(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘urban planning

“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”*…

Believers in the “Tartaria” conspiracy theory are convinced that the elaborate temporary fairgrounds built for events like the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 were really the ancient capital cities of a fictional empire. Photographer: Schenectady Museum Association/Corbis Historical via Getty Images

On YouTube videos and Reddit boards, adherents of a bizarre conspiracy theory argue that everything you know about the history of architecture is wrong. Zach Mortice explains…

In 1908, architect Ernest Flagg completed the Singer Building in Lower Manhattan, a Beaux-Arts showstopper made for the Singer sewing machine company. From a wide base, a slender 27-story tower rose, topped by a mansard roof and a delicate lantern spire.

Every inch dripped with sumptuous detail inside and out; vaulted roofs, marble columns with bronze trim, window mullions with spiral fluting. The lobby was said to have a “celestial radiance.” A book was written just about its construction. For a year, it was the tallest building in the world at 612 feet, and a celebrated landmark for decades after that. 

But not for too much longer. Despite its great height, the pencil-thin tower lacked office space. In the 1960s the company sold its ornate headquarters; demolition proceeded in 1967. It’s the tallest building to ever be peacefully demolished.  

By any account, it’s a fantastical tale: Once the tallest building in the world and a New York icon, knocked down in just a handful of decades.

For some, it’s too fantastical to believe … or perhaps not fantastical enough. A dedicated group of YouTubers and Reddit posters see the Singer Building and countless other discarded pre-modern beauties and extant Beaux-Arts landmarks as artifacts of a globe-spanning civilization called the Tartarian Empire, which was somehow erased from the history books. Adherents of this theory believe these buildings to be the keys to a hidden past, clandestinely obscured by malevolent actors.

Who? Why? To what possible end? As in many other, more high-profile conspiracy theories, this baroque fantasy doesn’t offer much in the way of practical considerations, logic or evidence. But it’s grounded in some real anxieties, pointing toward the changes wrought by the modern world in general and modern architecture specifically — and rejecting both…

The fascinating tale in full: “Inside the ‘Tartarian Empire,’ the QAnon of Architecture,” from @zachmortice in @business via @MSewillo in @the_prepared.

(In the same spirit, The Glory of the Empire is a “history” of another empire which only existed in the imaginations of author Jean d’Ormesson and his readers.)

* Percy Byssche Shelley, “Ozymandias”

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As we fabricate fabrications, we might spare a thought for Edmund Bacon; he died on this date in 2005. An urban planner, architect, educator, and author, he was executive director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission from 1949 to 1970. His visions shaped today’s Philadelphia, the city in which he was born, to the extent that he is sometimes described as “The Father of Modern Philadelphia” (and thus an arch-enemy of Tartarians everywhere).

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 14, 2022 at 1:00 am

“By far the greatest and most admirable form of wisdom is that needed to plan and beautify cities and human communities”*…

Concept renderings of Robert Moses’ proposed LOMEX (Lower Manhattan Expressway), drawing by Paul Rudolph. Courtesy of Library of Congress

… yes, but in what, Christopher Moon-Miklaucic asks, does that wisdom inhere?

The [Robert] Moses and [Jane] Jacobs debate begins as a disagreement over the future of New York City but ends up becoming a much larger representation of two divergent views of the fate of cities. If Jacobs saw in cities, life, diversity, and complexity, Moses saw infrastructure, efficiency, and the act of building. Robert Caro famously dubbed him the “Power Broker”, symbolizing a top-down, large-scale approach to planning, while Jacobs was seen as the “eye on the street”, in many ways epitomizing a much smaller-scale reading of the city as viewed from the handlebars of her bicycle. Despite looking at the city from different angles, and offering wildly different solutions to improving city life, both Jacobs and Moses were ultimately critics of utopian planners such as Ebenezer Howard, Daniel Burnham, Le Corbusier and other “order obsessed” types. Unsurprisingly, planners have long been fascinated by these two characters, who have been simultaneously celebrated and polarizing. Their disagreements have often served as a proxy of both the power and importance of citizen participation, but also its striking limitations. Today, the debate is being reassessed because despite the romantic allure of Jacobs, the efficiency of the planning process and its ability to strive for change while taking into account a wide variety of needs is still in question, and a longing for Moses’ adept ability to navigate bureaucracies seems to be resurfacing…

[The author unpacks the history of the disagreement, and unpacks the duelling principles/imperatives at work on each side…]

…It might be too simple to say that Jacobs’ view was ethically and morally correct. Clearly, planners should strive to ensure that the will of the people is represented adequately and equally in the plans put forth by developers and local governments. The issue, though, is that Jacobs criticized city planning, but not the “big economic and social forces” that originated many of the projects she opposed. In other words, Moses wasn’t completely alone in his undertaking to shape New York City. There were powerful vested interests behind his actions as well, and his accomplishment was the ability to “get things done” in a manner that most wouldn’t expect of municipal government. If planning is often criticized for being too slow, and even when communities are involved the equity results remain suboptimal, Moses seems to represent an alternative, more efficient approach.

Skepticism of a perfunctory model of citizen participation, which still often rests in procedural and consultative arrangements, may be the reason behind the rehabilitation of Moses and the shifting of the narrative underlying the debate. Perhaps within a context of an ever-changing world that is obsessed with instant gratification, Moses as “America’s greatest builder” is seen as the type of planner needed in order to quickly and efficiently improve current conditions, whereas Jacobs is seen as the “champion of stasis”, content with the status quo and seeking to stifle inevitable change and progress. To some, the Jacobean ideology of community-based planning might represent a decline in the authority and influence of the planner, leading to a nostalgic longing for the golden age of Moses, when planners were considered masters of their domain and free from the bureaucratic shackles that often limit large-scale developments.

Ultimately, the Moses and Jacobs debate remains relevant to planners today because it serves as a proxy for the power and limitations of citizen participation. If the planning sphere often links Jacobs’ life and work to a recently emerging style of communicative action planning, the criticisms of the approach are part of the reason Moses’ legacy is being rewritten. To some, Jacobs’ ideologies have led to a style of city planning that is too cautious and self-reflective, and Moses’ top-down methods symbolize planning that asserts itself in order to focus less on process and more on outcomes. If not slightly alarming, this shift in narrative should lead the planning profession to ask itself a difficult question which lurks within the shadows of this debate: what do we value more, the effects planning decisions have on communities and people, or the physical act of building and getting things done?

A half-century-old debate about New York City’s urban development continues to evoke a multitude of controversies in planning: “Robert Moses, Jane Jacobs, and the Ever-Changing Role of the Planner,” from @chris_moonm in @TDocumentarian.

* Socrates

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As we ponder planning, we might that it was on this date in 1781 that El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles (“The town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels”; in common use, Pueblo de los Ángeles) was settled. By the 20th century it became known simply as Los Angeles.

A map situating the original settlement in more modern Los Angeles

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 4, 2022 at 1:00 am

“An architect should live as little in cities as a painter. Send him to our hills, and let him study there what nature understands by a buttress, and what by a dome.”*…

We’ve misunderstood an important part of the history of urbanism– jungle cities. Patrick Roberts suggests that they have much to teach us…

Visions of “lost cities” in the jungle have consumed western imaginations since Europeans first visited the tropics of Asia, Africa and the Americas. From the Lost City of Z to El Dorado, a thirst for finding ancient civilisations and their treasures in perilous tropical forest settings has driven innumerable ill-fated expeditions. This obsession has seeped into western societies’ popular ideas of tropical forest cities, with overgrown ruins acting as the backdrop for fear, discovery and life-threatening challenges in countless films, novels and video games.

Throughout these depictions runs the idea that all ancient cities and states in tropical forests were doomed to fail. That the most resilient occupants of tropical forests are small villages of poison dart-blowing hunter-gatherers. And that vicious vines and towering trees – or, in the case of The Jungle Book, a boisterous army of monkeys – will inevitably claw any significant human achievement back into the suffocating green whence it came. This idea has been boosted by books and films that focus on the collapse of particularly enigmatic societies such as the Classic Maya. The decaying stone walls, the empty grand structures and the deserted streets of these tropical urban leftovers act as a tragic warning that our own way of life is not as secure as we would like to assume.

For a long time, western scholars took a similar view of the potential of tropical forests to sustain ancient cities. On the one hand, intensive agriculture, seen as necessary to fuel the growth of cities and powerful social elites, has been considered impossible on the wet, acidic, nutrient-poor soils of tropical forests. On the other, where the rubble of cities cannot be denied, in the drier tropics of North and Central America, south Asia and south-east Asia, ecological catastrophe has been seen as inevitable. Deforestation to make way for massive buildings and growing populations, an expansion of agriculture across marginal soils, as well as natural disasters such as mudslides, flooding and drought, must have made tropical cities a big challenge at best, and a fool’s gambit at worst.

Overhauling these stereotypes has been difficult. For one thing, the kind of large, multiyear field explorations usually undertaken on the sites of ancient cities are especially hard in tropical forests. Dense vegetation, mosquito-borne disease, poisonous plants and animals and torrential rain have made it arduous to find and excavate past urban centres. Where organic materials, rather than stone, might have been used as a construction material, the task becomes even more taxing. As a result, research into past tropical urbanism has lagged behind similar research in Mesopotamia and Egypt and the sweeping river valleys of east Asia.

Yet many tropical forest societies found immensely successful methods of food production, in even the most challenging of circumstances, which could sustain impressively large populations and social structures. The past two decades of archaeological exploration, applying the latest science from the land and the air, have stripped away canopies to provide new, more favourable assessments.

Not only did societies such as the Classic Maya and the Khmer empire of Cambodia flourish, but pre-colonial tropical cities were actually some of the most extensive urban landscapes anywhere in the pre-industrial world – far outstripping ancient Rome, Constantinople/Istanbul and the ancient cities of China.

Ancient tropical cities could be remarkably resilient, sometimes surviving many centuries longer than colonial- and industrial-period urban networks in similar environments. Although they could face immense obstacles, and often had to reinvent themselves to beat changing climates and their own exploitation of the surrounding landscape, they also developed completely new forms of what a city could be, and perhaps should be.

Extensive, interspersed with nature and combining food production with social and political function, these ancient cities are now catching the eyes of 21st-century urban planners trying to come to grips with tropical forests as sites of some of the fastest-growing human populations around the world today…

They may be vine-smothered ruins today, but the lost cities of the ancient tropics still have a lot to teach us about how to live alongside nature. Dr. Roberts (@palaeotropics) explains: “The real urban jungle: how ancient societies reimagined what cities could be,” adapted from his new book, Jungle: How Tropical Forests Shaped the World – and Us.

* John Ruskin

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As we acclimate, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to Sir Karl Raimund Popper; he was born on this date in 1902.  One of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century, Popper is best known for his rejection of the classical inductivist views on the scientific method, in favor of empirical falsification: a theory in the empirical sciences can never be proven, but it can be falsified, meaning that it can and should be scrutinized by decisive experiments.  (Or more simply put, whereas classical inductive approaches considered hypotheses false until proven true, Popper reversed the logic: conclusions drawn from an empirical finding are true until proven false.)

Popper was also a powerful critic of historicism in political thought, and (in books like The Open Society and Its Enemies and The Poverty of Historicism) an enemy of authoritarianism and totalitarianism (in which role he was a mentor to George Soros).

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“Wade tried to imagine Florida before the advent of man, but couldn’t. The landscape seemed too thoroughly colonized”*…

Island Walk, Naples, Florida

The state of Florida, in the United States, is bordered to the south, east, and west by the Atlantic Ocean, with a coastline of over two thousand kilometers in length, and is characterized by extensive areas of lakes, rivers, and ponds. Land booms during the early and mid-20th century resulted in the development of new communities and the expansion of low-density suburbia across many parts of the state, which frequently incorporated the abundant water resources, sometimes failing in their efforts.

Land-use trends throughout the state’s history have been directly influenced by the natural resources, geomorphology, and climate that exist within the state. Since 1900, Florida has seen substantial changes in land-use patterns and land cover due to significant increases in population and tourism, coincident with new development, facilitated by new railroads and highways, and inspired by an aggressive marketing campaign for new residents and visitors to come to the state…

By observing aerial images of these locations, it is possible to notice the different ways in which the urban layouts, lakes, and canals were developed and incorporated into the territorial planning of each city. Variables such as land use, the possibility of carrying out aquatic activities (such as fishing, swimming, and navigation), and the integration with other nearby navigable canals have shaped these water bodies alongside the land distribution, resulting in sinuous and winding patterns.

However, water resource management has not always been successful. Before the development of the area where the city of Cape Coral is located, in the southwest of the state, water was widely distributed on the surface and in shallow aquifers. According to Hubert Stroud, professor of geography at Arkansas State University, these resources degraded as soon as the Cape Coral developers began subdivision operations. According to Stroud, the layout, design, and construction techniques were particularly devastating for the water resources. Instead of using phased development, the area was dredged, filled, and segmented long before it was occupied. The resulting gridiron pattern of roads is interrupted by occasional sinuous canals…

Florida is a state marked by a large number of water resources, whether on the coast or inland, on the surface or underground, and many cities and communities have considered them to be key elements in urban planning, exploring their most diverse potentials. The alliance between planned cities and water resources in Florida not only reveals the curious patterns of roads and canals, seen in aerial photographs, but also the complex relationship between water and land in the context of the city, showing that water is more than just a resource for landscaping or aesthetics, it is a fundamental element in urban infrastructure…

Cape Coral, Florida

A history of Florida’s love affair with the water (with lots of mesmerizing aerial photos): “Urban Planning and Water Bodies: Florida’s Aquatic Land Cover.”

* Douglas Coupland, All Families are Psychotic

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As we try to bend nature to our will, we might recall that it was on this date in 2005 that the “I’m Going to Disney World” commercial featuring a player (usually the MVP) on the winning team, did not air at the end of the Superbowl telecast.

The commercial has aired after every Super Bowl since 1987, except for one. In 2005, the commercial did not air, though the reason for the absence is still unclear. The NFL was still reeling from Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction in 2004, and may have been leery of any advertising relying on spontaneity. Disney may have also felt that the campaign was losing its effectiveness after 19 years.

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In any case, it returned the following year and (largely) runs still… it did not run in 2016, at Superbowl LX, but Peyton Manning went to Disneyland to celebrate anyway.

Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 6, 2021 at 1:01 am

“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

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