Development and Civic Responsibility

I prefer to adopt a more or less economic perspective on this blog because it tends to be logical and because, in a generally conservative place like Provo, it seems effective.

But when it comes to cities, sometimes an emotionally-based argument is equally compelling. For example, The Guardian recently published an angry and emotionally charged reaction to London’s new skyscraper, the Shard.

In the piece, author Simon Jenkins certainly operates with an understanding of economics, but what stood out to me was the equally important assumption that buildings and builders have a kind of responsibility to their surroundings. Noting the problems with the Shard, Jenkins writes,

This tower is anarchy. It conforms to no planning policy. It marks no architectural focus or rond-point. It offers no civic forum or function, just luxury flats and hotels. It stands apart from the City cluster and pays no heed to its surrounding context in scale, materials or ground presence. It seems to have lost its way from Dubai to Canary Wharf.

Circumstances in Provo are very different, but the gist of the argument is that the Shard is self-centered and doesn’t fit in. That’s basically the same argument people have made about development projects in Provo.

It’s beyond the scope of this post to comment on any particular development project in Provo, but the point seems to be that any development should come with civic responsibility. In other words, it can’t just be about property rights and profit. I think a perceived lack of attention to that responsibility — accurate or not — is what infuriates people when new buildings go up, or old buildings go down.

Jenkins evidently hates the Shard in London — which I cannot because I haven’t been to London since it was constructed — but he goes on to argue that it is an example of “money trumping planning.” He also laments the loss of an aesthetic understanding:

The truth is that we have lost the ability to articulate what is beautiful for the purposes of development control. While the small man cannot touch a door frame, the big one can do what he likes, no holds barred.

The article is talking about logical, concrete things: planning, zoning, neighborhood conflicts, etc. But the point here is that those issues can’t be boiled down to simplistic ideas like “property rights” or “supply and demand” (though, of course, I boil them down on this blog all the time.) Instead, Jenkins seems to suggest, development needs to be holistic and responsible, even if that means sacrifice or compromise.

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Filed under building, commuting, construction, Development

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