The Case Against Fake "Walkable Urbanism"
If You Lived Here, You'd Be Urban By Now: The case against a "walkable urbanism" that is neither walkable nor urban.
This inconsistency struck me as strange, given the oft-repeated promises about CityCenter’s walkability. The journey back to my hotel led me over a multilevel interchange that was essentially two stacked freeways slicing through the center of the development. The view from my room consisted mostly of other pedestrians attempting to navigate the same precarious asphalt arcs of swirling taxis. At the press conference, there had been a refrain of “walkable urbanism,” but when I looked at this “new downtown,” I saw tall, shiny buildings shouldered together, a tangle of on-ramps and guardrails, an airport-like tram, a Louis Vuitton store, and nowhere to sit down.
A few weeks later in Los Angeles, at the opening of the new W Hollywood Hotel & Residences, I heard the same refrain: “truly urban living,” “density-driven” design, “a city within a city.” I looked at the subway station embedded in the plaza, and then up at the 15 stories offering killer views of the Hollywood sign, and it hit me: Developers may be touting urbanism, walkability, and transit-orientation, but the people who actually live for those things are not the ones they want around.
Just a few years ago, “urban” was still a bad word. But with populations pouring back into cities, it became a buzzword, and developers are still trying to cash in. Their idea: Capitalize on the idea of a new urban living—“authentic city environment,” “sophisticated downtown living”—even if there’s nothing “urban” about the people actually living there.
These new “urban” complexes rely on an economic profile that doesn’t line up with the ideals of new urban living. Top-floor apartments in the new W can go for as much as $9 million, and the CityCenter units top out at $10 million. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine that someone living in a multimillion-dollar penthouse in a city like Las Vegas or Los Angeles surrendering their car for a bus pass. Instead, these developments are luring people—and their cars, and their carbon footprints—into an already crowded urban environment. They’re putting the dense into density.
“It’s not our job to change people,” said Marty Collins, developer of the W Hollywood project, when I asked him about this.
But maybe it is.
It all sounds pie-in-the-sky, but it needn’t be: Developers would reap the rewards—neighborhoods with less traffic and well-patronized local businesses have greater real-estate value—and the impact could be significant.
Illustrations by Keith Scharwath.
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