My comment on the project 3 years ago —and I meant it literally when I read the news reports: Hard to know if it's serious and that "someone ought to mention to the architect that isolated goof-itecture amidst a huge parking lot doesn't spell sustainable."
And you were surprised?
See that wide median running down the boulevard? That's where the light rail will go. Or not, as it may turn out.
So much for the widely-touted concept of “transit-ready” development. The residents of an acclaimed new urbanist village built around planned light rail (or bus rapid transit) stops have decided that they don’t actually want the transit their community was designed for. So let’s be more careful about the claims we make for master-planned suburban development, shall we? via sustainablecitiescollective.com
Honestly, I well understand the transit-oriented development concept — it would be nice to live near public transit — but I have never understood why anyone would want to live in a place characterized as "transit-oriented" or closer than a block from it (assuming it is surface and generates noise. And yes that definitely includes diesel buses.).
Sure Doug Kelbaugh's label was good as a working-draft way of describing building public transport along with new housing. But I always thought the name was a non-starter in terms of market appeal and definitely not something I'd want to live right next to. A block or so away, yes.
Or right next to it? Maybe if I come to it, and can see the impacts beforehand, OK.
But when it comes to me? After I live there and like the park — median for transit? It's a park!!! — and in my vivid imagination of everything that can go wrong? No way.
The lesson for me is that urbanism starts as an acquired taste and that an awful lot of people do not want cityness imposed on them but want to drive to it. Irony acknowledged. The situation (described above) reinforces my view that public consciousness is an essential — perhaps the essential — element of urban placemaking.
The even bigger lesson is one that emerged out of an accidental but interesting on-line exhange of emails see —
The holy grail of planning: Transforming the auto-dominant strip-mall arterial
— in which some genuine experts were forced to acknowledge, that no one, anywhere in the USA, is aware of having done (or even well-launched) a complete reversal of a suburb built around a through arterial. Now that's a different question from the one above but it is related in terms of the large politics of suburban change.
The lasting question for me is to consider exactly when and how far to spend time and money on retrofitting suburbia rather than focussing on working primarily on the inner-ring of settlements which already have an urban form? I'm working through the question and have no settled answer yet, but as a matter of priorities, we might need to consdier triage and to work only on the places which have a chance.
I imagine someone has already developed a working list of priorities for retrofitting i.e. which places and under which conditions offer the greatest likelihood of success.
Interesting way to characterize "cityness." The blogger (www.urbanophile.com) appears to be saying that having parking (at least a large lot) is per se un-urban. Yes the parking lot (below) does look very big and the sidewalk is barren and anything which proclaims a "tradition" makes me suspicious, but I had just hadn't ever seen storefronts as an "urban touch" rather than the essence of urbanity. I think that it is a practical necessity that there will be parking lots in outlying yet urban neighborhoods.
Then again, I haven't been there and perhaps indeed the scale of the lot even with permeable front, the wide sidewalk and the on-street parking doesn't work as urban. Is the main entry from the parking lot? I see no people in either location.
The storefronts are a nice urban touch, but if you look behind this building you see a gigantic parking lot. This is perhaps an example of faux-urbanism.
Putting the parking lot in the back doesn’t make it any less a strip mall. It is a difference in form, not function.
As I wrote here, one of many unfortunate things in our society is that we are unable to engage in serious conversation about unpleasant things.
When Juan Williams says something awkward (or whatever you choose to call it), rather than forcing a clarification, explanation, nuancing or retraction, he is simply fired. And when NPR New Director Ellen Weiss then makes the mistake of firing Juan Williams just a little too quickly, she in turn is fired by NPR. And in neither case is there any public discussion of what happened, why and so forth. The gaffe remains and the teaching moment is lost.
Likewise with Helen Thomas' asinine Jews didn't have to go anywhere after World War 2 remark. The firing offense for Thomas was not so much anti-Israel or anti-Jewish (or whatever she was) but that she was stupid and rather than bringing out her stupidity, front-and-center for all the world to see it, weep, chortle, and most importantly learn, her employer fired her without any explanation. Once again, another loss of a great learning moment.
My own experience.
Here's an interesting article on First Look Inside the Proposed Islamic Center at the NYT. Knowing nothing about architecture of and from the Islamic world, I have no opinion of any value to offer. Personally, I am not attracted to the facade shown in the NYT — reminds me of Rem Koolhaas' awful Seattle Public Library. And my opinion about an extremely preliminary sketch is neither here nor there and obviously (true?) design was and is peripheral to the Islamic Center politics.
I was reminded by the NYT article because a month or so previously I ran into a somewhat similar situation — also about the loss of a learning experience, which in that situation was due to the action of a (supposed) teacher and his dean.
The strange experience happened on the TradArch Listserv, moderated by Professor Richard John and hosted by the School of Architecture at the University of Miami. (The School has a program focussing on "New Urbanism." and its dean is, of course, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, the other half of the historically-significant and justly-renowned Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company New Urbanist design firm.)
But since I am trying to keep my posts short, I will continue with the rest of the story in a few days.
I believe in the conservation of resources. But some hotels, the Delta St. John’s included, make it impossible to save water. The shower has no flow regulator. via bobarno.com
Quite so but consider the timing? Perhaps the shower control was installed in the 1990s or even earlier? -- an age ago from 'sustainability' consciousness.
But what it definitively proves is that the objects around us can have continuing influence on our lives.
Charlotte, N.C.–Decrying the high cost of "optimization" of development in a lean time, Andres Duany called for a return to common sense development principals that harken back to the 19th Century and predicted declining use of the LEED standards for building efficiency.
Speaking at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference here, Duany took aim at one of the banes of the modern developer's existence: excessive regulation of development, particularly the high cost of certification of buildings under the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating system.
Yes, that's really what he was all about —the politics of the deep-bore tunnel. He was supposedly about design but in reality he was asked to give a stump-speech for the tunnel.
As I discussed here, James Corner has been hired to design a proposed waterfront park when the proposed deep-bore tunnel allows the proposed demolition of the Viaduct. The front group organized by pro-tunnel forces — Waterfront Seattle — brought him to talk about "analysis and aspirations for the waterfront." Bear in mind that the park would not be built until after the Viaduct had been demolished and that demolition is not proposed for 2016, at the earliest. So it seems quite a bit early. But considering that there is enormous contention about the Tunnel — it's a long sad story of ten years — with a Mayor who has just vetoed Council action to continue work on the Tunnel, I suggest that the reason for Corner's visit was not about design of the Park but about gathering political support for the Tunnel.
So did Corner do what the pro-tunnel forces asked him to do?
In large part Corner did a professional job.
• His analysis of the existing conditions was fair, not showy or cute and and well-presented — he's a pro. He was a bit over-long considering that the nearly one thousand people in the audience were almost entirely (my bet) design professionals, policy-wonks, and long-time residents and so most people know the existing conditions very well, many better than Corner could. With one exception — treatment of Railroad Avenue — he said nothing new that I heard.
• Nonetheless his analysis was useful in that it is clear that there is no "Seattle waterfront" but seven (or eight? as I heard) "Seattle waterfront segments." He explicitly stated that his design would not be about one big waterfront but about those seven segments. Sounded about right to me.
• But among the Guiding Principles, set for the design, and resolved just three weeks ago by the Seattle City Council, include
Create a bold vision that is adaptable over time
The waterfront will come together over time, with many complex infrastructure and engineering projects that must be completed before permanent public space improvements can be made. The vision developed now should clearly define an overall framework for how the waterfront will take shape, what the key elements will be, and define their essential character. At the same time, the vision must be flexible enough to adapt as conditions inevitably change. (italics added)
In the context of the current debate the way I read "Create a bold vision that is adaptable over time" is that the City Council is asking for an overtly political and cheer-leading design —"a bold vision" — a WOW!!! — to muster political support by the populace.
• Corner did an honest, professional job and his characterization of the existing conditions expressly does NOT call for a big WOW design but for a series of discrete interventions which respond to each of the seven segments. He did not offer a big picture design. There was no take-away design sound-bite to rally support for the Tunnel. Growing out of the fact that there are seven quite different segments, it's seven separate designs which could be implemented in part or in whole but will be contrived to make it read as ONE WOW DESIGN only if you do something contrived or superficial, like the same paving or graphics.
• So while Corner did a professional job, I don't think that is the job he was hired to do. The City Council asked for a barn-burner "I want it now" political event and what Corner gave was thoughtful design analysis.
That should be what Andrés Duany is saying.
Instead he is comical:
In the 1950s, planners were still considered so trustworthy that when they had that towers-in-the-park idea, they could flick their hand and get an entire neighborhood demolished.
Rubbish; Duany should be embarrassed. "The planners" did nothing and were merely the front-men for coaltion of real estate, labor and political interests. If that is Duany's knowledge of history then he is doomed to repeat it.
Gowanus Crossings is an inaugural international ideas competition, which invites speculation on the value of urban development of postindustrial lands, and the possibility of dynamic, pedestrian-oriented architecture that either passively or actively engages with the canal and the surrounding watershed. This competition, the first of a series, focuses on the design of connections in and around the canal, and the residual moments around these connections.
Crosscut tells us about James Corner's upcoming presentation about the glimmer of his design for Seattle Central's Waterfront Park. My comments at Crosscut:
1. It's misleading to attribute the Highline Park to Corner. That project was fully-formed when his firm won a design competition and he had nothing to do with the underlying. momentous and and very visionary political question: Should the Highline be saved as a public park?
2. Far more important influence will be Corner's need to do something to justify his leadership in "Landscape Urbanism." There's not much substance in it, to my view, but as a leader, Corner will feel compelled to do something to illustrate his so-called theory.
3. The Waterfront park planning effort is eyewash to gin up political support for the Tunnel. Since the Tunnel will not be built, don't get your hopes up about any new park.
I think urbanists need a creed. Creeds can be statements of religious belief and a litmus test to judge an individual’s orthodoxy. But I prefer to think of a creed as more like a symbol, something by which can identify like-minded individuals in a crowd. Those of us who, intuitively and rationally, believe that cities are better than large plats of big, rambling, single-family homes connected by publicly subsidized roads need an inclusive symbol to rally around. Urbanists, at their core, think living in a city is better for people and the planet. crosscut.com
The author is well-intentioned but I couldn't disagree with him more.
I live in a city (Seattle) because it pleases me — not because it is good for me. I happen to eat spinach but I would spit it out if I didn't like it. My motivation for living in a city is totally selfish: I like cities and if I didn't like it I would leave. And I suspect that I am in the vast majority: people act on their own self-interest and there is no future — in the big picture in terms of global change — for charity and hair-shirts. Walkable urbanism and saving the planet have a lot in common — in fact there is no way to do the latter unless we have the former — but the latter has no legs by itself. People are more effectively motivated by pleasure than by a sense of responsibility. In fact you don't even need to motivate people to do the pleasurable.
However, it is in any case high-time that a true critique of New Urbanist paradigms emerged. So much of what the New Urbanism advances is based on the desire for visual uniformity in the urban landscape. This approach fails to recognize that some of the best, most satisfying streets and streetscapes to walk down may not be particularly pretty or full of the finest craftsmanship adorned to buildings. (italics added)
Obviously the New Urbanism as narrowly-defined above is not what any reasonably sophisticated New Urbanist (or new urbanist, like me) believes. In fact, what's written above is a sad distortion.
But unfortunately there is just-enough truth in New Urbanist dogma to allow people to mis-interpret whatever precious-little dogma there is. That's why to some people, empty Landscape Urbanism has a certain appeal only because it is not New Urbanism. Tragic. It drives me crazy when I read total mis-interpretations of NU. Lord knows there are legitimate reasons to criticize NU but at least get it right and then criticize. And "desire for visual uniformity in the urban landscape" is not one of the legitimate reasons without a great deal of explanation.
Review of PC's book Harmony at www.planetizen.com:
Indeed, the main problem with Harmony is that, while the prince isn't immodest about his contributions, he can't resist inserting himself at every opportunity. Not only are there enough pictures of the prince for Harmony to serve as a royal photo album (did he really need to be on the cover? Or posing with a squirrel?), he also gives almost no due to the writings of other notable contemporary ecologists such as Joanna Macy, David Orr, Bill McKibben or Vandana Shiva, to name but a few.
Despite his valuable message and inspiring examples, perhaps Prince Charles should have taken a cue from McKibben, who noted in his 1993 book The Age of Missing Information, that a genuine contemplation of nature reveals the profound extent to which the world "isn't about you."
I don't know about the book, but the review is terrific.
We reported on Lookout Mountain, the former secret government film studio, located in the hills above the Sunset Strip, in the Fall 1997 issue of this newsletter, as it was notable then for its mere existence. Now, Lookout Mountain is for sale.
The site was first developed in 1941, as a control station for military radar sites on nearby mountaintops. After the war, the building was expanded and its mission changed. It became the main photo and film studio for the documentation of the new atomic age. Called Lookout Mountain Air Force Station, the 52,000 square foot building opened in 1947, after Operation Crossroads, the nation’s first nuclear test series. Lookout Mountain contained a full soundstage, film processing labs for 16- and 35-mm motion picture film, facilities for optical printing, animation, and editing, screening rooms, and film storage vaults.
Toward the end of her life, Jane Jacobs was writing a follow up to her insightful 1969 The Economy of Cities. And while she considered that book probably her most important, she made it clear that some of her observations needed revisiting. After all, she noted, all her writing was based on observation of real life -- how things are, not how they should be, what works and what doesn't -- and, therefore, if things changed in a fundamental way than it behooved any keen observer to take a second look. Sadly, her 'second look' never saw the light of day.
Roberta Gratz in Planetizen
Interesting to read both Gratz article (and Siegel's comments) on mis-use of Jacobs.
Part of the problem may be that so few people have actually read (and carefully) any of her books. So you can do anything with her, like quoting JFK or Churchill to prove that Coca-Cola is the drink of choice or that Medicare is a socialist plot.
Jacobs has become exactly what she definitely would detest -- a post-Modernist oracle who offers no fixed meaning to a text — where any interpretation is a good one.
I get a chance to opine on density almost every day as almost every day people prefer to accentuate the wrong thing: density. I think it is because they prefer the fight. So here's my daily opportunity at Publicola.com: The War on Density
And here's the same thing I have been saying for a while:
DENSITY IS BESIDE THE POINT
It's so unfortunate that the density issue came up.
For people who like cities (as well as other places, too — it's not either/or) I'd suggest dropping the pro-density rhetoric. It is a political non-starter and simply irrelevant.
Urging density is putting the cart before the horse. The task is to create interesting places. Then people will compete to be there. You don't start by creating density. You create interesting urban places and then people will want to be there and developers will build.
Density is a byproduct of creating interesting places.
Density is a by-product of high-amenity environments.
Consider any waterfront location. Or a neighborhood like Madison Park. Do you really think that you have to encourage density in either place? Hardly. People want to be there, they compete to be there, and you have to beat them off with a stick. The public policy debate should be about how to create interesting urban spaces. So long as the zoning allows density, the market will take care of it.
And I wish people would be a bit more selfish when it comes to this discussion. The right reason to like density is that it is associated with more interesting cities. The wrong reason is because it is better for society and is more sustainable etc etc.
from Alex Steffen
New Urbanism, more hardcore urbanists have long charged, can end up being just “sprawl in drag.” Landscape Urbanism, unless it addresses the physics of underlying systems (transportation, housing, manufacturing), threatens to be just “sprawl in a pretty green dress”.
I’d like to see a whole different approach, one which starts from the scope, scale and speed of the changes we know we need to make, and backcasts from that transformation as the basis of any sound urban thinking. Planetary urbanism. (emphasis added)
I am mystified by Alex' call for “Planetary Urbanism.” I hope he can offer an example of what that means? Just a hint?
Here are some comments from an on-line conversation about suburban retrofit over the last week or so. I mentioned it here . As such threads go, they are not entirely coherent: Person B answers A on one point and then C answers B on another point, and so forth. People wander. Email conversations often do not offer a clear thread. Yet I think the comments which others might find interesting.
My personal conclusion from the conversation is that
• there is no existing (i.e. in existence now) example of any locality been willing to try and been able to succeed at reversing a 180 degree reversal from high-speed (40-50 mph) auto strip arterial to walkable "main street;" (and admittedly "main street" may give a mis-leadiing picture. I'm just looking at something, anything which is walkable.
• there are numerous energetic attempts being made but are all in progress;
• there seem to be a number of non-arterial auto-dominated areas which are visibly advanced and I cite one, Mercer Island, Washington:
Two particularly interesting insghts:
• per Ellen Dunham-Jones, some planning agencies don't have much institutional memory. That's because elected officials move on or lose or retire and so do staff. So developing and maintaining public support for walkability, and better planning in general, is of critical importance to overcome the inertia of the junk (my interpretation) which surrounds us. That's basic poli-sci but important to remember.
• per Jeff Speck, which if I got it right, he asks: If considering the huge financial/political effort, and the inertia and uncertainty, whether transforming a genuine high-speed arterial should be urged as a priority? In essence, triage. When the situation is currently so far from being a walkable environment, and the hurdles to transform it are so large* is it worth trying? At least as a first priority?
(* And the only scenario I can visualize is along the lines of an Alan Jacobs' et al multi-lane boulevard with slow-speed lanes separated and parallel to the higher-speed though arterial. That's by no means like Boulder Dam but there is enormous social and political inertia,)
Here is the thread, somewhat edited, but still lengthy and I think worth reading if you care about this issue, which you should: