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Tuesday, October 5

Enlightened towns

Have you checked out Sperling's Best Places? It's a pretty cool site that lets you compare most US cities in terms of living costs, crime, climate, etc. Really neat, but it feels kind of like the US News & World Report university rankings; it ranks cities according to criteria that make good sense on their own, but in the end, all these quantifiable factors don't seem to add up to what the city really is. The parts don't equal the whole.

Then I ran across this enlightened towns ranking by UTNE magazine. I think it has the right idea. It says:

It seems to us that a good place to live ought to offer more than just high salaries and a low crime rate. That's why we set out to find towns that are making a special effort to foster connectedness and contentment among all the people who live in them.

I like the sound of that. A lot of people would probably dismiss such places as being pinko hippie vegetarian retreats, but I'd rather live with a bunch of socially conscious pinko hippie vegetarians than people who, well, aren't. And anyway, Portland, Oregon made the list, and that place is da bomb. Check out the site. It even has a list of what they consider to be the most enlightened town in every state. Believe it or not, Norman, Oklahoma and Arlington, Virginia made the cut, and they certainly aren't commie-vege-hippie-fag retreats. (So maybe the ranking is wrong...)

So just going back to what I said in an earlier post, integrated cities that lack sprawling suburbs seem to get the high livability ratings. The human animal was not meant to sit in cars all day! We are social beasts (Starbucks, community performances, civic involvement), we are bipedal (sidewalks, compact city center, public transportation) and we like to go when nature calls (plenty of public toilets).

If I could have it my way, cities would be designed so that its residents could flow through the city, parkour style.

Anyway, it seems to me that we have a psychological craving for a town center, an area where we can congregate and feel connected with our fellow townsmen. That's why in suburbia carland, developers are building shopping centers that are designed to look like miniature towns. Take my hometown in Virginia for example. One of the most popular shopping centers is called, appropriately, Reston Town Center. It's a fake, pedestrian friendly "town" that's really just a shopping center. A more inspired example that takes advantage of existing architecture is Charlottesville, Virginia's Downtown Mall. It's an open-air mall formed from the buildings of the original downtown area, which gives it more of an urban renewal feel than that of a planned shopping area.

Even Japan is getting in on the act. Oita has its Park Place. Fukuoka has its Canal City (complete with a man made canal flowing through the mall).

Problem is, with the exception of Canal City, which was built to be a "city within a city", you still have to get in your car and drive to these places for the pleasure of taking a "downtown" stroll.

Not sure how Jecheon would fare in an enlightened town ranking, but Yoonsung thinks it is a little bit better maintained than Andong. Her guess is that Andong spends a good portion of its tax revenue on Hahoe Folk Village, the city's big tourist attraction. Jecheon doesn't have any tourist attractions to maintain, so more money goes to the city itself. Good theory.

I'm thinking about going to the Andong Maskdance Festival this weekend.

Oh, and Brad Embree, the sound guy for the infamous never-to-be-completed movie When Love Walks In (check out the video clip for a good laugh), has co-authored a book called Going Corporate. He's attending law school in New Orleans.

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