Is anyone else struck by the phrase "went missing"? as in this sentence from Colby Cosh:
"About a week ago, I mentioned the discovery of the body of Islanders prospect Duncan MacPherson, who went missing from a ski trip in Austria in 1989." (emphasis added & no special significance to the sentence btw-- DS)Went missing doesn't sound correct, though it is so commonly used now that it probably has become part of the idiom and is thus "correct."
People use "went missing" to mean "disappear." I think that it is fairly new usage. Or perhaps its a Britishism with which I am unfamiliar. It has a charming sound to it (so it must be a Britishism) but there is also something fundamentally not right about it and I am not enough of (or at all) a grammarian to be able to point it out. Maybe it has something to do with who is acting...or something to do with transitive and intransitive verbs? (I never got that concept.) Or is it using an adjective as an adverb? Duh. Way over my head.
"Missing" is not a place to which one can go. It is the absence of existence, of a place.
Or am I all wrong and is "went missing" perfectly correct? Is it a new usage which subtly attempts to deny the finality of "disappearance" by suggesting that "missing" is a state of being? Just a state beyone our ken?
Having no political influence or power, I find it very easy to fall into a cheap cynicism and to make light of idealists. But then when I see a man of roughly my own age, The Prince of Wales, taking my issues very thoughtfully, as I think he does, well then it sobers me up immediately and I feel a bit sheepish. It's not often that a person of his position ---and of course how many people are there in a position even remotely similar to his? --- actually attempts to deal with the world in a serious way.
So I am curious that The Prince of Wales is having a "Book Launch Conference" titled, (cause for curiosity by itself) Radical Prince which will set forth his Practical Vision in Context.
Some years ago. the first edition of the book was translated into Japanese by an urban planner from Tokyo, Mr. Hiromitsu Yajima, whom I bumped into by accident at at a conference in Colorado. (Of course that's the point going to a conference --- an intentional act which has serendipitous results.)
It is funny flattering shocking for me to see the book in foreign words, words that in some way I wrote and yet which I cannot understand. That my book is filled with so many pictures allows me to identify each page and yet not be able to read it completely. It's the strangest sensation.
The publisher was kind enough to send me some copies but I have more than I really need. (I don't read Japanese even a bit so one as a souvenir is sufficient.)
So I will sell/trade/donate them to some one or organization which can put them to good use. Maybe a library somewhere which specializes in Asian urban studies? And then perhaps we can get some spirited bidding going for this piece of history.
Please write to me if you have some fabulous idea about what I should do with them.
This post may be a hair off-topic for this blog, except that dog-scooters, such as these,
might very well turn out to be a useful means of urban transportation if Jim Kunstler is correct about running out of oil.
But in any case, I plan to be there to take part in the Snoqualmie Tunnel Run by Dogscooter organized by Ms. Daphne Lewis, (on lead scooter, above) but of course only as part of my research into alternative modes of urban transport.
Second Annual August Snoqualmie Tunnel Run
DATE: Sunday, August 10, 2003
TIME: 10 am
DIFFICULTY: Flat, smooth gravel; 5 miles; cold, dark.
DESCRIPTION: This is our weirdest scooter event. We meet at the Hyak Parking lot, put on our coats, mittens, hats and HEADLAMPS and scooter to the entrance to the Milwaukee Road Tunnel. Enter the tunnel and it is pitch black and 54?F for 2.25 miles. You can not see a thing. In 2002 we passed through the tunnel and regrouped at the other end. Most of the dogs did not seem to mind the pitch blackness. Amazing. I wonder if they can see. The water drips from the ceiling. There are gutters to carry off the water on the outside edges of the tunnel. We like doing this run as an annual event in summer because it is cold and the dogs do not overheat and mostly because it is so crazy. This tunnel is the longest on the Milwaukee rail trail which stretches to Chicago, Illinois. Joe Brown and Bessie did the tunnel last year and posted Joe's photo to some of us. The entire photo was solid black except for a tiny speck of white in the middle. (It makes me laugh just thinking of that photo.) One could get scared; it is so dark. If you want more miles, you can scooter along the south edge of Keechelus Lake after returning through the tunnel, but outside the tunnel it is August weather east of the mountains.
So let's go over this once more. Why am I against goofy buildings done by starchitects like Libeskind and Koolhaas and Gehry? No, I am not against them per se.
Then why so many negative remarks? It's simple. Such buildings, like pieces of candy, are OK as an occasional element in our landscape diet. (The "raisins in the oatmeal.") But too many of them make you sick.
Moreover, and most critically, the heavy media attention paid to freakish buildings --- yes I would definitely include Wright's 'Guggenheim' in that list --- distorts the public conversation about the built environment. Yes that is the core problem: the distortion of the public conversation about buildings.
By itself, who cares about the system of star architecture? It's no more important than fashion design. Let rich people hire big name architects to sprinkle a bit of culture on their favorite charity edifice.
But the problem is that because of all the attention paid to these 'precious object' buildings, people --- even smart, educated people -- start to actually believe that such buildings are what architecture is all about. I absolutely detest quoting Noam Chomsky, but his phrase about "manufacturing consent" is totally applicable here, though I am not suggesting any conspiracy except a marketing conspiracy by star architects and their camp followers. The focus on precious object buildings diverts attention from the everyday work and budgetary priorities which must be given to creating humane cities. The discussion of precious-object buildings uses language which is obscure, contorted and confusing because there are no standards by which to judge such buildings; it's one of the reasons, as I noted a few weeks ago, that so many of Paul Goldberger's writings (which I admire greatly, actually) about such buildings involve the social aspect --- the clothing, which schools, etc --- of the people who commission and design them. There really is --- on its own terms --- very little to say about starchitecture.
The phenomenon of starchitecure is akin to Roman 'bread-and-circuses' but here the masses don't even care about the spectacle set before them. And that's what these precious object buildings are: spectacles. Freakish spectacles which have little to do with the way people actually live or could live or want to live. So that's why.
There was a great comment from a reader at 2blowhards which summed up the issue very well. Deb wrote:
"I just realized that I think of architecture and buildings as two different things. Buildings are where I live, work, park my car, keep the lawn mower, get my gas, buy my groceries etc. Architecture is marble and echoing chambers and feelings of awe....It's like cooking and cuisine--my mom was a fantastic cook but the cuisine was definitely MidWestern."Well I like the MidWest and this City Comforts Blog is about cooking, not cuisine. And that's what the whole intertwined complex of discussion and regulation about buildings (what I call "land use politics") is supposed to be about, too: cooking --- to make a comfortable and humane city. Not cuisine to get into a fancy guidebook.
Excellent post at Crooked Timber by Chris Bertram to whom I have linked here previously.
He writes today on Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn: What happens after they're built.
Brand's book really gripped me when I first read it, and looking back over its pages is still both informative and fun. We've given copies to a number of friends and relatives over the years and I'd recommend it to anyone. Aside from the intrinsic interest of the subject matter, Brand had a biggish effect on my political and philosophical outlook. To caricature what I believed before somewhat, I moved from being somone who thought that smart people applying the right principles could make the world right to someone inclined to be much more sceptical about what we know or can know in politics, who takes much more seriously people's lived experience of institutions, plans, projects and buildings (devised by "experts") and who has more of a focus on rules of thumb, practice, "knowing how", tacit knowledge, "satisficing", skill, craft and so on.I think I took that trip, too.
The Scourge of Modernism offers:
No doubt the modernists and postmodernists will tell me that I just dont get it. Yamasakis minimalist sculpture was meant to be viewed from afar, approached through a tunnel into the basement, and appreciated from the inside up on the 110th floor. Dont you see, they will say, Yamasaki was a great architect, and if he wanted to make the plaza inviting, he would have. If he actually wanted to make the building function as a building, he would have made it clear where the entrance was. He was making a statement. He was re-imagining and re-interpreting. Call me old-fashioned, but being around a building should be a pleasant experience. If a building is surrounded with grounds or a plaza, then sitting there on a bench should be enjoyable. If it is not, then the building fails as architecture.
Interesting post on New Urbanism by AC Douglas. It's a diatribe against "Traditionalist, New Traditionalist, New Classicism, and New Urbanism" architecture and certain webloggers who like that sort of junk. Significantly, Douglas offers no links so I couldn't be sure precisely about what/whom he was opining. And though I am not positive what he means by "Traditionalist, New Traditionalist, New Classicism" I am somewhat familiar with "New Urbanism" and I was "shocked" ---yes "shocked" --- that AC would say such nasty things about it, especially when New Urbanism is not really about architecture at all.
New Urbanism is about site plan, the arrangement of groups of buildings into neighborhoods and cities. It is not about architecture, the design of an individual structure --- except as that particular building relates to other buildings around it. There is no New Urbanist style of architecture. It just happens that most New Urbanist projects have a historical feel to them --- but that is not the essence of New Urbanism. Daniel Libeskind, I hypothesize, could very well take part in the design of a New Urbanist development and so long as he adhered to the Three Rules, he might very well do a credible job. (The "design" of a New Urbanist project btw consists not in the design of buildings but in the layout of blocks and lots and streets and the writing of a code to tell people what they may/must do on those lots.)
So attack New Urbanism if you like --- it will grow stronger by reacting to and incorporating criticism; like many significant movements it has acolytes with an excess of well-meaning but simplistic over-enthusiasm and it is well-deserving of criticism.
But at least attack it on its own terms. New Urbanism is not about architecture, it's about site plan.
Weblog archives are not a dustbin; the web, this easy, freeform noosphere is for the ages.
One of the delightful (or troubling) aspects of the web and of blogs in particular is permanence. The web provides novel & easy access to the past. It can "compress" our sense of time. A post or remark made 6 weeks or maybe even 6 years earlier can be read by a new reader as if it was written yesterday. The past re-emerges; time loops back on itself; there is no forgetting. One must learn to say "but I said that back then." To your new reader, it's fresh. --- things one has written a year before might be commented upon tomorrow and as if it was the most natural thing in the world to pick up a conversation. Imagine you are in a car on a long drive and out of the blue your companion comments without preface on some trivial thing you said 600 miles further back.
Weblogs are not like magazines, newspapers etc. Who except scholars ever goes back and reads one from 1955 or even January 2003?
Brian Mickelthwait alerted me to this phenomenon. He found my comment on an old post of his and then made a passing comment on the past reaching into the present. He observed that "[o]ne of the oddities of Samizdata is that comments come in on postings long forgotten. Usually they can be allowed to settle back into the archives..."
A case in point for systematic miners: For the built environment try the 2blowhards Artchitecture/Art Archive. A lot of their old postings/discussions are too interesting to be allowed to die and (unfortunately in the case of modern architecture) seem to have continuing relevance. For example, try Salingaros on Deconstruction.
Btw, the search function for a blog is an essential if you want to keep your blog live.
This summer has been one of the most marvelous I can remember. Such glorious weather reminds me to cherish every day. It also turns my thoughts to far-off places of which the blogosphere offers many glimpses.
Michael Jennings, an Australian living in London, is on travel (I think that's what Australians and New Zealanders must study in school: travel) and offers a wonderful evocation for anyone who has ever spent any time in a communal kitchen. He writes : "Sitting in the hostel kitchen in Arles yesterday, I found myself chatting and drinking a little red wine with a young woman from northern California."
As they say, RTWT. ("Read The Whole Thing.")
One of the reasons I so like Beyond Brilliance, Beyond Stupidity is that it notices physical things, notices large and small elements of our physical reality. The vast majority of blogs are about much more abstract relationships: "did Bush lie?" "is eminent domain a social necessity?" is gay marriage ok?" and so forth. All good and reasonable questions. But sometimes it's nice to consider things, those which ones "work" and which ones don't. As my book City Comforts is photographs of things I think are important, with commentary about why they are important, I find Beyond Brilliance's format particularly simpatico.
Anyway, it had a recent post on Shipping Container Building which raises, again, the chimera of modular and industrialized construction. I say "chimera" because that's what I think it is: an ever-receding apparition. The bottom line --- and I have held this bottom line in my own hands --- is that the cost of framing a structure (floor, walls, roof) is but one (and relatively small) component of the cost of creating a dwelling. That's assuming that one wants a site on which to put the house, and windows, doors, electricity, plumbing and so forth.
I'm not saying that it might not be fun to use shipping containers to create a unique, groovy pad. But when it comes to claims (and claims about modularization have been made at least as long ago as my hero Buckminster Fuller in the 1930s) such as The Guardian's Container homes 'hold key to solving crisis',
well, then I ask, "show me the money."
I say it's finished and ready to be sampled (below) not because it is as good as it could be or one couldn't make it better but because:
1. Unless I start totally from scratch, I cannot improve the book a huge amount right now;
2. I'm tired of working on it for the moment and I can always do a THIRD edition; (this blog has generated a whole bunch of new material);
3. I am curious to see if anyone will buy it;
4. I believe in the architect's expression "Better built than perfect;"
What remains is to send it to the printer.
Oh yes there is also proofreading. Proofreading. Proofreading. There is nothing which speaks more loudly to the amateurish (in the bad sense) publication than spelling errors, etc etc which I make in abundance. So proofing is the word of the day; I'll do it down at the tavern tonight.
Meanwhile, here for your reading pleasure is a sample chapter from City Comforts, 2nd edition. It's about the key urban condition --- the condition which in fact defines urbanity --- of Bumping_into_People.
(This sample chapter is a PDF file of about 1.4 MB so if you have a dial-up...)
"Today, the web phenomenon of blogging has achieved widespread acceptance. Universities are including blogging as part of journalism courses. Businesses are using weblogs to reach out to customers and build communities around products. Scholars are using weblogs to collaborate on research. You can find an overwhelming number of weblogs of varying quality on any topic you can think of.
Well...almost any topic.
Try searching for weblogs about urban planning, architecture, housing, urban issues, and related topics, and you are likely to find that the pickings are slim. Weblogs devoted to these issues are few or hard to find. (See Selected Weblogs). But if you are an architect or an urban planner, professor or student, journalist or citizen, or anyone else interested in planning and development issues, this may be a good time to start your own weblog and make your opinions heard. All you need is a web browser and an Internet connection."
"I'm still uneasy as to the libertarian streak that runs through your commentary (along with that of Kunstler and Jane Jacobs). It's definitely appealing, but somehow doesn't sit right with me- my analysis isn't particularly deep at the moment, as I feel like this will be a long-term issue in my own conception of urbanism- it feels as though maybe it doesn't challenge the status-quo of social and market organization (particularly regarding land) to a great enough degree."Well I am uneasy, too. What makes me uneasy is that in actuality there really isn't any principled, thoughtful Conservative/Libertarian (C/L) critique of how to create the built environment. In fact it was this discussion on God of the Machine (05/19/2003) about "Law and Architecture" which helped me give focus to City Comforts Blog. The discussion there ended on this note, with the comment directed to me:
If the "problem" is that you don't care for the way cities and towns look now (under rigid zoning, I hasten to add), couldn't it be easily rectified by simply appointing you land czar? Would that be any more unjust than allowing zoning boards to impose costs on people who get no say in the matter?I thought further conversation unproductive.
By the same token, and why I explicitly identify myself with the search for a libertarian approach to urbanism, is the dream-world state of most liberal urbanists who do not follow the implications of their statist views to the end. This gets us into a vastly larger subject: the distinction in American Constitutional Law between the respect given to "personal rights" versus "property rights." There was a shift earlier in the century, concurrent I believe with the shift of the American work force to "employees", to accord the former far greater status than the latter. That could only happen in an era in which fewer and fewer people actually viewed ownership of property as a real means to their daily bread i.e. "labor alientation" in Marxist terms, I believe.
Anyway, I wouldn't worry too much about "the libertarian streak" at City Comforts Blog as the reality is that there is no C/L land use thinking worth a hill of beans. The complex, socially corrosive and very burdensome land use laws which we have today are going to be with us for a while as, whether right or wrong, the public perceives a problem and the liberal/statist approach is the only game in town.
The best we can do is to simplify. I have an idea in the back of my mind that Three Rules thinking is a way to boil down the essence of urbanity and simplify codes, at least for commercial districts. But it's still a form of code and will need a land use bureaucracy to administer it. So don't worry; planners will have jobs for a while.
But I hope that planners will also be able to have some "role distance" and acknowledge that while there is little choice but to have land use codes, let's not recognize them as urbanity itself --- a complex land use code is neither a substitute for a real city nor, historically-speaking, a necessity.
I think we should all beware of growing government power; I don't think liberals are aware-enough of it when it comes to powers over use of property.
My own awakening came about ten years ago. Seattle was in the midst of a "Comprehensive Planning" effort and the process statement with the development of a statement of "Core Values." My own suggestion was that the City should explicitly adopt a policy which stated that it would choose "the least intrusive means" in fulfilling policies. Of course I think that US Constitutional law already requires such a stance. But I thought it would be nice to have the City explicitly agree. I approached the local ACLU to garner some support, a worthy organization which I greatly admire. My contact there told me that they "would get back to me." That was ten years ago.
The City, too, seemed indifferent to any statement which might be used to limit its powers down the road.
So I had to be satisfied with this "Soapbox" article from the Seattle P-I. I apologize if it is not clear. I'll try to get a better scan and post a PDF as well.
Reflections in D Minor offers:
Graphic designer Cheryl Reid writes a brief and to the point letter to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. She says, "we really do want the old skyline back.This skyline thing is quite fascinating. Why do people care so much about the skyline when they spend most of their time at the sidewalk? Maybe some "expert" told them that the skyline is the critical "artistic" issue.
I'm not so sure it would be a good idea to build an exact, or even close, replica of the Twin Towers, but I would like to see something bold and magnificent rising above the Manhattan skyline. All of the designs that have been presented so far seem timid to me and, as I said last week, the Libeskind design which was chosen as the finalist looks like a stylized representation of wreckage. It's possibly the worst of the lot, although most of them were so bad that it would be hard to pick a "worst one." Most of them look like Star Trek set design rejects.
However, it's not important what I think, sitting here over 1500 miles from New York. It is also not important that some hot-shot architect get to make some kind of artistic statement. What's important are the opinions of the people who will have to look at the new skyline every day as they drive to work, go shopping, walk their dogs, and gaze out the windows of their offices and apartments. And if New Yorkers want their old skyline back that's exactly what they should get. I just hope someone in charge bothers to ask them... and to listen to them.
I have absolutely no opinion about the WTC designs; I have heard NO analysis of "how the buildings meet the sidewalk" so I have tuned out.
I've just rediscovered horses after a gap of more than 40 years (yes, it is hard to believe that one can have been alive for so many years as to have not done something for that long). In particular I have discovered something called the "gaited" horse which has a pace --- in lieu of a trot --- which does not require posting because the ride is so smooth. It's rather remarkable. No bouncing around. Extremely comfortable. There are a number of breeds; I rode the gaited Rocky Mountain Horse at Rosebud River Ranch.
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright's Grandson Remains Faithful to Organic Architecture
Eric Lloyd Wright would like to follow up on his grandfather's plan for a new city. He says it would be different than other well-known "dream cities," such as architect Paolo Solari's Arcosanti, now under construction in central Arizona.
"He did, back in 1933, a whole concept which he called Broadacre City," he said. "It was very much a 'Jeffersonian' [diffuse, American] concept - whereas Arcosanti is more European and high-density in a small area. My grandfather's idea was different; it was spread out with everyone having a small, farm unit. But [they're] not suburbs. People blame [Frank Lloyd Wright] for being the 'father of the suburbs.' Broadacre City was not that. It was his theoretical concept, which he said was a 'city that's everywhere, but nowhere.'"
This post inspired in part by the 2 blowhards very interesting series of posts (with an enormous number of comments) on Books and Publishing with titles such as Writing a Book and Writing a Book Redux and The Book-Besotted.
Here's my thought for today:
I'm involved with a little project --- publishing a book --- which raises the issue of "review copies." Such books are copies given to newspapers and magazines in the hope, with the prayer, the supplication, in fact, that the book will be read and reviewed, or even just reviewed. The economic and psychological future of the publisher and author are very much influenced by what is said, or even whether the book is even given any notice at all.
So publishers shower books on media. I asked some people who worked for one of those free, weekly, proudly "alternative" papers if I should send a book for possible review. They started laughing. "The hallways are piled with books. They come in by the hundreds. There are stacks everywhere. We take them and give them away for party favors." That was a discouraging introduction to book marketing. I'm told that the secret of publishing is to create a "buzz" long before the book ever gets to the printer so that the reviewer will paw through those mounds of unsolicited books to grab a title which has been buzzed. People who can create that whisper of import are paid extremely well, I would suspect, and I certainly can't imagine being able to hire one.
So I am wondering if I should even bother sending out unsolicited review copies. Why waste the paper and postage? Not that it's always wasted by any means; the first edition of this book got a wonderful notice in The Washington Post on the basis of an over-the-transom copy. But overall, there seems something so undignified and striving in simply mailing copies to people I don't know and saying "Here. Please write about what I think."
So this time around I'm thinking that I might simply post a PDF of one chapter of the book on the web site associated with this blog. People can download it. Read it, maybe even print it out. If some reviewer likes what she sees, she can email me and ask for a review copy. Perhaps I'll even send out an appropriate email to announce the book. Who knows, maybe even surprise really important reviewers with snail mail? As in paper to announce more paper.
The custom for university and college teachers is to request a copy on their departmental stationery; some publishers require some degree of payment as a sign of sincerity. One has to bear in mind that even a "real publisher" may only print 5000 copies of a book and so to then send out 250 copies willy-nilly --- 5% of the whole print run! --- seems to me as if it would add up. Better to have them meet half-way. No?
But there is another question which interests me: why should review copies be free at all? Gratis. No charge. "Here, take one. In fact, take another for your brother-in-law." Well obviously that's the custom and it's what has evolved in the rough-and-tumble hard-scrabble of the publishing world: review copies are free. At least I assume that The New York Times, for instance, doesn't pay for review copies.
But review meals are not free. I gather that restaurant reviewers pay for their meals and even seek to preserve their anonymity. "Is that man over there in the bow tie taking notes actually a spy for the Guide Michelin?" That must be a restaurant-staff game. The principle is to both receive the same treatment as other diners and to avoid even the hint of a bought review.
Why should it not be the same for books? Especially now in the digital age, publishers can post samples of their books to engender interest--- and of course noted authors need only announce the availability of their title to have it pounced upon.
Certainly the two items are not precisely the same. A book remains the same but a restaurant meal can be improved for a known reviewer by a better cut or a larger portion. But certainly --- I hope, I assume --- that serious New York design media would decline a free trip to Cincinnati to review the Hadid museum; why should it so naturally accept a free book? Yes of course scale. Can a reviewer be influenced by a free $20 book? Probably not. But there is such a thing as a principle. It would seem that the practice of review copies would have passed its prime. With only a few books to review each week, certainly money is not the issue. If they want to read it, buy it. No?
Emily Eakins of the NYT characterizes Christopher Alexander as Architecture's Irascible Reformer who has been
"waging a quixotic campaign of messianic ambition: to heal the world by reforming the way it builds.I wouldn't go so far as Alexander apparently does to claim that there are "objective" standards of beauty. But there are indeed "social agreements" about what is beautiful --- consider personal physical beauty if you have any doubt --- which are so widely held and shared as to act as essentially firm standards.
Humanity, he says, is ailing. And the built world is both source and symptom of its disease. Where there should be beautiful buildings in harmony with nature, he says, there is mostly "architecture which is against life" instead, "insane, image-ridden, hollow."
By this, Mr. Alexander means not only strip malls, office parks and tract homes, but also much of what is fawned over these days by highbrow critics. In his view, the recent spate of flashy confections by big-name stars ?? from Frank Gehry's glittering Guggenheim Bilbao to Rem Koolhaas's interactive Prada boutique in SoHo ?? is not just pretentious and sterile. It is actually making us ill.
"Architecture is a very strange field," Mr. Alexander said over lunch here in the medieval town not far from West Dean Gardens where he grew up and has lately been spending much of his time. "It's almost as though they've induced a mass psychosis in society by introducing a point of view that has no common sense and no bearing on any deeper feeling."
Anyway, this book is far too long for me; I'll await the executive summary.
What's interesting is that Eakins (the reporter) almost seems to be shocked, as if it is a new idea, by Alexander's assertion that modern starchitecture is silly, which neatly illustrates Alexander's contention.
If I had the wealth of Bill Gates (or even a noticeable fraction) I would put up the money to fulfill Buckminster Fuller's vision of a Geoscope.
In lieu, I am looking for a great urban atlas of cities on CD-Rom or the web. Any suggestions? Maybe the Berlin Digital Environmental Atlas on CD-Rom is a start?
UPDATE! I am not the only one who loves the idea of Making the Geoscope a Reality.
I am in whole-hearted agreement that face-to-face meetings are here to stay.
Which is why people who want to get things done will always be wanting to travel and to meet each other, and why Transport Blog will accordingly need to go on for ever. Virtual meetings (such as that between Perry and Dale ?? see above) definitely have their place in the grand scheme of things. But face-to-face meetings are even more likely to make things happen.The face-to-face meeting, whether intentional or accidental, is the wild card in all predictions about the physical shape of the future i.e. cities.
I've chosen "Staying put" as the category for this posting. But of course what I'm really saying is that staying put, again and again, is not enough.
In fact I would go even further and suggest that it is the importance to people (or lack thereof) of the accidental & chance encounter which determines whether there is enough political will to implement the pedestrian-oriented changes which so many politicians seek to implement.
There are lots of good reasons to husband oil in the ground but Jim Kunstler's concern that unless we do so we won't have enough to run our SUVs seems a bit off the mark. No? Conservation Reconsidered" Reconsidered
It was in 1967 that a little paper called "Conservation Reconsidered" appeared in the American Economic Review, sandwiched between contributions by Peter Diamond on stock markets and Charles Plott on majority voting,The problem, it seems to me, is that we will have some sort of fuel to run personal vehicles and we haven't yet figured out how to integrate cars into cities in a way which doesn't detroy the pleasure of both. I think that if anything Kunstler has "the problem" (from an urbanistic perspective) exactly reversed: we will not run out of oil or any other equivalent portable fuel source.
The author was John Krutilla, a research economist (Reed College, Harvard PhD in 1952) working for the Washington think-tank Resources for the Future. From his dry first sentence ?? "Conservation of natural resources has meant different things to different people" ?? he fastened attention on a historic shift of perspective that then was taking place
For more than a century, Krutilla wrote, economists had been preoccupied with the problem of scarcity. He recalled that barely twenty years before, his own organization (which had begun life as a presidential commission on raw material shortages) had examined the rate at which scarce natural resources were consumed during World War II and concluded that the long decline in their prices had ended.
What remained was thought to be a problem of optimal inter-temporal utilization of fixed stocks. The only question was, how fast to burn the coal? To use up the remaining copper?
Yet, Krutilla noted, recent studies had concluded that advances in technology so far had compensated "quite adequately" for depletion. Silicon was beginning to substitute for copper. Some optimists were arguing that there might be essentially no fixed limits to growth.
In which case, the problem was less one of husbanding resources stocks for future use as providing to the present and preserving for the future "the amenities associated with unspoiled natural environments, for which the market fails to make adequate provision."
The resource that now required conservation, in other words, was nature itself, raw and unrefined, valued not so much for its use (or even its potential future use) as for it very existence.
In writing thus, Krutilla was articulating in the idiom of contemporary economics a series of concerns that what had been on minds at least John Stuart Mill. He translated into professional lingo concerns that had been raised by Aldo Leopold and S.V. Ciriacy-Wantrup, among others, that the knowledge produced from rare species and ecosystems might be worth something some day.
The major thing I learned from Edward Said as an undergraduate and posted here was to be aware of the use of language to deceive, (which of course has made me particularly aware of his language.)
My earlier comment about The New Criterion's nasty fun should, for the record, be clarified; the use of language to discuss physical reality is an important theme of this blog.
I object to this paragraph:
"In pursuit of their ideals, the mistakes that some of those bright young people made included armed robbery, widespread kidnap, assassination and random murder. By the time the army carried out its coup in 1976, over 3,000 people had been killed in the political violence unleashed by the young idealists. The dirty war, terrible and unforgivable as it was, did not arise by spontaneous generation."The paragraph is slippery. It cleverly sets up an equation:
1. un-numbered "mistakes" by some young idealists
2. very specific "3000" deaths
3. "unleashed by the young idealists."
By using numbers, it gives the impression of accuracy without actually offering any; it's an interesting rhetorical trick: the inclusion of a number, any number, spreads a gloss of authority to the entire paragraph. Further, the author admits that the young idealists made "mistakes." Yet he then goes ahead and transforms their mistakes into the cause of 3000 deaths and essentially absolves the government of culpability.
Fresh Bilge writes , about Frank Herbert's Dune, one of my very favorite books, combining as it does all of life's key issues:
money, sex, power and landscape.
One passage is particularly striking. It's about "details" and the importance of being meticulous.
A splashing sounded on her left. She looked down...saw the watermasters emptying their load into the pool through a flowmeter. The meter was a round gray eye above the pool's rim. She saw its glowing pointer move as the water flowed through it, saw the pointer stop at thirty-three liters, seven and three-thirty-seconds drachms.No surface tension. It could stand as an anthem for us all.
Superb accuracy in water measurement, Jessica thought. And she noted that the walls of the meter trough held no trace of moisture after the water's passage. The water flowed off those walls without binding tension. She saw a profound clue to Fremen technology in the simple fact: they were perfectionists.
What could have been a cinematic set-piece explains my somewhat cavalier perspective on the previously-mentioned issue of "running out of oil".
It was just after the oil embargo of 1973, a formative, traumatic experience for people my age. I was waiting to walk across a street with a slightly older and extremely astute colleague. One of the first domestic (USA) "compact cars" rolled by. We both noticed it.
"Detroit," my friend intoned and pointed accusingly, "just saved the suburbs."
What he meant, of course, was that the fuel efficiency of the compact car would save America from having to change its spatial structure, move closer-in, densify, rebuild center cities and all that. He was dead-on correct. In the past 30 years suburban expansion has continued apace. And there is plenty of room for vastly higher oil prices, no matter how much people might complain; Europe has suburbs at $5/gallon. The cars simply get more efficient so that people can continue to live in their detached single-family "estates."
If one is concerned about the terrific, soul-destroying ugliness of suburban expansion, as Jim Kunstler surely and rightly is, don't look to higher oil prices as a savior. The primary impact of high(er) oil prices on suburban development will be a change in the size of cars. Consequently, if the change is expected to be long-term, the major spatial impact will be smaller parking spaces.
Good urban design --- walkable, pedestrian commercial districts --- will not be a direct result of high(er) oil prices.
The Guardian says:
Londoners wilting under the deterioration of public services in the capital had a rare relief this week with the opening of a newly pedestrianised Trafalgar Square. It is a classic example of how a comparatively small change - covering over the road that separated Sir Charles Barry's square itself from the National Gallery - can have a disproportionate effect on the townscape around it. James Gibbs's masterpiece, St Martin's-in-the-Fields, and William Wilkins's National Gallery are revealed in their natural glory, uncluttered by fuming buses or roaring taxis. It has unveiled a different panorama. A new public space has opened up that will soon be bustling with people in the same way that has happened with London's other recent public projects, the Millennium and Hungerford bridges over the Thames.Marvelous! But oh I wish that either paper had included a map! How can they hope to educate people unless they show them the scheme.
UPDATE: Find drawings here which show how Trafalgar Square has been modified.
But it is all trumped by the politics of terrorism. Pentagon goal: to track every vehicle in a city.
The Pentagon is developing an urban surveillance system that would use computers and thousands of cameras to track, record and analyze the movement of every vehicle in a foreign city.Though this program is obviously not designed to help aid the "war on congestion", the Pentagon now has a political constituency of congestion pricing enthusiasts to point out an additional benefit of keeping track of every car. The political ground --- & the presumptions and burdens of persuasion which are so critical to legal and political discussion --- has just shifted. The issue is no longer "Can we institute a congestion pricing system without tracking individual cars?" Now it is "We have the data. Of course we should use it to stop other bad things besides terrorists. Don't you agree?"
Dubbed "Combat Zones That See," the project is designed to help the U.S. military protect troops and fight in cities overseas.
Police, scientists and privacy experts say the unclassified technology could easily be adapted to spy on Americans.
The project's centerpiece is groundbreaking computer software that is capable of automatically identifying vehicles by size, color, shape and license tag, or drivers and passengers by face.
According to interviews and contracting documents, the software may also provide instant alerts after detecting a vehicle with a license plate on a watchlist, or search months of records to locate and compare vehicles spotted near terrorist activities.
But don't worry, it will all be done anonymously.
I like it even if I don't get it. London Underground Guide - information and fun on the world's oldest subway system But then again, I am not English.
I'm back to the present, from vacationing in other eras. (Of course "time travel" is a common denominator of many good vacations: What is a camping trip except time spent in the Paleolithic? And a reminder, by contrast, of the vast benefits of our inheritance.)
I just spent a few days at a "guest ranch," the Flying U, in the Cariboo Country of British Columbia. It's a marvelous place in a marvelous place; I had a great time and I thank them. Horses are the thing; it's ranch country, high plateau 4000 above sea level, gentle hills, birch/aspen forest and extensive, rolling meadows perfect for a canter or gallop.
The Flying U follows the wisdom of Commander Walker in Swallows and Amazons (see The Arthur Ransome Site) who, away on duty in Asia, and when asked if his children might use the sailboat attached to their holiday house, cabled back to his wife:
"Better drowned than duffers. If not duffers, won't drown"The Flying U permits unsupervised riding, which means that if you like, they put you on a horse at the start of the day and turn you loose on 40 thousand acres. It's a trip: wandering/bouncing horseback in what amounts to a vast park, and learning a new level of contact i.e. with a horse. It's also pretty neat to spend time focusing intensely on an archaic means of transportation --- horses --- and trying to imagine what life was like when the horse was advanced technology.
At the other end of time: I also had the opportunity to read The Stone Canal by Ken MacLeod. It's "science fiction," which means it is largely ignored by serious intellectuals. That is a pity. The Stone Canal in particular is worth reading, though the story line is a little confusing at times. But the power of its vision of future social forms drew me in. It takes place on New Mars (don't ask me where that is) only several centuries from now, which means in shouting distance of the great-grandchildren of the children I saw playing so innocently at The Flying U, so it has a certain immediacy and poignancy. The themes are traditional: power and love. Only the actors are new: humans, of course, but more importantly their progeny of artificial intelligence, from clones virtually indistinguishable from us to dust-collecting robots the size of a bumble-bee (designed to keep a house clean.) Privacy is a big issue; the various entities constantly try to "ping" and "hack" each other's "minds."
Interestingly, the physical layout of their cities would seem quite normal to us: an essentially hierarchical world following Central Place Theory with pedestrians and vehicles amidst buildings and streets.
"A three-kilometre strip of street, the canal bank on one side, buildings on the other, their height a bar chart of property values in a long swoop from the center's tall towers to the low shacks and shanties at the edge of town where the red sand blows in off the desert and family farm fusion plants glow in the dark. On the same trajectory the commerce spills increasingly out from behind the walls and windows, onto the pavement stalls and hawkers' trays. All along this street there's a brisk jostle of people and machines, some working, some relaxing as the light leaves the sky."(MacLeod doesn't mention where they locate the parking on New Mars.)
But The Stone Canal illustrates the idea that, when it comes to the organization of cities:
The future may be more ordinary
than we can possibly imagine.