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A city may die of livability

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Robert Harris wrote the Dreyfus affair as a novel, and he was very good at dealing with the stench of the Paris sewers in 1895. He wrote that the stench of dense cities even “seeped” into a person’s mouth, so “everything has the smell of corruption.”

It does not corrupt talents. That year, Paul Cezanne held his first solo exhibition on Lafayette Street.Across the Seine, the Lumière brothers, the purest case of nominative determinism in history, screened the first film, all 50 seconds, To customers huddled together. The Paris of free-range rodents is also Sarah Bernhardt’s Paris.

There is no logic to show that a milder and more orderly city will not thrive due to such creativity. So why is it so difficult to draw?

Even before the pandemic, with its “natural healing” wisdom, cities aspired to become quasi-rural.The plan to transform the Champs Elysées into a “garden” hostile to cars is just one of them. In a country town Program. The task of an architect friend is to green the Thames embankment every once in a while from Chelsea to the Black Brothers. I cheer for almost all these good works. But I also want to know whether the creative use of the test environment is being bargained.

It is difficult to determine the human nature of what causes the crowding and stress of genius. The view received is that density makes collaboration possible. Cézanne is from Provence, and his gallery owner is from Reunion: Where else can they travel randomly? Another theory is that constant stress and danger force us to operate at a higher spiritual height. But no matter what the transmission mechanism between the harsh environment and the inner magic is, there is obviously. History has thrown out too many rough but important cities, too many beautiful but mediocre cities, which cannot be ignored. Therefore, after a certain point, a more livable place may become less exciting.

At this point, it is stipulated that the existence of the city is for the benefit of the people living there, rather than being avant-garde. It would be great if it were that simple. As the main thought experiment laboratory of our species—art, food, commerce—the city has produced the most benign huge externalities. With your morning coffee, you are free to sleep with the person you want: As the behavior of urban pioneers spread elsewhere, many things are now better. Running cities with maximum creative tilt is an example of utilitarianism, even at the expense of their own livability.

Since the pandemic, the term has made an unpleasant comeback. Probably no city is more livable than Vienna. (The Economist Intelligence Unit, who once agreed with this view, crowned Auckland and other Pacific regions as a model this month.) But who believes that the future will be shaped in the chocolate box environment? Since the time of Klimt and Freud, it has been enough to reverse the trend of population decline. A world without Vienna and its solemnity would be rough. But a world where Vienna is the benchmark will be tedious. The thing about livability is that a city may die out as a result.

Never relax too much in your environment. It is from Washington that is green, orderly, but too easy to understand, and I use this confusion as a reason. Los Angeles is my favorite place in the United States (the city in this country has a tiresome habit of understanding), precisely because of its stimulating entropy.

There is no doubt that this argument may get out of control. The cities that are not the least livable (Caracas and Douala, obviously) are the most creative. Some kind of Londoner or New Yorker pine trees madly for the avant-garde of the past, as if Ramones made all the stab wounds worthwhile. leave me alone. The key is one of balance. There is such a thing as an optimal level of environmental pressure, which is not zero.For the future of the city, there is nothing I trust more than the mystics who return to nature and the tech fools who hate the crowd (they select Living in Palo Alto) who dominates the spirit of the times.

In the post-pandemic cities, they are right and may be better. They just misunderstood the reason. The hope is that people who cherish space, clean air, and child-friendliness will move out. What remains will be a smaller but younger, more adventurous urban population. Livability may not have any benefits. But there should be a creative wit. As in the past, the beneficiaries will not stay within the city limits.

Email Janan at janan.ganesh@ft.com

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