Checking in with the local paper of Fargo-Moorhead, I was pleasantly surprised to see two articles dealing with important issues of urban planning. I have made it known before that I find the place devoid of anything resembling a unique identity, and I fear the worst for it.
One article discussed a report detailing the projected urban sprawl that the city will face by 2030. The other article covered a plan by the Moorhead city council to design a student community, a la Dinkytown in Minneapolis, that would service the adjacent Concordia College and Minnesota State University, Moorhead, campuses.
The importance of these issues should not be overlooked. Fargo-Moorhead is starting to grow up, and what they do now in the next five to ten years will shape the city in irreversible ways.
The campus city proposal is a great idea. It’s ridiculous that students are living in Fargo and West Fargo in crummy cookie-cutter apartments far removed from school. That’s not the way to promote a healthy college environment. By developing land between the universities and encouraging development of mixed-use housing and commercial neighborhoods, the city of Moorhead stands to gain a lot of students who do appreciate college for something more than a place to spend a couple hours a day in class.
Some council members and neighborhood residents feel that parking will pose problems that will eventually “destroy the neighborhood.” Nonsense. Build a neighborhood designed for the pedestrian and the car problem will take care of itself. And what will be left is a more attractive, quieter, and ultimately more satisfying place.
Designing for the pedestrian should also be a mantra that the individuals responsible for the growth of the area as a whole should take to heart. The claims that urban sprawl “could be a big problem 25 years from now” fall short by about 30 or 35 years. It has already begun and has been going on for some time now.
As Fargo and Moorhead spread out over the flat prairie like spilled milk on a table, what is being constructed is nothing less than an atrocity in city planning. Housing developments with sinuous, dead-end streets empty out on to 4 or 6 lane arteries, habitable only by automobiles and the flotsam and jetsam of modern life: strip malls, fast-food joints, and parking lots as far as the eye can see. Just because there is prairie as far as the eye can see does not mean one should consume it in a greedy, wasteful manner.
Taking a larger world view, the situation faced by Fargo has parallels in countless other cities and countries that the first industrial revolution passed by. Caught up in the second commercial revolution, that of technology and mass consumerism, it is only prudent to learn from the mistakes made the first time around, not repeat them.
To this end, China scares the hell out of me. With its unbelievable population and a more capitalistic-minded government, it is poised to become the next big world power. And they’re going into it having learned very little from the attempts of those that have gone before them. Coal power is the dominant source of energy and private automobiles are starting to drive other more traditional forms of urban transportation off of the road.
I heard a story on the radio that bike lanes in major cities are being converted to automobile lanes because the Chinese government feels they give off the impression of a backwards country. How ironic that European cities, after several thousand years of development, are actually encouraging such a thing. One can only hope the Fargo’s and China’s of the world can look beyond themselves and find the right way.