File Drawer City

As we are encouraged to plan and execute our Escape From Cubicle Nation (The title of Pam Slim’s excellent, positive book and her blog at – take a look when you’re done here!) on the one hand, we are now being directed and prepared by some urban visionaries to escape from what they proclaim to be the ill-considered concept of “suburbia” and return to the “true fount of creativity and community”, a newly densified mainline city core – but not to a city in the “Sunbelt” or the “Sandbelt” (those seem off-limits, either due to presumed lesser energy efficiency or aesthetic and cultural preference of the “urban elite”). 

Too many examples of centrally planned “densification” of older cities proposed by modern and post-modern social engineers and self-proclaimed visionaries illustrate the creation of residential and work environments that might, at best, be referred to as 

File Drawer Cities. 

Jam-packed post-modern megastructures inserted into “underutilized” space or suspended over existing streets and open spaces characterize most schemes for this presumed new utopia.  Often, mass urban renewal unseen since the 1980’s — virtual WWII carpet-bombing of existing cities to re-create raw land for new development and new owners — would need to be resumed to “save the cities”.  Aren’t we still revulsed by the “Sometimes you have to destroy the village in order to save it” Viet-Nam era justification of atrocity?   Did we so poorly learn the lessons of Pruitt-Igoe that we want to cram back into that monstrosity – and on steroids?

Few of the lessons that may have been learned from the last generation of big-city-itis seem to be in vogue now, and many of the great reformative improvements that have been made to many of the older city cores over the past twenty years would have to be foregone – destroyed – in order to slide the new “file drawers” into the cabinet.

In several cases, schemes have been lauded that creat a new dense floating district offshore from the existing city core (sounds like a form of suburb) – disregarding the environmental impact and catastrophy-exposure of such innovations.  Yet (and correctly) the immense floating plastic islands mid-ocean caused by unrecycled waste are derided as proof of wasteful modern excess and lack of environmental consciousness. 

Normally, the new concepts for densification and suburban eradication would be seen as just natural “first fruits” of a creative process, leading to later, better plans for implementation that eliminate the excesses and the detrimental features.  However, the ongoing home mortgage system implosion and its massive impacts on suburban stability are used as the opportunity to move rapidly ahead with the new solution. 

The impact of the home and commercial mortgage system corruption and implosion on urban cores seems to not be on the radar scheme for those planning the return from the “suburban diaspora”, let alone the loss of jobs and lack of modern infrastructure or predicted climate change sea-level rise affecting coastal core cities (please refer to a recent article,  Climate Change – City Planning Disconnect at , to help consider the impacts of that massive, uncoordinated “vision”).

As with most neo-Enlightenment broad brush schemes, the people — their values, aspirations, equity, freedoms — are cast aside, not a part of the discussion, apparently mere chattel in this exchange of the urban/suburban culture previously sold by the planning intelligentsia for the new culture.  “Same song, next verse”, as someone once said, with the new generation of financiers, planners, politicians and developers reaping the rewards.

Do not overlook the current residents of the urban cores, or the businesses and property owners.  They also have no voice, no equity in this “choice”.  After all, as far too many of the disciples of the New Enlightenment mandated, “you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet”, simply shoving away or eliminating the opposition or those innocently in the way of their grand march to perfection for humanity.  The low-points of the last two centuries are the huge midden-heaps of wasted souls and environment that resulted from their direction.

Finally, could “cubicle nation” could be escaped in “file drawer city” – or would it just be cleverly relabeled, repackaged, remarketed to the re-domesticated captive masses?

We are starting to see just an inkling of movement toward recognition by the “super-densify the cores” crowd that many existing well-planned suburbs, including many pre-suburban small cities enmeshed in the post-World War II sprawl, may with help become the most eminently livable, walkable, environmentally responsible, sustainable and resilient urban environments.  Encourage them – and your city or suburb to start working on a new hypothesis, a new concept, with the people placed at the front of the decision-making queue:

No File Drawer Cities.  Period!

About randysrules

From a professional background in architecture, community and regional planning, urban design, leadership, and fine arts, this blog provides insights on ethics, leadership, architecture/planning/urban design, Venice, and whatever intrigues me at the time. Enjoy!
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