Atlantic Cities

Behind the Mask: @UrbanismAvenger Speaks!

Behind the Mask: @UrbanismAvenger Speaks!

Earlier this week, the anonymous Twitter feed @UrbanismAvenger sprang to heroic life, leaving no exclamation point unused! Yes, the account offers up pretty much exactly what you'd expect — a mish-mash of comic book references married with the latest in urbanist trends and news — but that doesn't make the joke any less fun for those of us who are geeky about both topics.

While unwilling to reveal his or her true identity for the good of a planet in peril, @UrbanismAvenger took some time out from spreading messages like "Global urbanists assemble!" to answer our questions via email:

How many Urbanism Avengers are there? Just one of you, or is there a whole team, like the original Avengers?

Like the Avengers, there's one "leader," with support and help from a team. So we sometimes use "I" and sometimes use "we." An Avenger, within the Avengers. 

In truth though, if our mission is successful, there will be Urbanism Avengers everywhere...

What prompted you to start this Twitter account? What do you hope to achieve with it?

I had been considering Twitter, but in my secret identity I'm a high-ranking multi-disciplinary urbanist with a major metropolitan planning department, where speaking out is not necessarily encouraged. We are all too "mild-mannered." Like many superheroes, I was concerned that my heroic deeds could lead to "harm" (admittedly, professional harm) to my loved ones or damage to my professional life, and thus I've donned the mask! I think my heroic every-man/woman persona facilitates what I'm trying to achieve

I believe that the heroic mission of designing + building better cities, towns and communities needs symbols, inspiration ... and yes, some fun! We can all be too pessimistic and stuffy at times about city-building, and that’s hardly influential either to the converted, or especially the unconverted. The forces of evil are many - The Sprawl Gang of America, Dr. Low-Density, Captain Car Dependence, and the Big Box Blob, just to name a few! The Urbanism Avenger is positive, honorable, hopefully inspirational, and not a stuffed shirt!

Are you affiliated with any larger organizations? Is there a S.H.I.E.L.D. of the urbanism world? 

Hmm... intriguing idea. The closest organizations are perhaps @AtlanticCities, @Planetizen, and in Canada @Spacing. All have been inspirations to me/us. Perhaps the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is the S.H.I.E.L.D. of the public realm. Other professional organizations serve their paid members well, and that is honorable, but great urbanism rejects siloes and disciplines and requires heroic advocacy! 

Perhaps someone will pick up your suggestion though, and create a S.H.I.E.L.D. for Urbanists! If they are to be a force for good, though, they must have the right intentions, be honorable and act with integrity, and not fall prey to the ethical troubles that the comics-S.H.I.E.L.D. has from time to time. A force for good that loves cities, not a government bureaucracy with a military mindset!

Is there a real-world component to the Urbanism Avengers mission, or is this strictly a social media-based endeavor?

So far, I only patrol the Twitter-verse. But who knows....  a good Urbanist always has a plan, and sees the bigger picture and the long-view.

Your Twitter page indulges in some comic book universe incongruity — a Marvel/Avengers-themed background combined with a DC comics tagline!? (Superman's "Look, up in the sky... "). Why should superhero purists take you seriously? 

Trust me, I'm a super-hero purist when it comes to comic-lore! Full-on geek! But my mission will deliberately draw from EVERY genre of superhero mythology, and freely mix them, just like a good urbanist mixes uses! I may be a fanboy, but I'm not dogmatic, in comics, or in city-buidling! It's all in the design of the mix that makes cities great!

I'm just as big a fan of the Justice League as I am the Avengers, and could have chosen that theme. But let’s face it, we all have the Avengers on our mind these days!

Are you hoping for or expecting any urbanist themes in the upcoming Avengers film?

There are ALWAYS urbanist themes in movies, if you look. Cities themselves are often heroes, or at least key characters, in the story. Whether the city is New York or Asgard, cities in movies can inspire us to be better urbanists!

Now if we could just choose which parts of cities the super-hero battles will occur in. There are always some car-oriented developments, freeways and big-box retailing that could use some super-hero style "urban renewal"...  

We noticed you likened our own Richard Florida to Tony Stark/Iron Man. Any other real-life urbanist analogues we should keep in mind? For instance, who's the Captain America of urbanism? The Hulk?

Florida is a perfect Tony Stark; uses tech, large organization, internationally known, dashing fellow - although I'm not sure if he can pull off the playboy lifestyle. Janette Sadik-Khan from New York may be a good Black Widow - her widow’s bite can take out any bike-hater! Amanda Burden (I love her!) as the Wasp? Maybe that’s too socio-demographically ironic. Andres Duany as the New Urban Hulk? (he does have that Cuban temper, especially when riled up by Jim Kunstler! You won't like him when he's angry...) Jan Gehl as All-Father Odin (I know he's Danish, but that’s close...).

I don't have a real Urbanism Captain America yet. A huge role! But I'll take tweet-nominations! 

I'm having even more fun with the Villains. Keep an eye out for the arch-foes of good urbanism.

Sommer Mathis is editor of The Atlantic Cities. Previously she spent five years editing and reporting on the D.C. metro area at DCist.com and TBD.com. All posts »

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