Clay's 1959 conclusion still holds:
All these ideas of the New Urbanists spring from their
conviction that the city can be saved, but not by denying its nature.
The city, they believe, generates innumerable devices for ameliorating
the human lot, and we would do well to study these -- even where at first
glance they look disorderly and disreputable -- before abandoning them.
Cities have been around too long for our generation to desert them so
precipitously. As that admirable humanist Leon Battista Alberti put it
in his Deiciarchia, "The necessary things are those without
which you cannot well pursue life. And as we see, man, from his
emergence into this light to his last end, has always found it necessary
to turn to others for help. But then cities were created for no other
reason than for men to live together in comfort and contentment."
Kudos to Kunzig for his artful use of Howard's life-long quest for a
livable urbanism, especially in the context of my memories of Clay's
But the Kunzig article invites more.
Like Clay's observations in his later writings (e.g., the "Vantages" chapter in Close Up: How to Read the American City),
in the last few months I have pondered how best to further communicate
urban preferences amid a changing landscape. As shown by both Kunzig
and Clay, history can supplement two forms of documentation:
straightforward photography with authentic -- and ordinary -- personal experience.
To put this into practice, why not develop a simple test to measure a
city (over and above complex rankings or metrics) that takes advantage
of history, imagery, and experience, including daily life? I offer, in
short form, an emphasis on a creative reference, an icon, and the hope to stay, as follows, and invite others to offer their own criteria.
The value of a creative reference. The founding
story of a city is often an influential basis for prominence and
evolution. The most famous founding stories derive from creation myths,
such as that of Rome. Romulus and Remus,
fathered by Mars, the God of War, abandoned at birth on the Tiber River
by a threatened king, rescued by a wolf, and raised by
shepherds -- Romulus becomes ruler after prevailing in the "duel of the
In my measure, good lore is essential to a successful city.
The helpful role of a visible icon. Among the most
photographed and touted elements of a city is a central place or object
that can become a focal point for distinction and pride. Once religious
or military in nature, modern cities display several exemplary civic
monuments or places for ready reference of implied success.
Perhaps the most famous is the Eiffel Tower, which acts as a symbol of Paris in the opening photograph, above.
Most particularly, a compilation of completed statements about "why I hope to stay"
can offer qualitative input on livability. For example: "I hope to keep
living here because I feel like I can walk safely to where I need to