In The End of Secrets (by Ryan Quinn), Kera, an FBI agent, is recruited out of the government to covertly spy on domestic targets. The ONE Corporation starts buying up media and entertainment companies, building up a stable of top performing artists in an attempt to massively commoditize their art/music by carefully engineering the “product” – the sound, the art, the media, the message. A number of their performers go missing, the supposed victims of suicide, murder or abduction and the intrigue begins. Kera and her computer hacker friend use computers and surveillance cameras around the city to spy on various persons of interest.
With rare exception, from the 60’s to the 90’s, real estate development in the United States was conceived, designed and built by the ONE Corporation – real estate as a commodity, a financial instrument, something that could be easily understood on a nameless, faceless proforma. To meet the requirements of Wall Street and Big Banks, the product had to be contained within a certain box – high end neighborhoods, certain homogenous designs, separation of uses, a certain number of units – so that we could slice and dice the debt and equity components of the investment into manageable chunks and sell it off to the masses – pension funds, life insurance companies, overseas investors, etc. We can’t really blame the real estate developers – they were constrained by what was financeable and what the cities would let them build under (arcane) zoning and development codes that require separation of uses, to say nothing of “not in my backyard” pressures from homeowners if the new project was not the norm of surrounding uses. As long as the federal, state and local governments built super-highways further out into the favored sectors, land was cheap and plentiful for this type of development.
There are two problems with all this commoditization. First, like in the End of Secrets, the process of commoditization murders the artists and destroys the art – in the case of cities, the art of placemaking. Great places, like great art, inspire us and makes an impression for decades. We can avoid bad art – bad real estate development has a 50 year impact that is hard to remedy. And second, in many booming, growing places like DFW, we really are at the End of this Secret – government can’t afford to maintain the infrastructure we have, much less build more highways to Oklahoma.
The good news is that over that last 15 years or so, DFW has really begun to embrace New Urbanisms’ “art” of better placemaking. We see it in Klyde Warren Park and Sundance Square, downtown Plano and Legacy Town Center, downtown McKinney and downtown Burleson, Dallas’ revived Main Street (thank you Tim Headington), downtown Carrollton and downtown Garland, renovated and repurposed buildings in Dallas and Fort Worth, etc. etc.
You don’t need surveillance cameras and supercomputers to spy on the bad or learn the new. The Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) is bringing their 23rd annual Congress (CNU23), “Meeting the Demand for Walkable Places”, to DFW April 29 – May 2, 2015 – and we invite you come expand your horizons in the art of New Urbanism. You’ll get the chance to see world-famous speakers like Jan Gehl (responsible for much of the biking infrastructure in Copenhagen and the urbanization of Melbourne, Australia), Judith Rodin (Executive Director of the Rockefeller Foundation), Chris Leinberger with the Brookings Institution, Jeff Speck (author of The Walkable City) and Charles Montgomery (author of The Happy City), to name just a few. You can find out more and register here.