I sat through a fascinating panel discussion on Happy Cities as part of the Indian Summer festival, but I felt there were too many references to what Europe does better and not enough about what we should or could do based on what the conditions we have here in this city. I was going to jot down something about how we should stop looking at European cities as these perfect examples of urbanism and then Frances Bula just back from her break writes in her blog today:
Madrid: The city that doesn’t cycle
July 12th, 2013 ·
Whenever I go to Europe (if that doesn’t sound obnoxious), I’m always struck by the way the mythological view of it doesn’t match the reality.
In conversations among urbanists, amateur and professional, here, European cities are always treated as though they have achieved the highest level of excellent city operation. They are walkable. They encourage bikes. They have great transit. People live in compact housing near shops, which creates a great mix of residential and lively commercial. Blah blah blah.
Some of that is true in some cities or parts of some cities. But when you drive around Europe, as I generally do, and don’t just take the train from one charming city centre to another, you see the other Europe. Gigantic highways filled with trucks, RVs, and general traffic. Seriously awful suburbs filled with slab apartment buildings that are disconnected from any charming shops. Big-box stores lining the highway. (The French giant Carrefour chain make Wal-Mart look like the neighbourhood grocery store.) Shopping malls built on the edges of small towns that are killing the butchers, florists, shoe stores, vegetable sellers and others in the centre.