If there is any recurring criticism that I face from readers, it’s that I don’t consistently lace my entries with an overabundance of facts and data. Of course, these are the backbone of the New Urbanistic movement and everything that we are attempting to collectively accomplish. And while I’ve done extensive research and cited countless scraps of data to encourage people to think differently about our cities and communities, this blog has always had a home in the conversations regarding perception and the social commentary. What are people saying and thinking about our cities and why is that important with regard to the way we move forward with our urban endeavors? Why are the naysayers so entrenched in their support of sprawl, automobile dominance and the limitation of transit? How are the watercooler conversations about our cities shaping our urban perceptions beyond statistics?
Facts and data are vital. They require scientific scrutiny and heroic discipline to decipher and understand. But tainted perceptions and misinterpretations of facts are also key factors in addressing how we see our environments today. Now more than ever, it is important to understand that facts alone can’t change perceptions… bridging the gap between facts and peoples’ ability to relate to them is the key to ejecting old stereotypes and replacing them with the complex constructs of our urban realities.
Perception ruled our 2016 election, as the clouding of facts and the power of suggestion thrust our president to victory. Whether you love or hate Trump, there is no denying how strong the perceived reality was in electing the controversial leader of the free world.
Today, our cities are changing and adapting to a new set of demands from people of all ages and walks of life. But the hardest part of this next step for our cities is changing the long-held notions of what a city is or should be. Naysayers will call them havens for crime and corruption. Still others fear being in their midst, or believe they are places for occasional entertainment rather than sustainable living. People back super-subsidized, large-scale tourist developments and entertainment venues in the belief that this is the predominant role of our downtowns. They ask for a city that can sustain itself, and be a center for arts, culture and vibrancy, and yet they demand an over-abundance of free parking and automobile access which often negates the fabric of our urban centers.
You can tell everyone the facts about parking, about the prioritization of pedestrians and cyclists over automobiles in our cities, or about the fact that the day of wooing a large employer to swoop in and save our city is over. The fact is that the traditional perceptions of what a city is and should be still abound. The only way to change these perceptions is to acknowledge their power and find a way to replace those long-held expectations with a new set of ideas. In order to do this, we have to relate to people on a human level and THAT is exactly what the Urban Phoenix attempts to do. We gently place the seed in the heads of anyone who will listen and hope that seed will be nurtured.
Facts will always be king. I will continue to reference key facts and studies that show how vital the re-urbanization of The United States really is. But for this Urbanist, the key to success lies in relating to those who might not be willing or able to accept new data. To truly change the tide, we must accept that perception today is every bit as important as the realities that exist, and to change those perceptions requires the ability to translate Urbanist ideas into a relatable conversation.