New Urban Math

To forge a coalition for urban places, let’s start by trumpeting an important fact: The value of cities and towns transcends simple arithmetic.

Cities and towns have always been more than the sum of their parts. Cities, when they’re functioning properly, produce great culture, boost innovation, and generate economic activity.

At their best, cities and towns can be inspirational. As Enrique Penalosa, the dynamic former mayor of Bogota, Columbia, says, “Great public space is a kind of magical good. It never ceases to yield happiness. It is almost happiness itself.”

Communities thrive because they attract people of talent, who in turn inspire others. When settlements are assembled in meaningful ways, they can thrive for centuries — millennia, even.

The synergy of people coming together accounts for much of that outcome, and the built environment can either strengthen that synergy or stop it cold.

Our ancestors across North America were good at building places of synergy. Even ordinary communities were built to bring people together. At best, builders and architects advanced civic art to a high level — creating those places that Penalosa described.

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