Urbanity (in)Sanity

Lauren N. McCarthy

Cities are more like organisms than they are like machines. In this sense, they are the product of countless individual and group decisions that do not conform to any grand plan. […] Moreover, cities are becoming more and more complex as new technologies are being invented, adding yet another nail in the coffin of a predictable urban future.

~Michael Batty, Inventing Future Cities

Welcome! Urbanity is from the Latin urbanus, or “belonging to the city.” Therefore, we belong to the city; the city does not belong to us. Cities do not belong to us as individuals, but to society as a whole. Cities belong to our collective future, past, and present. Cities are, in a way, organized chaos, or a masterful blend of both the sane and the insane. Thus, I feel the title of Urbanity (in)Sanity aptly describes what all city dwellers experience everyday and reflects the focus of my research. The orderly streets, blocks, buildings, and sidewalks give way to a chaotic stream of people and flurries of commercial activity, each with their own path that is often incongruous with one another.

As we move forward into a technologically infused future, we must remember that we are stewards of the city. Urban innovation and sustainability are essential to curate healthy cities that will survive long past our time. At this turning point of history, we have to act, be smart, be sustainable, be equitable, and innovative in our application of emerging technologies to the city.

Urbanity (in)Sanity is the personal website of Lauren N. McCarthy. Lauren works on a variety of emerging technology and transportation policy issues. An urbanist at heart, Lauren is currently pursuing a PhD in Public Policy at the Schar School of Policy and Government. Lauren currently lives in Alexandria, VA, but is a proud Buffalonian. Lauren also is dyslexic and therefore annoyed by pdfs, double spaces after periods, trying to spell the word "dyslexic," and justified text. She enjoys low contrast text, left justification, and short paragraphs. This special ability shapes the innovative way she approaches problems and teaches and communicates with others. Lauren also enjoys maps. She loves maps. She is also a transportation nerd. But most of all, she loves cities and the people who make cities what they are.

A Note From Lauren

Hello! I'm Lauren N. McCarthy and this is my personal website. Thank you for visiting. I am currently pursuing a PhD in Public Policy at the Schar School for Policy and Government and I love cities (I love suburbs and rural areas too, but cities are my first love). Cities create unique cultural identifiers that embed upon our hearts. Cities are amazing places. Cities are not static, they are dynamic in every sense of the word. Cities are constantly changing. As new people enter their borders, cities absorb and change with them. The dynamism that is the city is what draws people to them. Cities are cultural hubs. Cities are places of knowledge. Cities are places of movement. Cities are places of danger. Cities are places of hope. Cities are people.

My love for cities is grounded in my inner-city upbringing in one of America’s poorest cities: Buffalo, NY. I grew up on the West Side of the city. The West Side is a diverse and vibrant neighborhood, and sometimes a scary and dangerous neighborhood. My childhood home was on a busy city street, a few blocks off Elmwood Ave or "The Strip," down the street from a state Psychiatric Center, and a SUNY institution - Buffalo State College. I went to elementary school in North Buffalo, part of middle school in South Buffalo, and the rest of middle and high school on the East side of the city. My high school on the East Side, a majority African-american neighborhood, was surrounded with municipal housing.

My childhood home was a Victorian oak framed building, beautiful, but it was a labor of love - needless to say I am an expert in rebuilding 19th century clapboard with wood putty and a master of the caulk gun... I sang in a choir after school two days a week. To get there I had to take the Metro, (yes - Buffalo has a metro) to downtown. I met some amazing people and some not-so-nice people on the metro... Being on an international boarder I focused my early work on international trade and small business development, with the hope and intent to solve the puzzle of the my city's economic problems. I attended the University at Buffalo for both my undergraduate degree in Business Administration and my Master's degree in Geography. To get there, I became intimately acquainted with the perils and virtues of public transportation. Everyday, I had to walk a few blocks to the bus stop, take the bus through much of the West side, transfer to the metro line, and then make the final leg on the University provided shuttle bus.

Waiting on all those bus stops, in metro stations, early days walking from my high school to the metro, and sometimes all the way home, and just daily life in my neighborhood, I had so many experiences that are emblematic of city life.

City life is spending weekends working on old houses, shopping on Grant St. and being told by an older Italian woman how to pick lettuce properly from the market stalls lining the sidewalk. It's living a short walk away from a premier modern art gallery, going to driver education school in a little building with metal bars and paper on the windows, and being offered god-knows-what on the street corner by a gentlemen with multiple tear drop tattoos around his eyes.

City life is wandering through the amazing gardens during GardenWalk, and hanging out on the porch on a lazy afternoon waiting to see who will walk by, and when they do inviting them up for a chat and a drink, and it's hearing gun shoots ring out a few houses away and seeing blood on the street, and it's marveling at architectural gems by great architects like H.H. Richardson and Frank Lloyd Wright.

City life is talking to homeless people and getting to know their names and stories, and it's being catcalled routinely out of car windows and those passing by on the street. It's helping neighbors shovel out and shove their cars out of snowbanks and hauling the giant chunks of road ice from driveways pushed there by plows after a snow storm. It's discussing music with a gentlemen who had played flute with Duke Ellington at the Colored Musicians Club, and convincing friends from the suburbs and out of town it's safe to come to your house (no, you won't get shot), and so, so much more.

I was and am part of city life.

Through these and many other experiences I had the opportunity to interact with many different people from all walks of life and experience the many dimensions of a city - the good, the bad, and the ugly. I wouldn't trade the experiences I have had for anything. I have experienced the best of city life - the community, the culture, the vibrancy, the pride, but also know the smell of poverty, the heartbreak of boarded up and broken windows, the deterioration of once vibrant neighborhoods and experienced first hand the faltering of a local economy and rejection from my own city, which resulted in my own exodus. Today, sadly, I have no family members left living in the city I grew up in.

Even so, I will always defend my city, until I'm blue in the face. And things are looking up for Buffalo - it is a beautiful city that has been down too long. My identity is rooted in my city origins. Everyone who knows me well (and those who have only met me once) know that I am from Buffalo, I will always root for the Sabres, I still get excited if, and when, the Bills win, and I know all of the words to the song "15 miles on the Erie Canal." The love I have for my city incorporates the good and the bad; for what is a city but the people who make it what it is?

Thus, with all of this said, I recognize the deficiencies our cities face, but also see the opportunities and the bright future they can have. I have focused my career on understanding the process of integration of urban technology in cities, particularly with a focus on transportation infrastructure and devices. I believe we can do better for our cities and we must continue to promote strong local economies and vibrant neighborhoods so many more people can have more of the 'good' experiences I had, with a little bit of the bad, just to keep them grounded.

Enjoy my website and please reach out if you have any questions or would like to chat further about any of the topics I cover.