Monday, March 12, 2012

Urbanism and the American Dream

Professor Walter Russell Meade writes a blog in which he ponders coming societal changes. His premise is that the social model for which suburbia is the American Dream is coming to an end, just as the social model for which the small farm was the America Dream came to an end a century ago.

I don’t concur with his every premise. I also find him too willing to point out the shortcomings in others. Nonetheless, he raises points that are thoughtful and insightful. In a recent three part series (one, two, and three), he summarizes his perspective and lays the groundwork for his ongoing contemplation of coming changes. Unless you’re particularly motivated, I won’t recommend it reading the entire series. It is long and requires serious chewing. However, I point you to a key paragraph near the middle of Part Two.

“I start with the assumption that the 21st century must reinvent the American Dream. It must recast our economic, social, familial, educational and political systems for new challenges and new opportunities. Some hallowed practices and institutions will have to go under the bus. But in the end, the changes will make us richer, more free, and more secure than we are now. The means will often not be the progressive and bureaucratic institutions of the last century, but the results will be something that most Americans will perceive as progress.”

I note this passage because its message is noted in a second blog. This latter blog is written by Kevin Hartnett who ruminates on the points raised by Meade and then concludes with the following thought.

“But if I had to guess, I’d venture that the Third American Dream will be an urban dream—where physical proximity allows work life, home life, and social life to be more coherently integrated—and it will be an information technology dream that gives people more flexibility about when and where they work and more freedom in general about how they spend their time.”

I’m unsure that the universal American Dream of the next generation which will be an urban life, but neither were small farms or suburbia the universal American Dream of past generations. However, I believe fervently that an urban life will be the American Dream for some. I also believe that those who find those who find fulfillment in an urban life will bring particular creative value to our communities.

And ultimately that is why this blog exists. To help establish the places in which fulfilling and creative urban lives can be lived. For eighty years, we neglected that lifestyle, adopting policies that discouraged the downtown living land-use alternative. The momentum has begun to shift, but there is still far to go.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated. Please comment below or email me. And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

Reminder: A fledgling Petaluma new urbanism group will meet on the second Wednesday of every month at the Aqus CafĂ©. The next meeting will be March 14. We’ll convene around 5:30. Feel free to join us for casual conversation about land-use planning and whatever else may come up.

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