoods are great examples.
A formerly bustling area at all hours of the day, Downtown Miami is now a vagrant-ridden ghost town after 6pm. However, condominiums in and around the area are commanding insane prices that most of Miami’s population can’t even afford.
Why is that? Because the urban renaissance is upon us. People don’t want to live ten, twenty, thirty miles from their jobs or from places of entertainment, for that matter. The city life is the new chic, with the ability to walk to everywhere becoming the new way to live. Cities themselves are way cleaner and more attractive than they used to be when suburbia became a thing, meaning “inner-city living” is fast becoming something cool.
The most appealing factor of that city life chic, however, is indeed the fact that it’s so easy to interact with other humans. When people are able to walk to the majority of their daily destinations, they naturally encounter a greater amount of other humans than if they were to drive everywhere. Think about running into your friends or colleagues at a bar on your way to the grocery store, jumping into a fitness class at the park on your way back from work.
We need to ask ourselves, then: what do we really qualify as a high standard of living? For me, living in a gated community where there’s nothing to do is the exact opposite of a high living standard. Being able to meet new people simply by stepping outside my living quarters is a much more appealing lifestyle, and for obvious reasons, it’s also a much more sustainable one: think about how many pedestrians fit into the space taken up by a single automobile.
Suburbia, Duany and his team ultimately conclude, is a failed experiment that catered to specific circumstances of its time but ultimately did not deliver on its promise of better living. People love people, and putting up dividing walls, fences and gates between neighbors is not the way to promote that.
What do you think about living in suburbia versus living in the city? Let’s talk!
I haven’t posted here in a while, but for good reason. I spent the past few months interviewing for a job with Quest Corporation of America, a Tampa-based firm that offers an array of communications services to various transportation entities throughout the U.S.
Landing the gig has given me a chance to witness the progress of some of Miami’s roadway improvement projects firsthand; to literally see the city being revamped sidewalk by sidewalk, street by street.
I’m happy to report that the changes being made are moving us in the right direction. For example, the reconstruction of West Flagler Street and SW 1 Street in Little Havana – slated for completion this year – has replaced aging water and sewer infrastructure and completed important maintenance tasks. Most importantly, however, the project is adding pedestrian-friendly infrastructure such as bigger sidewalks and revamped crosswalks to a highly traversed Miami thoroughfare.
More on that in a future post, though. In the interim, I have to talk about this image here, taken by me this afternoon.
I caught one of the construction workers putting his finishing touches on a section of sidewalk made to look brick-like. At considerable expense to his back, the man used a sharp straightedge and a hammer to deepen the grooves coursing through the freshly poured cement.
He called himself a talented engineer when I took his picture, issuing a chuckle that gave levity to the situation I’d found him in. In earnest, I replied, “usted, señor, es un artista.”
Years from now, when pedestrians walk down that block to get a haircut, munch on a pan con bistec or hop on the bus, that man’s handiwork will be there still, weathering the test of time.
It’s a romantic notion that speaks to the beauty of city-building. Foundations are laid down by a unique trifecta of the most intelligent, the most affluent and the most hard-working, with some – but not all – of their names and legacies given immortality on street signs, buildings and monuments.
Anyone from a high school student to a rich executive might say, “I’ll meet you on Flagler Street?” “Find me at the coffee shop near the Alfred DuPont building.” “I’m right on Douglas Road and Coral Way; I’ll be there soon.”
It might just be my illusions of grandeur talking here, but the concept of participating in the design, the construction or in my case, the promotion of something as perennial as a sidewalk, a street or a city is something that appeals to me greatly.
I’m not sure if my contributions will ultimately earn me a nameplate somewhere. But I do know that strolling down the street today and catching that man at work was a daydream in disguise. As Lawrence of Arabia once said, “the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”
I’ll write some more about my latest exploits soon. I’ve got a lot to tell.
Do you think, Mr. President, that now is the right time to rescind legislation that for nearly five years has given a previously disenfranchised group of people the ability to get jobs, driver’s licenses and the tranquility that an ICE/USCIS officer doesn’t await them at the next corner?
Was DACA’s passage the right way to go about immigration reform? Not at all. In fact, as I graduated high school and witnessed Congress’ inability to come together on immigration reform, I accepted the fact that my parents were criminals in overstaying and had erred in stringing me along. I was happy to oblige the law that said I should get the hell out of Dodge before I accrued time in this country illegally. Obama’s use of executive action benefited me but it was incomplete (failing to help many illegal adults) and inappropriately issued.
Yet the reality of the matter is that I would have been silly to let an ineffective Congress and a unilaterally administered piece of legislation get in the way of an American driver’s license, work permit and social security number. I took it and ran with it, applying to an Honors college program, getting my first real job and building up my personal economy.
Following Trump’s Tuesday bombshell, however, I feel like the guy who chose not to get insurance when he rented a Ferrari for his 18 year old son to save on underage fees. I feel like I chose the lesser alternative that promised me more than I should have accepted; I feel like I should’ve left to Argentina after high school and continued my adult life there instead.
That’s bullshit! It’s not my damn fault that the United States has failed, for years, maybe decades, to properly enforce its immigration laws. Why weren’t my parents and I forcibly arrested and deported after overstaying our 90-day welcome; the way my mom tells me it works in places like Europe? Myself and other DREAMers now become pawns in a shifty ideological game that has all of a sudden chosen to get strict.
The most insulting – though admittedly, the most irrelevant – aspect of all this is that it has all come out of the mouth of the most tactless public servant I have ever witnessed in my few years of life. Forget the man’s policy choices, forget the man’s personal beliefs, forget his riches and forget his appearance. President Trump has no tact, akin to nerds accustomed to staring at computer screens for fun that then freeze up when they talk to girls.
The Kardashian clan would form a better executive cabinet at this point! It would certainly make for better television, and who knows, maybe they’d leave stuff up to talented staffers and everything would flow better as a result.
I don’t want my dreams to be throttled by a broken immigration system, by my parents’ forced response to a decaying Argentine economy at the turn of the century, by the inability of a Congress to provide for its most promising citizens. In the grand scheme of the world and its history, these details will either be forgotten or underappreciated; the frustrating paralysis caused by them belittled or ignored in the face of what could’ve been but never was.