How would cities look if urban planners, not politicians, were in charge?
Recycle City: The Road to Curitiba (New York Times, May 20, 2007)
Planning from the Outside
The long history of the city of Curitiba, in southern Brazil, demonstrates that it is perhaps the most heavily planned city in the western hemisphere. The layout of the original town, like many such colonial developments in the Americas, had been heavily influenced by the Laws of the Indies — a set of precepts from the 16th Century that dictated much of the governance of Spanish and Portuguese land holdings; which included rules for town planning. And, though Brazil gained independence from Portugal in the 1820’s it’s various cities were still governed by many of the land use laws inherited from its former European ruler. Continue reading
“(A Mega-structure is) a large frame in which all the functions of a city or part of a city are housed. It has been made possible by present day technology. In a sense it is a man-made feature of the landscape. It is like the great hill on which Italian towns were built.” Fumihiko Maki (1964, Mega-structure: Investigations in Collective Form, the first published use of the term)
Shmeg: 1. Secretion of the male reproductive organ, a slang for semen (Urban Dictionary), 2. A derivative of the Yiddish word “shmegegge”, meaning baloney; hot air; nonsense (Dictionary.com)
Boise’s 1963 proposal for a downtown “megastructure” (Atkinson Associates, Comprehensive General Plan – Boise City, Idaho 1985)
I first visited Boise in 1984 when I was a young architecture student, interested to see where my parents had moved after my dad’s retirement from the military. After leaving college, my wife and I (and our two-year old son) decided to relocate from Minneapolis to Boise. The architectural job market was hot, there was a lot of construction (especially around the recently opened Boise Towne Square Mall), and I was able to land a drafting job fairly quickly. I began to hear stories about the strangely deserted downtown, about its failed urban renewal history and its lost Chinatown. But what interested me most was the idea that Boise’s leadership had been pursuing the construction of a massive downtown shopping mall. Further, it seemed the only thing they managed to construct was the connector from the interstate to the central business district, and an oddly shaped single-story convention center with a curiously vacant adjacent plaza. Continue reading
sleeves — make
“The Dreamer” (Rexford Guy Tugwell, 1915)
By all accounts, Rexford Tugwell was one of the first preeminent modern planners in America — the very type of intellectual superman he wrote about in his poem for his school paper in 1915. An academic star, prolific author, and professor of Economics at Columbia, in 1933 Tugwell was recruited by President Roosevelt to serve in his newly created “Brains Trust”. This group was composed of a number of highly respected intellectuals whom the president would come to rely upon for advice as he worked to steer the country out of the Great Depression. When Roosevelt asked Tugwell if he wanted a job in his administration he asked for only one position — undersecretary for the Department of Agriculture in order to work on agricultural economic reforms. Continue reading
Aerial Vignette – Katy, TX. (Salon des Refuse, Illustration by author)
In 2010 I was a member of an ad hoc design team backed by the environmental groups, Sea Grant Texas and the Texas Coastal Watershed Program. We pooled our resources in order to create a conceptual project for a design competition — for a piece of land in rural south Texas. Continue reading
I have written before about the central role Utopian writers have played in the development of the American West. This last weekend I had an opportunity to tour the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and view two exhibitions on that uniquely Jewish Utopian manifestation, the Israeli kibbutz. This experience got me thinking about how real-world Utopian efforts change their participants.
The utopian ideal has exerted a strong pull on humankind’s imagination for centuries and there have been countless attempts to create intentional communities that promote cooperation, harmony, and happiness… The kibbutz movement is a powerful recent example and one that offers a fascinating opportunity to explore how we think about ideal societies, both in the context of Judaism and on a universal level. Continue reading
I hate to say it but, planning is so… well… boring.
This isn’t to say planners themselves are boring people — though I’ve known a few who could put a meth-fueled gorilla to sleep with their talk of tax-increment financing and the proper meaning of the word “may”. Continue reading