“Nothing interests humans more than other humans”

I’ve been reading a wonderful book about urban planning called Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream.

Suburban Nation
The cover to the book “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.

Suburbia
An image from a webpage of the Montclair Film Festival that accompanies a series entitled “Coming Of Age In Suburbia.”

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.

Brickell
A shot of Brickell, a Miami neighborhood, at night.

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.

City Life
Best part of living in the city? Taking to any high roof and feeling like Batman.

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!

 

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A new opportunity to see Miami’s growth firsthand

Tomas Monzon Headshot
Hey that’s me! Taken Jan. 2018.

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.

Construction Worker, near W Flagler St/12 Avenue
A construction worker puts finishing touches on newly poured cement near West Flagler Street and 12 Avenue during its reconstruction in 2018.

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.

Construction workers near West Flagler Street and 12 Avenue, Jan. 2018
Construction workers near West Flagler Street and 12 Avenue in Miami, FL finish a sidewalk installation in Jan. 2018.

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.

East Flagler Street in Downtown Miami, 1932
East Flagler Street in Downtown Miami, 1932.

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.

President Trump, above all, lacks tact

On Tuesday of this week, President Trump announced his rescinding of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act, which was signed into law via executive action on behalf of former President Barack Obama in the summer of 2012.

donald_trump_official_portraitJust a week prior, Hurricane Harvey hit and devastated parts of western Texas, introducing heavy and highly damaging floods to cities like Houston.

Now, as the weekend nears, parts of the Caribbean as well as the state of Florida have experienced or are bracing for impact by one of the largest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic, Hurricane Irma. Some island nations are already preparing for impact by follow-up storm Jose.

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?

c4a1b-obama_immigration_announcement

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.

uscis

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.

president-donald-trump-passes-out-food-and-meets-people-impacted-by-hurricane-harvey-during-a-visit-to-the-nrg-center-in-houston-saturday-sept-2-2017The only difference is that awkward nerds are funny. On the other hand, a President who rescinds legislation who has essentially given life to 800,000 young immigrants in the midst of two or more natural disasters, and a President who tells a crowd of people in the thick of flooded Houston to “have a good time,” is an absolute embarrassment of a public figure.

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.

Don’t throttle my dreams

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.

Missing My Lightbulb Moments

During my sophomore year of high school, I produced my first documentary film, appropriately titled The Sophomore Slump. Here’s the 7-minute trailer to the 45-minute “epic.”

Though it’s really not much by my present standards, watching it today leaves me surprised at the grasp I had at the time of video editing, shot composition, interviewing and storytelling techniques.

Re-watching it today also produces a grave revelation – the slump didn’t hit me back then. It’s hit me now, and it has been hitting for almost a year. Only a lightbulb moment can bring me back.

Continue reading Missing My Lightbulb Moments

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