The second half of the book provides a road map of possibilities in creating hyperdense communities by overcoming “contextual zoning” and planning for the future, not merely meeting the present. This includes infrastructure—transit and utilities, but also parks, health care, cultural venues, a lively street life with shops and pedestrian amenities—things that support a quality of life. Chakrabarti, who is a partner at SHoP Architects, illustrates these points with such examples as OMA’s Seattle Public Library, Morphosis’ Perot Museum in Dallas, and a number of SHoP projects, including the Atlantic Yards—”one of the most important redevelopment projects.” SHoP also provides illustrations that appear every other page to provide a sense of scale to the relative quantities of energy usage, tax dollars spent for infrastructure, time and fuel spent commuting, or flow charts of capital, for example.
Chakrabarti makes it sound so easy. By diverting funds from mortgage interest deduction to affordable urban housing and from overextended and underutilized infrastructure to the American Smart Infrastructure Act, aggregated tax bases will support educational and cultural programs that breed innovation and opportunity. The hardest part is getting both politicians and people to buy in and to change their views. By Chakrabarti’s calculations it is nothing short of a holistic policy reform, but the results will take us less time to achieve than it took to get this current malaise.
Chakrabarti summarizes by asking readers to imagine a global network of environmental, economically viable, diverse cities governed by concerns of today’s citizens. It is utopian in outlook, but “everything should be on the table” at this moment of national crisis. However, I cannot help but recall the opening scene of last year’s cinema flop Judge Dredd, based on the wonderful comic book of the same name. As the film opens and pans across a barren wasted landscape, Mega-City One comes into view—a hyperdense city with some living in tower blocks of 50,000-plus inhabitants that operate as city-states, crime havens, and urban oases. In Chakrabarti’s call to arms, I can’t help but think of John Lennon: “You may say I’m a dreamer / But I’m not the only one.”