“Where all good things happen”


Mark Alan Hughes, faculty director at Penn’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy and professor of practice at the Stuart Weitzman School of Design, had never created an audiobook before.

“I write very long, punctuated sentences,” he says. Fortunately, his editor for “Livable Cities,” an audible original released in September, figured out how to gently modify those phrases to read them aloud, without losing Hughes’ voice. This was particularly important for a subject that Hughes set out to overturn.

Books on city living, he argues, often become a wash-list of what’s wrong with cities. “It’s a very conventional program, but it’s so boring and negative,” he says. “I tried to say that cities are the place – the only place, in fact, I’m open to a chat – where all the good things happen. The challenge is to preserve or, in some places, recover all of the good things that make cities liveable. “

Nine chapters claim that “people create cities to find refuge, facilitate trade and build meaning. They support cities to establish freedom, acquire identity and retain knowledge. And we trust cities to maintain health, promote nature and ensure survival in the face of existential challenges like climate change. ”

Below is an excerpt from the Audible Original 2021, “Habitable cities», Read by Hughes.

A key part of Penn’s vision for his Holy Experience was his transit colony, Philadelphia. During the summer before his arrival, Penn sent his surveyor Thomas Holme to develop his “great city” on the heights between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers.

In his instructions, Penn used a phrase attached to Philadelphia for nearly three and a half centuries that it would be a “green country town, which will never be burned down and will always be healthy.” The words “green country town” have become something of a permanent marketing slogan for Philadelphia – that’s exactly how Penn used it, when advertising to investors and settlers. But these are the last two sentences that anchor Philadelphia in history and connect it to the future.

To understand what I mean, let’s go back briefly to the other side of the Atlantic.

In 1665, London was devastated by an epidemic of bubonic plague. No less than 100,000 people died out of an estimated population of 450,000. The following year, the Great Fire broke out and burned down for five days, destroying about a third of London and leaving around 100,000 survivors homeless. the Great Plague. It took 50 years to rebuild London after 1666 and it occupied much of the city’s energy and imagination for decades.

A young Penn was studying law in London during the planning and reconstruction period of the city and was likely influenced by key elements of the plans, which included a grid of wide streets and evenly spaced open squares. In addition to facilitating real estate development, these features provided sophisticated mechanisms for fire suppression and waste disposal, two of the anxieties of the time.

With the lessons of London in mind, Penn and Holme laid out Philadelphia in a rectangle stretching two miles from east to west and one mile from north to south. Two wide streets, Broad running north to south and High running east to west, divided the rectangle into four roughly equal quadrants.

Broad and High Street were 100 feet wide, wider than any street in 17th century London. A place open forever free to all was placed in the center of each quadrant and a fifth place was placed at the intersection of the two largest streets and reserved for public buildings. Each of these characteristics remains intact and fit for use over three centuries later, which is extremely rare if not unique in the United States.

The features have guided the city directly and indirectly over the centuries, as grid streets and open plazas were placed in neighborhoods as the city expanded from its original two square miles, while Broad Street s ‘stretched to the longest straight city street in the country, and as the ideas of a “green country town” were adapted to a metropolitan scale.

I recalled five principles in this short story: the green city of the countryside, the holy experience, a community never burned and always healthy, inhabitants living quietly without prejudices against their conscience, and privileges which are transformed into founded rights. on the simple fact of living in a city of fraternal and fraternal love.

The Philadelphia Foundation sets up the idea of ​​livability and ties in with many of the themes of this original Audible. I explained why Colonial Philadelphia was an icon of livability. But the world today is full of such cities. Humans have always needed physical places or cities, if you will, to work and realize their potential as people and their aspirations for the community.

This book is not organized around the urban issues that prevent cities from being livable. Rather, it’s about the benefits people get alone cities and how to unlock these benefits for all.

The above text is taken from “Habitable cities”, Written by Mark Alan Hughes and reprinted with permission from Audible.

Hugues is director of the founding faculty of the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy and practice teacher in the Stuart Weitzman School of Design. He is also a member of the faculty of the Penn Institute for Urban Research, senior member of the Wharton School‘s Global Environmental Leadership Initiative, a senior fellow of the Wharton Risk Management Center, and a distinguished researcher in residence at the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program.

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