Contemplating the urban design of Lego City


Alexandra Lange sends us her "Living in Lego City," from Print Magazine: "An essay that asks and answers the question: If you built all the Lego City sets, what kind of city would you get? The city you get is one founded on the stereotype of boy busyness, a place that makes 3-D the transportation, safety, and sports obsessions we assign to boys. There's no zoo but a Dino Defense HQ, no supermarket unless you go down an age group to Duplo, no cafe unless you enter the pink and purple world of Lego Friends. It isn't just the minifigs that gender the Lego world."

Flying into Lego City on a Passenger Plane, you can see the city laid out below you in a grid: squares of green, wide roads of gray, and a tidy coastline of blue squares. It’s early, but already the Tipper Truck is out fixing the potholes and the Garbage Truck is collecting trash and recycling. At the Harbor, the crane is unloading goods onto a truck on the dock, while next door at the Marina the lifeguard is ready to go on duty. A high-speed Passenger Train is just pulling into the Train Station. And over at the Space Center, John Glenn will be happy to see that there’s a Space Shuttle awaiting its next trip to the International Space Station.

Safety is a watchword in Lego City. The Mobile Police Unit is ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice, should the Police Helicopter spot any illegal activities. It is hard to believe that any thieves could cross into Lego City, knowing the Forest Police Station is fully operational. And if the police, with their own helicopter and Jeep and a built-in holding cell, don’t catch the criminals, the bear (included) will.

But where do Lego City’s residents sleep? Eat? Shop? The green blocks are strangely empty. On the edge of town, kids are carving up the hills with their dirt bikes, thanks to the Dirt Bike Transporter, but what happens if they get thirsty? The only houses nearby (available as part of the Architecture series) are for the 1 percent: the Farnsworth House (that blue square looks awfully close) and Fallingwater.

Downtown, on the gray squares, the skyscrapers crowd closely together: the Burj Khalifa, the Empire State Building, the Willis Tower (renamed, even here). There should be a place to sit and watch the crowds at Rockefeller Center, but the scale is too small for benches or the skating rink. Down at the Marina, at least, you can relax at the Paradise Café and admire the brand-new Sydney Opera House. Now that Lego City has an opera house and a museum (the Solomon R. Guggenheim), it qualifies as a world-class city—right?

Living in Lego City (Thanks, Alexandra!)