Don’t Demonize “Live/Work/Play,” Contextualize It

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Mention a “Live/Work/Play” development to any urbanist and they will instinctively roll their eyes. The mantra on huge billboards outside of new lavish, exclusive, high-end downtown apartment complexes that are under construction in your city are attempting to woo the well-to-do, urban-curious apartment seeker with the fruits of city life. The idea that you can wake up, take the elevator downstairs to get a cup of coffee at the ground floor coffee shop, go to work, come home to your in-house gym, then grab a drink at the high-end restaurant within the same building? Well that’s pretty cool. And hey, if you can afford it, that’s great! I’m all for it.

But it’s safe to say that most Urbanists would frame this as exclusive urban living, superficially packaged as the real “city life.” They would argue that real Urbanism is about moving our cities toward an equitable society where people of all socioeconomic statuses can enjoy the fruits and opportunities of city life, not just the wealthy.

But to be fair, isn’t the idea of “Live/Work/Play” on its own a good thing? The idea that we can live near our jobs, AND fulfill our desire for entertainment in the same place… isn’t this something we are all looking to do in our cities today?

Of course I don’t like that high-end developers take the pure nature of the L/W/P construct and turn that into an exclusive “pay-to-play” advertising campaign for their mixed use Mecca’s, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water! Live/Work/Play is EXACTLY how our cities should be designed and conceived. The only difference for us Urbanists is that we want this to be inclusive and equitable, such that everyone can enjoy and experience the beauty of a city knit together by meaningful density, walkability and common-sense transit.

Let’s not demonize “Live/Work/Play,” let’s instead take issue with the prostitution of this otherwise essential and powerful urban experience. The ability to have everything we want and need in one place should be our goal, as long as our goal is to offer this to everyone.