New York's Mayor has decided to find money for a streetcar to run through the resurgent (ie, gentrifying) neighborhoods along the east side of the East River waterfront. I'm all for more mass transit and for more waterfront living, but it got me thinking about why streetcars feel so romantic to many folks who think about urban design.
I think they strike the same note that streetlamps and neon signs do: they prove you're not alone, someone new is there, you can find your way.
In a book proposal I'm working on, I’m going to argue here that urban design shows, in physical form, human efforts to shrink loneliness. When fossil fuel was cheap and we couldn't know its true cost, we flowed between that resistance to loneliness and a desire to settle. We got big cars, big tracts and big urban entertainment zones.
Now, I'm going to show, the onset of climate change means that we have to couch our anti-loneliness surgery in a campaign to provide support to each other in disasters and in chronic shortages.
It will get too hot, too chaotic, too crowded. That means our urban forms should guide patience, attention to the quiet, consideration for the old and young.
And it means those forms should trace new lines - along the water and upland- now that we live in a century of weather we can’t predict and fuel we can’t treat as cheap.