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#PittsburghsFutures: 1/x

“PittsburghsFutures” programming interrupts “Future Law” programming here from time to time.

I’m motivated to do that in part by increasingly urgent questions about the future of cities, with Pittsburgh as prime and local example number one (an interest that goes back at least to 2004, via Pittsblog, and continues very recently in the Tribune Review). Pittsburgh legacy leaders’ endless obsession with making Pittsburgh important again drives me bonkers.

I am all but certain that it irritates Pittsburgh’s emerging next generation leaders no end. Pittsburgh needs to bring different stories, different leadership, and different visions to the fore. “Let’s be as good as we were before” fails as a vision before it takes a single step; “let’s be ambitious and prosperous relative to reality” at least has a chance of success. Still, that’s pretty broad and vague. What does it look like in practice?

I’m also motivated in part by the same questions that drive the “Future Law” material. Legal systems, like cities, are in many ways systems that enable different and diverse groups of people to get along, even thrive, both despite their differences and also because of them. Law, like the city, is a platform. Of a sort. We can’t afford to take for granted either the fact that it exists or the dynamics of how it succeeds, fails, and changes. Again, vagueness. What do we imagine, in practice?

I read Democracy in America many decades ago, and I’m still working through how to translate its themes to modern living. What seemed to work during the 20th century (now speaking both about cities and also about legal systems, the legal profession, and law schools) may not be primed for success, on the same terms and in the same ways, in the next several decades.

While I figure out my own new-ish voice on Pittsburgh’s Futures, I’m collecting some others. I’ll post links from time to time to material that I find especially thought provoking, and I’ll include some excerpts.

Most of these won’t address Pittsburgh itself. (It turns out that most of the time, Pittsburgh isn’t special except in its own collective minds.) Most have to do with 21st century cities and urbanism in general. So mapping their observations onto Pittsburgh’s specifics will take some imagination on readers’ parts as well as on my own. The common theme will be: cities – including Pittsburgh – are a lot more fragile than we may like to think.

Today’s contribution: David Runciman, a political scientist at Cambridge University, writes in the London Review of Books:

In the age of the internet it turned out we wanted to rub up against each other as much as possible, in order to share ideas, services and experiences. The tech companies were no different. They didn’t want to be outside the city looking in. They wanted to be at the heart of it. Where the tech companies led, the rest followed.

A service economy puts a premium on physical proximity: restaurants near businesses, businesses near universities, universities near parks, parks near schools, schools near homes, homes near restaurants. If you can walk between them all, so much the better. And if you can’t, build cycle lanes. So begins the virtuous circle of bringing people together in order to produce new ways of cohabiting, which then allow more and more people to join.

Bustling city life forces politicians to breach their ideological red lines; it forces citizens to drop their prejudices against each other; it forces businesses to notice the environment in which they are operating. Above all, it keeps supplying new ways of doing things, so nothing gets old. … [T]his is sustainable only if you assume that nothing will disrupt the benign relationship between population growth and innovation. But, as we’ve learned in recent months, any model of politics that relies on increased human density is intensely vulnerable to natural disruption. Bringing people together in ever larger numbers means that if something goes wrong, everyone suffers.

Read the whole thing: David Runciman, “Ask Mike,” London Review of Books, vol. 42, no. 12, June 18, 2020