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Posts Tagged ‘urban planning

“Machines. Inventions. Power. Black out the past.”*…

 

The City

 

“The City” is a shape-shifting work of social criticism, radical in its rage, reactionary in its solutions. Financed largely by a $50,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation and produced under the aegis of the American Institute of Planners, “The City” could be described as a propaganda film promoting the benefits and aims of city planning, but it was about more than that. Its scope encompassed a whole diseased society, its citizens divorced from their own identities and their own destinies—all on account of the march of unrestrained progress. “The City” was that rare thing—the prestige picture that tackled poverty and degradation, a sociological tract that aspired to poetry. It boasted the finest pedigree of any America documentary made up to that time: an outline from documentary master Pare Lorentz (“The Plow That Broke the Plains,” “The River”), commentary written by literary critic and prominent urbanist Lewis Mumford, and the first film score from composer Aaron Copland. Its directors, Ralph Steiner and Willard van Dyke, were both veterans of the American avant-garde…

Produced to be shown at the 1939 New York World’s Fair as part of the “City of Tomorrow” exhibit, “The City” was a passionate argument for innovative housing design and community planning– for restoring to modern city life a semblance of healthy living and social well-being rooted in community-based “garden cities.”

A pioneering documentary that makes a beguiling argument:

 

[Quote and image above: Library of Congress]

* “Machines. Inventions. Power. Black out the past. Forget the quiet cities. Bring in the steam and steel. The iron men. The giants. Open the throttle. All aboard, the promised land. Pillars of smoke by day. Pillars of fire by night. Pillars of progress. Machines to make machines. Production to expand production. There’s wood and wheat and kitchen sinks and calico all ready made in tonnes enough for tens, thousands, millions. Millions! Faster and faster, better and better!”   —  Lewis Mumford, The City

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As we reconsider urbanism, we might recall that it was on this date (N.S.) in 1607 that the first permanent English settlement in the Americas was created, when the Virginia Company of London established “James Fort”– which became Jamestown– on the bank of the James (Powhatan) River, 2.5 miles from what is now the center of Williamsburg.

220px-Colonial_Jamestown_About_1614

Colonial Jamestown About 1614

source

 

“People have to live in it”*…

 

michael-sorkin

 

16. The rate at which the seas are rising.
17. Building information modeling (BIM).
18. How to unclog a Rapidograph.
19. The Gini coefficient.
20. A comfortable tread-to-riser ratio for a six-year-old.
21. In a wheelchair.
22. The energy embodied in aluminum.
23. How to turn a corner.
24. How to design a corner.
25. How to sit in a corner…

171. The view from the Acropolis.
172. The way to Santa Fe.
173. The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
174. Where to eat in Brooklyn.
175. Half as much as a London cabbie.
176. The Nolli Plan.
177. The Cerdà Plan.
178. The Haussmann Plan.
179. Slope analysis.
180. Darkroom procedures and Photoshop…

220.  The acoustic performance of Boston Symphony Hall.
221.  How to open the window.
222.  The diameter of the earth.
223.  The number of gallons of water used in a shower.
224.  The distance at which you can recognize faces.
225.  How and when to bribe public officials (for the greater good).
226.  Concrete finishes.
227.  Brick bonds.
228.  The Housing Question by Friedrich Engels.
229.  The prismatic charms of Greek island towns.
230.  The energy potential of the wind…

Short excerpts from Michael Sorkin‘s “Two Hundred Fifty Things an Architect Should Know“… indeed, two hundred fifty things most of us should know…

Sorkin was, as the New York Times observed, “one of architecture’s most outspoken public intellectuals, a polymath whose prodigious output of essays, lectures and designs, all promoting social justice, established him as the political conscience in the field.”  He died a week ago of coronavirus infection.

The whole list (from Sorkin’s 2018 book What Goes Up) is here.

[Image above, source]

* Michael Sorkin

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As we practice practice, we might send enlightening birthday greetings to Charlemagne; he was born on this date in 748.  A ruler who united the majority of western and central Europe (first as King of the Franks, then also King of the Lombards, finally adding Emperor of the Romans), he was the first recognized emperor to rule from western Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire three centuries earlier; the expanded Frankish state that he founded is called the Carolingian Empire.

In 789, he began the establishment of schools teaching the elements of mathematics, grammar, music, and ecclesiastic subjects; every monastery and abbey in his realm was expected to have a school for the education of the boys of the surrounding villages.  The tradition of learning he initiated helped fuel the expansion of medieval scholarship in the 12th-century Renaissance.

portrait-of-charlemagne source

 

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

 

city of the future

Concept for Babel IID. The line drawing to the left shows the Empire State building for scale. Arcology, Paolo Soleri, 1969.

 

For centuries, architects and urban planners have mixed the mundane with the fantastical as they imagined the cities of the future. While some ideas toyed with the building blocks, others reflected a desire to fundamentally reshape urban life — and to solve some of society’s most pressing problems. Their plans were a mix of ambition, realism, fantasy, and folly — but were the resulting ideas visionary, or just dreams of worlds that could never feasibly be built?…

From Christopher Wren and his plan for London after the Great Fire of 1666 to Buckminster Fuller and Paolo Soleri, a consideration of visionary urban planning: could fantastical plans for the cities of tomorrow solve the real problems of urban life? Consider the case at “Architects of the Future.”

For a treatment of urban history from a different perspective, see “The cities and mansions that people dream of are those in which they finally live.” See also “Science Fiction Cities: How our future visions influence the cities we build.”

Then, for an alternative to the top-down, utopian approach to urban planning, read Jane Jacobs.

* Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

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As we contemplate community, we might spare a thought for Hendrik Petrus Berlage; he died on this date in 1934. The “Father of Modern architecture” in the Netherlands, Berage was deeply influenced by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.  But he was probably most impactful in his influence on most Dutch architectural groups of the 1920s, including the Traditionaliststhe Amsterdam SchoolDe Stijl and the New Objectivists.

220px-Berlage source

 

Written by LW

August 12, 2018 at 1:01 am

“It is impossible to work in information technology without also engaging in social engineering”*…

 

ai religion

… Using a separate model, Future of Religion and Secular Transitions (forest), the team found that people tend to secularize when four factors are present: existential security (you have enough money and food), personal freedom (you’re free to choose whether to believe or not), pluralism (you have a welcoming attitude to diversity), and education (you’ve got some training in the sciences and humanities). If even one of these factors is absent, the whole secularization process slows down. This, they believe, is why the U.S. is secularizing at a slower rate than Western and Northern Europe.

“The U.S. has found ways to limit the effects of education by keeping it local, and in private schools, anything can happen,” said [LeRon] Shults’s collaborator, Wesley Wildman, a professor of philosophy and ethics at Boston University. “Lately, there’s been encouragement from the highest levels of government to take a less than welcoming cultural attitude to pluralism. These are forms of resistance to secularization.”

When you build a model, you can accidentally produce recommendations that you weren’t intending. Years ago, Wildman built a model to figure out what makes some extremist groups survive and thrive while others disintegrate. It turned out one of the most important factors is a highly charismatic leader who personally practices what he preaches. “This immediately implied an assassination criterion,” he said. “It’s basically, leave the groups alone when the leaders are less consistent, [but] kill the leaders of groups that have those specific qualities. It was a shock to discover this dropping out of the model. I feel deeply uncomfortable that one of my models accidentally produced a criterion for killing religious leaders.”

The results of that model have been published, so it may already have informed military action. “Is this type of thing being used to figure out criteria for drone killings? I don’t know, because there’s this giant wall between the secret research in the U.S. and the non-secret side,” Wildman said. “I’ve come to assume that on the secret side they’ve pretty much already thought of everything we’ve thought of, because they’ve got more money and are more focused on those issues. … But it could be that this model actually took them there. That’s a serious ethical conundrum.”

Shults told me, “I lose sleep at night on this. … It is social engineering. It just is—there’s no pretending like it’s not.” But he added that other groups, like Cambridge Analytica, are doing this kind of computational work, too. And various bad actors will do it without transparency or public accountability. “It’s going to be done. So not doing it is not the answer.” Instead, he and Wildman believe the answer is to do the work with transparency and simultaneously speak out about the ethical danger inherent in it.

“That’s why our work here is two-pronged: I’m operating as a modeler and as an ethicist,” Wildman said. “It’s the best I can do.”…

Artificial Intelligence Shows Why Atheism Is Unpopular“– and other tales from the trenches of social modeling– the learnings and the ethical questions they raise.

* Jaron Lanier

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As we’re careful what we wish for, we might send elaborately-designed birthday greetings to a practitioner of another, older form of social engineering, Pierre Charles L’Enfant; he was born on this date in 1754.  A military and civil engineer, he became a city planner, most famously crafting the unique “radiant” layout for Washington, D.C.

210px-Pierre_Charles_L'Enfant source

 

“Public life in good quality public spaces is an important part of a democratic life and a full life”*…

 

private space

Paternoster Square, pictured here from the top of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, is owned by the Mitsubishi Estate Company

 

In general, the privatisation of public space in the west accompanied the traumatic transition from an industrial economy to one based on financial services, shopping, entertainment and “knowledge”. This model began in 1970s America, where downtown waterfront areas that were former industrial heartlands were redeveloped into entertainment complexes: Baltimore’s Inner Harbour, described by the Urban Land Institute as “the model for post-industrial waterfront redevelopment”, is the prime example.

London’s Docklands, once the hub of the UK’s shipbuilding industry, became a centre for privatised financial services districts such as Canary Wharf, gated developments and private campuses such as the Excel, the enormous conference centre where the potential to “lock down” the site ensures it is well suited to host such events as the Defence and Security Equipment International Exhibition.

War very often leads to heavily privatised areas, too. In downtown Beirut, the rebuilding of the city centre provided the opportunity for Rafik Hariri, a billionaire businessman and the former prime minister, to form Solidere, a company that has remodelled a 200-hectare area of the city centre.

Jerold S Kayden at Harvard has coined the term Pops (“privately owned public space”) for these types of places, and found that there are 503 in New York City alone. One of the highest profile is Manhattan’s latest tourist attraction, the High Line, which also appears to be the model for London’s contentious Garden Bridge – an urban “park” that bans all sorts of activities, closes for corporate events, does not allow political protest and requires groups of more than eight people to book ahead.

Indeed, the key question in determining how “private” a city might be could be about access, rather than ownership. Zucotti Park, another Pops in New York, was for many months the venue for the Occupy Wall Street protests. Contrast that with London’s Paternoster Square, home to the London Stock Exchange, where Occupy was quickly evicted when the owners took out an injunction. Political activity has been almost entirely squeezed out of London’s square mile, and Occupy had no choice but to camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral, on the only genuinely public space left in the city.

So while it may be impossible to name a city or a place as the “most private” in the world, what we can say is that societies with high levels of inequality are also those where the privatisation of the public realm and life behind gates increasingly defines the urban fabric. In Britain and North America, where democracy remains the system by which we define ourselves, the spread of this kind of city space is extremely problematic…

More and more parts of more and more cities are becoming the equivalent of private clubs or airport lounges: “What is the most private city in the world?

Semi-related (but altogether fascinating): “Everything we’ve heard about global urbanization turns out to be wrong.”

* Jan Gehl

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As we try not to ask about access, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that John Muir set pen to paper to capture his experience of awakening in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.  Published in 1911, My First Summer in the Sierra is based on Muir’s original journals External and sketches External of his 1869 stay in the vicinity of the Yosemite Valley.  His journal, which tracks his three-and-a-half-month visit to the Yosemite region and his ascent of Mt. Hoffman and other Sierra peaks, was instrumental in building public support for President Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation efforts, and for the formation of Yosemite National Park and the birth of the National Park Program.

jul-19-muir source

 

Written by LW

July 19, 2018 at 1:01 am

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