Vernon is right.
Of course a complete and perfected model for sustainability is in flux. Should the fact keep us from exploring a superior model for habitat, including sustainability as a component? We surely know enough about environmental sustainability to begin.
Of course everybody may have a different notion, by degrees at least, of an "ideal" urban model. Does that preclude comparing notes and arriving at a concensus somewhere down the road?
Certainly it is a daunting task to conceive a city in all its complex dimensions. Who better than architects to pick up the task, generalists with a breadth of professional knowledge and experience? "Daunting" is not as austere a prospect as is "impossible".
Are there many dimensions to city life that may have little or nothing to do with form? Yes, but should that preclude finding the most critical formgiving parameters within the broadest set of social issues possible?
Are there political and economic barriers to keeping faith that solutions may be found by thinking outside the box? Sure, but should that stop us from looking beyond a standard vision? I think not.
Why should we limit ourselves to St. Louis, Chicago, New York, or Portland as primary archetypes for what makes up a city? How about looking for the commonalities of urban experience, and what fundamentals characterize experience of habitat rather than setting up a dichotomy between urban and suburban norms?
I'm not suggesting we take a poll of ordinary citizens for opinions of any breadth. Common citizens, no matter how smart they may be or what their genius in other professional or business pursuits, lack the training for a more general analysis. Study within any discipline is not a matter of a plebiscite, no less in architecture and urban design than physics or genetics.
I am not interested in excuses for not beginning the quest within, but also without academia. It is time to look beyond conventional precepts, not to exclude them, but to expand or contract their implications and influence. Our little contributions within this forum will amount to little more than entertainment unless they can somehow be plugged into a larger, better organized effort.
It should be at least somewhat apparent that all the buildings we can build in all the differing contexts for building will not settle the question. As much as we enjoy designing them, they do not collectively establish an urban setting simply as a collection of structures conceived to solve investors problems.
Thinking of children and their parents as the basic unit of the city as much as of the family may be a decent starting point rather than simply providing for a range of activities found within urban jurisdictions, and laying out the infrastructure for growth to the horizon.
Gary Collins AIA
Gary R. Collins, AIA
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