The Downtown Urban Lifestyle – Human Interaction in a Human Place
Many of you probably attended the Downtown Raleigh Living Tour a few weekends ago, where urban living options were highlighted in an event sponsored by the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. As my wife and I were returning home to our condo at 510 Glenwood, we ran into a visitor to our building and regaled him with the glories of living downtown. His response caught our attention. He told us that one of the factors that drew him into the city was the passion he observed in the residents who live here. The truth is that we all do tend to feel strongly that we are on to something. Often this “something” is intangible, yet we all stumble on words for expressing the vitality and “realness” of living in a setting where people walk, engage with others and feel joint responsibility for their environment.
Bill Steiner, a preservationist who addressed the SC Statewide Preservation Conference (2005) has spent a career analyzing the elements that lend urban lifestyles quality and meaning. He starts by pointing out that downtown revitalization “…basically means historic preservation.” (This and all other quotes come from his address titled AuthentiCity: Preservation’s Role in Creating Place. Steiner suggests that by placing more value on historic preservation, we can develop a critical blueprint for our future. This is especially crucial taking into account the Brookings Institute finding that half of the built environment will be built in the next 25 years.
What are the ramifications of the past decades’ trend toward suburban development?
- Building neighborhoods by income levels segregates us economically.
- We interact very little with one another because we are in our cars.
Steiner explains that one of the reasons many Americans describe themselves as feeling bored is because the suburban setting has fostered a lifestyle that is so punishingly the same. We don’t interact as a people of many colors and interests. We interact as special interests. This lack of variety has made our human interaction as generic as everything else around us.
You begin to see the world as narrow because you do not have different perspectives or lifestyles or life experiences to compare and contrast with your own.
The character of downtown living provides chances to meet with, rub shoulders with, talk to those you don’t necessarily plan to, those who are different from you. People of all stripes mix. Spontaneity, the unexpected and unplanned happen. It contributes to the novelty we miss.
How do we build the relationships and experiences that tie us to place?
Sense of place is provided by the historic core of our communities, which is imperative if we are to begin to recapture fuller lives. The public realm is where we build the relationships and have the experiences that tie us to place…
The antidote to our unhappiness is feeling like we belong to a place worth caring about, establishing relationships tied to the place through other people – human interaction in a human place.
Reflecting on the benefits of urban life
We’ve all read recently about the split in North Carolina’s attitudes toward the marriage amendment. This is a clear example of how setting influences people’s outlooks. People in cities mix with neighbors of all backgrounds and see them as individuals and friends. This fosters an open mindedness and willingness for attitudes to evolve, becoming ever more inclusive and supportive of others.
My wife and I will continue to regale visitors and friends with the benefits of living in downtown Raleigh. We’re grateful to Mr. Steiner for his insights and observations that will help us to define a little bit better what we love about our urban lifestyle.