Watching the 2010 Tour de France in Spin Class …
For the first time in months, I went to the spin class at my local gym. Prior to the start of the class, the instructor put on a DVD of the 2010 Tour de France. I proceeded to break a sweat while being barked at with generic, but encouraging, statements (e.g.: “Keep it up!” and “You can do it!”) all while the Tour de France played in the background. At the end of the one hour class, I came to three conclusions:
1. Spin class is really boring
2. Watching the Tour de France is really boring
3. France is beautiful
I couldn’t help but be impressed with the small hamlets and villages; the size, scale, architecture and the urbanism. I fell victim to some nostalgia as it did bring me back to 2007 when I spent a month or so traveling Europe with a friend, walking, busing or catching the train wherever we happened to be going. It’s hard not to notice that the US has failed so badly at creating great urban spaces that even mid-sized towns and villages elsewhere in the world have better town centers, parks and streetscapes than even the best sections of large metropolitan areas.
For example: the (completely average) town of Quimper (pop. 65,000) is noticeably more urban (and vibrant) than any one area in the Twin Cities. This is accomplished with a much lower population density than the City of Minneapolis (1,960/sq mile v. 7,019/sq mile). All of this stuff is really easy to do, we just don’t do it. Take for example McDonald’s and its staple in American sprawl. It’s hard to imagine it as anything other than a stand-alone box with a parking lot. However – if towns and cities stand firm, they can have great results.
The above picture is in Nantes, a middle-of-the-road French city of about 275,000 people. I say “middle-of-the-road” French city, but it could stand up to San Francisco in its quality of urban fabric. The McDonald’s behaves because it has to (and many other examples of US chains in great buildings abroad could be cited as examples, too. I once stayed in a Best Western hotel in a beautifully renovated early 19th Century factory in England). In the US though, we get stuff like this [James Kunstler's Eyesore of the Month]:
It’s a sidewalk to nowhere. And, across the street we get …
Kunstler goes on to say:
Now just imagine the engineering effort that went into its design, with all the components – the retaining wall, the fence, the berm, the drainage, the street striping, the handicapped grading, the textured paving blocks…. Now imagine the politiical process – the design review, the code enforcement review, the DOT sign-off, the planning and zoning board approval. Okay, now tell me how the f*** could any civilized people arrive at such an outcome, not to mention laying out the money to pay for this exercise in idiocy?
NOTE: I’ve had a busy few weeks and apologize for the lack of quality posts. I’m working on two or three next week.