Megastructure shmegastructure

“(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 (

downtown - combined

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


The forgotten and discarded Chinese: Idaho’s version



Throughout planning history it has not been uncommon to “forget” certain groups of people. In fact, throughout the United States’ history this has been recurring, both within the planning profession as well as outside it. Idaho was not left out in exercising this trend. Idaho’s planning history, although short in comparison to other American cities, has experienced its share of ebbs and flows, successes and failures. Embracing diversity and equity planning, especially in regard to the Chinese immigrants of the area, has not been among Idaho’s triumphs. Continue reading

The hidden costs of centralized animal feeding operations

The face of modern day agriculture has made a radical shift over the past few decades.  Most agricultural production in the United States is no longer done on small family owned farms, but on enormous corporate farms and animal feeding lots . One of the biggest changes comes from the rise of the Centralized Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). This new face of agriculture, and in particular CAFOs have the potential to seriously damage not only our environment, but also the health of our communities.
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Stand and deliver: testifying at a planning and zoning hearing

Meridian City Hall, Idaho - Wikimedia, 12/16/2013

Meridian City Hall, Idaho – Wikimedia, 12/16/2013

The need may arise, or you may be called upon, to testify at a public hearing. For some, it may be as intimidating as a courtroom – perhaps in some respects like being the defense counsel, or in others, like being a party pursuing a civil suit. This pressure might feel overwhelming, but there are ways to prepare and educate yourself that may enable you to deliver a ‘pitch-perfect’ performance. That does indeed mean that there is a responsibility on your part (the citizen) to know the proverbial “Field of Play” when it comes to hearings, and it is the responsibility on their part (the planning body) to make the process clear and equitable.
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A desire named streetcar

A Streetcar Named Desire - Wikimedia, 12/16/2013

A Streetcar Named Desire – Wikimedia, 12/16/2013

The Streetcar idea for downtown Boise won’t go away. There is a great desire by some, Mayor Bieter chief among them, to see Boise retrofitted with a clean, classy, historical component that shuttles thousands around downtown and economically stimulates the area. As many know, Boise’s Downtown once had a Streetcar line in its repertoire of amenities. The Streetcar is therefore an organic piece of that history, and should really be approached in that way. If we want the Streetcar, we can’t sell it as if it is going to be the transportation asset we need (it isn’t), but we can offer it as the historical asset we want and couple it with a real, sincere approach to increasing connectivity and making an economic impact – expand VRT.

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The Genuine and the Spurious

American Versailles, (, July 2012)

(Genuine culture) is, ideally speaking, a culture in which nothing is spiritually meaningless, in which no important part of the general functioning brings with it a sense of frustration, of misdirected or unsympathetic effort. (Edward Sapir, American Journal of Sociology, Culture, Genuine and Spurious, 1924)

This will be, perhaps, one of my more personal blog posts. Inspired as it is by the excellent prose of another writer, Tressie McMillian-Cottom (a PhD student in Sociology at Emory University). Continue reading

Should Cities Support or Stymie Street Art?

A Banksy piece completed during the artist's "Better Out than In" "residency" in New York.

A Banksy piece completed during the artist’s “Better Out than In” “residency” in New York. Photo courtesy Banksy at

For hist latest project, the infamous British street artist known only as Banksy has set his sights on New York City.

Every day this month, the man responsible for hundreds of guerrilla graffiti portraits and stencils, some of which have fetched as much as $1 million at auction, has quietly put up a new piece of artwork across the five boroughs. Banksy’s so-called “artist’s residency on the streets of New York” has drawn the awe of local art fans, but the ire of local law enforcement.
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