A truly fascinating and stimulating article on privatizing streets which by my reading of it --- not the author's conclusion -- brings us right back to where we are now: the public right-of-way.
I have become increasingly intrigued by the use of this kind of language in architectural criticism:
"But the best reason to fall in love with the building is its seductive pull. A vibrant composition of concrete forms stacked on top of a delicate glass base, its design is calculated to lure people into a titillating architectural experience."
In fact I find the building appealing. It meets the Three Rules of urban design and appears as if it might well enliven the street, depending on how the first floor is used by the museum (i.e. if there is simply a desk with a guard at it, as one sees at some office building lobbies, that won't do much.) The windowless walls are a bit off-putting but we are seeing only one elevation of the building and from what appears to be an upper story; and museums are notorious for wanting to limit natural light. Hadid's reputation as am archi-star might not have gotten in the way of a good urban design.
I call this sort of structure a 'raisin in the oatmeal' design --- a few are good for a city but too many and it's like too much dessert.
But the critic's language is conclusory. How does it help people get a grip on the complexity of the built environment? I don't think it does. It is language which sets apart a building as an oh-so precious artistic object rather than as an element which has to fit into a city. Moreover it breaks the very first rule which Edward Said (my collegiate English composition teacher) set forth many years ago: "Explain what is happening in the poem -- who is speaking, what is the action etc etc --- before you interpret." It's a good rule for discussion buildings as well.
Congestion pricing is indeed an intriguing subject and the debate about the adoption of the London scheme brought forth a flood of debate before the fact.
What struck me first about this thread is that it stops at April 29, 2003. Is the London plan working so well that there is little dispute that it is a good idea and therefore nothing to debate?
It is also interesting to consider the spatial extent of the test pits. I have sketched out the pits on this map as best I could from the verbal description given by WSDot.
They indicate to me that, from what we know now, there is only a very limited area of seawall which is of concern and it is limited to the extremely trafficked area between Pike and Spring Streets. I wouldn't think that the area adjacent to Myrtle Edwards park is nearly as critical. So rather than 8,000 feet of seawall, perhaps the immediate problem is limited to 5 blocks or about 1000 feet. I am not making any sort of judgment, of course. but merely looking at the information provided by the State.
Neal Peirce asks a question about charging for road use in general. Now, Would it work in Seattle?
A striking fact: the $8/day charge has only reduced London trafic by 20%. One hundred thousand people per day pay the charge (that's $8 million per day) or $1.6 billion (using only 200 working days) per year. It costs to operate the system, but the net to the public authority must be an impressive number.
To some degree, criticism one example here of New Urbanism (NU) stems from CNU's Congress for the New Urbanism's initial and excessively enthusiastic claims that NU was an all-purpose social screwdriver. NU would not only make better neighborhoods but also lead to better regional planning, less traffic congestion, less social psychosis and in general solve all societal ills. I heard even more extreme claims. I believe that CNU has backed off on the scope of its claims. At least that is my sense. Wendell Cox -- Andrs Duany Debate That is to the good.
Might it be appropriate for people who attack NU to also moderate their venom? There is so much naive, deliberately misconstruing and disingenuous criticism about new urbanism such as that it is about "social engineering" as if ANY laws are not about social engineering! While NU will not and could not "solve everything," it has an absolutely ENORMOUS contribution to make. It simply asks people to view (and this is its major contribution and no mean one) the neighborhood at a fine-grain and as a question of how the building enfronts the street.
While NU is not a panacea, it is far, far more than simply, as some claim, a marketing tool.
I made an error a few days ago.
My source for the cost of the seawall was NOT Councilmember Conlin's op-ed or a report by Mike Lindblom (of the Seattle Times) but an article by Susan Gilmore in the Seattle Times on May 4, 2003.
"Various proposals for replacing the viaduct call for a new seawall to be part of the project, but replacing the 8,000-foot seawall alone could cost more than $1 billion."
If you are interested in the seawall, Read this.
The money quote:
"Of the six test pits, four showed significant marine borer damage."
In other words, 1/3 (i.e. two) of the 6 sample sites which have been
investigated to determine if the seawall is in good shape were benign.
The entire seawall element of the viaduct project appears --- from WsDot's own web pages --- to be based on SIX SAMPLES, two of which were OK.
And on this basis they are talking about spending a billion dollars? I
must be missing something. Would someone else please take a look and
see if there is anything else which even remotely corroborates a
On Monday, May 26, 2003, at 11:54 AM, DFP wrote:
"I would say that replacing the viaduct with a tunnel is certainly worthwhile, but whether it's worth the cost depends on what the cost is. Surely at some price it's what we should do. Equally as surely at another price it's not what we should do."
I agree entirely with DFP. It is ultimately a matter of cost. (Though
even if the Feds picked up 100% of cost, that is not "free" either ---
we spend political capital to get it.)
At any rate, the problem is that "the numbers" have shifted so much and
the political agenda so clear that I would be suspicious of any numbers
at this point.
"The numbers" are simply too amazing to be taken seriously as a tool
For example, the cost of rebuilding just the 8000 ' seawall (supposedly
and conveniently now falling apart) is pegged at more than $1 billion
by Councilmember Conlin in the Seattle Times on 2/7/03. (I think
I've also read $1.25 billion in a news report by Mike Lindblom -- but
hey! what's $250 million among friends?)
(As an aside, go take a look, for example, at the seawall north of Pier
62/63 and you may be puzzled as to wherein lies the problem. More about
that in another post.)
At any rate, take the lower number and do the math. That is $125,000
per running foot. Go look at the seawall and imagine rebuilding it. To
put it into simple terms, the notion that, for example, a 10 foot
section of seawall should cost $1.25 million is an astonishing one.
Even with today's prices for Public Works, government should be able to
do a lot of construction for $1.25 million. Surely, the "seawall" must
include a whole lot of other things?
I just don't get it. There is something very odd about the numbers
being bandied about, which will make creating public trust very
difficult to achieve.
This city map comparison site allows one to view two cities side-by-side at the same scale. Comparing Seattle and New York is particularly striking in revealing New York's enormous 'psychic density.' Manhattan south of Central park (59th Street) to The Battery is roughly the same distance --- 3 miles --- as Safeco Field to Madison Park. For those of you not familiar with Seattle, or New York, there is abolsutely no comparison in the 'thickness of experience' in those roughly 3 miles. That's not a comparison meant to elevate one or denigrate the other; it's just an observation which is made crystal clear by this web page.
(You'll have to plug in the city names.)
Terrific discussion on a libertarian site.
Our out-of-kilter priorities are no better exemplified than by infatuation with the latest faddish mega-project: doing away with the Alaska Way Viaduct.
Yes, "something" should be done to ensure its structural security.
But in terms of the daily life of Seattle, spending many billions of dollars to replace the Viaduct would be money mis-spent. The neighborhoods of the city could easily and far more usefully absorb such vast sums and it would have a far greater impact on our quality of life.
Big spend proponents such as "Action: Better City" ask "what will create the best waterfront environment for our citizens?"
That question heads in the right direction, but has too narrow a focus.
The germane question is "what will create the best total Seattle environment for our citizens?"
So spend the minimum to make the Viaduct safe and put aside "experiential impacts and opportunities" (per below) for a grad school seminar.
Let me be clear. Doing away with the Viaduct is not a BAD idea. I'd even concede that it might be a GOOD idea (though even that is not QED.)
But there are THOUSANDS of good ideas and we cannot act on them all. Good ideas are a dime-a-dozen. I would put eliminating the Viaduct as perhaps #99 out of a list of 100 ways to benefit Seattle.
More to come on the dollars involved, once I can find a set which seem to have integrity.
Begin forwarded message:
Date: Fri May 23, 2003 3:22:24 PM US/Pacific
To: "Space.City 1": ;
Subject: Action Better City Film, "Viaduct?", 6/4
The latest Action: Better City film....
"Viaduct? What Viaduct?"
As we consider replacements of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, much of the public
discussion has been driven by civil engineering options, cost analysis, and
traffic studies. With this mundane focus, it is difficult to grasp the
aesthetic and experiential impacts and opportunities this project could
bring to our waterfront, city and region.
With their new film "Viaduct? What Viaduct?" Action: Better City expands
the dialogue from simply "what is the cost of each option," to include
"what will create the best waterfront environment for our citizens?"
Wednesday, June 4, 2003
Downtown Seattle Art Museum
Discussion to Follow
Doors open at 5:30
Donations taken at the door
Suggested Donation: $5.00
Action: Better City is a not-for profit organization dedicated to
fostering and exploring the ideas that link Seattle and it's environment,
the connections of its downtown neighborhoods, and the potential for
unique public spaces. www.actionbettercity.org
Here is an interesting discussion, though as I took part in it such comment must be somewhat suspect.
I've been intrigued that there are no libertarian/right-wing approaches to urban planning/land use that are the least bit credible or have popular resonance. In major metropolitan areas i.e where zoning (or its functional equivalent) is needed, there is overwhelming consensus for zoning.
There are useful & provocative conservative critiques of society. (Vouchers for schools, as one example.) Many are rooted in deregulation. But the conservative critique stops at land. No one talks seriously about deregulating land use because
a) there is no political support;
b) no one can imagine what it would be like;
3) conservatives own houses too and benefit from the settled expectations provided by land use laws.
Yes some people rail against zoning/permitting etc but they have no alternative to it.
It is obvious to the vast majority of people that if we are to live in relatively high density (the American suburb included) then we need some set of rules. Oh yes, one can say that ours are cumbersome and overly-intrusive and ineffective --- but that is a matter of degree and execution, not principle.
Simplify, clarify, make more fair and transparent: yes, absolutely.
But will the rules still be footed on the police power? How could it be otherwise. The transaction costs of a series of private contracts and covenants are too high and ineffcient; that's why we have standard form contracts in every business -- to simplify transactions. Look at zoning as way of enhancing social efficiency by creating a common set of rules about what one can do with property. No serious business person wants to do away with zoning (except when it comes to their own property.)
It's a marvelous social invention; and it didn't start with Euclid. Conservatives make much of property rights but offer no intellectually respectable alternative to our current land law system. Nibble about the edges, yes. But provide a systemic alternative which deals with real concerns, no.
The department in the City of Seattle which administers land use entitlements and building permits uses interesting verbal formulations. People who apply for permits are known as "clients" or "customers."
I believe that the language is well-meaning. The intention is to ensure that staff treat the individuals with whom they deal in a respectful manner.
But it is an unfortunately and unintentionally comical situation.
People who apply for permits are by no stretch of the imagination "clients " or "customers." "Clients " or "customers" have a choice. They can deal with Professional A or Company B.
As to zoning and building entitlements, a local government is a sole source monopoly. Not only is it the only provider, one is required to deal with it by operation of law. You have no choice.
Indeed, government of course has special responsibility to act as the agent of the people, from trivia such as answering phone calls promptly to large issue of principles such as spreading the burdens of regional facilities such as a sewer plant so that it doesn't impact only poor people. The term “client” and “customer” was, I suspect, a directive from management to help inculcate respect at the personal level.
But there is a hypocrisy there. Verbal formulae designed to slide over the fact that a person has no choice is demeaning. The City of Seattle has a particularly complex and procedurally burdensome land use process which is frustrating even to experienced architects.
Better to acknowledge that when it comes to land use laws, none of us are freebooting "clients", or even dignified "applicants" but, more realistically, kneeling "supplicants" at the alter of urban planning.
This article is a great example of the divide --- of psychology and sensibility --- in the debate on sprawl, property rights, urban design etc. etc.
The author thinks that the basic argument against current suburban development patterns is that it is bad for us. Of course perhaps he has indeed picked up that line of reasoning from all too-earnest "Smart Growth" enthusiasts, and so his critique is understandable.
My own personal reason for detesting most of what has been built over the past 50 40 years (King County a great example) is that it is so unpleasant, ugly, uncomfortable etc. etc. It's just awful to be around; I have a visceral not intellectual reaction. And actually most of my venom is directed to the commercial areas; the detached single family pattern, which includes much of Seattle, is benign.That's why I like Phil Langdon's argument for the New Urbanism: it's "simply a better way to live." Doesn't have the moralistic oomph as does "Smart Growth" and "Sustainability." I suspect that most supporters of Smart Growth share that same sensibility which is repelled by the look and feel of the suburbs.
But moralizing about resource utilization doesn't really go very far when it comes to land use decisions; personal taste & preference wins out. So we might as well start from self-interest anyway, as that is where we end up.
The author does have one good line:
' "smart growth" advocates should use that money to pass out gym memberships.'
Well, not exactly free but nice photos. I'm using some in the next edition of 'City Comforts.'
No doubt things have changed in the past 30 years but this issue of Wired Magazine seems to insist on making what has happened as obscure and difficult to understand as possible:
Our old ideas about space have exploded. The past three decades have produced more change in more cultures than any other time in history. Radically accelerated growth, deregulation, and globalization have redrawn our familiar maps and reset the parameters: Borders are inscribed and permeated, control zones imposed and violated, jurisdictions declared and ignored, markets pumped up and punctured. And at the same time, entirely new spatial conditions, demanding new definitions, have emerged.Oh god! "Where space was considered permanent, it now feels transitory - on its way to becoming." Spare me.
Where space was considered permanent, it now feels transitory - on its way to becoming. The words and ideas of architecture, once the official language of space, no longer seem capable of describing this proliferation of new conditions. But even as its utility is questioned in the real world, architectural language survives, its repertoire of concepts and metaphors resurrected to create clarity and definition in new, unfamiliar domains (think chat rooms, Web sites, and firewalls). Words that die in the real are reborn in the virtual.
Another article on Koolhaas:
"Koolhaas wouldn't be the first talented architect to fall flat when working in an unfamiliarly large scale....It's the social and phenomenological principles with which he's designing that are wrong."
It's interesting to see how the new urbanism is making inroads even among young conservatives. I have had a sense that new urbanism (for lack of a more convenient term) offers, because of the simplicity of its rules, a manner by which to dramatically simplify zoning codes. People against zoning on "theoretical" grounds still won't like it. But the sensible conservatives will appreciate the decreased burden at the procedural level.
Posted 10:03 AM by Patrick Belton "URBAN STUDIES WATCH: CS Monitor deservingly puffs a developer in Maine, named John Chamberlain, who is constructing a new high-density subdivision with the idea of making it a pedestrian, village-style neighorhood built on a human rather than automotive scale, with the appropriate copious helpings of public spaces, parks, and tree-lined streets, with homes situated close to the streets, and with streetscapes which mix rowhouses, shops, and apartments.
"The article raises an important point, argued often by those students of cities who argue for designing American communities more on the aesthetic, pleasant, pedestrian and public lines of Greenwich Village or the New England townships, while less on the sprawlish dimensions of Los Angeles, Detroit, or Northern Virginia. And in turn this point is often toted under the banner of New Urbanism, a school of urban development which has been led by people like Vincent Scully, James Kunstler, Peter Calthorpe, and Peter Katz. ( Here's a bibliography, and a charter drawn up by one group of adherents. There's also a faq drawn up by another New Urbanist organization.) Generally speaking, New Urbanism seeks to increase residential density, mix up styles and types of buildings to a greater extent, and more broadly to create a greater number of more pedestrian, public spaces. A remarkably creative friend of ours from Yale, Adam Gordon , has launched a magazine called The Next American City dedicated to fleshing out and expanding on these, and related, ideas; his magazine is an extraordinarily exciting project, and I'm honored to be working on a piece for their next issue. One city which has been very influenced by this school of thought is Montclair, New Jersey - I remember returning back from England to a friend's back yard, then walking through the city's park over to its main street, and thinking that the pleasantness and human scale of the experience was making me revise my admittedly unwarrented low esteem for American suburbs.
"That said, I'm admittedly much less expert on urban studies than many of my friends, and I'd be very interested to hear what they have to say on the subject. Rachel, Joey, Adam, Shayna?..... "
Interesting start but somewhat disappointing "I was there!" finish about the "Koolhaas" library in Sunday's (May 24, 2003) NY Times.
"The logic of the place and its friendliness to the reader are apparent. The Dewey ramp makes a kind of glorious, literal, plodding sense. The reading room feels like an assertion that books deserve a glamorous venue. And what could be more true to the democratic nature of a library than putting the children's section and the foreign-language materials on the street level? As for the building's facade, the jutting platforms may look like architectural whimsy from the street, but they stick out for good reason: each is situated to take full advantage of the site's corridor views of Puget Sound and the surrounding mountains."
The way people use language about architecture astonishes me. Why is it even remotely "democratic" to have a children's library & foreign-language materials at the street level on Fourth Avenue? I don't see the connection. One could just as easily say that "the children's library is placed in a remote, well-guarded, hard-to-get-to part of the building so that children, no matter their family background, can feel safe and secure and democratic."
The assertion that more views will be captured (must be down the side streets I assume) by the jutting platforms makes little sense on its face. The building can't go past the property line (at least by very much.) And if floors are stacked at the property line, (as opposed to "jutting") the views from the upper floor will be the same as the view from the floor below. No?
And the idea that books deserve a "glamorous venue" is just so many words. Why in the world is it even remotely important to have a glamorous venue for books? Practical, human-scaled, "pleasing", "pretty," flexible, inviting...maybe even "comfortable" ... etc etc. I can think of so many more important criteria. The value of "glamour" in assessing a library is (or should be) irrelevant. In fact "glamour" seems to be an off-putting value...reminds me of going to a fancy restaurant where everyone will look to see if you measure up, if you've got the right cut of pant. We do NOT want a library to further that sort of feeling. One associates glamour with the opening of a movie or the line to get into Studio 54: only the very few will be allowed. That is NOT a public library.
The beginning of the article is good -- some interesting statements about SAM and the EMP and a common sense quote: ''I don't want a library full of light,'' Sally Clark, a housing advocate, said. ''I want a cozy library.''
But then a rather flaccid finish. Almost sounded to me as if it was an add-on forced on the writer by an editor. Oh well.
(Maybe the recent criticisms of the New York Times (i.e. as a no longer a serious paper) are accurate. Of course I have never been able to fathom Muschamp. No, don't misunderstand: I do understand him insofar as there is any there there.)
Btw, I haven't seen the new Library building in 4-5 months,...sort of saving it for a rainy day. Who knows, maybe I'll like it. (I'm pretty sure that they did NOT take any of my Seattle Times criticisms seriously --- "it's already wonderful.") But stranger things have happened; to be clear, I am only commenting on the NY Times review, NOT the building itself. It is not yet finished. It would not be fair to make any judgments until it is done and one can actually walk around and through it.
Discussion touching on religion and architecture which totally convinced me that the Founding Fathers of the United States were extremely astute people.
According to Patrick O'Brian --- and it makes common sense --- discussion of religion was forbidden at the officers' mess as the only outcome could be ugly faction, obviously an evil on a naval ship. Or in a civil society.
Certainly a place can be so well designed and built (i.e. created) that an individual can choose to see the hand of a creator at work. But to bring up religion a priori is to me an unnecessary element. If the good ship Alexander founders, it will be I believe because he introduces an inherently divisive element --- religion, spirituality etc -- to a subject --- the built environment ---already laden with heavy emotion.
My suggestion is that we attend to the work of building better cities and put religion aside for personal decision.