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April 21, 2021  

Meat Suit Cities: Reconciling Aesthetics with Progress

April 21, 2021

When people go to a wedding, it's implicitly understood that the bride should wear the fanciest dress, and everyone else's outfits should act as compliments to it. But what if guests started showing up wearing Lady Gaga's meat suit, in an effort to compete with the bride for attention? One could say that's what's happened with our cities: rather than having a focal point (say, a church or theater in the center of town) with surrounding buildings acting as compliments to it, the modern movement in architecture has produced a sort of "hyper-individualism" in building styles. And it's not always easy on the eyes.

However, in a time of extreme housing scarcity and out-of-control rents, are aesthetics something we should even care about right now? Or indeed, should we eschew them on the principle that they drive the prices of housing further upward?

This week on Upzoned, host Abby Kinney is joined by Chuck Marohn and special guest Kevin Klinkenberg as they "upzone" a recent article from Slate—i.e., they look at it through the Strong Towns lens. Titled “'Good Design' Is Making Bad Cities, but It Doesn’t Have To," the article searches for "a third way in the battle between aesthetics and affordability." Abby Kinney is an urban planner in Kansas City, Chuck is the founder and president of Strong Towns (and the regular cohost of Upzoned), and Kevin Klinkenberg is an urban designer, writer, and the executive director of Midtown KC Now. Together they discuss the natural human desire to make our habitations beautiful, and how we've ended up with systems governing our architecture that don't make anyone happy. They also brainstorm ideas on how we can begin addressing the issue.

Then in the Downzone, Kevin talks about his immersion over the past year in WWII-era stories. Chuck finally finished watching a highly popular show, and Abby is just starting to read a highly popular book. Speaking of books, Chuck's newest one, Confessions of a Recovering Engineer: Transportation for a Strong Town, is coming out on September 8, 2021! Find out how to preorder it here, and get involved with the accompanying Confessions Book Tour.