I am particularly interested in core services that appear in such places, whether they last for one day or several, and what their inadvertent presentation and implementation tell us about human nature and first principles of association in urban areas. As Aron Chang recently wrote in adapting the work of Ellen Dunham-Jones, Christopher Leinberger, and others, embracing traditional human qualities and day-to-day life patterns is essential if historically sprawl-based suburbs are to be successfully reinvented.
For me, the look and feel of the Hell Run staging area was actually a gestalt reminder of more profound, simplifying experiences in Tanzania earlier this year.
There, witnessing daily life was a "back to basics" reorientation which confirmed the underpinnings of cities as conceptualized by the Richard Florida model: places to creatively reinvent human capital from the ground up, taking people's common and creative potential to higher levels.
I am not arguing event planning as a replacement for urban planning. Rather, I am using visual examples to agree with those who have acknowledged the human aspect of urbanism over top-down prescription or unsustainable patterns of growth.
As illustrated, temporary and less developed places can look eerily similar in the way fundamental human services are congregated and presented to the public, and I would venture that these are the true building blocks of cities everywhere.
It is beyond these building blocks -- how our cities and those of the developing world continue to grow, and how growth is administered -- where the real challenges continue.
Last March, in a baseline examination of the fundamentals of housing and the wheeled vehicle, I focused on a nagging question brought home from Tanzania and which recurred at the Hell Run staging area: Do we sometimes regulate away the urban vitality of our cities by attempting complex, prescriptive fixes -- aimed at modeling or reclaiming what used to evolve naturally -- and ironically squelch the first principles of human shelter and transportation suggested above?
Inherited forms of shelter and age-old methods of transportation are to residential zoning and infrastructure planning what oral histories are to Gutenberg -- the backdrop of rich tradition for codification and institutional creation. If safety and well-being are maintained, such institutionalization may be laudable for preserving practices or legends otherwise lost with time. However, if the result is lost functionality, needless complexity, discrimination, or prohibitive expense, the institution may need reexamination.
For instance, what if a zoning code is no longer cohesive, or impedes rather than accomplishes societal goals?
What if the automobile is overused, at increasing expense, when bicycle, cart, or other transportation would do, with the value added of health and exercise?
Sometimes this contrast of fundamentals to complexity, or of a different place and tradition, can refocus priorities, and warp the senses.