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Posts Tagged ‘urban planning

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at”*…

 

A proposed cross-section of the Minnesota Experimental City

The future had arrived, and it looked nothing like what city planners expected. It was the early 1960s, and despite economic prosperity, American urban centers were plagued by pollution, poverty, the violence of segregation and crumbling infrastructure. As the federal highway system expanded, young professionals fled for the suburbs, exacerbating the decay…

One man had a revolutionary idea, a plan so all-encompassing it could tackle each and every one of the social issues at once: An entirely new experimental city, built from scratch with the latest technology, entirely free of pollution and waste, and home to a community of life-long learners.

The Minnesota Experimental City and its original creator, Athelstan Spilhaus, are the subjects of a new documentary directed by Chad Freidrichs of Unicorn Stencil Documentary Films. The Experimental City tells the story of the tremendous rise and abrupt fall of an urban vision that nearly came to fruition. At one point, the Minnesota Experimental City had the support of NASA engineers, Civil Rights leaders, media moguls, famed architect Buckminster Fuller and even vice president Hubert Humphrey. Many were drawn to the plan by Spilhaus’ background as well as his rhapsodic conviction for the necessity of such a city.

“The urban mess is due to unplanned growth—too many students for the schools, too much sludge for the sewers, too many cars for the highways, too many sick for the hospitals, too much crime for the police, too many commuters for the transport system, too many fumes for the atmosphere to bear, too many chemicals for the water to carry,” Spilhaus wrote in his 1967 proposal for an experimental city. “The immediate threat must be met as we would meet the threat of war—by the mobilization of people, industry, and government.”…

Creator of the comic “Our New Age,” which featured new science and technology in easy-to-digest fashion (including inventions he wanted to feature in his experimental city), Spilhaus had worked in the fields of mechanical engineering, cartography, oceanography, meteorology and urban planning. He initiated the Sea Grant College Program (a network of colleges and universities that conduct research and training related to oceans and the Great Lakes), helped invent the bathythermograph (a water temperature and depth gauge used in submarine warfare), and designed the science expo for the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962. But above all, the longtime dean of the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Technology was a futurist, and the experimental city was his brainchild that combined his many passions…

 

The Quixotic tale in toto at “How a $10 Billion Experimental City Nearly Got Built in Rural Minnesota.”

But the Modern Utopia must not be static but kinetic, must shape not as a permanent state but as a hopeful stage, leading to a long ascent of stages. Nowadays we do not resist and overcome the great stream of things, but rather float upon it. We build now not citadels, but ships of state.
― H.G. Wells

* Oscar Wilde

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As we’re careful what we wish for, we might send polymathic birthday greetings to the painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, physicist, chemist, anatomist, botanist, geologist, cartographer, and writer– the archetypical Renaissance Man– Leonardo da Vinci.  Quite possibly the greatest genius of the last Millennium, he was born on this date in 1452.

Self-portrait in red chalk, circa 1512-15 [source]

 

 

 

 

Written by LW

April 15, 2018 at 1:01 am

“With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed”*…

 

The Transect

In 2012, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. an exhibition, “Grand Reductions: Ten diagrams that changed urban planning.”

The exhibition’s title – Grand Reductions – suggests the simple illustration’s power to encapsulate complex ideas. And for that reason the medium has always been suited to the city, an intricate organism that has been re-imagined (with satellite towns! in rural grids! in megaregions!) by generations of architects, planners and idealists. In the urban context, diagrams can be powerful precisely because they make weighty questions of land use and design digestible in a single sweep of the eye. But… they can also seductively oversimplify the problems of cities…

“The diagram can cut both ways: It can either be a distillation in the best sense of really taking a very complex set of issues and providing us with a very elegant communication of the solution,” [curator Benjamin] Grant says. “Or it can artificially simplify something that actually needs to be complex.”…

The high concepts that have informed the design of cities over the last century: “The Evolution of Urban Planning in 10 Diagrams.”

See also: “The cities and mansions that people dream of are those in which they finally live”*… and of course, Jane Jacob’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities and Christopher Alexander’s A New Theory of Urban Design.

* Italo Calvino

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As we muse on metropoles, we might send exploratory birthday greeting to Eugene Fodor; he was born on this date in 1905.  Noting that travel guides of his time were boring, he wrote a guide to Europe, On the Continent—The Entertaining Travel Annual, which was published in 1936– and became the cornerstone of a travel publishing empire– the Fodor’s Guides.  He was elected to the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) World Travel Congress Hall of Fame, the only travel editor ever to be so honored.

In 1974, it was revealed that Fodor, a Hungarian-American who had joined the U.S. Army during World War II, had transferred to the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the CIA) and served as a spy behind Nazi lines in occupied Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland.

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Written by LW

October 14, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears”*…

 

“‘A woman’s place is in the home’ has been one of the most important principles in architectural design and urban planning in the United States for the last century,” Dolores Hayden, an urban planning historian, wrote in her 1980s essay What Would a Non-Sexist City Be Like?

Now we’re at a crucial point in urban planning because some of our age-old systems have been upended by innovation or economics. We have Uber and other ride shares replacing traditional transportation systems and Elon Musk trying to build the high-speed Hyperloop and underground tunnels. And our lifestyles are in flux: More young people are sharing homes before they get married, and they’re living with their parents longer.

We can’t design away sexism or the creepy dude waiting at the train platform. These are some of our culture’s oldest, most insidious problems and urban planners alone can’t solve them. But urban planners are now looking to new designs and technology that, for the first time, should include the other half of the population…

Toward a more inclusive city: “Sexism and the City.”

* Italo Calvino

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As we muse on metropoli, we might recall that it was on this date in 861 that the Viking burned Paris to the ground (for the third time since the Siege of Paris in 845).   The invaders also torched the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which they pillaged again in 869.  in 870, King Charles the Bald ordered the construction of two bridges, the Grand Pont and the Petit Pont, to block the passage of the Vikings up the Seine.  In 885, Gozlin, the Bishop of Paris, repaired the city wall and reinforced the bridges, enabling the city to resist an attack by the Vikings, who tried again twice (in 887 and 888), but were repelled each time.

Paris then enjoyed 90 years of (relative) peace, until 978, when the city was laid siege by The Holy Roman Emperor Otto II.

 source

 

Written by LW

May 28, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Going up”*…

 

In special situations from ancient Egypt to modern New Orleans, the departed have been “buried” above ground.  But this seemingly minority practice may become mainstream…

A skyscraper filled with corpses may sound morbid, but soon, such things may become a necessity. The earth is already packed with dead housed in oversized caskets that have been designed to outlive us all – so what are we going to do with the never-ending stream of human bodies as we face life’s greatest inevitability?…

More at “Cemeteries in the Sky: 7 Compact Vertical Burial Designs.”

* what Charon never had the occasion to say

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As we reconsider that investment in air rights, we might spare a rugged thought for Louis Dearborn L’Amour; he died on this date in 1988.  While L’Amour wrote mysteries, science fiction, historical fiction, and non-fiction, he is surely best remembered as the author of westerns (or as he preferred, “frontier stories”) like Hondo and Sackett..  At the time of his death he was one of the world’s most popular writers; dozens of his stories had been made into films, and 105 of his works were in print (89 novels, 14 short-story collections, and two full-length works of nonfiction); as of 2010, over 320 million copies of his work had been sold.

L’Amour was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery near Los Angeles.  His grave is marked in a way that acknowledges that death was able to contain him in a way that he successfully resisted throughout his life: while his body is underground, his site is fenced in.

 source

 

Written by LW

June 10, 2014 at 1:01 am

The best-laid plans…

 

Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s design for the U.S. Capital

Be they company towns, aimed at keeping workers close to their jobs, or national capitals, designed as civic monuments, planned cities are just that: laid out in advance and constructed from scratch.  Wired‘s collection of “Planned Cities Seen From Space” offers a glimpse of how 10 of these purpose-built cities turned out…

Walter Burley Griffin’s design for Canberra

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As we argue with our architects, we might send silly birthday greetings to Joseph Grimaldi; he was born on this date in 1778.  The most popular English entertainer of his day, Grimaldi was an actor, comedian and dancer who effectively invented the character of The Clown as today we know it.  He became so dominant on the London comic stage that harlequinade Clowns became known as “Joey”; both that nickname and the trademark whiteface make-up that Grimaldi created were, and still are, used widely by all types of clowns.  His catchphrases “Shall I?” and “Here we are again!” still get laughs in pantomimes.

Grimaldi’s memoir, edited by his fan Charles Dickens (who had, as a child, seen Grimaldi perform), was a best-seller.  The annual memorial service held for him (in February at Holy Trinity Church in the London Borough of Hackney) is attended by hundreds of clown performers from all over the world– who attend in full make-up and costume.

Grimaldi, au naturel

Grimaldi, in character

 source

 

 

Written by LW

December 18, 2012 at 1:01 am

“The cities and mansions that people dream of are those in which they finally live”*…

 

 

 

https://i0.wp.com/farm9.staticflickr.com/8477/8236708012_a74c563641_o.jpg

In 1939, the American Institute of Planners released the documentary The City.  It was an all-star endeavor: directed by the photographers and filmmakers Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke, from an outline by the renowned documentarian Pare Lorentz, with commentary by urban theorist Lewis Mumford and a score by the extraordinary Aaron Copland.

The film begins with a look back, a nostalgic celebration of the bucolic: “Working and living, we found a balance. The town was us, and we were part of it. We never let our cities grow too big for us to manage. We never pushed the open land too far away.”  Then it screeches into the Industrial Age, documenting the crowded, dirty, slum-lined streets of the then-modern metropolis… building to the challenge, “Who built this place? Who put us here? And how do we get out again? We are asking.”

The balance of the film, redolent with a powerful Positivist optimism, looks to science– and the “science” of planning– for answers.

What’s fascinating, as Sarah Goodyear observes in Atlantic Cities, is that the blissful visions of 1939 are not far removed from our own:

…the idealized suburb/cities presented in the film are all walkable and bikeable. Autos are part of the urban disaster that is to be left behind by progress. We see from the air the familiar cul-de-sacs of today’s America but there are no six-lane arterial roads, no massive shopping centers with enormous parking lots. Kids ride around on bicycles along paths that look very much like what you see in the Netherlands of today, and in a few American cities such as Boulder, Colorado, or Davis, California.

The film was made at a historical moment when artists and thinkers like the ones who worked on it believed that rational, humanistic approaches to planning could triumph over entropy, corruption, and simple thoughtlessness. It seems like an impossibly idealistic view to have held, especially on the eve of World War II. Watching The City, it’s easy to feel a longing for that idealism, not to mention the level of craftsmanship that went into the film itself. Even the “fast food” presented with humorous disdain in the movie looks positively artisanal compared to the fare at McDonald’s.

The City is now more than 70 years old, and yet the dilemmas it presents are if anything more acute than they were in 1939. The urban areas of India and China, in particular, are facing exactly the same issues of industrial pollution and slum proliferation that plagued the American cities of the early 20th century. Will they be able to avoid even a fraction of the mistakes America made as it idealistically moved forward into the perfect, planned future? Here’s how The City wraps up:

Order has come, order and life together….We can reproduce the pattern and better it a thousand times. It’s here, the new city, ready to serve a better age. For you and your children, the choice is yours.

The full film:

* Lewis Mumford (who also advised, “Forget the damned motor car and build the cities for lovers and friends.”)

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As we reach for our copies of Jane Jacobs, we might recall that it was on this date in 1803 that Charles Fourier published his utopian Universal Harmony.  A social philosopher considered something of a radical in his own time, Fourier pioneered a number of notions now more mainstream (e.g., he was a supporter of women’s rights and is said to have coined the term “feminism’; he championed a “minimum wage”).  Fourier’s urban vision was one that reflected his belief that concern and cooperation were the secrets of social success; he believed that poverty (not inequality) was the principal cause of disorder in society.   He proposed cooperative communities built around phalanstère, units of 1500-1600 people living and working together for mutual benefit.  Fourier’s ideas influenced French politics (e.g., the 1848 Revolution and the Paris Commune) and writers from Dostoevsky (The Possessed) to Walter Benjamin (Passagenwerk); and they inspired a number of utopian communities in the U.S.

https://i2.wp.com/farm9.staticflickr.com/8207/8236708044_cf5c3864c2_o.jpg source

 

Written by LW

December 3, 2012 at 1:01 am

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