And Digby does the obvious.
Volokh Conspiracy offers this passage about "Little Rock," an event which I only very dimly remember. Little Rock -- Fifty Years Later:
On this 50th anniversary of Eisenhower's troop deployment, the significance of the Little Rock crisis--its place in history--is much clearer. I believe it was the beginning of a profoundly different America. . . . the deeper historical importance of the Little Rock crisis follows from the simple fact that it was televised. It was, in fact, the first time that this still fledgling medium was able to make America into a community by rendering up a riveting real-life drama for the country to watch. Compelling personalities emerged, like the despicable and erratic Gov. Faubus, who kept flaunting federal authority like a little potentate. There was Eisenhower himself, whose grandfatherly patience with Faubus seemed to belie a sympathy with this racist's need to hold on to a fading authority. And there was the daily gauntlet that the black students were made to walk--innocence face to face with evil. And, finally, there was great suspense. How would it all end? Would there by a military clash, another little civil war between North and South?
So Americans watched by the millions and, in this watching, saw something that would change the country fundamentally. Every day for weeks they saw white people so consumed with racial hatred that they looked bestial and subhuman. When white racism was a confident power, it could look like propriety itself, like good manners. But here, in its insecurity, it was grotesque and shocking. Worse, it was there for the entire world to see, and so it broke through the national denial. The Little Rock crisis revealed the evil at the core of segregation, and it launched the stigmatization of white Americans as racists that persists to this day. After Little Rock whites stood permanently accused. They would have to prove a negative--that they were not racist--in order to claim decency. And this need to forever beg one's innocence is the very essence of white guilt.
I can't believe that after a stirring account of one of the great moments in American history, when white America finally got off its ass and started to do the right thing, the author (Shelby Steel) focuses on "white guilt." If a bit of "white guilt" -- I hate to even engage with such an odd take -- came out of Little Rock after centuries of slavery I think it's not such a surprising or even bad outcome.
But I don't think he is even correct on that point. It's not "white guilt" which is most common but "white resentment."
I found this sentence striking shocking, in its combining of two very different outlooks: "The Little Rock crisis revealed the evil at the core of segregation, and it launched the stigmatization of white Americans as racists that persists to this day." The first clause is correct; the second one is a total exaggeration whose purpose mystifies me. What surrounds us is not so much "white guilt" as "white resentment" for being forced to recognize our stained history.
Chris Leinberger says so:
CL: With drivable sub-urbanism, there were so many possible locations to build. The result of having so much choice was that the value of the land was degraded. Developers used a piece of land, threw it away, and moved on. That's why we have 10,000 abandoned or dying strip centers in this country. (italics added)
I guess it all comes down to definition of "abandoned or dying." I see plenty of old junky strip centers with low-rent tenants. But they are not vacant; far from it. And I know that at least in Seattle-proper that means they will likely be redeveloped in the next decade or so with higher-density buildings.
Are there literally "10,000 abandoned or dying strip centers in this country?" Which have no likelihood of near-term redevelopment? And are not merely evidence of the evolution of American real estate?
Hal Foster on Global Style.
In the discourse around Piano lightness is driven by historical necessity as well as technological advance. Buchanan offers a fanciful schema of an architectural Geist that passed from the heavy forms of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt (ziggurats and pyramids), through the ‘colonnaded edifices’ of classical ‘Mediterranean cultures’, to the abstract ‘grid’ of modern ‘Atlantic culture’, ‘in which nature is enmeshed by the grasp of reason and technology’, and on to a ‘Pacific cultural ecology’ where, in the hands of designers like Piano, ‘the lines of the grid will etherealise into intangible conduits of energy and information, or take tactile biomorphic form.’ For his part Piano states simply that the Pacific is ‘a culture of lightness’, and that he prefers it: ‘Although I grew up in Europe, I feel much closer to the Pacific, where lightness, or the wind, is much more durable than stone.’
Perhaps this notion of a ‘light modernity’ must also be viewed dialectically, countered, say, by the less sanguine notions of a ‘liquid modernity’ and a ‘second modernity’ proposed by the sociologists Zygmunt Bauman and Ulrich Beck respectively. For Bauman modernity is now ‘liquid’ because present flows of capital seem able to carry almost anything along with them (maybe not yet ‘all that is solid melts into air,’ but closer all the time).
The competition, organized by a group of architectural interns in Vancouver, sought new ideas about how the city could move beyond the "podium-tower," a type of building that has become ubiquitous on the skyline.
A podium tower consists of a tall tower set upon a low base, perhaps several stories high, which fills most of the block on which it sits.
Here's the winner:
(click to enlarge)
Hard to be sure from such a small image by my take is gilding the lily — getting precious by avoiding the rectangle. Perhaps a well-meant but pointless effort to avoid the podium-tower gives us the odium-tower?
And of course in the final analysis it looks like they kept the podium anyway — the key to urbanism is the permeable street-wall.
Felix Salmon is really at it: The Downside of Homeownership, Part 2 and makes this point:
Matt says that house-price appreciation "over a lifetime, seems inevitable even if there are long periods of stagnant or falling home prices". Tell that to people in Detroit or Flint or Baltimore, the value of whose homes have gone nowhere even during the biggest housing bubble in the history of the USA. Now think of the prospects for people who bought during the subprime boom, right at the top of the bubble. They're not pretty.
Let's assume that Felix is correct and that housing is not necessarily a good investment over the long-term. If so, then why should it make any difference if the housing is held by an individual user (i.e. the resident) or by an investor?
If the housing stock as an asset class goes down in value then it goes down. From the societal perspective it's a matter of indifference, at best, who owns this declining asset.
Of course, I can see arguments on either side. Widespread home-ownership among many many individuals spreads the risk versus investor-ownership which might be more professional as to maintenance and management and might not over-price the asset, as Salmon suggests that individual users do. And that over-valuation may well be true though I don't agree; history will tell us.
They must be renters. I wonder how many are ex-owners etc etc. Or too young to be interested. (I remember that when I was 21 some broker tried to sell me a house and I looked at him as if he was just nuts; I couldn't quite grasp why one would want to buy rather than live in a group-house with a bunch of interesting students.)
Felix Salmon is one of the skeptics who focus on the downside of homeownership. I think he is wise to be skeptical of homeownership as a short to medium term investment. I think he is wrong about it in a 10 to 30 year time horizon. But most importantly, I think he misses the prime and perhaps biggest personal advantage of owning your own place: you can do with it what you like. Paint it any color you like. (Putting aside the restrictions of houses burdened by the rules of HOAs, which for me devalue the homes within such "planned communities.") Install a barbecue. Replant the yard. Make the basement into an office. Redecorate with trendy orange shag carpet and avocado appliances. Add a second story or an addition. etc etc and etc, Owning offers a substantial degree of personal autonomy which is practically impossible with renting. "Ownership" is not only a psychological intangible but also a very real and identifiable bundle of rights and opportunities to shape your own surroundings.
Note: I am not saying that either ownership or renting is better. I am simply pointing out that there is a huge benefit to ownership which hardly seems to be mentioned in discussions of "home ownership — pro or con."
Note 2: I include common-wall structures such as condominium flats and townhouses as "homeownership."
Authority figures should be careful, as people may quote them even if they haven't read them. A case in point is Freeman Dyson. This comment at 3quarksdaily suggests that Dyson denies global warming:
I don't wish to be tagged with the title "Global Warming Denyer"...though since the publishing of Freeman Dyson's essay on his public/professional hereticism, I find that to be a more appropriate characterization...
Uh...the only problem is that though Dyson is quoted as if he is denying global warming, he doesn't at all. He simply disputes the models which explain it. Huge difference.
Bitch Ph.D (seriously — that's what she calls herself) pounds on the table and stamps her feet and asks.*
Do we have any ideas about how to encourage and support small independent business-owners--restaurateurs, auto mechanics, bodega owners--against chains like Chipotles (owned by McDonalds) or Jiffy Lube or WalMart?
("We" being Democrats, liberals, progressives etc etc.)
I don't know that we really do have any plausible answers to big-box stores and national chains. And I am not convinced that we should. Focusing on making sure they don't have anti-union policies or engage in anti-competitive behavior seems to be about the best we can or should do. (I'm not getting to urban design and planning issues because these nationals are not tied to one spatial and architectural model and can easily adjust. Never seen a New Urbanist Wal-Mart? Wait.)
Many state/local governments are fool-enough to give them "tax holidays" or the benefits of tax-increment financing or eminent domain, and we definitely should limit those powers, but that's as a general policy question, not because nationsl use them. Anyway, those techniques are just gravy to nationals and won't make very much difference as they have very successful business models without such government tricks. Starbucks is big not because it is big but because it has its system down. Costco, too. And both companies have decent working conditions and benefits etc etc. I know that in Seattle it's foolish to talk about small restaurants being driven out of business by chains; the city is crawling with mom-and-pops. But of course it's undeniable that many sectors — electronics and home appliances, for example — have been decimated by the big-box: the last a neighborhood appliance store I remember died about 15 years ago and was replaced by — guess what? — a yoga studio. Would you really want to reverse that? Even if you could? I'm not saying one is better than another; both refrigerators and yoga are good for you. But I don't see a role for society at large at that level.
The single biggest thing we could do for small business — and this would be good for all business, actually — is some sort of national health care. But we wouldn't do it to help small business per se but to help individuals.
Of course maybe there are some broader structural "answers" to help small business but I haven't heard any reasonable ones. Certainly Seattle is about as hostile to small business (to any business, really) as any American city except San Francisco and New York — and we have lots of small business but just not many in some sectors.
* It's interesting that Bitch Ph.D asks this question in a post labeled "Latinos, politics, racism." Her question is not an unreasonable one (even if there are no good answers) and it's not only Hispanics who might be interested in it.
Before the Museum of Modern Art’s new building opened in 2004, the late Kirk Varnedoe, MoMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture, asked design architect Yoshio Taniguchi to make sure that the museum’s 20,000 square feet of open space on its second floor was reinforced so that it could accommodate large-scale work. The MoMA’s retrospective, “Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years,” which contains over 550 tons of steel sculptures on the second floor alone, shows how prescient Varnedoe was. (Italics added)
Steely Visions: Richard Serra at MoMA in Dissent
To call it prescient as opposed to common-sense planning is odd. Varnedoe asked the architect for a huge room so of course you'd expect to put huge, bulky, heavy things in it.
To the point, let's "do the math." Assuming Dissent is accurate (and I have no idea either way) you have 550 tons spread over 20,000 square feet. That's 55 pounds per square foot of live load. Right? Doesn't sound much more than you'd have in a small stick-framed office building, Structures capable of public assembly must be able to handle astonishingly large loads. Serra's sculpture are large and appear bulky but they are basically thin (1" thick) plates of steel so on a square foot basis they might not impose very large floor loads, at least not large in the context of a major public assembly building.
I'd like to hear the take of someone who knows structure. Did MoMA reinforce the floor above-and-beyond what the Building Code requires or what commons-sense practice would suggest for this sort of public space? Or is it all just more self-promo I've read other references to Varnedoe's supposed prescience and the special pains which MOMA has gone to, all for the sake of its love for art:
"As MoMA Director Glenn Lowry noted. at the press opening, the new building was specifically designed to handle such extraordinary weight.
I'd like to ask a structural engineer whether it sounds legit or just more art-world hype. Any opinions here?
There's a big hunk of prime property for sale in the north end Seattle's CBD. My back-of-the envelope analysis suggests that the assemblage is being offered as having potential for thirteen 50-story towers (or equivalent). I sure could be wrong. Go ahead and tear apart my analysis. But if I am correct (or nearly so) I wonder if Mayor Nickels and Councilmember Steinbrueck had 13 fifty-story towers in mind for this area?
For good reason David Brewster at Crosscut Seattle has been paying attention to a large assemblage owned by the Clise family in the north end of Seattle's downtown. The assemblage has significant development potential and Brewster has been trying to stretch the civic imagination — get people dreaming a bit — about how it might be developed. Since one of my favorite rules is to "do the math" at the outset of any real estate exercise, I start with some simple analysis — more arithmetic than math. The purpose is simply to see the implications of the numbers before I start dreaming.
• The Clise assemblage amount to 13 acres.
• This 13 acres of ground is spread over 7 full blocks and 6 partial blocks.
• In aggregate, the potential build-out is said by Mr. Clise to be some 13 million square feet (SF). (I assume that his number is based on informed analysis by architects or other real estate analysts familiar with the new zoning code.)
• The number bandied about for value of the assemblage is upwards of $1 billion dollars.
• The City of Seattle has just rezoned the area in which the Clise assemblage sits to 500 feet or about 50 stories.
• The blocks are not all of equal size, as this photo shows:
Copyright Seattle P-I
Those are the facts with which we have to start the analysis.
First let's ask if $1 billion is a plausible value?
We have 13 acres of land
One acre is 43,560 SF.
13 acres x 43,560 SF = 566,000 SF of ground.
Divide $1 billion by 566,000 SF and that works out to over $1,750/SF.
That seems like an extraordinarily high number on a square foot basis but I don't know the downtown land market so my opinion is worthless. Moreover, what is decisive in developer-driven valuations is the question "What can I do with the land? How much building can I build there?"
For real simple analysis, let's assume that the Clise assemblage will be developed as all-residential except for some arithmetically-insignificant street-level retail.
Mr. Clise is quoted as saying that upwards of 14 million SF could be built but let's stick with the 13 million figure for now as that is the most commonly-quoted number. (And what's a million among friends?)
For the sake of getting a very rough "order-of-magnitude," let's make some more assumptions.
The 13 acres are spread over 13 blocks. Assume that the blocks are all the same size. (Not so but this a back-of-the-envelope analysis and a block-by-block analysis is far too complicated for now.)
Assume that a typical urban "block" is somewhere around 210' x 210'. (It's actually a bit bigger but this is just to get a frame-of-reference.) That's 44,100 SF but close enough and just a bit over an acre. So 13 acres of Clise land equals about 13 blocks.
In order to build 13 million SF on 13 blocks you'd have 1 million SF per block.
One way to get 1 million SF on each block is to have to have a 140' x 145' tower (20,000 SF floor-plate) 50 stories high. (Btw, to be clear there are other models, too, of course: shorter buildings with a bigger footprint. I'm just looking at the obvious one.) Fifty stories high is a big building. For those of you who know Seattle, for comparison the WaMu Tower is about 900 thousand SF. And the WaMu Tower is generally regarded as a very big building. Not too big for its context but big.
Taking the analysis from another direction to see if the rumored/reported price makes sense. You have 13 million SF of building volume to work with. Assume that an apartment is 1 thousand SF (including common areas, elevator shafts, stairways etc). So 13 million divided by 1 thousand is 13 thousand apartments. One billion dollars for the land divided by 13 thousand apartments is some $77 thousand of land value per apartment, which from what I understand is not at all out of line for Seattle these days. So the bottom line is that paying $1 billion for land where you can build 13 thousand apartments may not be absurd, though I would think you'd have some deep discounts for a transaction of this size.
Put it another way — divide those 13 thousand apartments by those 13 blocks and you have 1 thousand apartments per block.
Of course the Clise Properties blocks in actuality are not all the same size so some blocks will have more and some less. But these seem to be the gross numbers for the whole assemblage.
Now I am not taking any position of whether this good, bad or indifferent. It may well be that I have made serious errors in my analysis and arithmetic. It may well be that 13 50-story buildings (or equivalent) in that area might create a great neighborhood. It may well be that the City's new Zoning Code creates so many requirements that the the theoretical maximum cannot be achieved or only achieved with a huge package of neighborhood "amenities." And of course such fantastic density would certainly put a lot of people on the sidewalks, which is essential for a safe, interesting and comfortable place.
I am simply curious about the numbers and I will let others either tell me that my analysis is all wrong and/or make judgments about the wisdom of such scale, bearing in mind that it is not only or even primarily the size of the building which makes the difference but how the building meets the sidewalk.
James Fallows raises the question, parenthetically:
While flipping through newspapers that had piled up through the last two weeks, I spot a small item just before turning the page*:
* This is something that never happens when you're reading newspapers strictly online. Yes, there are many other means of unexpected discovery on the internet, but they're different from the same process with actual newspapers. Subject for another day: why online access is indispensable but in some ways worse than what it is replacing.
I am not about to say that the serendipitous encounter isn't just a hair more likely with paper. Certainly our eyes, tooled-up with fingers, can scan books and magazines at an incredible rate. But how often do I ever bump up against in paper so many of the obscure trade/academic/specialist journals and blogs which I find on-line? * I am not sure if overall it's not a toss-up. Nevertheless I am curious to hear Fallows' take.
* For example just a few weeks ago — and yes it was via a blog I admire — I ran across this obscure but extremely interesting post on What the "Unitary Executive" Debate Is and Is Not About. As a non-academic I would never ever have stumbled on that except for the magic of the web and blogs
Lee Kuan Yew, who turned a malarial island into a modern financial center with a first-world skyline, is peering ahead again into this city-state’s future, this time with an idea to seal it off with dikes against the rising tides of global warming.