Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The New New Urbanism


The tanned, muscled, Bob is taking his morning jog, decked out with high-end running shoes and various digital monitoring devices swaddling his pumping arms and legs. Getting a nice rhythm going, Bob strides, gazelle-like, past the corner lot, then breaks his stride. Stops.

Bob stands, regarding a construction permit sign.

Bob: About time. Damn lot's been vacant for months.

Smiles. Then stops smiling.

As he notices the architectural rendering on another sign.

Bob: What the hell ...

Bob studies the rendering.

It depicts a towering, ugly, 9-story brutalist concrete structure with all the charm of early Auschwitz. Erection-like, this rectilinear solid ascends to the sky, and takes up every inch of the lot that zoning will allow. And then some. The windows are slits. 

Above the rendering, the caption proclaims: HAPPY NEW URBAN LIVE/WORK HOME.

Bob: Happy New Urban Live/Work Home?

A smiling pitchman appears. Not an old-school huckster. More like Steve Jobs with a side order of Richard Florida.

PITCHMAN: Ah, I see you've noticed our Happy New Urban Live/Work Home! But how rude of me. I don't believe we've met?

They converge, shake hands warmly.

BOB: Bob. Name's Bob. And your name is?

PITCHMAN: Irrelevant. How do you like it?

BOB: Not sure. I don't know what I'm looking at. Happy New Urban Live/Work Home? It sounds like a bad Chinese translation.

PITCHMAN: That's because it is! Thanks a lot, Babelfish. Say, Bob. You're familiar with Andre Duany?

BOB: Sure. New Urbanism. Liveable cities. The live/work concept.

PITCHMAN: Exactly! Well, this takes it to the next level, Bob. As some ethnic group somewhere once said, "It takes a village to raise a child." Well, we've got a whole village right here. 78 core residents. Working and providing for their children on this very spot.

BOB: Wha ... it's a factory?

PITCHMAN: What's wrong with factories, Bob? Warhol had a factory. Factories are cool.

BOB: OK. But I don't think that applies to all factories ...

PITCHMAN: You afraid of hard work?

BOB: No.

PITCHMAN: Neither am I. But it's not a sweatshop, if that's what you're thinking, Bob. None of the work going on here involves any sweat. It's all digital. Cubical related. Software helplines, telecommuting, distance workers, virtual presence, Russian identity theft scams. It's all very cutting-edge and completely within code parameters, thanks to compensation in the right places.Bottom line? Our core residents won't impact the environment.

BOB: Why not?

PITCHMAN: They never go outside! Home is work, work is home. You see what that means to the carbon footprint, Bob? No driving back and forth to work. No environmental impact. Sleep, work, sleep, work. It's the essence of green thinking.You feel me bro?

Bob thinks for a few beats.

BOB: These "core residents" of yours ... they live here and work here?

PITCHMAN: Wow. What an out-of-the-box question, Bob. That was the whole point of what I've been saying, ha-ha. But yes. The answer is yes.

BOB: Where do they fit?

PITCHMAN: Inside the building of course.

BOB: 78 people?

PITCHMAN: Well, 78 "core residents" and their families. Which makes it, oh, more like 217 people.

BOB: And where the hell do you put 'em?

PITCHMAN: Glad you asked, Bob. Ground floor and second floor comprise the New Urban Happy Work Environment. Floors three through nine provide the Happy Family State-of-the-Art Eat/Sleep/Fornicate space.

BOB: For 278 people? No. That's impossible. It's not that big.

PITCHMAN: You'd be surprised, Bob. Do the math. How much space does the human body need to sleep?

BOB: I don't ...

PITCHMAN: Roughly speaking, a volume of 2 by 1 by 1.25 meters. About the size of a coffin.

BOB: Like those Japanese capsule beds ...

PITCHMAN: You got it, Bob. A climate-controlled, womblike refuge of comforting, state-of-the-art modular plastic. Our core residents and their families deserve nothing less.

BOB: Chinese families, right?

PITCHMAN: Wrong. I'm surprised at you, Bob! As I mentioned, this new residential paradigm is the brainchild of a Chinese company. That doesn't mean all the residents will be Chinese.

BOB: You say so. But, actually, you didn't mention it. What company?

PITCHMAN: Uh, a respectable Chinese development company, backed by serious investors, military mostly. We welcome inquiry, but I wouldn't ask questions. Bad things tend to happen. The point is, our demographic is very multicultural.

BOB: Really?

PITCHMAN: Sure. It's a rainbow of human possibility, Bob. Displaced Shining Path operatives will create a human face for Verizon. Sri Lankans, former Tamil Tigers, will make up the bulk of our IT squad. Boko Boko Haram will handle tech support for Apple's latest ...

BOB: You mean Boko Haram?

PITCHMAN: No, Bob. You've heard how Boko Haram makes Al-Qaeda look soft? Well Boko Boko Haram makes Boko Haram look soft. That's how hard-core these guys are. Beheading? That's too easy for them. But, gosh they're good at customer service.

BOB: That's it?

PITCHMAN: Not quite, Bob. There's one more color to this human rainbow, ha-ha. Green.

BOB:  Green? Like green thinking?


BOB: Then what? Outside of Star Trek, green is not an ethnic group.

PITCHMAN: No it isn't. That's very funny, Bob.

BOB: Not particularly. Green like what?

PITCHMAN: Money, Bob. Green like the color of money.

BOB: Money?

PITCHMAN: Sure. Money is very important to the Chinese, Bob. I don't mean to sound prejudiced. I'm not talking about all Chinese. Just the unsmiling generals who own this company -- and hold the debt for the majority of Americans. Including one resident of this street who claimed a $115,000-a-year annual income and concealed his $57,000 debt load, on which fraudulent basis he was extended a $50,000 credit line, and now owes $38,000 on his American Express.

BOB: How the hell do you know this -- I'll fucking sue you, asshole!

PITCHMAN: No, you won't, ha-ha.These generals are serious men, Bob. They don't expect to be paid. They expect you to work it off.

BOB: What the hell are you talking about?

PITCHMAN: Debtors prison. Ever heard of it, Bob? It's very cutting-edge.

A faceless thug behind Bob pulls a sack over your head.


PITCHMAN: (OS) The sack. I think we're done with the sack.

The sack comes off.


Bob's POV. Looking up. The Pitchman leans down.

The Pitchman speaks. Bob tries to answer back, but his voice is clearly muffled with some kind of gag.

PITCHMAN: "Welcome to your new home, Bob." I wanted to tell you that on opening day, but you spoiled the surprise, you and your stupid questions, ha-ha. Don't blame me, not my fault, ha-ha. Here's the bottom line, Bob. You'll have to make do with this cell until we open. I apologize for the inconvenience, ha-ha. But we'll be up and running before you know it. You're joining an exciting team. And it really means the world to me.

The smiling Pitchman punches Bob in the face.



A graceful young girl on a skateboard glides down the street. Poised, privileged kid. Not a care in the world. 

She stops.

Sees Bob's running meter lying on the asphalt.


She shrugs, and glides on. 

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