The online magazine Triple Canopy has published an article by my friend Neil Greenberg about his “Fake Omaha” project. Illustrated with photos of some of the street maps of the fictional city, the article includes “transit schedules, redevelopment reports, internal memoranda, intra-office communications, and remarks prepared for public officials … in order to provide a sense of the city to outsiders and illustrate its redevelopment efforts …”
I profiled the project in an interview with Neil in December 2007, and as this passage describes the project isn’t so much about a simple street map of a fictional city, but an entire fictional planning scenario:
[Neil Greenberg:] … Like you mention, real cities are not perfect. They do contain disappointments and mistakes and challenges. For 50 years, millions of people blithely accepted the idea that suburbs would flourish forever and cities would all die. Let us not underestimate the demise of that conventional wisdom. It’s a very exciting time to be involved in planning. Today, we have a unique chance to re-create vibrant, sustainable cities and regions.
That won’t, however, happen in one step. What intrigues me is the transition. How do we come to terms with decades of poor planning? Where do we make the best of existing infrastructure – and where do we have to start from scratch? How do we learn from prior attempts at redevelopment? What do we want our cities and regions to look like in the future? Why is the need to think ahead so obvious to some and so lost on others?
The “flaws” built into Fake Omaha are exercises in dealing with these questions. In transforming our metropolitan areas — particularly stubborn ones like Detroit — we’ll have to face challenging and unpredictable circumstances. It will take a portfolio of small victories before an entire metro area turns the corner. That’s exactly what I’m doing in Fake Omaha. At 60th Street and Fallbrook, what was once a faltering strip mall is now a farmers market. Along Bishop Street and Charlotte Street, neglected four- and five-story buildings are being renovated into mixed-use commercial and residential space, in the same neighborhood that used to bulldoze those very buildings to make a few more parking spaces. Through all of this, the transit system has risen to the forefront: what was formerly a bus service for the poor and the weak has become an indisputable driving force of smarter, more valuable regional development.