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Living With It

by Rod Amis

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It was 85 degrees this Christmas Eve, when I first visited The Walt Disney World Company's newest creation, Celebration, Florida. Somehow holly berry and pine needle decorations don't really put me in the holiday spirit when I have to sweat to see them. Of course, Disney doesn't control the sun (at least, not that I know of), but being surrounded by white, veiny tourist legs squeezing out of tacky Bermuda shorts only added to my negative feelings about this town.

By now, anyone living in Central Florida should have heard of what I was convinced was phase one hundred in Disney's plan for world domination - the town of Celebration. In case you don't know, it's Disney's estimated $2.5 billion project on approximately 4,900 acres in northwest Osceola County which will include up to 8,000 residences, a school, a health campus, and commercial, recreational, and retail facilities.

Driving down the hell that is U.S. Highway 192 is not my idea of grand entrance to any community, nor is the landmark water tower that signals Celebration Avenue. I'm all for organization, but the signs directing me Downtown were a little too reminiscent of that other Disney property not so far away. But more than the street signs, I couldn't get over the architecture and the urban planning that looked more suited to Main Street, U.S.A. than any place where people would actually live. They even have those name plates next to every door, like they do in the parks' signs that read, "Electrical Room" in a uniform type with Braille at the bottom. -- from "New Urbanism: Cause for Celebration?" by Brandy Davis

I found the article above among the (typically ascerbic) comments posted beneath a Jon Katz article on Celebration, Florida, at Slashdot.org a few months back. (Katz works a tough crowd. I don't envy him.) Both articles went into my "fodder" file because I felt they related, if only indirectly, to some of the concerns I have about our Information Age and how we choose to live our lives. Like lots of the items in the fodder file, I never knew if I would be inclined to use those bits of flotsam or not. They were only there to feed my ruminative process.

That is until this past week, when I was offered a job in another area, near a city I've never visited. Suddenly I was making a list of what amenities I would like in a new home. High on my list, as you might imagine, was high-speed Internet access.

"Is there anything to celebrate about Celebration, Florida?"


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It's only a matter of time before we evolve into a "Bell-Curved" society.
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Perhaps it is possible to be right and wrong at the same time.
We need a new model for The City and "new urbanism" is NOT it...


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I AM where I'd like to go today.
Think about this: I only had five or six items on my most-desired list and high-speed access was in the Top Three.

So I asked myself if I *could possibly* live in a "planned" or "new urban" community..

Any number of people would immediately respond to that question about my lifestyle, "No way!"

There's ample evidence to reach such a conclusion. I have been urban for almost my entire life. I love cities. I love the multi-ethnicity of them, the electricity in the air that all that human commerce, interaction and interplay produces. My social orientation is anti-consumerism and my manner of viewing events is not mainstream. I tend to be unconventional. Small talk is not something in which I normally engage. In fact, it bores me to tears.

Most importantly, when we think of "planned communities" we tend to think, like Brandy Davis, of homogeneity. It is logical to believe that I would be absolutely miserable in a homogeneous environment.

At the same time, when one considers the other aspects of my existence --- the heavy involvement in Information Age concerns; my desire for creature-comforts like air conditioning, a cocoon-like home environment in which to work in security, quiet and ease for long stretches of time; that prioritized high-speed Internet access; proximity to urban amenities --- a planned community *could* be placed on the table as a desirable choice.

We have to get beyond our stereotypes and fears of the sterile world projected by atavistic treatises like The Bell Curvein order to factor in the vagaries of historical reality sometimes. For example, the paradigmatic United States planned community of Columbia, Maryland, which both I and my colleague Robin Miller live near, did not turn out exactly as planned. No one visiting that community today could call it either homogeneous or entirely bland (though it still aspires toward the latter.)

The reason Columbia did not turn out as planned is because of the intervention of historical reality. Though placed at the hub of the Beltway, many of the people and industries expected to feed the place did not materialize. At the same time, nearby Baltimore --- an essentially working class and multi-ethnic city --- also lost industry AND experienced a flight of its middle-class family base to outlying suburban areas, including Columbia. Today's Columbia is both multi-ethnic and as involved in *soliciting* residents as the cities surrounding it.

The preceding rationalization raised, is it *at all possible* that my very involvement with information technology, and the fact that most of the people I interact and communicate with on a daily basis are equally involved, frames major lifestyle decisions? I would posit that, like you, what I do infuses who I am in definitive ways. IF my focus as a writer was creative fiction, as an example, Internet access would be on the list of luxuries rather than the list of necessities.

I would most likely choose a bohemian ambience for the inspiration and professional contacts it could provide, rather than lean toward the attributes of a home office. Cafes would take priority over ADSL or cable modem facilities, galleries over home climate control.

There are intrinsic preferences in my nature, based on my background. I like a multi-ethnic, working-class environment because that is where I am most comfortable. My own background is solidly working class. My father was a longshoreman until his health began to deteriorate and he had to transition to being an industrial janitor. As an African-American, I have no desire to live in an all-white community. These statuses shape my lifestyle choices.

But they do not preclude a "planned" community, per se.

What these statuses do is raise larger issues. Among those issues are the social and political orientations of the proposed community, its openness to the upwardly mobile, its willingness to incorporate a diverse system of values.

On its face, you would not think that this type of consideration would be central to how the Information Age is shaped. But I believe it is. I believe we are compelled to take the nature, background, values and aspirations of the people involved with the society we are creating into our planning.

As I think about these issues this week, I begin to look at how we should look at the cities of the future. I'm sure, with the help of the MOIA discussion group, we'll have more to say about the cities in our future this year.



TAKE THE RISK OF INVOLVEMENT.

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Are we developing a new definition of The Polis?





MEMOIR ONE: The Pinnacle, by FELICITY USSHER

MEMOIR TWO: Age of Exploitation, by ROD AMIS

MEMOIR THREE: Is Microsoft Bothering You, too? by RON DIENER

MEMOIR FOUR: The Name of The Rose by ROD AMIS

MEMOIR FIVE: War on The Web by ADAM J. SMITH

MEMOIR SIX: G21 Interviews ICANN's ESTHER DYSON

MEMOIR SEVEN: The Chamber of E-Commerce by ROD AMIS

MEMOIR EIGHT: G21 Interviews GEORGE OLSEN of THE WEB STANDARDS PROJECT

MEMOIR NINE: Reprint - On Globalization by ROD AMIS

MEMOIR TEN: A Global Discussion by ROD AMIS

MEMOIR ELEVEN: Global Discussion - Part 2 by ROD AMIS

MEMOIR TWELVE: See You/See Me by ROD AMIS

MEMOIR THIRTEEN: High Tech Europe Ten by ROD AMIS

MEMOIR FOURTEEN: Cultural IT Artifacts by JEAN-YVES DUROCHER

MEMOIR FOURTEEN: Two Friends by ROD AMIS

THE NEXT MEMOIR




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