"We have to adapt to that which we can't prevent. But we've
got to prevent that which we can't adapt to."
- Bill McKibben
McKibben is an author, educator, environmentalist,
and the founder of 350.org
go to 350
go to Bill McGibben
Most Americans live on the 3 percent of
land that contains our cities-- which are the culturally and economically richest, greenest, and healthiest places to be.
What's the current thinking on global urbanism?
Join the conversation learn the issues.
Join the discussion on the New Urbanism.
|Metropolis11 at LACMA in Los Angeles, designed by Chris Burden.
Metropolis 2 is the work
of scuptor and installation artist Chris Burden. His latest work, four years in the making, is a kinetic sensation modeled
after a fast-paced frenetic modern city.
There are 18 roadways, including a 6-lane freeway
and HO scale train tracks. Miniature cars speed through the city at 240-scale miles per hour, every hour. It's the equivalent
of about a hundred-thousand cars circulating through the dense network of buildings.
The noise and continuous flow of trains and speeding
cars definitely produce 'viewer stress.' As if Los Angeles itself isn't enough of a wild drive.
go to Metropolis on YouTube
go to Metropolis at LACMA
go to Metropolis in the making
go to more Chris Burden images
|Spain takes the lead in solar thermal energy.
Sunny Spain is home to
more solar thermal facilities than any other nation.
In this plant, hundreds of mirrors focus on
the tower containing salt which heats to extreme temperatures, in turn heating water which createss base-load power
American Southwest, take note.
go to MIT Tech Review
go to Spain Solar on Wiki
|"Solar City" in Germany.
The Sonnenschiff community in Freiburg,
Germany, designed by Rolf Disch, is 'net positive.' It's not merely self-sustaining, but produces four times
the energy it consumes.
go to Inhabit Design
Bill Moyers is disappointed.
"How did we become a country of such ugly, stupid politics? One party doddering and feckless, the other radical
and reckless-- and downright mean, driven by unblinking ideologues with kamikaze souls?"
Change the narrataive of suburban housing, redirect
sprawl, and you change the dream.
Clusters of foreclosures have scarred neighborhoods. Cities have opted
to demolish thousands of homes made unliveable because of rampant thievery. Copper goes first, then lights, kitchen and bathroom
fixtures, doors, windows, and siding. Defaced wrecks can devastate a street.
But the foreclosure disaster has offered up opportunities
to rethink and refigure suburbia.
"Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream."
New York's Museum of Modern
Art (MoMA) is exhibiting proposals for reinventing the future of housing in the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis.
Teams of architects, urban planners, ecologists,
engineers, and landscape designers have been working in public studios envisioning new housing, transit, and infrastructures
to catalyze urban transformation, particularly in the suburbs.
They selected five "mega-regions" across the
nation and speculated on forms that housing could take: physically, socially, and economically.
The Open Studios exercise was organized by Barry Bergdoll, MoMA's Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architectues and Design-- and Reinhold
Martin, Director of Columbia University's Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture.
Participants were MOS, Visible Weather, Studio Gang,
WORKac, and Zago Architecture. Let's hope that their inventive and intuitive solutions will hellp to reshape the suburban
"If you change the priorities, spatial arrangements,
ownership patterns, the balance between private and public interests, and the mixtures of activities and services that any
city entails-- then you begin the process of redirecting urban sprawl."\
from The Buell Hypothesis.
go to MoMA
go to Architecture Daily
go to Zago
go to Visible Weather
go to Work Architecture
go to the Buell Hypothesis
|Delight of Urban Foliage
It's wonderful to see ivy-covered building in the
cityscape. But one wonders if all the foliage is causing havoc on the bricks.
In a 1924 English journal a buildier stated that there were two ways
of destroying buildings-- both equally effective: 1, dynamite, and 2, ivy. He said "it will send its roots into every crevice
of the wall, sucking the mortar to dry dust."
Even recently the argument against climbing vines is that they damage
masonry walls. prying apart mortar and cracking bricks. Turns out that this is all malarkey.
New research from Oxford says that ivy rarely infiltrates
masonry walls and that sticky tendrils don't damage bricks. So go ivy!
Barack Obama is sitting on the same bus
and in the same seat as did Rosa Parks. Her refusal to move to the back seat of the bus led to a successful bus boycott.
The bus is now displayed in Michigan.
|Blizzard chosed down the city in February 2011
Where the heck are the snow plows?
Chicago has a system
that hopes to quench long-held suspicions that certain streets and neighborhoods are cleared before the rest of the city,
i.e. folks with political clout get cleared first.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has announced a plan
to insure fairness and common sense with a new system using GPS technology on the site ChicagoShovels.org.
Residents can see at a glance the location of each of Chicago's 300
plows. The city has also organized a "Snow Corps,"
which matches volunteers, sends alerts when snow falls, and gives info on parking bans and car tows. It's "Adopt a Sidewalk" program allows residents to claim shoveling responsibilities
on a map and also share shoveling tools.
The snow plow tracker is monitored in a new command center, where supervisors
also track the slickness of bridges and the National Oceanic Atmosphere weather maps. Drving conditions are captured by a
thousand cameras mounted aound the city. The tracker also alerts the city to the amount of road salt it needs to purchase.
So let is snow!
go to Chicago Shovels
go to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
|Dubai's Moon Towers. Click to enlarge.
The clouds aren't the limit. Cities thrive when buildings
cluster together, rising high in the sky.
Densely-populated cities are the healthiest, greenest, and culturally
and economically richest places to live. Big city dwellers live longer than most Americans-- and they use about 40% less energy
than outlying suburbanites. Either we nurture our cities or suffer dire consequences. It's idiotic to stifle their immense
Globalization has only made urban proximity more valuable. Tall buildings
enable the human interactions that are at the heart of economnic innovation, and of progress itself. Cities are the economic engines of the world. As they change they take the whole world with
Higher and Higher
Densely-populated cities are the saving grace for the huge carbon footprint of mindless sprawl with monstrous
waste and inefficiencies.
The vigor of cities lies in its residents, thriving in a built environment that is climbing ever-upward.
By not preventing the construction of tall buildings, Singapore works. It's tall and connected with a strong
sense of place. As is Hong Kong and other up-and-comers.
The 160-story building in Dubai has ushered in a new wave of super slender buildings and possibilities which
manage to create big square-footage on a small foot-print.
Tapering the shape of high building toward the top has solved the wind problem or surely minimized it's impact.
Densification and compact land use is efficient and productive, as well as propitious for human interaction.
Edward Glaeser says that "Tall buildings enable
the human interactions that are at the heart of economic innovation, and of progress itself."
Glaeser, professor of economics at Harvard has
written "Triumph of the City,"published by Penguin, which is loaded with keen insights into what makes
good cities tick. The subtitle is "How our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and
Happier." Quite an order.
There is no doubt that the human brain developed so spectacularly because
of the energetic interchanges, sophisticated speech, arts and crafts, music and dance, transportation, trade, and economics
that nurtured early city dwellers.
Glaeser probes evidence of ancient cities and their
complex hidden workings-- and concludes that cities bring out the best in humankind.
He finds the negatives in outdated barriers to tall buildings in our
cities– impractical zoning, environmental and historic preservation laws, tangled webs of government permit processes–
as actively limiting the potential of a city's splendor.
go to "How Skyscrapers Can Save the City"
|The inimitable Jane Jacobs
"Ideologies are blinders."
- Jane Jacobs
The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Living in New York City and witnessing the senseless
threats to neighborhoods, massing of 'slum' highrises,crazed demolitions, and de-humanizing pave-overs, especially those instigated
by the all-powerful parks commissioner Robert Moses, she was fed up and fired up. When Moses decided to plow through Washington
Square Park and West Village for yet another highway-- she became the voice for outraged citizens-- and stopped him in his
Her practical and rational advice stressed
the importance of dynamic human ecosystems. She advocated higher densities, mixed and intermingling uses, and bottom-up
planning. Her writing was clear and to the point, putting a real-life take on abstractions. "Death
and Life" still resonates with a verve to help build urban vitality, neighborhood pride, and joy of community.
go to Jane Jacobs speaking on urban economics
"Lively, diverse, intense cities contian the seeds of
their own regeneration."
- Jane Jacobs
minglings of different uses in cities are not a form of chaos. On the contrary, they represent a complex and highly developed
form of order." - Jane Jacobs
is one great reward of living in a city: You can be anyone you want to be."
- Ellen Freudenheim
Now this is a park!
|The Al-Azhar Park in Cairo.
Aga Khan has won the Global Award from the Urban
Land Institute for the Al-Azhar Park in Cairo-- surely one of the world's finest public places. He is the Iman of the
shia Imami Ismaili Muslims and leader of the Aga Khan Development Network.
go to Aga Khan Development Network
to to Urban Land Institute
|Occupy in all major U.S. cities.
are the 99 percent.
"The Occupy movement is powerful, not because it is fighting for the rights of a few hundred
people to sleep outdoors, but because it is fighting for the right of millions of Americans to sleep indoors. Excessive responses
from law enforcement not only violate the law, but take our collective eye away from the economic violence occurring
daily in this country."
- Van Jones
Steve Jobs revealed
much of himself when he spoke to the graduating class at Stanford University:
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone
else's life. don't ber trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the voice
of other people's opinions drown out your own inner voice.
"And most important, have the courage to follow your
heart and intuition-- they somehow already know what you truly want to become."
He lived an intuitively passionate life and changed the
go to Jobs in New York Times
For the $$$ conscious:
(and who isn't?)
For starters, do you know what the S stands for
in https? Answer: secure. So look for an https address on a site
before you key in any bank or credit card numbers.)
A crowded field of financial help sites has been whittled down. Many
of the survivers are excellent if you're willing to spend time to categorize spending, analyze your portfolio, or compare
loan and card rates.
Some popular sites:
go to Portfolio Monkey to analyze your investments
go to Mint to watch where your money goes
go to Billshrink to compare phone and cable service rates
go to Credit Sesame to get your credit score and shop for lower interest rates
go to Smarty Pig to set saving goals and start packing it away
go to Dealery to find the best deals around on merchandise and services
go to Using Miles to keep a current track of your airline miles benefits
Caveat: If you visit other financial sites you may see
comforting logos like Trust and VeriSign. Click them to see if they are real or just JPEGs. If legit, a new page will
open verifying that the site is certified by a security company.
Highways from hell.
We've all been there. Trapped, debilitated, and infuriated. Nightmare
congestion on certain stretches of highway occurs at predictable times into and out of major cities. One word: avoid.
Bottlenecks, by-products of urban sprawl, lurk in wait. The good news
is that millions of drivers with GPS units and smartphone applications get real-time warnings of ghastly clogs-- and advice
on moving smoothly to their destination.
In the U.S. the source of this help is usually the INRIX
company-- which collects traffic data from 4 million vehicles nationwide.
The operative term is "TTT:" Travel Time Tax. It's the percentage of
time it takes to navigate the area's roadways during rush hour compared to uninterrupted travel periods.
For instance, Los Angeles has a TTT of more than 35%-- the worst in the
nation. But that's an average. The Riverside Freeway has a bad stretch of about 20 miles with a TTT of 183%.
Other calculations include average minutes per mile. If you're driving
65 mph you should whip through a mile in a minute. Not so on the Highways from Hell.
go to the INRIX national traffic scorecard and metropolitan ratings.
|World's second tallest building in Taipei, capital of Taiwan.
The Chrysler Building was the tallest in the
world in 1929, with a last-minute hoisting of a secretly planned stainless steel top. It held that honor for two years, until
it was bested by the Empire State Building.
Competition for height was, and is, a big deal. It started in Chicago,
which still has 3 of the 15 world's tallest-- and will soon have a new America's tallest, besting Sears
Calatrava's project, Fordham Tower on
Chicago's lakefront, at 115 stories, at two thousand feet, will best the upcoming Freedom Tower
at ground zero. And construction cranes in San Francisco, Miami, and Vegas keep soaring higher into the
blue. High class is high altitude.
The All-American sky-piercing rivalry has spread
worldwide.The Burj Tower in Dubai, at 2,300 feet, is now the world's tallest, surpassing the
Taipei Building (pictured above), which recently bested the famous Petronas
Tower in Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia.
Bragging rights reach back thousands of years, according
to Carol Willis, director of the Skyscraper Museum in Manhattan. Exceeding or exalting for spiritual reasons or a demonstration
of power dates back from Babylon-- wanting to take a place in history, reserve a place in the timeline. Height is a fixation
Do spires count? Ron Klemencic, chairman of the Council
on Tall Buildings (which certifies the tallest structures) says the spire counts "if it is integral to the architecture of
Today most of the jostling for height is in Asia. The densely
populated city of Hong Kong has more skyscrapers than New York City. Shangai will soon have China's tallest. Its World
Financial Center will reach 1,614 feet. And so it goes, upward.
If the wealthy and mighty want prestigious addresses and
wide-angle views-- they will build. And super-structures need no purple pills for erectile disfunction.
|The Burj Tower in Dubai is now the highest and sleekest.
go to The Skyscraper Museum
|Take a deep breath and drive through the bus.
The huge 'Straddling Buses' proposedin Bejing
travel up to 40 mph. Powered by electricity and solar energy, they can carry 15-hundred passengers without blocking other
vehicular traffic. When in operation, congestion is expected to be reduced by a third.
Track construction will begin in late 2010 in the Mentougou district.
Complete cost of the system will be about 10 percent of an equivalent subway facility.
|Upper passenger level.
|Planners checking out the model.
go to Straddling Bus video
|California Institute of Earth Art.
How can we build shelter for people in the world
who have no money? Nader Khalili has an answer.
go to "Making of a Dream" at The California Institute of Earth Art
In 1913 the poet Ezra Pound wrote this paean to a city
"Is New York the most beutiful city in the world? It's not
far from it. No urban nights are like the nights there. I have looked down across the city from high windows. It is then that
the great buildings lose reality and take on magical powers. Squares and squares of flame, set and cut into the ether. Here's
our poetry. For we have pulled down the stars to our will."
California leads in seismic innovation.
|80-year old San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Replacement of the Bay Bridge has, so far,
taken 20 years for infrastucture design and building and it's way behind schedule. The old bridge, still carrying 1/4
million vehicles daily, is a disaster waiting to happen because of its rigid construction.
The new bridge, being built on the same footprint, has the flexibility
of expansive technology to survive the next major earthquake-- if it's completed in time. The clock is ticking. The earth
is moving. It's a fascinating and dramatic project.
Check it out.
go to Bay Bridge Construction
We're Rockin and Rollin
Our earth is always on the move.
All the rumbles, shakes, and fractures are precisely measured and given "Event IDs" by the U.S. Geological Survey of
Earthquake Hazards. Find out what's trembling and jolting near you.
Ah, the thrill of the open road and the urge to speed
into the far distance!
We can’t quit. We’re
insatiable. Personal transportation demands it. And with auto ownership
increasing sharply in India, China, and South America, there’ll be lots more of us lined up at the pump.
By 2015 we’ll need about
100 million barrels a day. So we dig deeper. We drill in 7,000 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico, Brazil, and West
Africa. We demand shale oil from tar sands in Canada and Venezuela. We depend on OPEC nations for relief, as they have
most of the conventional crude reserves.
So far, we humans have extracted a trillion barrels of
oil and it’s estimated that we have 2 trillion barrels left in the ground. So we’ll be digging and scraping and
pumping until we’ve exhausted the planet’s fossil fuel.
Most of our cars convert less than 20% of their fuel
to useful energy-- but we persist in buying these wasteful vehicles. Isn’t
it time we wake up and smell the fumes?
Our alternate energy investments are puny considering the
depths of our dilemma. Be assured that our greedy oil culture will be long remembered in the history books .
Imagine yourself in 3010 and asking "What were they
|161-mile traffic " jam-up" in China.
|LA Freeways. Photo: Arthus Bertrand.
go to Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy
go to Dept. of Energy
Driving 12,000 miles a year at 20 MPG emits about six
tons of carbon dioxide.
Outdated freeways on the way out-- for good.
Since the impetus of freeways in the 1950's their tentacles have reached
out to slash through cities with surgical precision– bisecting communities, obliterating neighborhoods, slicing off
waterfront access– creating all the inefficiencies of sprawl, ever greedier for more acreage, miles, lanes, ramps, and
The ‘ands’ of regret go on infinitum. Libraries are crammed
with freeway impact studies on American culture, land use, health, ecological systems, crime, commercial and personal transportation,
public transit, etal. We shape our lives to live with the results.
Some freeways we love; others we hate, with good reason.
Some are great architecture among the marvels of the modern world. Others are crummy-- having literally come to the end of
"The Congress for the New Urbanism" is
working to ‘make urbanism legal again.’ It has released a list of 10 freeways that would benefit from demolition.
The list could be a lot longer– in fact 40 cities had hoped to make the cut.
|Buffalo, New York. 1902 and 2011.
Two photos, from the top. Before and after.
Focus on Children:
a serious disconnect
|Kenton Elementary in Portland
Missing Ingredient in Portland: Children.
Portland, Oregon strives for a healthy, vibrant, center, and keeps improving
on a good thing as more educated, self-starting urbanites flock to the safe, pleasant neighborhoods of this mid-size city.
Old sections like the Pearl District, with its sidewalk gardens, slick lofts, and cafes, are thriving.
Portland is just an example of today’s one-dimensional downtown.
Seattle has more dogs than children. San Diego is complete in its deficiency. And forget L.A.
San Francisco, with a median house price of $700K, is too pricey for
young families, and has the lowest percentage of people under 18 than any large city in the nation.
Boston, Honolulu, Denver, Minneapolis, Austin and Atlanta are not far
behind. In Detroit and Baltimore, families long ago fled decaying neighborhoods for the hinterlands.
In Portland the loss hurts deeply. When Kenton Elementary
School– which had anchored the neighborhood for 90 years– announced its closing this year, parents reacted
as if there were a death in the family.
Downtowns are no longer a viable choice for families. With sinking birth
rates, exploding real estate prices, and commuter rail, cities are being repopulated by wealthy singles and retirees. Few
condos have enough bedrooms to accommodate children. The sterility shows.
Without cities, children lose the dynamics of activity,
interaction, and enrichment of urban life. Without children, cities are crippled.
|Suite Vollard condos. Architect Bruno de Franco.
At Suite Vollard, in Curitiba, Brazil, residents
control the speed and direction of the rotation of their 3-thousand sq.ft. homes. They can make a full rotation in 15 to 60
minutes. The core of their living quarters are stationary and contain the bathrooms and kitchens.
|Cactus or cell tower?
What does this rare specimen on the landscape have to do with my incoming
more on cell towers
out. Walk. Look. See.
"Stroll or saunter. Explorative looking transforms the way you see
things. Acute observation of everyday things is unexpectetly enriching.
"The built environment is a sort of palimpsest, a document in which
one layer of writing has been scraped off, and another one applied.
"Discovering idiosyncratic importance in an ordinary metropolitan landscape
scrapes away the deep veneer of programmed learning that overlies and smothers the self-directed learning of childhood and
"Awareness of the bits and pieces builds into mindfulness– the
enduring pleasures of noticing.
"The concatenation of fragments become a skein into which new fragments
fall into place. Seeing patterns enables walkers to navigate according to landmarks and linkages and constellations wholly
(Excerpts from "Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places,"
by John R. Stilgoe, Professor of Landscape History at Harvard University.)
go to John R. Stilgoe
shut down unused tracks at the rate of 700 miles a year-- about two miles a day.
|Kansas tracks. Photo: Lorbit.
Railroad property is quickly bought up by private developers
for profit ventures. Nearby communities are often out of the loop--unaware of the opportunity.
Tracks, once a lifeline for our cities and towns, transverse both pastoral
and urban landscapes. Almost ten thousand miles of former rail corridors are waiting to be transformed into paths, trails,
and linear parks.
The non-profit "Rails to Trails" alerts
communities to land sales, advises them regarding federal gas-tax funding and "railbanking," and guides them through the process
of alternate legal, design, and use possibilities.
So far more than 15-hundred miles of public trails
are rail conversions. Success stories like Florida's Pinellas Trail, Vermont's Burlington Bike Path, and California's
Bizz Johnson Trail encourage a new nation-wide path.
go to Rails to Trails Conservancy
Blog is a terrific site for architectural and landscape conjecture and urban
A collection of timely posts will be published by Chronical Books in
the summer. Meanwhile, check it out.
go to Building Blog
|The wisdom of Leinberger..
to the future again...
Christopher Leinberger’s book "The Option
of Urbanism" asks for an investment in the next American dream: walkable urbanism.
As our population has shifted toward cities, government programs
continue to tilt the playing field by clinging to 60-year-old goals of driveable suburbs– to the glee of auto makers
and the oil industry. Focus on suburban consumerism has paralleled the decline of community, intolerable urban decay, and
zooming greenhouse gas emissions.
But this book is not the usual apocalyptic account of sprawl–
and it’s free of jargon and ideology. Just a smart analysis of realigning financial, construction, and real estate markets
to insure that urban living elevates the health of its people and environment. For far-sighted builders it just might re-invigorate
their passion for success.
Leinberger is a professor, land-use strategist, and developer.
go to Leinberger interviews
|NMCA architect Kazuyo Sejima
New Museum of Contemporary Art
Gem in the Bowery:
A series of pearl-gray volumes piled with artful carelessness. They
intentionally echo the profile of the classic "wedding cake" buildings in Manhattan.
|New Museum of Contemporary Art , at 235 Bowery in lower Manhattan.
more on the New Museum of Contemporary Art
go to New Museum of Contemporary Art
|Celebrating the joy of walking. Caen, France. Photo: Urbanicity.
Is your city walkable?
Walk Score ranks 2500 neighborhoods in the
40 largest U.S. cities. Enter your address-- it will map your house, nearest mailbox, market, cafes, stores, services, cinemas,
schools, parks, etc. and give your 'walkability rating.' Plus-- find the most walkable cities.
go to Walk Score
go to Walkable Urbanism
|Library parking renovation in Kansas City.
A real page-turner.
How to cover up a parking structure...
cover to cover.
|Roof of Art-Design-Media school in Singapore.
|And luminous after sunset.
Jewel on the campus of NanyangTech
The 5-story School of Art, Design, and Media is in a
wooded valley at the heart of the Singapore campus. Three intertwining glass curtains surround a plaza. There's an auditorium,
media studios, and art galleries. Lovely in the daytime; stunning at night.
Children’s health and the built environment:
"If you go back 100 years, urban design and public
health were integrally related: housing, sanitation, water... disease." So says Allen
Dearry, associate director at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).
How about being trapped in tract housing? Could soaring asthma
rates have something to do with breathing ground-level ozone from increased auto traffic? Do "food opportunities" in and near
schools increase the intake of junk snacks?
One of of every three children’s meal is fast food. And where are
their "exercise opportunities?"
The number of kids who walk or bike to school has dropped from nearly
half in 1960 to 1 in 10 today. Could this be because of lousy school siting and the lack of trail
systems and walkable neighborhoods?
And what lies in store for them when they grow up? Since the mid-20th
century, sprawl has resulted in a 250 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled. The average driver spends 443 hours a year
behind the wheel– that amounts to 11 workweeks.
Scientists are just beginning to see how aspects
of urban planning– zoning, transportation, school siting– contribute to rising rates off obesity, diabetes, asthma,
and other diseases.
Focusing on the environment is returning public health to its roots.
go to National Toxicology Program
|The de Young Museum on Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park. Photo by Paul Chinn.
San Francisco's new de Young Museum
replaces a Spanish colonial structure destroyed in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. It's the
result of a competition-- and Herzog and de Meuron, of Basel,Germany, bested the rest.
They did the Tate Modern in London and the Goetz museum in Munich-- but hadn't yet had a major commission in the U.S.
De Young has two basic sections: a long wing of horizontal galleries
with garden courts, and a 140-foot twisting parallelogram tower, which holds the education and study center. It's like a cathedral
and its campanile. The tower observatory overlooks Golden Gate Park and the city where you lose your heart.
|"Topside" of the de Young Museum
Down to the Wire
The Wire is
a tale of post-industrial cities not as they could be, but as they are. Baltimore stands in for our budget-strapped
cities and corporatized bosses: an ecosystem of low-margin characters and frustrated lives. David
Simon describes his creation as "The end of an empire. It’s about ‘This is as much of America
as we’ve paid for. No more, no less.’"
In fictionalized offices of the Baltimore Sun, out-of-town owners demand
profits, bureaus close, lay-offs drain institutional memory: investigations are superficial at best. "Do more with less" is
Simon says: "This means doing less with less and cutting corners to make it look like more, sometimes with disastrous results.
The lie of "more with less" is, in a way, the heart of the series.
"We didn’t pay for a New Orleans that’s
protected from floods the way, say, the Netherlands is. The police department gets what it pays for, the city government gets
what it pays for, the school system gets what it pays for. And in the last season, the people who are supposed to be holding
the entire thing to some form of public standard– they get what they pay for."
Memorable characters try to beat the Sisyphus-like system of struggling
schools, legalized drug zones, dying blue-collar unions, gangster cultures, below-subsistence wages and no wages.
The Wire explores how city hall and the media ignore murders of young
black men ("wrong Zip Code, deadpans a black reporter) and how a corrupt black state senator uses the race card. Not
a "water-cooler show," for sure.
"On commercial TV you can’t say ‘This
is America,’ and we’re not alright anymore’" says Simon. The Wire denounces our class-stratum society
but respects its individuals. It damns media but pulls for a city editor with an unkillable work ethic. It exposes urban tragedy
and the vicious complicity of the ‘more with less’ culture and shows how small voices rise above it. It’s
a cry for help seen and heard through the talents of a brilliant cast. Now available on DVD.
|The first parking meter, "Black Maria."
We've been metered!
If the ancient Greeks had to drive cars to meet and mingle at the Agora
they might have opted to stay home rather than suffer space hunting to ditch their vehicles. The very concept of a public
marketplace might have lost its cultural influence.
Parking meters are an aggravation, and detrimental to surrounding businesses--
but they are jackpots for hungry municipal coffers.
We fell into the space trap as soon as Ford Model-Ts hit the road.
On newly-clogged main streets, drivers struggled for curb parking but squeezed their cars into any cranny they could find.
Street life was transformed. People began to avoid what had formerly
been vital and socially interactive. It’s like that much-repeated line regarding a New York
night-spot: “No one goes there anymore because it’s too crowded.” Town centers became anti-centers.
Delivery trucks double parked. Shoppers drove round and round. Local employees parked all day in choice places. Parking standards didn’t exist. If
there were streetcars, chaos ensued.
In Oklahoma City
the chamber of commerce (more in a pioneer spirit than in hand-wringing frustration) took action. Carl Magee, the local newspaper
editor, came up with the idea of a parking meter. He sponsored a $500 design competition among engineering students at the
Univ. of Oklahoma.
The winning entry, called "Black Maria,” was produced.
Magee got his patent in 1933, when he and his business partner opened
the Magee-Hale Park-O-Meter Company. Their first meter was installed in 1935. Drivers, in a huff, called the thing an auto
tax levied without due process. But courts allowed meters on the grounds that their primary purpose was to organize parking
and manage traffic. So the question became “do you have change for a dollar?”
Seventy-plus years later meters remain the bźte noir for drivers in heavily
congested areas. In theory they spur speedy turnover (even as meter maids tuck dreaded envelopes under wipers). But in fact
the scorn directed at meters opened the way for huge off-street parking at strip malls, recreational shopping malls, big-box
stores, and factory outlets-- all on private property.
Today, in an attempt to allay meter enmity many cities reimburse revenue
to neighborhood improvement districts. Frequent parkers buy time debit cards. But as long as we crave parking space street
The closest thing is the corny, nostalgic faux-dream of Disney’s
'Main Street America' and other private ‘city walks,’ and recreational shopping parks-- which are all sidewalks,
no cars, and not a parking meter in sight. And you pay big money to park in big off-street or underground lots to have
those “street life experiences.”
|Whipping along on the new Eastern Europe tracks from Paris to Strasbourg.
Research prototype speeds in a blur at 357 miles
per hour (would make L.A. to San Francisco an hour trip). It's a black and chrome double-decker with
AGV technology (Automotrice Grande Vitesse), a step above TGV.
It's the first articulated high-speed train with distributed traction
rather than power cars at each end, and is the product of the Alstrom Co. and the French National Railways: code name V150.
Cities need people. People need cities.
people most, it would appear, is other people." -
William H. Whyte
"For five millennia virtually all culture, art, and science
came from cities.
"Cities are the incubators of interactions required for
sacred matters, safety, and commerce."
from "The City: A Global History," by Joel
Every year on April Fool's Day PPS publishes a special feature: "Faking Places."
|Draping the grates?
Update on "The Gates" story.
go to the "Grates" story on Faking Places
|Lunch at the Mall
Our National Mall Becomes Lunchtime Hangout for Congress.
Time again for the April Fools News from Faking Places
go to Faking Places
Enjoy the website "View on Cities," and see the sights,
scenery, and architecture of many of the world's great cities.
go to View on Cities
What cities glow in the dark? Have you seen the NASA
go to "The Earth at Night"
|City hall at Hotel deVille, Paris
can be wonderful.
There is always something going on in front of city
hall in Paris. Skating in the winter, volleyball day and night in the summer, and lots in-between. Great example of intense
use of a small area. Lesson: public spaces don’t need to be big. Often smaller is better.
In a letter from Ann Fathy, attorney at law
and urban planner in San Diego:
"This illustrates something I wish San Diegans understood about urban
open space. It’s not the size that matters but rather the activities that draw people to the space.
Bertrand Delanoe, the mayor of Paris, understands this. He has brought wonderful activities for all Parisians to enjoy, such
as the summertime beach along the Seine. Before Delanoe became mayor, the plaza in front of the city hall was just a void.
"In downtown San Diego, we have significant
areas that nobody talks about when discussing parkland. The historic park in front of Horton Plaza
is blessed with an Irving Gill fountain, but years ago the decision makers deliberately made it
a hostile place in order to fend off the homeless. It could easily be a vibrant central plaza to sit and ‘people
"There’s an empty spot along Harbor Drive at the Embarcadero that's
full of potential, yet it's just another barren, sterile area to be avoided. Then there's our city hall plaza– just
a transit point. With imagination and little money it could be transformed into a people-friendly magnet. When San Diegans
continue to think of open space in terms of large and extra-large, big opportunities for small-areas that invite urban enjoyment
Gillo Dorfles says it's "a word to be used with caution, devalued as it has become as an all-purpose pejorative
for bad taste.
"In its classic definition, kitsch identified a
specific phenomenon: the appropriation of a familiar thing that is then altered in scale, made in a different material,
and assigned a wholly different incongrous function, rendering the hybrid grotesque." How about a Venus de Milo figurine with
a clock in its stomach or a Leaning Tower of Pisa pepper mill?
|The Tate Modern, London, Photo: Lorbiter. Click to enlarge.
London's Tate Modern, on
the south bank of the Thames, claims to be the most popular modern art museum in the world-- with a surge of more than
four million visitors last year.
When the museum opened in 2000 less than half that number was expected.
People reserve tickets for timed visits, and they're clamoring to get in.
Tate's director says "we have people looking at
people looking at people looking at art-- not the best experience."
Plans are to build an 11-story ziggurat of stacked glass boxes for
10 new galleries, performance areas, and a 400-seat auditorium. The proposed annex would provide 60 percent
more exhibition space.
They hope to complete the expansion before the London Olympics in 2010.
|Proposed addition to London's Tate Modern
go to the Tate Modern
Electric cars aren't ready for prime time.
Propane-fueled cars may be.
Dish Network is buying a fleet of 200 propane vans. They cost more than diesel-fueled trucks but can
save $50 thousand each in fuel costs over their lifetime. More importantly, their propane-fueled vans will eliminate
about 12.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. Sales of propane-fueled vehicles are expected to climb about
8 percent a year. By 2019 a lot of us may be driving them.
go to Yale University 360
|I.M. Pei's underground addition at the Louvre.
Architecture that evokes our response.
Buildings We Love are
chosen every Friday for a spotlight in Wired Design Profiles. Some push boundaries into a new territory of art. Some are stunning
and emotionally enlivening-- enriching the world far past their neighborhoods. Many stir controversy. See for yourself.
go to Building of the Week on Wired
America's cities are leading the way to fix our broken politics
and fragile economy. See how metropolitan areas are moving ahead. You can be a part of the progress. Join
the Metro Revolution.
go to Metro Revolution
Intrigue in a Paris park.
"Where you're born is an accident. But it's your
responsibility to find the place where you belong."
- Helmut Jahn, architect
|Strolling in Brussels.
"The city is our most consistent and, on the whole, successful attempt to remake the world we live in after
our heart's desire.
"But if the city is the world which we created, it is a world in
which we are henceforth condemned to live. In making the city we have remade ourselves."
Robert Park, urban sociologist
Rubble without a cause.
Cities in the United States are literally falling apart. Officials
give our infrastructure a grade of D-minus. We are in a constant emergency repair-maintenance mode. Just consider one
issue: water pipes.
Everyday about 700 water mains break-- many causing huge traffic tie-ups
and serious disruption. A third of our water pipes
are between 40 and 80 years old, well past a reseaonable point of replacement.
Meanwhile, factories lie dormant and laborers are out of work. What
the hell are we waiting for?
Houston's first park is a popular spot-- but now there are dozens to choose from. The city has gained the
designation "America's Tree City." Surely people are planting trees there today.
Architecture is . . .
" A conversation between generations, carried
out across time."
Vincent Scully, Architecture Historian
" The will of an epoch translated into space."
- Mies Van der Rohe, Architect
How influential are you?
Don't know your Klout
You many not care. But some employers do. Top-level interviews may go nowhere if
applicants don't know their number.
If your Twitter posts are 'liked' or re-tweeted,
or if you have a slew of Linked-in followers or Facebook friends who are "influential," up goes your score.
Your number can affect "real" life. Hotels, airlines,
restaurants, and high-end retailers may check your score-- and if it's high enough you may get special perks, discounts, and
gifts. As your score rises, you may be called for consulting work or speaking engagements. No kidding.
You may feel
invaded and uncomfortable to be a number, but that's what social networking has come to. Influence is 'in.'Much as Google
ranks the relevance of a website, Klout algorithms comb through social media sites-- on a mission
to rank the influence of everyone online. Scores are ranked from 1 to 100. So what's your Klout?
go to Klout
Where's a streetcar when you need it? Twenty cities want
to install new lines.
|St. Charles Avenue Streetcar in New Orleans.
A streetcar ensures a stable transit corridor and stamps an identity
on a community. For many it's the most allluring of city transit modes. Buses are fine, but because they can go everywhere
they belong nowhere. Streetcars 'belong.'
Streetcars are coming.
A 'must see' in New Orleans is the St. Charles Avenue
streetcar line in the Garden District-- it's been moving people since 1835. If transit can be human-centric, this is... efficient,
reliable, and conducive to social exchanges. What a concept.
Federal TIGER* grants have cities checking their 'to-do' lists and
many are eager to install streetcar systems.
*Transport Investment Generating Economic Recovery
Indianapolis is building a two-mile track; Kansas City, four miles.
Providence is getting input from citizens to plan a route. New Orleans will complete an extension this year. It's a happy
go to Streetcar Revival
go to Department of Transportation
go to The Atlantic "Place Matters"
|Entry portal to the MLK Memorial
The Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, which opened in October 2011,
is aligned along the axis of the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials on the D.C. Mall. Its sensitive design of sculpted monumental
stone within the color and softness of a water-side garden is intended to draw visitors through a portal to spaces for
"One has a moral
disobey unjust laws."
Martin Luther King, Jr.
What's your real age? Is there any correlation between
your 'real age' and the city in which you live?
Yes, we have the power to stay as healthy as possible-- but a lot of cities don't make
it easy. Real Age analyzed 28 million people and ranked cities by factors such as diet, health
insurance coverage, income, and diabetes. Results showed that the residents of many American cities are aging too fast, i.e.
overall health is 'older' than actual ages. We also age more rapidly when we are stressed by limited opportunities, high unemployment,
and the sense of being disenfranchised.
more on getting old too fast, with city rankings
go to U.S.Dept.Health and Human Services
Get out. Walk.
"Urban exploration is a liberal art, because it is an act that liberates,
that frees, that opens away from narrowness.
"The built environment is a sort of palimpsest, a document in which
one layer of writing has been scaped off, and another one applied." See it.
- John R. Stilgoe, author of "Outside Lies Magic."
The U.K. exemplifies how the vibrant growth of cities
can pull a country out of a recession.
go to Centre for Cities
go to Centre for Cities Video Channel
The rise of cities:
a great phenomenon of
the past two centuries. Here's a world tally for cities
of one million+
The five countries with the most cities of
one million + are:
China (89), India (46), U.S. (42), Brazil
(21), and Mexico (12.)
"The essence of cities is proximity."
- Edward Glaeser
The suburban prototype
was prescribed by Ebenezer Howard in his 1898 book about idyllic "garden cities," to be built away from cities. Given the
filth and slum housing in 19th century London, his idea took off, not just in Englind, but in America. Urbanization was
demonized for the next century.
But, ironically, while suburbs were consuming the
countryside, the great global tide of urbanization was in full force. Hence, a few, um, conflicts.
Now, with the earth's population heading toward ten billion,
dense cities are seen as the obvious curative-- offering the best hope for lifting people out of poverty without wrecking
Ed Glaeser, author of "Triumph of the
City," says "There's no such thing as a poor urbanized country-- and there's no such thing as a rich rural country."
The absence of space between people reduces the cost of
transporting goods, people, and the exchange of ideas.
"Successful cities increase the returns to being smarter
by enabling people to learn from one another. In cities with higher average education, even the uneducated earn higher wages--
that's the "human capital spillover" generated by cities," says Glaeser.
No technology yet invented-- be it the telephone or
video conferencing--delivers the fertile chance encounter that cities have made possible since the Roman Forum was new.
Economists embrace cities as engines of prosperity. Some environmentalists are still 'on the fence" despite clear evidence that dense
population is the most earth friendly. It allows half of humanithy to live on around 4% of the arable land, leaving
more space for open country.
David Owen, author of "Green Metropolis,"
explains how shorter roads, sewers, and power lines use less energy to heat, cool, and light a city's non-free-standing homes.
People in cities drive less, walk more, take public transit-- which results in per-capita energy and carbon emissions
that are much lower than the national average. That, plus the big payoff of human proximity.
go to David Owen
more Ed Glaeser on city rankings
Fountains are the spash and spectcle of cities, pulling
us to great spaces and personal oases.
Water sustains our minds and bodies. It's our most basic connection
with life. Cities offer up the water-play of fountains as human celebrarion-- up close and personal, if we are ready
to let the stress melt, and enjoy.
|Water Garden in Fort Worth, Texas, designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, 1974.
Designed as wondrous dramas or quiet pleasures, their
waters can move with gentle insistence or raging force; rippling low or thrust skyward.
They can make bubbles, sprays, and liquid cacophonies
alit in the night skies. They can make us smile and giggle.
beckon as magnets to bring us waves of calm, inspiration, reflection, fun, and awe.
|FDR Memorial cascade in Washington, D.C., designed by Lawrence Halprin, 1991.
|The Banpo Bridge in Seoul.
Banpo Bridge in downtown Seoul spans the
Han River. The Lower deck accomodates pedestrians and bikers with access to the Banp Hangang riverside park. A masterwork
that integrates the river 'splash' that makes traversing the bridge a lovely experience.
|Michael Arad, designer of the 911 memorial waterfall park.
Perhaps the most profound use of falling water is architect Michael
Arad's design, along with landscape architect Peter Walker, for the 911 Memorial Plaza in New York City.
Called "Reflecting Absence," it has two
square pools, 30 feet deep--situated where the towers of the World Trade Center once stood-- surrounded by a forest of
400 trees. Dramatic, poignant, and memorable.
go to Join Michael Arad on a tour of the memorial plaza.
go to Peter Walker, landscape architect
go to Charlie Rose interview with Michael Arad
"The park remains true to its driving force... and conducive
- Michael Arad.
"If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in
- Loren Eiseley
|Eliasson's waterfall under Brooklyn Bridge.
massive water installations were a thrilling sight-- thanks to the New York Public Art Fund.
|Reichstag Dome. Photo: Raymond Choo
Berlin's National Treasure
Germany's parliament building, the Reichstag,
is easily recognized by its iconic 77-foot high glass dome, designed by Norman Foster. The 360 mirrors in the center
reflect light into the parliamend chamber below.
The dome replaces the 1893 cupola that was destroyed by fire and Allied
bombing in World War II. When East and West Germany were reunified in 1990, Berlin became the new capital.
Visitors to the capitol building can walk up the spiral ramp for a view of the city-- which is dazzling.
go to the Reichstag on Wiki
go to Berlin's Reichstag
|Dr. James A. Clapp asks the questions.
Ask Dr. Clapp:
Plato calculated the ideal population of a city
to be around 5000: the number of people who could hear a political official at a public assembly in the agora of Athens.
This and hundreds of city
tidbits and intriguing quizzes are collected on urbanologist James A. Clapp's "City Quotient."
"city smart" are you?
Take a stab at the quizzes on capitals, twin cities,
parks, central plazas, original names, nicknames, city transport, famous avenues, and much more.
go to City Quotient
Cities for the ages:
More elderly people are moving to big cities. Some are
moving back; some are new to town. Some want to grow old in the place where they were once young.
Public transportation is the ticket when driving a car
is no longer possible. Top medical centers, museums, parklands,and entertainment venues attract. More personal options are
a big draw.
So is an energized neighborhood atmosphere that is often
missing, or artificially created, in suburbs and segre-"gated" housing. For urbanites, a senior center is not a cure-all.
The combination of the boomer bulge, diminished fertility,
and increased longevity means a spike in octogenarians in twenty years.
Some cities are beginning to seek ways to become more
hospitable. Already, a third of the population in the U.S. are over 50, and these folks control half of the country’s
discretionary spending. Cities need them if they are to thrive.
The World Health Organization
conference of 2007 put a priority on developing 'age-friendly cities,' a term which has since become a global clarion call.
The New York Academy of Medicine
is shaking things up with town meetings and focus groups. Older residents want clean neighborhoods, help with grocery deliveries,
and places to use the bathroom or get a drink of water.
They want cracked sidewalks and other ‘trippers’
fixed. They want better street drainage to reduce puddle-jumping with walkers and wheelchairs.
Extra benches, good street lighting, menus with large
type, and ‘happy hour’s are on the want list. In other words: safety, comfort, and fun.
The academy plans to use the
ideas in two pilot "aging-improvement districts," one in East Harlem and the other on the Upper West Side. They’d
be akin to business-improvement districts– and would encourage voluntary adoption of amenities for the elderly. Age-friendly
businesses would put an identifying sticker in the window.
Gerontology talk used to center around disease.
No more. Linda Gibbs, New York’s deputy mayor for health and human services says "Now
it’s much more about the strength and fidelity and energy that an older population contributes to our city."
In some parts of Manhattan, four seconds have been added
to the time pedestrians are given to cross intersections. "Age-friendly city," is becoming more than a sound-bite or good
intentions. Action is underway.
go to World Health Organization
Note on our nation's endemic antipathy to cities:
No doubt– the anti-urban strain that is deeply ingrained in American
culture is undermining our country’s potential to be a major player in the new global playing field of the 21st century.
To carry the thought further: the denigration of our cities is un-American.
Anti-urban opinions are usually based on misconceptions. Most people
who have actually lived in large thriving cities love them, whereas most complainers are unmindful and oblivious to the countless
pleasures of city life. We've been an urban country for generations-- why does self-hatred linger?
The Rise of Curitiba:
Curitiba in southern Brazil is a 'green city' and a marvel
of sustainability and livability.
|Curitiba's "skyscraper" center.
In the early 1960's Curitiba, Brazil faced seemingly
intractable problems– vehicle-clogged streets, poor sanitation, inadequate housing and jobs, and air pollution.
As the capital city of the State of Paranį,
it was attracting a huge surge of rural migration. In response to calamity, a new master plan was adopted in 1966 with an
immediate priority on roads and transportation.
In 1971, construction of a mass transit system began
during the term of newly-appointed mayor Jamie Lerner-- in the form of five major arterial
corridors that would shape growth radiating from the city center.
High structures were permitted in the core but density levels declined
as the corridors moved outward.
|Jaime Lerner's "Vita," model turtle.
Mayor Jaime Lerner, who is an architect, likened the
transit corridors to the figuration of a turtle-- having a strong trunk-body enclosed in a strong carapace shell and legs
and tail 'radiating' outward.
|Master plan of Curitiba.
The boarding tube (above) gives large buses the attributes of subway trains. It serves as both a bus
shelter and mobility accelerator. It was designed on the back of a napkin by architect and former mayor Jaime Lerner.
Curitiba’s seamless transit network, with express
bus lanes, became the backbone of city expansion by dictating the direction of growth. An enveloping ring of parkland, forested
areas, and botanical gardens was planned to circle the city.
It became the first South American city to ‘market’
itself ‘Green." It has one of the world’s highest recycling rates and the lowest carbon footprint per capita.
Today two thousand buses carry 70 percent of commuter traffic--almost two million rides a day.
Curitiba’s innovations earned fame for good reason.
But, as with all cities, reality outstrips old methods.
Self-satisfaction from past awards may now be its biggest
threat. Its landfill is near over-flowing. It can no longer boast of having the most green space per person.
Deforestation abounds in the outskirts, where growth is
rampant. Curitiba’s population of 1.7 million almost doubles during work hours.
|Rooftops surrounding high-rises.
But the residents of this humane and functional city are
proud and vigilant. A shift is occurring from authoritarian planning to more democratic input and attention paid to private
property interests. It’s still a high-performance city that’s not ready to relinquish greatness.
|One of many botanical gardens in the parklands.
go to Curitiba on Frontline
go to Curitiba on Green Planet
|Long-term mayor and city leader Jaime Lerner.
"Cities are the solution, not the problem, for human
- Jaime Lerner
more on Jaime Lerner
|The Great Seal of the United States of America
E Pluribus Unum:
Out of many, 'Our country is a model of diversity- in heritages, allegencies, and opinions-- yet as a nation, we are united
Powerful and well-financed divisive forces may seek contrapositions
that defile our nation's purpose through hate mail and media rants. Yet our cities remain living proof of the enlightened
wisdom of the motto on the Great Seal of the United States.
Cities contain messy brews of civil unrest and unresolved conflicts,
yet still embody the commonality of citizenship. When we uphold the 'plurality of one-ness' in our cities we truly hold our
nation together. Look at a one-dollar bill and ponder.
History of the city over the past two centuries is in many ways a game of catch-up with
transportation technologies that were designed without any particular relection on their likely effects on cities."
a thought from TERREFORM on urban infrastructure, building, planning, and art.
Fear and the city.
Nan Ellin's "The Architecutre of Fear," examines the
frightful preoccupations that shape our urban landscapes.
Why are Americans
cowering in gated communities, deserting the public streetscape of human exchange and conversation? Why has the home electronic
security industry flourished-- at the expense of relaxation and repose? Why the epidemic of anxiety and personal terror? Urban
planning should serve to eradicate rather than exacerbate people's insecurities. Is there any turning back from our plight
|Fuel efficiency and fun is a good combo.
Nothing makes more sense than small vehicles in congested traffic areas--
yet most cities aren't bike-friendly-- or even bike-safe. Scooter commuting would increase if the roads were made safer, separate
parking made available, and respect given to riders.
Motorcycles and scooters offer good urban transportation
and have the advantage of faster and cheaper trips.
In London, cyclists are encouraged by free
parking, access to bus lines, and "how to ride" training programs. Few U.S. cities match that.
Congested though it be, Manhattan may have
the most oppressive policy– with no separate parking for scooters, dangerous paving defects (i.e. potholes), high-priced
licenses, and months-long waits for the training classes which are a prerequisite for a license.
Case in point: Mayer Bloomberg, amidst much hand-wringing about the high
court rejecting mid-town surcharges on vehicles, has warned that within a decade commuting will take up as much as half of
a workday. An obvious cure would be to encourage scooter commutes and make them a priority in traffic
Bikes use less gas and don’t have to idle in traffic jams. Riders
must have intense concentration and awareness of vulnerability in injury. If local governments encouraged bikes with simple
protective measures, "smart commuters’' would be safer– and surely more "green.".
The 2011 bike models have a slightly menacing look because
of their revolutionary exhaust systems. But they run smoother at low speeds and have better brakes, steering, suspension,
maneuverability, instrumentation, and wind protection. They are up and ready for city traffic.
Motorcyclists are almost twice as likely to be in an accident than those
in passenger cars. And the accidents are four-times more serious/fatal. They experience six-times more injuries per-mile ridden
than other vehicle drivers– but consider that the average annual mileage for cars and trucks is six-times that of bikes.
This stat implies that a lot or registered cycles are saved for a short weekend jaunts– or not ridden at all.
If cities were more bike-friendly there would be more riders and less traffic congestion.
Can Tysons turn a corner?
For years, Tysons Corner has been the most-studied
of suburban disasters, providing a ‘worst case scenario for ‘edge cities. Now it’s an ‘infill city'
wedged between the hellish traffic of bulky shopping malls and more ‘edge cities.'
Tysons is the epicenter for gridlock between Washington
D.C. and Dulles airport. With only 17 thousand residents, it’s "home" to at least 110-thousand cars during working
hours– for it’s the 12th largest employment center in the nation. Half of its acreage is paved with
parking lots, highways, a mysterious jumble of roads, and pedestrian-hostile corridors.
Faced with the arrival of four new train stations
by 2013, county officials have proposed a whopping 'fix: triple densities by adding high-rise commercial and new housing
for a population of 100 thousand. Property owners are urged to increase scale and densities.
Sharon Bulova, chair of
the county supervisors, says "You don’t adopt a new plan, and boom, there’s a new city. This transformation will
happen over 30, 40, 50 years." Good luck.
|Tyson Corners proposed retrofit. Photo: David S. Holloway.
go to Tysons Corner redo in Time
|Gathering of five presidents at the White House, 2009.
our first big city president. From Washington to Bush: What took us so long?
Where their hearts are:
For the Bushes it's the Midland, Texas oilfields and the summer resort
of Kennebunkport, Maine. For Clinton it's Hope, Arkansas and small-town-ethos Little Rock. For Carter it's Plains, Georgia
in peanut-farming country. For Obama it's the South Side of Chicago.
Where their hearts were:
The founders and framers of our nation had agrarian sensibilities and
were rooted in the land and private property rights. The lives of 19th century presidents often began in humble
rural cabins and cottages.
Their educations– usually law school-- came about through ambition
and grit. Preoccupations were acquiring more land, dealing with new industries, and managing the chasm between north and south.
Washington, Harrison, and Grant were military strategists. Jefferson,
an inventor. Madison, Monroe, Van Buren, Buchanan, Cleveland, Harrison, and Taft were what we might now call political junkies.
Jurisprudence held the hearts of Hayes, McKinley, Coolidge, and Fillmore.
Hoover was an engineer. Wilson, Garfield, and Arthur were academics. Johnson was a mountaineer; Jackson a frontiersman. Most
all came from the woods, plantations, working farms, and small towns.
The 20th century began with Roosevelt the naturalist, whose
passion was establishing national parks. His cousin Franklin’s public works projects provided cities with fine assets,
but his purpose was job creation and his heart was in Warm Springs.
Truman epitomized small town virtues and was most comfortable in Independence,
Missouri. Eisenhower, the military man, was most at home on his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Kennedy had his sailboats at Hyannis. Johnson had his Texas Ranch. Ford
had his desert golf courses, and Reagan was happiest astride a horse on his ranch. No president other than Obama could be
called an urbanist; no other was ever so actively engaged in the life of a major city.
go to slide show of 44 U.S. presidents
go to American Presidents
go to the White House
go to President Portraits
go to Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies
|U.S. geological survey, Google
|Model homes in stalled subdivision, Rio Vista, California.
Financial market crashes and credit meltdowns have slowed
or halted miles of housing tract developments. What’s left are abandoned lots, paved cul-de-sacs, and unfinished structures.
Reusability and structural flexibility are historic hallmarks in areas
of urban density. As Manhattan’s High Line shows, even derelict train tracks can be transformed into a vibrant public
park. A dump on Staten Island is morphing into a recreation magnet. But it’s not the same in tract suburbs.
Instant neighborhoods aren’t designed for flexible re-use. Thousands
of acres bulldozed for housing scar the landscape. Houses sit abandoned on empty streets. Unlike San Francisco mansions partitioned
into apartments and warehouses converted to lofts, offices, and retail uses– exurban residences aren’t good candidates
for transformation-- but rather for tear-down.
Deconstruction is an attempt to dismantle and re-use building materials.
But much new empty housing is of poor quality (drywall, glue, and staples) that doesn’t warrant salvaging.
|"Aerial 65," painting by artist Sarah McKenzie.
Swaths of subdivisions, eerily devoid of life, wait
for overhauls that attract people.
But builders have left for more profitable turf, shifting from new
construction to weatherizing and retrofitting existing homes.
New thinking: ‘It’s time to fix what we’ve
As home resales decline and owners stay put, energy retrofits make sense.
‘Greening’ a home increases resale value and reduces gas emissions that cause global warming. The pay-back for
double-paned windows and efficient furnaces outweighs the value of Viking ranges and trendy redos. Meanwhile, out in the stalled
tracts, kids use their natural innovation by using empty swimming pools for skateboard tourneys.
What is a true urban neighbothood?
"One typically lives at higher densities (and hence altitude)
and enjoys in return-- just down the stairs and out the door-- the greater accessibility to the necessities and luxuries of
the well-appointed land uses of the authentic urban neighborhood."
- Urbanist James A. Clapp
Search a top Site for Urbanists, Urban Planners and Designers:
go to Planetizen
Hey, time's up!
Our notion of the infinite slowness of nature is a warped
perspective, an illusion. It’s fast moving and the future has arrived (how long have we been ignoring that truism?)
Now time’s up.
We stepped over the threshold of nature as we knew it–
years ago. We’ve now made the final crossing toward dread.
‘wake-up’ book, "The End of Nature," was published 20 years ago.
Since then we’ve moved from giving lip service to processing the
dire predictions of environmental scientists to an awkward acceptance of an irreparable earth. Yet we’re still on a
screwball binge– wasting and polluting, startled by the consequences.
McKibben warned of destruction of the ozone layer, acid rain, melting
glaciers, rising sea levels, the greenhouse effect of global warming, and the shifting of earth’s center of gravity.
It wasn’t fiction or contradiction. Much of this has been well-known for more than 30 years, yet our general response
has been dismissive and impersonal.
With the evidence in– with all we know for sure, our ways of life
often defy reason– stuck in time zones long past and far away. The clock ticks.
McKibben’s latest ‘wake-up’ book
is "Deep Economy." This time his focus is on the hopeful and vibrant economies of human communities springing up under
the long shadow of globalization. Building 'earth-wise' communities can be our salvation.
go to excerpt: The End of Nature
go to excerpt: Deep Economy
"'More' is no longer synonymous with 'better.' For many,
they have become almost opposites."
- Bill McKibben
|Researcher Julia Christensen.
Since 1962, tens of thousands of big box stores – Walmarts, Kmarts,
etc., have transformed our landscape. When a big box (20,000 sq.ft.+) needs to ramp up to a bigger box, companies invariably
construct a new building on another footprint-- leaving the former box an empty shell of economic debris and visual litter.
Julia Christensen’s book "Big Box Reuse," (which
is sized as a big square) details how communities left with vacant behemoths manage to reincarnate the gaping emptiness into
Transformation calls for savvy activism, imagination, and talent.
Each locale differs in need. Some "boxes" are being used as indoor raceways, health centers, and
The author urges incorporation of re-usability alternatives in the original
design process. She also questions whether we really want to live with these humongous redos.
(P.S. from Lorbit: As movie theater chains deal with skinny profit margins
they too consider abandoning older units– so the need for redos may soon extend to multiplex buildings which are ‘naturals’
for school lecture halls, complete with parking, commodious entrance halls, and restrooms. Any more ideas?)
go to Julia Christensen
|10th anniversary of the Denver Airport
The airport that couldn't sort straight.
Fifteen years ago the world awaited the grandiose airport in Denver.
And what a bust it was! The computerized baggage-handling system had 26 miles of track in the basement loaded with thousands
of gray carts. It mangled or misplaced most everything that wandered into its path. $200 million in construction costs were
compounded at a rate of $1 million a day for months in 1994, while the airport’s opening was delayed by baggage-handling
failures. Tens of millions more were spent for repairs and modifications. But the verdict was obvious. The thing couldn’t
So they turned off the computer and went back to the future. Workers
with hand-held scanners, checking baggage bar codes at every juncture of transit, give managers far better information and
control than could have been imagined when the automated system was designed. Today the "big-brained mainframe at a command
central" seems like a cold-war-era relic.
What exactly went wrong? The main culprit was hubris. There was no room
for error and inefficiency that are inevitable in a complex enterprise. Sharp corners, for example, were too much for the
system to deal with. The whirring baggage carts, programmed like a perfectly coordinated ballet, tipped over and dumped their
loads. The Texas company that designed the system was liquidated.
But there’s a happy ending. Denver has no trouble conforming to
post-9/11 mandates that all luggage is screened. Most airports are hurting for lack of space. But not Denver. They have that
LED is bedazzling the nightscape. Floods
are fading away as light-emitting-diode technology takes over.
Hues in full--spectrum are programmed to gradate the
prism and be tweaked to infinity.
|Rich prisms of LED lighting. Click to enlarge.
New-Tech New Year:
A nanosecond after midnight: Did you notice something illuminating about the New Year's ball in Times Square? The LEDs
were more than twice as bright and capable of producing a huge range of color combinations.
|Rudy Provoost, at Philips, with the Ledino.
The Dutch company Philips leads the LED industry. It's
'Ledino' bulb produces three times the light per watt as a standard bulb and sells for $107.
Since markets rely on obsolescence it’s not
surprising that GE is selling off its light bulb business. It’s tricky to sell a LED bulb that lasts 100 times longer
than incandescents and halts repeat sales.
But LEDS won’t supplant
compact fluorescents any time soon. Although they can shave 70 percent from electricity bills, and last for 20 years,
the price is still unacceptable to most consumers. Aside from units like clock radios, cell phones, and DVD players, the biggest
current use is traffic lights—with building night lighting installations on the rise.
The Empire State
Building management is considering conversion to allow remote
changes of colors to one of millions of variations. TV studios are switching to LEDs to save money and eliminate the ceaseless
climbing to the rafters to change bulbs and filters. Like other tech-shifts, i.e. to PDAs or
digital TVs, buyers will hold out till prices come down. But don’t expect a LED ‘takeover.’
The standard light bulb didn’t eliminate candles or kerosene lamps. And LEDs
won’t be ubiquitous as long as there are incandescents with the intimacy, warmth, and soft glow that flatters the human
face and skin. As LED lighting designer Paul Gregory says, “The way an incandescent bulb
plays on the face on a Broadway makeup mirror—you can never duplicate that.”
the biggest current use is traffic lights-- with building
night lighting installations on the rise. The
|Dream of a world map of islands in Dubai.
What the heck is going on in Dubai?
more photos of Dubai
|The Twin Towers Memorial.
What admission price are you willing to pay to relive 9-11?
Trade Center Museum in Memorial Plaza was designed by Craig Dykers, from Snǿhetta Architecture in Oslo, as an arcade, atrium and polygonal museum the height of a 6-story
building from which you descend 70-feet below street level to see the exposed slurry wall. All is contained between the 90-foot
high steel trident-shaped building columns from the North tower that survived the catastrophe. The museum was financed by
the State of New York and will no doubt be a tourist magnet.
How did we lose the public square as the
vital center of civic life? What became of streets?
New housing turns its back to the street. Private malls
are the pseudo-streets of the young. Big box stores obliterate the whole notion of a street. What happened to "our" agoras?
We need them.
How's your street life?
Every Thursday night in Palm Springs for eight
blocks of the main drag, cars are out and strolling is in for the delights of "Village Fest"–
sometimes called "Starry Nights." It's been a ‘happening’ for 16 years.
Prep is fast as a flash. Trucks converge to unload fresh Coachella Valley
produce. Musicians and artisans set up booths and lights. It’s like a movie production that appears and folds after
a few transforming hours.
The sounds of violins, guitars, and harps fill the air as more musicians
plug in their gear and set up to sell their CDs. Magicians begin teaching kids tricks. A rock-climbing structure is rolled
in. Tortillas hit the hot oil. The hamburger guy sets up his barbecue grill. Craftsmen chat with their friends. The
street comes alive with a boost of congeniality. The gyro guy unpacks his chicken, sausages, and lamb. Lots of food,
music, and the unexpected...
You can get a henna tattoo or a picture of your aura. There may be a
book signing. A spray painter, with dozens of cans, will make a stunning stencil overlay while you wait. Aromas from homemade
soap and candles, and lots of eye candy with hand-made jewelry, ceramics, tile, wood carvings, paintings, metal sculptures,
and much more.
People arrive from all points as if pulled by a magnet. For the moment,
the storied Palm Canyon Drive belongs completely to each person. The stately palms rustle in the
warm breeze, and yes, there are starry skies.
Similar scenes of camaraderie beckon in many hundreds of cities and towns
across the nation– in a great revival of street markets with the stimulate of mingling and
human interaction that people crave– all the ingredients needed for communities of vitality.
Besides the fun, street markets foster small businesses,
get fresh food into homes, help local farmers, and create lively urban spaces.
Most are temporary, setting up shop once or twice a week. Of late, permanent
farmer's markets have become big-draw adjuncts to large retail centers--like the 60-thousand sq. ft. International
Market in Minneapolis.
We know how Fanueil Market brought crowds on foot to the streets of downtown
Boston. Now smaller farmer’s markets are popping up all over. Austin's Farmer's Market at Republic Square is open on
Wednesday and Saturday. Chicago’s New Maxwell Street Market, with 500 vendors and lots of music, is the big draw on
Sundays. Baltimore's action on Saturday is the Waverly Farmer’s Market on 32nd Street.
The original gathering spot is back in a big way.
Check out your local street markets. The more you go the more you’ll enjoy getting good value and getting to know your
neighbors in the most natural of human venues.
go to Farmer's Market Guide
|VIVA STREET CAFES. Le Dome, in Paris after midnight.
Are we getting serious about the importance and pleasure
of public spaces?
go to PPS Bulletin
Places," the newsletter of the Project for Public Spaces.
go to "Making Places"
|Temporary vision by sidewalk chalk artist Julian Beever.
Is it real?
Well, yes-- but it's chalk, and may not survive the next rain storm.
If you're lucky you'll turn a corner and come upon the astounding work of artist Julian Beever.
go to Julian Beever
"The human race has only one really effective weapon,
and that is laughter."
- Mark Twain
|Seville's Metropol Parasol will open this year
With ever more ingenious computer-design software, architecture gets wigglier
by the minute. The whiplash curves from the German architect Jurgėn Mayer will replace a 150-year-old
market in the old quarter of Seville. Roman ruins were found during excavations so an underground archeological showcase
will embelllish an already amazing project.
We'll soon have to find a word to replace 'building." The six 90-foot
high mushroom (or umbrella, or shade-tree) shapes will hold elevators, escalators, bars and cafes, and the canopies will be
laced with walkways. The scheme is so popular that MOMA is featuring it in "On-Site: New Architecture
|Image from Keith Meyers Twin Towers Photo Essay
Access the deep trove of photos and info on 9-11
go to 9-11 National Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center
in small spaces
|Before and after. Voila!
its celebratory parks and cultural centers done right-- and people love them. Millennium Park is
full and robust-- way more than the sum of its parts. Wouldn't it be nice if all cities placed a premium in their budgets
for important public places?
|Crown Fountain designed by Jaume Plensa. Photo: Lorbiter. Click to enlarge.
more faces at Crown Fountain
The city that gave birth to American urban planning at the 1893
World's Fair-- the city of "no little plans" and "big shoulders"--
has unveiled its finest and most ambitious outdoor cultural project in over a century.
more on Millennium Park
|Chicago clock at Marshall Fields flagship store on State Street - now Macys
The American Institute of Architects has judged Chicago's architecture to be the finest in the country. In other words,
they affirmed the evident-- for Chicago doesn't have much competition. If you haven't been there, take a look at "Chicago
Architecture and Design" by Jay Pridmore and George A. Larson, published by Abrams.
You can surf the sights and attractions of 25 major cities on the webiste
"A View on Cities."
go to "A View on Cities"
|Agbar is a people-magnet day or night.
Icon of modernity
Agbar Tower, designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel, was inaugurated
officially by the King of Spain in September 2005. At 38 stories, plus four underground levels, its elliptical shape has been
lauded (and derided as a giant bullet, dildo, or suppository).
Built of reinforced concrete, its glass facade has 4,400 cutout
windows with temperature sensors to regulate the opening and closing of the glass blinds. Thousands of surface LED luminous
devices program brilliant rainbows of night lighting.
It's headquarters for the Barcelona Water Company, hence the name
Agbar: AGuas de BARcelona. Just five blocks
south of Antoni Gaudi’s cathedral, the Sagrada Familia, Agbar holds its own. It borrows Gaudi’s chips of glass-
brie-solei pieces- although most are translucent. Colored concrete seats in the surrounding square (Placa La Monumenta) echo
the hues of Gaudi’s wavy seats in Park Güell. After sunset the show begins when pungent primary colors glimmer in a
|Agbar Tower detail, in daylight. Click to enlarge.
Above, blue represents office
buildings, orange-- commercial buildings, and the yellow area is
housing. Altogether they would require the space of 21 New York City blocks. By Comparison, the single tower embodies the
entire spread but uses only 60-percent of one block.
the complexities and intricateness of basically putting 21 city blocks of structures and parking space into one single building.
This is what fascinates
Kate Ascher. Her book "The Works: Anatomy of a City" is an exhaustive investigation into the of aggregation of complexities
in high-density cities. She thoroughly maps the detailed mazes.
Her latest book "The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper"
digs even deeper into the infinitely complex scope of invisible wiring, plumbing, elevator, ventilation--
and much more-- that makes highly dense buildings work efficiently. She dissects every component and their interactions
with 200 pages of explanations, diagrams, and stories.
Take a look and you'll never look at a skyscraper in the same way again.
From coast to toast.
|Sconset Bluff in Nantucket. Photo: George Riethof.
Broad Beach in Malibu, California
and Sconset Bluff in Nantucket, Massachusetts (above), have lost their beaches. Both neighborhoods
have wealthy residents who will go to any length to restore, at least temporarily, 'their' sand. What about 20 thousand truckloads
of imported sand? That would postpone some agony for about four years. Desperation reigns.
Which state will we lose first?
Most bets are on Florida.
Anyone who has strolled along its coastal waters lately has seen a dramatic narrowing of beaches. Rising sea levels,
storms, and tides have greatly diminished the state's coastline. The problem looks insurmountable, for there is almost
no sand left offshore for replenishment.
Roosevelt Island's Four Freedoms
Park has been in the works for 40 years. It is open at last.
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park
is a long-awaited reality. It's a tribute not just to our 32nd president, but to those who had the persistence to make
it happen. Moreover it's a celebration of the work of the great architect Louis I. Kahn. And so worth the wait.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
was a New York native and elected as state senator and governor before becoming a three-term U.S. President. Creating a memorial
to him in a special public space was long on the agenda of New York City officials.
In 1973 Governor Nelson Rockefeller
and Mayor John Lindsay announced the construction of the current project and hired the brilliant architect
Louis I. Kahn for the job. Welfare Island officially became Roosevelt Island. And then the wait began.
Construction began 38 years later. And
in October 2012 Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg dedicated the state's newest
park and greeted the crowd of first visitors on opening day.
The southern tip of Roosevelt
island in New York's East River evokes the prow of a ship. The tree-lined triangular lawn softens the adjacent patio-like
memorial stone and scultpure of the memorial. The word masterpiece comes to mind.
Here are the four freedoms to contemplate
when at the park:
Freedom of speech and expression.
Freedom of worship.
Freedom from want.
Freedom from fear.
These freedoms were dear to Roosevelt and have resonance
for all Americans.
|Bill Clinton among happy first-day park goers.
go to FDR Four Freedoms Park website
go to dedication on Octover 18, 2012
go to 'Decades Late' on HuffPost
go to Newsday review
|Roosevelt Island looking North.
In Uruk, one of the earliest cities on our planet, the
Ziggurat was its most prominent monument.
Today there is little left of Uruk, with its novel arches by Mesopotamian
architects. But once it was the heart of a great urban civilization-- where Sumerians preferred the amenities
of city life.
|Uraq's ancient Ziggurat.
The remains of Uruk (now in Iraq) represent
the world's oldest city and capital of an early state govenment. Six
thousand years ago it was a thriving city with a population of about 40,000.
The city was immortalized in the Sumerian epic
poem "The Song of Gilgamesh," which is the earliest surviving work of literature. It tells
the story of a Sumerian hero, Gilgamesh, whom many researchers believe to have been one of the early kings of Uruk.
Uruk and surrounding lands have been deeply researched by expeditions led by Joerg Fassbinder and Helmut
Becker, geophysicists with the Bavarian State Conservation Office in Munich. (Surveys had to stop abrubtly with the advent
of the U.S. war in Iraq.) They are the latest of German scientists who have explored the area for nearly a century.
In the1990's Fassbinder's group conducted painstaking work identifying buried Mesopotamian cities using magnetometers--
which are able to detect the presence of man-made objects beneath the soil and reveal remnants of walls, canals, and residential
Scholars say that Uruk thrived for millennia because it was a leader among cities whose economy was sea trade,
linking the Mediterranean, the gulf, and India. And it was one of the most urban cities in the ancient world-- and that's
saying a lot because it's estimated that 80 percent of Sumerians lived in cities.
Uruk's prosperity came to an end around the third century, B.C., when the area was conquered by a Persian
dynasty that deliberately sought to shift trade to inland routes instead.
|Sumerian administrative tablet with cylinder seal impression of hunters, dogs, and boars.
go to the first written scripts
go to many more objects from Uruk
go to German expedition in Uruk
go to mapping project in Uruk
"It has often and confidently been asserted that man's origin can never be known. But
ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge. It is those who know little, and not those who know much,
who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."
(From "The Descent of Man," by Charles Darwin)
It's fun to imagine Darwin and his cohorts living in today's world and having access to the great breadth
of genetic science and mitochondrial DNA. Mind blowing.
The world of science is so monumental that new specialities are regularly splintering off. The studies of
evolutionary biology and behavioral ecology are two examples,
Scientists from these separate disciplines are collaborating to delve into the mysteries of our ancient ancestors:
Advanced genetic information is drawing these scientists together. With the help of shared data historical
linguists have been able to reconstruct vanished 'tongues' such as proto-Indo-European, the ancestral tongue of
many modern languages.
Although we may never know more than about ten percent of human history-- getting a handle on the past 50
thousand years will give us plenty to study for centuries to come.
The greatest story ever told-- the history of our species-- is eloquently presented by
author Nicholas Wade in his book "Before the Dawn." It is an exhilarating epic of the men, women, and children from who everyone
alive today descended.
|Real or surreal architectural fiction?
go to the Creators Project
|The Petronas Towers. Photo:Mario Weigt
|Burjkhalifa at Night.
Clouds in the Sky
Few buildings are as spectacular as the Petronas Towers in Malasia's
capital city Kuala Lumpur. Its symbolic impact is one of immediacy, innovation, and success.
|Chicago. 103rd floor. When is high too high?
|Density Comparisons. Kate Ascher. Click to enlarge.
Most of the world's tallest buildings have been
built for mixed uses: office, commercial, retail, and residential. The diagram above shows an area equivilent
to 21 New York City blocks with 875,000 sq.ft. for offices (blue), 135,000 sq.ft. for retail (red), and 225,000 sq.ft.
for residences (yellow).
The equivilent space is contained in one high-rise building which
uses merely 60 percent of one block.
The diagram above is from Kate Ascher's book "The
Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper," about the energy efficiency of tall buildings in more ways than one. Her previous
book "The Works: Anatomy of a City" illustrates the fascinating intracacies of city infrastructure.
"I love the complexity of cities and their total dependence on the
invisible systems that keep them running." - Kate
|Lolli-Ghetti. Photo: Librado Romero
When you can't count your millions you might want the option of parking
your own car in our own garage attached to your 11th-floor condo. Clauco Lolli-Ghetti enjoys keeping his Range Rover at the
back door where there are sweeping view of Manhattan. It's called an "en suite sky garage."
The garage at his Chelsea home was designed by Annabell
Selldorf, and has drawn a lot of attention-- and envy from other high-rise luxury owners who have to make do with parking
Here's how it works. The driver pulls up to the back door of the building
where an electronic reader operates like an E-ZPass and opens the gate. When the driver pulls inside, a reader prompts an
elevator gate to open.
Once inside the elevator a flat-panel wall display reminds the driver
to shut off the engine. Infrared sensors monitor the car's position. Then it automaticlly goes to the owner's floor, where
the driver backs the car into the garage space. Nifty?
An upcoming project in Miami involves the Porsche
Design Group. It's a 57- story building in which drivers will be able to park at their front doors. Definitely a one-upmanship
move for the 1%.
Buildings constitute the largest carbon footprint in
American cities-- responsible for about 80 percent of greenhouse gases.
|Fifth Avenue entrance, Empire State Building. Photo: John Codenhead.
Empire State Building
The 1930's icon is joining the race against climate change. Windows
will be replaced; heating-cooling and lighting redesigned. When completed, the retrofit will reduce carbon emissions by more
than 100-thousand metric tons over the next dozen years.
go to video on Empire State Building retrofit project
Recycling has become a habit to most of us. But what can
we do about over-packaging and piles of junk mail? And how can we support the U.S. Postal Service when most of the mail delivered
is catalogs and unwanted ads and solicitations?
On average, we produce about 5 pounds of trash every day for every person
in the U.S. According to the EPA we've jumped from recyling 6% of solid waste in 1960 to 33% today.
"Civilization is a movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a
- Arnold Toynbee
Looking for city info?
You'll probably find out what you want to know at City Data.
go to City Data
Don't miss the National Building Museum
when you're in D.C. Its mission is to educate Americans about the importance of the built environment-- and how it affects
Visit the Great Hall and enticing exhibits and programs. Visit its
website for videos, multimedia and more.
go to National Bulding Museum
|Central Park, New York City.
Night life has returned to Central Park.
More strollers are opting for walking through the park rather than on street sidewalks. It's beautiful at night, sans floodlights.
A generation avoided the park at night for fear of crime. But robberies now are rare. Twenty years ago there were 730 robberies;
in 2011 there were but 15. So enjoy the park 24-7!
Why are we still over-lighting our cities and blinding
out the night?
Light pollution is an unconsionable waste of costly energy and a severe
threat to public health. Europe is getting the problem under control. Why are we asleep at the switch?
Lights! Camera! Action!
How much is too much?
My light pollution is bigger than yours!
light bulbs first lit a New York street in 1879, cities have been accelerating brightness. Satellite photos show nebular
blobs over our metropolises. Law enforcement has promoted light in every alley and by-way as a crime deterrent. Darkness
There are a couple of problems with
all this light. First off, it’s being wasted, creating light pollution. Urban sky glow is simply irresponsible.
Too much artificial light shines outward and upward to the sky, where we don’t need or want it. About a third of the
electricity generated for outdoor lighting is squandered by being misdirected into the sky. We don’t
live in the clouds; we don’t need to light them.
Of all the various pollutions on earth,
sky glow is easiest to fix.
Efforts to control it are underway around the globe. Entire countries,
notably the Czech Republic, have made commitments to reduce glare– and they’ll save untold billions by doing it.
Europe, the Eastern U.S., Japan, China, and India are also attempting the shift to smart light-- directed downward.
Flagstaff, Arizona has spent 50 years in a civic effort to protect
the Lowell Observatory with tightened regulations. It has been declared the first International Dark Sky City– and it’s
streets and building are still well lit.
Consider the costs of wasted energy.
It takes a ton of coal to produce 2100 KWh of electricity, and
about two barrels of crude oil to produce 1000 KWh of electricity. Annual cost to urban America, at a minimum, are six million
tons of coal or 23 million barrels of oil. Power utilities send more than a billion pounds of toxic chemicals into the air
and millions of tons of sulfur dioxide are released from burning coal plants.
|Light pollution. Photo: Mark A. Johnson/Alamy.
Then there is the second serious problem of light
pollution: the negative effects on our health. At the most basic level, excessive light causes us to lose sight of
our very being, at the edge of our galaxy arching above us. It washes out the night and alters rhythms that we have evolved
with through millennia. Darkness is essential to our internal clockwork.
Constant-shining light is a common form of torture. Now
we’re doing it to ourselves. Too much light compromises the immune system and lowers the production of
Extending the normal awake time by staring at PC monitors and TVs deep
into the night messes with our 24-hour circadian cycles. As a species we require darkness.
Scientific studies show that children who sleep with the light on get
improper ocular input and are likely to become myopic. Our bodies have been conditioned for millions of years to sleep in
We lived without electricity for a very long time. Now
pervasive sleep deprivation is causing all manner of depressions, attention deficits, and a laundry list of behavioral abnormalities
(which we seem to be 'solving' with pharmaceuticals).
Effects of artificial light is a vigorous field for
health researchers. They find that too much light may damage the development of biological clocks in premature babies.
A barrage of study results show that the light- tumor growth and breast and prostate cancer -connection is serious. Risks
of miscarriage or stillbirths are being studied with pregnant night-shift workers. And there is solid evidence of the negative
effect of light pollution on wildlife.
Finland is within the arctic circle, with
24-hour daylight in the summer and 24-hour darkness in winter. It has the highest suicide rate in the world– peaking
in the summer. The first-ranking state in the U.S. is Alaska. (The amount of suicides in the U.S. is equal to one every 15
Finally, a note about light deterring criminal activity.
Proof is lacking. Some police officials now think that the light, rather then alerting witnesses, only serves to illuminate
the criminal’s work area. Since light everywhere, the public becomes immune to security lighting. Ask yourself: who
looks more suspicious... person 1, standing in a well-lit area, or person 2, standing n the dark with a flashlight?
When's the last time you saw a star-filled sky?
Will someone please turn off the lights?
go to Earth at Night Photos
go to International Dark Sky Association
go to New Jersey Astronomical Assoc. Links
go to Starry Night Lights
go to Campaign for Dark Skies
go to Google Earth Satellite
Will we grow up?
Most Americans live in cities and we all have to
eat. Doesn't vertical farming make perfect sense?
Growing our own food would boost healthful nutrition, efficiency,
and self-reliance-- and slash transportation costs. One vertical farm could feed 50 thousand people
and fit comfortably within a city block.
What are we waiting for?
Return to Basics.
We need to rethink agriculture for the 21st century. In 2050 almost 80% of the
world’s population will reside in urban areas. By that time we will have had to accommodate an additional 3 million
people. ‘Horizontal farms’ would need to consume new acreage about the size of Brazil.
Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental health sciences
at Columbia University says that urban farming is vital if we are to avoid impending catastrophes of starvation, disease,
crop failures due to weather, and deforestation. Umpteen studies show that traditional farming will fall short in required
farms could climb to 30-stories, have automatic feeders, monitoring devices, and harvesting equipment. They could grow wheat,
rice, sugar beets, and leafy greens in mineral nutrient solutions or without any solid substrates at all. Crops would require
continual light but proponents insist that power requirements could be met with alternative energy sources such as roof wind
needed now are entrepreneurs willing and enthused about getting some great projects off the drawing board and into the sky.
|Living Tower designed by Pierre Sartoux.
go to Vertical Farms
go to Dickson's essay
go to MSNBC
|Pucci store window, Paris. Photo: Urbanicity.
Window shopping isn't what it used to be.
Retail is visibly shrinking in our cities. With a rise in e-commerce
and a depressed economy, retail is adjusting, contracting... and disappearing.
The fashion industry is near collapse.
Haute couture is history. The last of the top-label designers have
down-shifted to ready-to-wear, so the 7th Avenue crowd has less to "knock off."
Seasonal spectacles like "Fashion Week" have ebbed to
fashion weak-- with fewer parties and shorter lines. Metaphorically, the runways are shorter.
Independent designers and boutique owners rearrange
displays and dip into savings to pay rent. Top models are sidelined.
Bloomingdales struggles in desparation and Saks
grows its blue jean and T-shirt departments to stay alive. Fashion seems out of place and time.
An anemic fashion industry foreshadows a sapping
of urban strength, diversity, and vivacity. If the 'rag trade' is in trouble, who will populate the street-front
retail spaces and multi-use structures? Is there a vacuum to fill? And with what?
"I am very concerned that the business of fashion is
undervaluing the most important asset our industry requires: creative visionaries."
- Anna Wintaur, Editor of Vogue
The flight path is now toward cities.
Green living is close to the urban core--
which is more energy-efficient. Post-WW2 dreams of a home in the 'burbs' has gone bust-- or at least lost its allure. Walkable
city alternatives are 'in.' and small-lot McMansions are like gas-guzzling SUVs with plummeting values.
|Empty homes on Promise Road in southern California's "Inland Empire."
Ridge, a new development seven miles from Charlotte, North Carolina, 81 of the community's 132 houses were in foreclosure
as 2008 began.
Vandals have kicked in doors and stripped copper wire from vacant houses.
Drug users and homeless people have furtively moved in. South of Sacramento, in Elk Grove, ten thousand
homes were built in just four years. Now many are empty and a fear factor has moved in, along with graffiti, broken windows
and other signs of decay and dismay. Erosion in these and hundreds of other fringe suburbs exposes
serious fault lines in the 1950's "American Dream."
Christopher B. Leinberger wrote an insightful piece
on this phenomenon in The Atlantic (March 2008). He's a Professor of Urban Planning at the Univ. of Michigan and his
latest book is "The Option of Urbanism," published by Island Press in 2007.
He says "The subprime crisis is just the tip of the iceberg. Fundamental
changes in American life may turn today's McMansions into tomorrow's tenements."
go to Leinberger on Walkable Urbanism
Large-lot housing is hard to "unbuild." The infrastructure
can't suppport added density. The fate of many "obese" houses will be resale to lower-income families and eventual conversion
to small apartments. In all, the future isn't rosy at the fringes. With higher gasoline and heating costs, it won't be much
of a bargain. The coup de grace may be the relocation of better schools to central cities.
On the other hand . . .
Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You.
The eco-minded are trying to make suburbs work-- with wind turbines,
solar heating, clothes lines, bike paths, more fuel-efficient vehicles, recycled building materials, and near-by transit hubs.
"Green pioneers" are figuring it out as they go along. One family found that the only lot near
transit they could afford was tiny-- so they built up five narrow stories. They inhabit a microscale model of the futuristic,
Last child in the woods.
"Healing the broken bond between our young and nature
is in our self-interest, not only because aesthetics or justice demand it, but also because our mental, physical, and spiritual
health depend upon it."
Richard Louv, columnist and child
advocate, is the author of "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder."
He founded the national movement "No Child Left Inside."
"Children have come to think of nature as more of an abstraction
than a reality." - Richard Louv
From his book:
"I like to play indoors
because that's where the electrical outlets are," says a 4th grader. She’s plugged in but out
of touch with the natural world around her.
Her memory contains no experience of running
in the woods or riding horses-- or the knowledge of growing and harvesting food. Her world is well wired and paved. Her parents
fear traffic, strangers, Lyme disease, and West Nile virus.
Schools give out more homework assignments.
Her life is structured with thick schedules, and ‘free’ time is spent with video games, television, and computers.
Access to natural areas are limited. There are
ever more regulatory constraints on entry to ‘wild spaces," sometimes making natural play a crime. " This de-naturing of childhood is a frightening
portent for the future of our species.
Louv fears that this first generation of cell-phone
children won’t understand the urgency of becoming the next stewards of our spectacular and endangered Earth.
more on children and nature
go to Richard Louv
go to Children and Nature
|Remembrances of a nature-filled childhood
more on John Henry Greene
"When I see birches bend to left
and right... I like to think some boy’s been swinging them." -
"I go to nature to be soothed
and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more." - John Burroughs
"Architecture is too important to
be left to architects."
- Philip Johnson
|Architect Richard Rogers.
Pritzker Prize winner Richard
Rogers focuses on the space around his building. He says "You’ve got to
get the vitality used– the pavement used." In his Pompidou design in Paris half of the space
is an outdoor public piazza.
Rogers understands that when he starts a project he
has two responsibilities– to his clients, and to the passers-by.
|Rome Congress Center, model. Richard Rogers.
go to Richard Rogers slideshow
Obviously the big obstacle to street markets is traffic. For 80 years
cities have been refigured to continuously accommodate growing volumes of vehicular traffic. They’ve become puzzle
game boards with one-way streets and no-U-turn signs. Even the oldest cities have "upgraded" for traffic. Such a predicament.
The challenge is to carve out pieces of the maze for lively areas for walking and the enjoyment of human interactivity.
"If we can develop and design streets so that they are
wonderful, fulfilling places to be– community-building places, attractive for all people, then we will have successfully
designed about one-third of the city directly and will have had an immense impact on the rest." - Allan Jacobs
|Light Show at Ground Zero
more on Ground Zero
|All tied up. Calatrava's El Alamillo bridge in Seville,1992.
|Former site of the World Trade Center
|Twin Towers from Liberty Island, October, 2000. Photo: Urbanicity.
|The latest and final design for the World Trade Center site is set for completion in 2010.
|New Blade Runner DVD in a darker city.
Ridley Scott's Blade runner
cast a bleak future for urbanites. Although a critical and commercial dud in
1982, its post-modern images influenced the sci-fi genre and over time became a classic. Los Angeles, circa 2019, was filthy
and threatening with flying autos, pan-cultural dystopia; corporatizing gone amok, toxic fumes for air, and human-like androids
called 'replicants.' It was as antii-urban as a nightmare can be that offers no pleasure in survival.
A "director's cut" was released
with much ballyho in 1992-- and, no surprise, L.A. was in even worse shape. Now, 15 years later, comes the "real," i.e. second,
director's cut. This one goes so dark it makes you want to run to wait in line for the perils of off-world
colonization. And Scott hints that the retired cop, played by Harrison Ford, is not as he seems. So we go deeper into
the murk of urban slime where the protagonist may himself be a replicant. Ohmygod.
Hotter than hot.
|California wildfires: planned development.
|One of the thousands of structures consumed by firestorms in San Diego.
Recent years have been the driest since
rainfall was first recorded in 1801. Wildfires occur most every year in late summer when the Santa Ana winds blow. They
are predictable disasters.
San Diego council government has always
pushed for more development. By the 1960's just about all the developable land was built upon. Since then construction
has sprawled into wildlands, making wildlife the major victims (foxes, possums, squirrels, skunks, coyotes, bobcats, and native
birds are the permanent evacuees). Some native species will never recover.
The city’s planning department was shut down years ago-- its trace
was folded into the "Development Services Department." The DSD is an enterprise fund. The more
development the more money it brings to city coffers. Its aim is to "cut red tape" to pave the way for builders. It doesn't
Besides its mesas there is little that is flat in San Diego. Unlike L.A.
it has serious topography. Today, once-beautiful finger canyons are defiled and homes cram into
every nook and streambed, stretching into wildlife habitats and deep brush.
Rain brings predictable mudslides and the
destruction of homes built on land well known to be seriously geologically unstable. Permits go to outlying
canyons, sheer ocean-front cliffs, flood plains-- even to the middle of the river-- where shopping center parking lotss flood
Most structures destroyed by firestorms probably shouldn't
have been built in the first place. It’s a rip off to buyers whose homes burn to the ground, and it’s a rip off
to homeowners who live outside of trouble zones whose insurance premiums nevertheless zoom after every wildfire.
Everyone ends up paying for the mess. Fire fighters die, wildlife dies,
and fire victims lose treasured mementos and personal property. The newly homeless' stays with friends or at shelters are
usually short-lived and landlords prepare for business from fire victims by boosting prices on rental properties.
Developers leave town with pockets full. Local journalist
Don Bauder calls the place Scam Diego. The city is constantly sued for damages by people
who've lost property because of the council's numbskull decisions- so taxes go up, the bankrupt city goes deeper in debt,
and mismanagement continues. Future water supplies remain iffy and power grids are overloaded. And yet road building continues.
But after major fires reconstruction begins,
contractors line up at the DSD, and the economic comeback for the building industry is celebrated as San Diego’s hope
for financial recovery. Sounds like fiction, but it's true.
|Glitzy plan for the Tate Modern.
Tourists want cities as theme parks. Will our urban centers
become the ultimate unreality shows?
The publishing phenomenon "The DaVinci Code" by Dan Brown is an explosive
force for the European tourist industry. Eurostar promotes DaVinci Code tours. The Louvre remodeled to corral mobs eager
to explore the mysteries of the inverted pyramid.
Dan Brown Tourism
Brown's book "Angels and Demons" triggered similar forays in Rome.
Hey, these books are fiction! Tourists want spoon-fed escapist entertainment. They can't get enough. And they want to
feel the same zing in every museum-- every city.
|Buy the audio book and walk in the path of Robert Langdon. The Louvre, Paris. Photo: Lorbiter
Less history. More Seduction.
With younger audiences indifferent to history, museum curators bet on
high-tech effects to entertain crowds.
BRC Imagination Arts is one of many companies who transform museums into
info-tainment centers. The company created Disney-like features for the largest presidential library– the Lincoln Museum
Lots of videos and talking holograms are drawing long lines and saving
the Springfield tourism market. Other savvy history museums are raising funds for dazzling make-overs with the aim ‘to
preserve the future of history.’ They don’t want to dumb down history, but rather to give audiences what they
want– sub rosa, and what they need.
|"THEME LINCOLM" shines in huge Springfield museum.
go to Lincoln Presidential Library
go to designing the Lincoln Library (9 min.)
Washington's Mount Vernon, transformed by
high-tech, is a hit with kids. They get to ‘know’ George the boy and man– not as just the face on a dollar
Films show a tall, redheaded war hero, a great dancer, and skilled horseman.
There are three life-size models of the first president at ages 19, 45, and 57, created by forensic specialists.
There’s a CSI-like lab with spare body
parts from the models and a film about how the models were made, along with the back-stories of major
All this excitement–- while most history museums are collecting
dust. It’s not that Americans lack information– we have access to books and Google. But we'd rather have it served
up with some sizzle. So museums are forced to compete for guests' leisure time by ratcheting up the measure of entertainment
value that's been set by theme parks, film, and television.
"As a result of shorter attention spans,
the 21st Century will need even better storytellers in cultural attractions. We must capture the public's imagination in less
time and hold it longer-- and be worthy of the subject entrusted to our care." -Jeff Rosen,
go tour Mount Vernon
go to Museum at Mount Vernon
go tour the White House
go to BRC museum designers
Doing the town in
The phenomena of urban tourism
began in the mid-1800's. Instinctively mobile Americans wanted entertaining sightseeing. Ever since, that desire has
shaped our cities and national ideologies.
Today, tourism is an indispensable income source
for major cities– and competition for tourist dollars is fierce.
With demand for 'places to go and
things to see,' leisure enticements are catalysts for huge
investments in restorations and grand scale 'Disneyfied' projects.
The scramble to be ‘destination magnets’
accelerates year by year. Cities trump one another with innovative and spirited ways to entice visitors.
And they have to compete with America’s high-tech, flashy nuggets
of media commercialism. Nowadays "doing the town" means special effects and ‘spacial performance.’
|Washington D.C. - tourist magnet
D.C. touts "The American Experience" and "Symbols of Patriotism."
It's glamming up with 'capital cinematics.' The FBI building
is presented as a movie site in "Along Came a Spider, Clear and Present Danger, Hannibal, The Jackal, No Way Out, True
Lies, and Silence of the Lambs.
go to Washington D.C.
Universal Studios concocted "City Walk"
in 'Universal City' for tourists to 'Enjoy the Complete L.A. Experience," faux though it is. No
need to actually see L.A.Just bring your credit cards and stroll a movie-themed high-end strip mall.
go to "City Walk"
International tourism spurs huge shopping
centers, spectacle venues, and major sports events.
go to MAYORS on worldwide urban tourism
Las Vegas, a city built on tourism, had
6 million visitors in 1970. Last year it had 40 million and 25 thousand conventions.
New York City, America's most visited city,
has more than 40 million tourists a year. This brings in $220 million in hotel taxes and $15 billion in direct spending. Forty
percent is international tourism.
For congested tourist areas, academics are working with game
theory models to thin out crowds.
In the U.S., each state conducts it's own tourism lures. In the Golden
State, Arnold and Maria offer "20 reasons to love California," flash tours, driver's guides,
soundtrack CDs, and discount travel cards.
More links to Jane Jacobs:
go to Jacobs at Making Places
go to Jacobs in ArtVoice
go to Jacobs in Reason Magazine
go to Jacobs in World Bank Urban Forum
go to Jacobs in New Colonist
go to Jacobs in Ideas That Matter
Jacobs in Toronto Urban Panel
|Pritzker Prize architect Thom Mayne.
Dynamic Thom Mayne designs hybrid architecture
that 'works.' He started his career in the late 1960's with counterculture roots and has spent the years since tenaciously
reinventing the ordinary. His often startling buildings are "unexpected. " Now this self-proclaimed 'problem-solver' has won
the architecture professions' highest honor.
|Mayne's winning entry for the Alaska state capitol building in Juneau
|Saffron watch souvenir.
our work is about freedom."
more on Christo's Gates
go to Christo and Jeanne-Claude's page
|Razing the New Frontier.
The old Vegas strip has finally been stripped bare.
|IMTS vehicle at Expo in Aichi, Japan
more on the Aichi Expo
We have no affiliation with 'urbanicity.com,' a site for governments and urban development planners.
But if that's your thing, take a look.
go to urbanicity.org
Here are some good "Green" sites:
go to Global Green USA
go to the Green Guide
go to Green America
go to Health and the Environment
go to the Good Guide
|Sundial Bridge near Redding, California
Architecture, like Hollywood, needs a "superstar," and
for now it’s Santiago Calatrava, who'll put a theme anywhere.
"Calatrava's confidernt and awe-inspiring public works
tap into a deep-seated desire for a future quite different from the one we are facing, a yearning that does much to explain
his extraordinary success."
from Martin Filler, "The Bird Man," New York Review of
Santiago Calatrava was born
in Valencia in 1951. He earned a doctorate in technical science and engineering in Zurich, where he keeps his office. Dramatic
bridges with exaggerated or distorted parabolic arches are his logotypes.
His debut in the U.S. was a pedestrian bridge in an ecological preserve
at Turtle Bay near Redding, California. Now, after his fabulous "Turning Torso" residential high
rise in Malmö, Sweden, he’s doing a skyscraper in Chicago.
There’s little ambiguity in his work– his swooping lines
are obvious and recognizable at first glance. When developers hire him they know what they’re getting (unlike his polar
opposite, the mercurial Rem Koolhass, whose clients just take a leap of faith).
He has two fixations: birds and machine-powered building
parts (to make birds fly?). But getting his buildings to "move" is costly and creates massive overruns on his projects.
He left the folks at his bravura Milwaukee Art Museum so broke that they were forced to make drastic
cutbacks on art exhibits.
Now he’s tackling Ground Zero. His two-billion-dollar World
Trade Center Transportation Hub is under construction and will be finished in 2009, well before the "replacement"
towers-- which are lagging in most respects. Again, his design reflects his avian obsession.
At an event at ground zero, his young daughter released a dove from her
hands– and that was the inspiration he needed. The hub will be a dazzling white steel and glass train station with a
motorized roof that opens in the main concourse to the sky– the symbolic uplift
of a dove. At an early press conference for the hub, Mayor Bloomberg said "Wow."
Critic Martin Filler calls his work "futuristic in
a way that went out of style in the 1960's." Yet Calatrava consistently appeals to the pop audience. His flashy contours
and flamboyant engineering effects fit in well with the marketing of mass entertainment. Large architectural commissions are
going for thrills and cultural institutions around the world are reinventing themselves as touristy icons.
Calatrava got the commission for the Tenerife Concert
Hall (on an island not far from Bilbao, Spain). Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim
Museum in Bilbao opened about the same time as Calatrava’s project. The British critic Deyan Sudjik called the
Tenerife "the kitsch dark side to Gehry’s playful, free invention."
This year Calatrava received the AIA gold medal. Giddy with the adulation
and prestige, he hired a New York PR firm to arrange a media junket to "re-brand" him as an artist-architect. He’s riding
high, but critical esteem eludes him.
|World Trade Center Transportation Hub, scheduled to open in 2012
Design like you
go to Architecture for Humanity
|Disney Concert Hall at sunset, Los Angeles. Photo: LORBIT. Click to enlarge.
As for downtown L.A.,
as Gertrude Stein said, (about Oakland)
"There's no there there."
more on downtown L.A.
Chiat/Day/Mojo Advertising Agency offers
the binocular pretense of a wink and a smile, but comes off as narcissistic post-modern oppression. At least it's not a "box
office," and it does liven up Main Street in Venice, California. It's a bit "fun" but not funny. For really funny predecessors