This morning I find myself daydreaming a new life. My wife and I are living in a small fourth floor apartment above a bakery in Freiburg’s Altstadt district. Our furnishings are eclectic and spare, no more than we need. The intoxicating bouquet of fresh-baked bread fills the apartment long before the sun crosses the Black Forest and creeps across our wooden floorboards. It is still early as we walk the street and sip our coffee, steam spiraling languidly from the mug in the morning chill.
Residents walk their dogs and wave to neighbors bicycling to work. They wave to us. A tram ambles past along its fixed route. There are no autos. The street is winding and narrow-seeming, reassuringly girded as it is by the unbroken street wall of four-story, narrow lot buildings, yet we share its width comfortably with the tram, with the dogwalkers and dogs and cyclists, with tourists emerging from B&Bs, with the shopkeepers as they open their shops, with the morning rush of locals and visitors drawn to the aromatic cafes and general sensuousness of the streetscape.
It’s a nice daydream. I consider it a moment and decide the key pieces are as follows: (1) an unbroken street wall of multi-story, human scale buildings of equal height and varying architectural styles and details; (2) the right combination of mixed-use retail, office, and residential; (3) a tram or other sort of local transit in lieu of automobiles; (4) narrow, winding streets with sidewalks wide enough to support street life; (5) the desire of residents to share space, to become part of the community, and to stroll – not run – through life.
My question is this: how might my Altstadt reverie come to pass, in its totality, as a normative form of development, in America? What larger context is assumed? What factors hinder its realization? How might those obstacles be overcome?