The health of cities is dependent on urban policy that promotes the livelihood of the people that live and work there. Policies that encourage low-density development also encourage automobile dependency, and redirects funds to finance suburban sprawl that could be used more effectively to maintain and revitalize city spaces. Prior to the 1980’s, urban policy was not inclusive of surrounding metropolitan areas, and therefore, the federal laws and policy initiatives that tried to address problems of urban areas unintentionally exacerbated urban sprawl and saw the decline of central cities. Rather than yearning for the past, as did 1960’s modernism, Obama calls for an urban policy that reflects a new metropolitan reality (Hanlon 247), an urban policy that is inclusive of surrounding metropolitan areas. A healthy city is the foundation for a thriving civilization; healthy suburbs depend on a healthy city, or urban sprawl will persist, weakening the foundations of society and all its potential innovation.
The Executive Order of President Obama that established the White House Office of Urban Affairs calls for a comprehensive approach to issues of urban policy. Section 4 of Obama’s Executive Order, which calls for a close working relationship between “the Office” and “all relevant executive departments and agencies” (Hanlon 257), specifically recognizes the need of a multidimensional approach in developing a strong urban policy. This order represents a historical shift in how we perceive cities, as well as the people and capital “contained” within them.
Post-WWII saw the fragmentation of society along political, economic, social, and cultural lines with the intent of eliminating potential threats. However, this designation of function manifested itself on the geographical landscape, and the effect is a “carceral city” in which public space is no longer truly public. In a chapter entitled “Fortress L.A”, Davis points out how certain forms of architecture perpetuate a “new class war . . . at the level of the built environment” (228). The Goldwyn Regional Branch Library, “undoubtedly the most menacing library ever built”, features anti-graffiti barricades, fifteen-foot security walls, and a “sunken entrance protected by ten-foot steel stacks” (239). It therefore “relentlessly interpellates a demonic Other (arsonist, graffitist, invader) whom it reflects back on surrounding streets and street people” (240). City spaces that assume the malevolence of its inhabitants do not promote positive connectivity among people, but rather make people assume the worst of their neighbors, in effect rendering one of the greatest accolades of a city null and void. A strong urban policy would avoid investing in the type of infrastructure that reflects the outdated solutions to 20th century problems. It would instead focus on fixing the problems of today’s increasingly globalized world. Zoning laws must first be updated to allow for the creation of city spaces that reflect the ideals of a 21st century global culture. Rather than combating congestion, we should be finding ways to create dense yet livable spaces in which diversity thrives, rather than invest in type of housing that requires building massive 6-lane highways. Kunstler writes, “Because of the extremely poor connectivity inherent in them, such products of zoning have all the equipment of a city and the culture of a backwater” (134). City space should reflect the interconnectivity of political, economic, cultural and social ties by evolving along with its population, rather than trying to make the population conform to a set of outdated ideals.
In order for cities to evolve and progress into the 21st century, urban policy needs to promote the desire for diverse communities, made up of various races and socioeconomic statuses. A strong urban policy should, by way of subsidies and refurbished infrastructure,…