Vishaan Chakrabarti, “A Country of Cities”

Vishaan Chakrabarti
Holliday Professor and Director, CURE
The Center for Urban Real Estate
Graduate School for Architecture, Planning & Preservation
Columbia University in the City of New York
Today the United States is a nation divided, a country of countries
Characterized by bitter partisanship, economic decline, social inequity, and environmental degradation, we are stuck in traffic while the emerging economies speed past us. While the same tired debates define our political rhetoric, little is said about the role architecture, urbanism, and development – i.e., about the way in which we use landhas fueled this national malaise.
Our profligate use of land is arguably the cause of our most pressing challenges, from foreclosures, to unemployment, to obesity, to climate change, to oil wars, yet this overarching issue never surfaces in the national debate. This deafening silence cannot be filled by the stylistic ponderings of New Urbanism or even the surgical technicalities of “smart growth,” but must be understood as a national density crisis resolvable only through holistic, sweeping reform.  Nonetheless, despite all the changes politicians promise to enact, change to our sprawling, gluttonous lifestyle is not among them. To the contrary, our Federal policies continue to perilously fuel a country of highways, houses and hedges.
A Country of Cities contemplates a different nation, one of trains, towers and trees. By removing the legal, economic, and moral imbalances that incentivize sprawl, we can realize a more prosperous, more sustainable and more equitable nation. The lecture will explore this alternate universe, first by contrasting our current condition to the emergent urban planet we now confront, and closing by recommending specific and spectacular design and planning proposals for New York City, the nation’s densest yet increasingly sprawling metropolis. By examining density, transit, zoning, affordability, prefabricated and green architecture, renewable energy, and even landfill, the lecture asks whether New York can lead the United States, and in turn a growing world, to a more resilient future.

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