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Thread: "High density is bad" - help me debunk this design myth

  1. #26

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    Les Bainlieu

  2. #27
    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    I disagree. We are speaking generalities here.

    Certainly there are many people in big cities like London who live in apartments. Is that the cultural ideal? Probably not in England. But, I would venture that more live in the vast beltlands of suburbia surrounding London-and more would if it weren't for more rigid planning policies???

    Certainly, there are French suburbanites as well (les pavillions) But, the upper and middle classes have traditionally accepted apartment living more than their island counterparts (partly because of the Good Baron Haussman). Again, look at the etymology-"apartment" is a French word. "House" certainly is not.

    Can the culture change? Certainly. It is changing in some metropolitan areas for connected, educated elites.
    There are 12 million people in Ile-de-France and only 2 million of them are in the city of Paris itself. The rest is just your regular suburban single-family housing stock, littered with the random housing boondoggle project that have famously been termed banlieu. If you don't believe me, take a look around.

    The apartment building has its roots in the July Monarchy, as do most of the innovations attributed to Haussmann. Haussmann's contribution was really more about quantity.

    Etymology is irrelevant. The english use "flat" to mean apartment. We use "maison" to say house. It's as much a part of French culture as it is English. What matters ultimately, and what I've been saying forever, is quality. Americans and Brits are snatching up all the Parisian apartments they can get their hands on (and creating a severe affordability problem in central Paris). Their own incompetent urban planning system makes it impossible to deliver this kind of quality in their own countries, and so we blame "culture" for the fact that they reject a lifestyle that has no positives to offer to counter the negatives inherent in apartment life.

  3. #28
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Jaws: there is NO doubt that the 'ideal' for the vast majority of Britons is to live in their own house with their own garden. Even in crowded London, a smaller, darker flat with a damp patch of grass commands a premium over a better apartment without it. I've lived here 12 years and bought/sold more than one property.

    BKM: The thing about 'idyllic rural life' that I don't get is that the suburbs seem to be a very, very poor approximation of that. I guess the closer you approximate it, the more sprawly you get (exurbs, etc.). Still, there does seem to be a minority movement back to the cities, even in the US. Chacun a son gout, I guess.

    I do believe that the break-down of what we might term the 'Victorian' social order and, of course, the automobile, vastly accelerated the demise of dense city living. To the extent that the 1980s-200s conservative backlash to a small extent restored that social order (lawfulness, hierarchy, respect) that may have helped cities 'come back'. There’s no doubt that the moms with strollers would not be in Soho if NYC was as crime-ridden as it was in the 1970s.

    In Suburban Nation, Duany talks about how the upper middle class 'abandoned' the city to its own devices. I think that's not wholly true or fair. I think the rise of a semi-professional class of urban demagogues / the end of deference pushed them out. A while ago someone on this forum posted a film of the Mayor of Detroit's mother making a speech. WITH THE SOUND OFF I was aghast; it displayed histrionics I tend to associate with Paraguayan politics, rather than first world democracy. I sort of grew up in the Midwest and when I tried to imagine what my friend’s parents would have thought of that kind of display, to that kind of person (I'm NOT referring to her ethnicity, but to her behavior) being the MAYOR, I began to understand why Detroit emptied out. This is not entirely surprising given the ‘repricing’ of growth prospects by FI markets over the past month or so. From current levels, however, upside seems limited for real yield. EMU 10Y real yield is, at 1.5%, about in the middle of its usual range against the ‘real’ ECB repo rate (now roughly at 0%).

    Sorry 'bout the rambling post.

  4. #29

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    Quote Originally posted by UrbaniDesDev
    Les Bainlieu
    \

    "Les Pavillions" refers to the cute little suburban cottages the French lower-middle-class aspire to. "Les Banlieus" is the proper word (plural "s" with the "les") for the suburbs in general.

    Luca: I agree with you. I think there are indeed cultural differences. Jaws may be correct as to the relatively recent history of the cultural differences, but they are there. And, there are other big cities in France that share the same pattern (affluent people choosing to live in city centers). Certainly, there is also a (larger) rural population in France, too.

    BKM: The thing about 'idyllic rural life' that I don't get is that the suburbs seem to be a very, very poor approximation of that. I guess the closer you approximate it, the more sprawly you get (exurbs, etc.). Still, there does seem to be a minority movement back to the cities, even in the US. Chacun a son gout, I guess.
    I think the French are less convinced by the pseudo-country lifestyle of the Anglo-American-Australizn suburb. Speaking again in generalities, of course, I would also note the Scandinavian pattern: city apartment and truly rural summer lake cottage or rural retreat.

    I would also note that in the United States, there was no real tradition of dense rural "villages." Each homesteader ahd his own farm and farmhouse. Maybe this is another factor?

  5. #30
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    In Italy the expression is that (people want to live ) "in the shadow of the cathedral" (i.e. as centrally as possible). The 'apartment' (even a large one) in the city and little place in the country is diefinitely an aspirtation (and for quite a fewa reality).

    I think BKM's hit a point with the hoemsteading / jeffersonian hatred of cities thing.

  6. #31
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    How do they do it in Japan? I've read that the Japanese build densly, even out in the country when they don't have to. They try to preserve as much land as possible for agriculture and open space. At the same time, it does not bother them to live in close quarters.

    For me, I would rather have much more density in the U.S. but I also like to have some breathing room. I don't want to have to talk to people every time I go outside. I also like having a small backyard where I can be in privacy. The funniest part, though, is that I had much more ability to foster my introversion when I lived in a large apartment complex near downtown. There were so many people coming and going that nobody was constantly in your business. I liked the anonymity. Now, all of the neighbors know who I am and notice what I do. I feel like eyes are on me all the time and have developed this phobia of leaving the blinds open. I'm afraid I'm going to walk out of the shower or something and someone is going to see me, lol.

    It's funny, but I love the dense, urban life for reasons opposite of socialization. I like that I can walk around anonymously, I like that I only see people when I want to, I like that nobody has time to worry about where I'm going or what I'm doing. I grew up in a small town and absolutely hated it because there was no privacy at all. Everyone knew everyone else, and you constantly ran into people at the store, etc. that knew you (which was especially bad when they were people you did NOT want to see).

    I don't know, I think density offers the best of both worlds: anonymity as well as the opportunity for extensive socializing.

  7. #32
    Quote Originally posted by Luca
    Jaws: there is NO doubt that the 'ideal' for the vast majority of Britons is to live in their own house with their own garden. Even in crowded London, a smaller, darker flat with a damp patch of grass commands a premium over a better apartment without it. I've lived here 12 years and bought/sold more than one property.
    I don't dispute that people have a preference for standalone houses. But what you consider a "better apartment" may not be better enough for most people to consider accepting the tradeoffs between apartment and house life.

    I do believe that the break-down of what we might term the 'Victorian' social order and, of course, the automobile, vastly accelerated the demise of dense city living. To the extent that the 1980s-200s conservative backlash to a small extent restored that social order (lawfulness, hierarchy, respect) that may have helped cities 'come back'. There’s no doubt that the moms with strollers would not be in Soho if NYC was as crime-ridden as it was in the 1970s.

    In Suburban Nation, Duany talks about how the upper middle class 'abandoned' the city to its own devices. I think that's not wholly true or fair. I think the rise of a semi-professional class of urban demagogues / the end of deference pushed them out. A while ago someone on this forum posted a film of the Mayor of Detroit's mother making a speech. WITH THE SOUND OFF I was aghast; it displayed histrionics I tend to associate with Paraguayan politics, rather than first world democracy. I sort of grew up in the Midwest and when I tried to imagine what my friend’s parents would have thought of that kind of display, to that kind of person (I'm NOT referring to her ethnicity, but to her behavior) being the MAYOR, I began to understand why Detroit emptied out.
    The cities organized as democratic corporations were doomed in the 20th century. They couldn't adapt quickly enough to the technological innovations that came then while maintaining quality of life, and were also victims of improved political demagoguery allowing men with no knowledge of how to build a good city to raid the city treasury for everything they could. Faced with the collapsing quality of life in town, people did the only thing they could do for their family: they fled.

    Even with the supposed renaissance of center cities these problems still linger on. The New York MTA is the primary circulation of the most important city in the world and it appears to be run by idiots.

  8. #33

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    Quote Originally posted by jread
    How do they do it in Japan? I've read that the Japanese build densly, even out in the country when they don't have to. They try to preserve as much land as possible for agriculture and open space. At the same time, it does not bother them to live in close quarters.

    For me, I would rather have much more density in the U.S. but I also like to have some breathing room. I don't want to have to talk to people every time I go outside. I also like having a small backyard where I can be in privacy. The funniest part, though, is that I had much more ability to foster my introversion when I lived in a large apartment complex near downtown. There were so many people coming and going that nobody was constantly in your business. I liked the anonymity. Now, all of the neighbors know who I am and notice what I do. I feel like eyes are on me all the time and have developed this phobia of leaving the blinds open. I'm afraid I'm going to walk out of the shower or something and someone is going to see me, lol.

    It's funny, but I love the dense, urban life for reasons opposite of socialization. I like that I can walk around anonymously, I like that I only see people when I want to, I like that nobody has time to worry about where I'm going or what I'm doing. I grew up in a small town and absolutely hated it because there was no privacy at all. Everyone knew everyone else, and you constantly ran into people at the store, etc. that knew you (which was especially bad when they were people you did NOT want to see).

    I don't know, I think density offers the best of both worlds: anonymity as well as the opportunity for extensive socializing.

    Interesting argument. Today, the dominant meme seems to be an idealization of small town life. "I want to live in a small town" etc etc. But, the reality is what you describe: oppressive monitoring by your neighbors. Now, Luca would argue that this is necessary for controlling crime (and exercizing social control, which may be more oppressive, imo). I live in a townhouse in an exurb of San Francisco, and I am happy to observe that I get a little bit of both: general indifference from neighbors (an occasional hello, maybe) but nontheless we watch out for each other. I've not even experience vandalism in 11 years.

  9. #34
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Interesting argument. Today, the dominant meme seems to be an idealization of small town life. "I want to live in a small town" etc etc.
    One of my favorite light reading books is Charles Kuralt's On the Road and he used to say that NYC was merely a series of small towns and villages - that he knew everyone in his village/town within the city

    your response made me think of that

    posting with 4 glasses of pinot in me...
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  10. #35
    Cyburbian
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    My working theory, and it might be almost too obvious to state, is that people of course want the best of both worlds - who wouldn't want a few acres in Midtown Manhattan or North Beach. Obviously, that's prohibitively expensive, so people take the next best thing they can actually afford - a half acre in the burbs, within reasonable commuting distance of the economic and cultural opportunities of the big city. At least that's the promise - but when six million other people have the same idea (thanks largely to misguided government policies in favor of automobiles and suburbanization that skew real estate economics all to hell) things don't work out so good. By buying into the promise that you can have it all, in fact you get nothing - neither the amenities of city life nor the tranquility of the country. The American public needs to wake up and smell the exhaust fumes - and realize that the American dream will have to be remade in an urban context, if it's going to be meaningful for anyone other than the very wealthy.

    The Scandinavian Model that BKM mentioned seems like a much more plausible answer to our dual needs for urban and rural than trying to combine the two into one parcel of land, a la American suburbia.

    The discussion of anonymity vs. scrutiny is an interesting one too (albeit in a slightly different dimension I think), that largely boils down to matters of individual taste. Although my preferences run toward the communitarian, I definitely appreciate the need for privacy and anonymity. I think the challenge is to design urban structures that support both types of lifestyle within the same neighborhood.

  11. #36
    Cyburbian natski's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Mountain Magic
    The discussion of anonymity vs. scrutiny is an interesting one too (albeit in a slightly different dimension I think), that largely boils down to matters of individual taste. Although my preferences run toward the communitarian, I definitely appreciate the need for privacy and anonymity. I think the challenge is to design urban structures that support both types of lifestyle within the same neighborhood.
    In Sydney 2 weeks ago an article in the Herald, written by an Australian researcher Bernard Salt, suggests that the entire "race" of town planners are fixated on the urban village and a society in which everyone knows their neighbour etc etc.
    He suggests instead of this idealistic village, planners should plan for a community that does not want to be part of a community- a la NYC style.

    I feel this ties in with your density debate in a social sense- do we think that increased density will allow this non community- or could it go both ways?
    "Have you ever wondered if there was more to life, other than being really, really, ridiculously good looking?" Zoolander

  12. #37
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    Quote Originally posted by Luca
    Interesting point, often made in this forum. What do you gents/ladies think is the prime cause for the propensity of so many people (especially in the English-speaking world but not limited to it) to strongly desire and pay for (in many ways), their own private, little ‘estate’. I don’t mean to scorn, I’m genuinely curious. I’ve enver seen the point of thousands of relatively tiny (especially in London!”) private gardens when you could bash them together and have a jolly nice mini-park (like he Garden squares). Whenever I mention that, English people look at me like I’ve proposed intercourse with their daughter.

    Is it primarily the association of fully detached houses on spacious grounds with the aristocracy?

    Is it primarily misanthropy / overdeveloped sense of privacy / fear of others?

    Is it an atavistic horror of the overcrowded / unhealthy slum?

    Is it a true love of nature / outdoors / gardening, inevitably compromised by the impossibility of owning a park?
    They want a connection to the earth. It is not at all unreasonable for anyone to want a small garden. This can even be achieved in taller apartment and townhouse buildings using tiered construction for upper stories. Could throw in some irregularity and fun, creating small rooftop spaces and interesting organic forms. Hell, I'd love to see some of the "roofscape" type views that are so commonly seen in the Mediterranean .

  13. #38
    Member CosmicMojo's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by luckless pedestrian
    One of my favorite light reading books is Charles Kuralt's On the Road and he used to say that NYC was merely a series of small towns and villages - that he knew everyone in his village/town within the city
    That's how I think of my neighborhood. It's like living in a walkable village within a larger city. I can walk to a library, movie theater, funky historic shoping district from my townhouse with a small garden.

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