Quote of the week: Aaron Renn on boring cities

We frequently fail to recognise that our own personal preferences are in most cases just that. And too often in urbanist discussions, that means white hipster preferences.

As a result, we can end up doing a poor job of developing and selling pro-urban policies, even within the city.

Aaron Renn, "In Praise of Boring Cities,"  Guardian Cities,  1 October 2014.

Yes, Yes!  Read the whole thing.

7 Responses to Quote of the week: Aaron Renn on boring cities

  1. Matthew March 29, 2015 at 12:10 pm #

    I felt he indulged in too many tired tropes. Oh, those dastardly hipsters, so easy to lay on them.
    To me, Zurich sounds like a lovely place, if expensive.
    Arlington is “soul less” because they’ve done a great job of redevelopment. New stuff always seems jarring in mass. Give it a few decades and that perception will change. I think they’re doing very interesting work down there.
    Houston is popular because it’s cheap. And that’s great. I really liked to see how flexible Houston is, and how adaptable. You know this too, being part of it.
    People certainly have different tastes, but walking is fundamental. The picture on top of the article shows a street without sidewalks. How is that safe for children to walk to school…?
    Sometimes Renn really misses his mark.

  2. threestationsquare March 29, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    While Renn is right that a lot of what is written about cities and urban architecture is subjective preference or status-seeking posturing, I think it’s misleading for him to quote statistics about population growth in suburbs and cities like Houston as evidence that people love them. The reason vibrant cities like New York and San Francisco aren’t growing quickly is that they’ve made growth all but illegal, so only the richest can afford to move there. The high rents in these cities are evidence of a huge pent-up demand for dense urban living, but their anti-growth restrictions (supported by landowners who want to drive up prices by restricting housing supply) force most Americans to live in low-density suburbs whether they like it or not. The calls to make places like Arlington more vibrant come from just these sorts of people, who’ve been priced out of the District and want to create viable alternatives that fit their preferences (in a country where nearly everything is built and regulated for low-density suburban preferences).
    To say that “obviously lots of people love Houston, as its population continues to soar” is like saying “obviously lots of people love Stalin, as his majorities in sham elections continue to soar” or even “obviously lots of people love poverty, as the number of poor people continues to soar.”

  3. BTA April 2, 2015 at 7:59 am #

    I’ve spent a lot of time in Arlington, about a week in Zurich and zero time in Adelaide so I will refrain from commenting on the latter.
    Arlington is not a boring place in the traditional suburban sense. However, it has little in the way of attractions compared to it’s neighbor across the water. So unfortunately it just has a higher bar. If it were a city in the middle of say Iowa I’m sure it would be considered a pretty interesting place.
    Zurich is a beautiful place. Hello, it’s a mountain valley with a lake more or less in the Swiss Alps… It’s also a somewhat sterile place which I suspect has more to do with Swiss German culture than anything. But compared to say Munich it is pretty boring.
    That doesn’t mean any of these places are bad to live in. It’s just a boring place if you want excitement. But many people don’t and that’s fine. Places that are interesting tend to rely on tourism (domestic or international) for economic fuel.

  4. Robert Wightman April 2, 2015 at 1:39 pm #

    Matthew said;
    “People certainly have different tastes, but walking is fundamental. The picture on top of the article shows a street without sidewalks. How is that safe for children to walk to school…? ”
    Children walk to school? What century are you living in. Most children don’t walk anywhere; their parents pick them up and drop them off everywhere. Their legs are going to atrophy from lack of use. Walk or drive by most suburban schools at the end of the day and there are huge traffic jams from helicopter parents waiting for the offspring.
    Posted by: Robert Wightman |

  5. Jim April 6, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

    The author makes the same mistake as those he criticizes by cherry picking, in this case, in reverse, the pluses of the suburb and the costs of the urban core. People move to the suburbs, and many minorities, simply because it’s cheaper, not because it’s nicer. And there wouldn’t be so much crime in urban cores had government not created subsidized living, project monstrosities downtown and not in the suburbs. With schools being better in the suburbs, they further destroyed the economic vitality of urban cores. What you see now are younger people (not just white hipsters) moving back downtown. And it’s racist to say it’s just white hipsters. There are rich Asian and Indian dot com folks moving to downtown San Francisco and gentrifying it. You can universalize your values if you go deep enough. Most all humans want a neighborhood that is walkable and low in crime, has shopping diversity, and greenery. We share basic human traits. We like water and air. As social animals, we like to socialize. As creatures around 5 to 6 feet tall, we find very tall and large buildings alienating and intimidating and fast moving cars frightening.

  6. Sean Gillis April 8, 2015 at 4:39 am #

    Thank you for posting this. While I don’t agree with everything the writer said, I feel he nailed a major problem in urban planning and design: the holier-than-thou bias towards classic, Jane Jacobs style urbanism. Now I love big, bustling, dense, old cities, but not everyone does. That most of my profession can’t accept that often infuriates me.

  7. EN57 April 10, 2015 at 9:26 am #

    I can only imagine the inanity of “urbanist discussions” which involve consideration of white, hipster preferences.
    By the way, I don’t think there’s much difference between the shallow, mindless consumer lifestyle in the suburbs, and the shallow, mindless consumer lifestyle in the (gentrified/hipster) inner-cities. Is it only a choice between different types of boring…?