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The trend of development in the United States, since the advancement of the automobile, has been away from the city core. It is no longer necessary to live and work in close proximity to one another. Shopping is done less frequently and entertainment is not confined to a one-mile walking radius. Suburbia has replaced the historic downtown districts. Four lane highways have replaced bike lanes, and sidewalks are developed more to follow code than to produce a mode of transportation. Cities are experienced at forty miles per hour; shops and restaurants gain notoriety and exposure by large signs and advertising not by architectural identity and character. Now the automobile is getting larger, and the reflection is apparent in the production of our societies. Markets have transformed from corner stores, to grocery stores, to Wal-Marts, and now Super Wal-Marts. Fridges are being complimented by deep freezes and people are running out of room to store their junk in their three-car garages. Consumption is blindly driving our society. Density is experienced at intersections during rush hour, or in check-out lines on Sunday afternoons.
Now that American cities are sprawling out of control, a reinvestment has been made to the redevelopment of historic districts and downtown urban environments. Downtown living units have become attractive and popular areas to live and are marketed in such a way. Small plot sizes represent high property value, which drive up the cost of living in these environments. Affordable housing is replaced by flats and condos and the local community is forced to change and relocate in order to revitalize the area. Redevelopment leads to gentrification which leads to displacement. Downtown living is being marketed as the newest fad for American culture to get drawn into. Even with this push to an urban setting, automobiles still shape the downtown environment. Parking garages exist on every major block and the pedestrian right of way is merely a legal term used to determine fault in an accident. A pedestrian can not walk six blocks without stopping at least four times at cross walks. The most common method to solve this problem is to invest money into benches and trees to make the urban streetscape more pedestrian orientated.
It is my intention, with the guidance of my mentor, to analyze the American trend of urban development in comparison to that of European cities in an effort to create a new form of urban living in downtown Omaha. The focus of the study will be on the pedestrian and how one engages environment at that urban scale. Mixed-use urban development has become a term associated with placing a shop or restaurant on the ground level and residential units above them, and has become the trend for urban development. This, however, fails to mix uses; it merely stacks program vertically as opposed to horizontally with little room for interaction between uses. A new understanding of the term must be realized to create an environment that is focused not on commercial and economic gain, but rather on that of perceptual and experiential growth. The creation of place, not real-estate, must be the main objective when reforming our cities.