Aaron “Urbanophile” Renn moved back to Indiana (Indianapolis) from New York City earlier this year. This column was published a few months ago and is worth a read even if it is directed primarily as larger cities.
STORIED CITIES, by Aaron Renn (Comment)
The lost link between a city’s forgotten history and its cultural potential.
It’s been widely observed that there’s an increasing sameness to cities today, a sort of neoliberal urban monoculture that’s swept the globe. Visit any city in the world and see the same boutique hotels, swank restaurants, outposts of global luxury brands, and so on.
Sameness … even in smaller cities like ours.
It’s what happens, utterly predictably, when the same old engineering and design firms with no connections to the cities, and no knowledge of their history and uniqueness, are hired to deploy their same old suburban template of design elements, generally a ludicrous collection of shopping mall motifs that somehow dazzle the barely-educated dullards who administer local political patronage programs.
For those cities who don’t understand their identity or have failed to believe in its value, it’s probably not too late. In some cases industrial knowledge may have been lost. But the local culture is surely still there in some form, even if it may need to be updated for today’s realities. Today’s younger urban dwellers, who see these cities in a very different light than their parents and grandparents did, are ideally suited to this task. They missed the collapse of the urban-crisis era. In many cases their cities are now showing nascent signs of rebirth, setting the stage for the rediscovery of these places as cities on a potentially upward trajectory again. The generation who left Egypt was unable to enter the promised land. Sometimes it takes a new generation to look anew and see the possibilities of a place. They perhaps will be the ones to rediscover the identity of a place, to look again at its history, culture, its traditions and rituals, to embrace the uniqueness of their city as their own.