Urban planning community

+ Reply to thread
Results 1 to 15 of 15

Thread: Generica, USA (Will Peak Oil provide for more localization?)

  1. #1
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
    Registered
    Apr 2004
    Location
    Colorado
    Posts
    9,025
    Blog entries
    2

    Generica, USA (Will Peak Oil provide for more localization?)

    As I watch television, or visit other towns in the U.S., I seem to recognize places eventhough I haven't been there previously. It seems that corporate architecture, or the bare minimum design standards for national builder corporations seems to be focused on qucik project review, consturction, marketing while maximizing profit. This has left a bland generic theme upon the landscape of our country. People have heard stories, whether ture or not, about people getting lost in their own neighborhoods, maybe even parking in the wrong driveway. I was watching a show about a bounty hunter (heard of it?) where he was hunting in Denver, my hometown. As they showed shots of strip centers I thought, "hey, I recognize that!" But alas, the show was in a opart of town I seldom visit but could compare the architecture with more framiliar places. With the ever present looming event of Peak Oil being shoved upon our midsets these days, some have said that regions will become more localized again due to the increased inablilty to travel cheaply by normal, automotive and trucking means. Would this translate into more emphasis into more localized architecture/design? Perhaps a resurgence of localized "feel" or the development of local architecture (as could be experienced out west, where design and archtiecture seem to be a mis-mash of influences from elsewhere in the US.

    Would we see a reduction in the Generica phenomenon*?

    *fun term I found in an office email. Generica: Features of the American (development) landscape that are exactly the same no matter where one is, such as fast food joints, strip malls, and subdivisions.
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  2. #2
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
    Registered
    May 2003
    Location
    Staff meeting
    Posts
    8,208
    Well, I think the mass similarity of building designs is probably more of product of a highly industrialized and interconnected society/market, and less about profit making.

    Most times I just think the "corporate" architecture is less about profit maximization and more about universial identity as part of advertising.

    I do agree that it has spread much further in the second half of the 20th century, but mass produced "style" (with minor variations) certainly occurred within regions before 1940.

    Come to Chicago and look at one average 2-flat building from the far Southside and one from the far Northside and they will most likely look alike with only minor changes in cornice, brick color, etc.

    Hell, consider the Sears' (et al) catalog houses that were sold and constructed from coast to coast and north to south.

    I think "Generica" is practically ubiquitous currently because we are probably at almost a zenith for industrialized production and communication.

    Though, the more I think about it the less I think Peak Oil will have a dramatic effect on us. There may be a short term lull, but new enrgy sources will be developed/discovered and we will be able to keep going at slightly less than our current pace.
    Last edited by mendelman; 30 Jan 2007 at 5:18 PM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  3. #3

    Registered
    Jul 2006
    Location
    Calgary, AB
    Posts
    146
    Would we see a reduction in the Generica phenomenon*?
    I'd imagine so!

    Seriously though, having just finished reading "The Long Emergency" by James Kunstler, this is just one of the things to look forward to. He says it's worse than that though, that the suburbs will become worthless and abandoned as we become unable to utilize them, or maintain them. The same goes for highway infrastructure, "green revolution"-style agriculture, and big box stores.

    Here's a recent essay from Kunstler on the topic: http://kunstler.com/mags_cities_of_the_future.html
    Last edited by DPP; 30 Jan 2007 at 5:59 PM.

  4. #4
    Going back into the last centuries you will see that there wasn't a whole lot of variety in architecture then either. You had your classical orders, some baroque twists and that was that. Variety didn't come to architecture until the neo-revivalisms of the 19th century, and then people complained about it.

    The problem is not that there's no variety, it's that everything is so bad. The task of enforcing environmental standards is the city's, and they've utterly failed at it.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
    Registered
    May 2005
    Location
    New Town
    Posts
    3,844
    I think a lot of this phenomenon, especially in commercial building, is driven partly by a shift in how we think of "buildings." In the past, partly due to the materials used, people thought of them as more permanent objects that, over time, may house a variety of uses. Even through the industrial age, you saw huge warehouses, factories, etc. built from brick and other more permanent materials. These are the trendy lofts and office parks of today. We think of them as permanent parts of the landscape that can be modified or adjusted, but we are often loathe to knock them down.

    Wal-mart and similar big box stores expect to be in a location 15-20 year (maybe less). Their buildings are seen as temporary obects, to be razed after that time and replaced with something new. The materials used are cheaper and more easily assembled/disassembled. For example, Wal-mart recently upgraded an Albuquerque store to a Super Center on the same lot. Rather than add on to the existing structure, they knocked the entire thing down and built a brand new one. Part of the reasoning is that the company's efficiencies are achieved in part by making every store exactly the same. Once the building is constructed, they will send an unbelievably detailed plan that will tell stockers foot by foot which items go in which sections and at what locations on which shelves.

    So, efficiencies at the economic level have impacted the nature of how these commercial structures are assembled. Emphasis for Wal-mart is almost entirely laid on achieving the lowest possible price and not really on establishing a desirable shopping experience or attracting you to an intriguing building. That's their hitch - we're cheap as hell! - and it drives a lot of how they go about building their stores. Starbucks, on the other hand, has a great concern with how their spaces (and particularly the insides) function. Its about creating an experience that justifies overpriced coffee.

    Another part of this is labor and materials costs that have had a very significant impact on how we build today as compared to up through WWII.

    Lastly, (and again, mainly in the commercial arena), architects have become more nd more superfluous. Big box stores are generally designed by one architect, if that. The floor plans for a particular design are then replicated throughout the country with specific requirements of local municipalities worked out by engineers. Architects are not involved, and therefore don't apply their knowledge about space, functionality, design, etc. to adapt a store to its specific site.

    When architects are employed, its often for big, impressive projects intended to be iconic. So, we end up with crap-boxes and over-designed stand-out structures and little in between. One of the things I think was most gratifying about areas built up through the first half of the 20th century was the level of communication among buildings - aggregates of structures that worked together to create a larger whole and contributed to the establishment of spaces within, between and among buildings. Now we just have parking lots...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
    Registered
    Jul 2003
    Location
    San Diego, CA
    Posts
    7,061
    I am reminded of the opposite term "vernacular housing". I have read that housing styles in the U.S. used to have more regional character (a la South Western pueblos, coastal "stilt" houses, etc). As I understand it, historically this grew out of local climate, locally available materials, etc. Now, people tend to decide what "look" appeals to them and build that, regardless of where the materials come from and whether or not it is all that suitable to the local climate. Then they just run up their heating or air conditioning bill to compensate for the lack of appropriate building features for the local climate. So I would hope that as it gets too expensive to pay the transportation costs to have materials shipped in, some local bulding would return to a vernacular style -- either by people researching historical precedent for that locale or reinventing it in reponse to current reality.

    But, as wahday indicated, large corporations are unlikely to go along with that.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Reductionist's avatar
    Registered
    Nov 2005
    Location
    Swans, Fruits & Nuts
    Posts
    66
    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    Wal-mart and similar big box stores expect to be in a location 15-20 year (maybe less). Their buildings are seen as temporary obects, to be razed after that time and replaced with something new. The materials used are cheaper and more easily assembled/disassembled. For example, Wal-mart recently upgraded an Albuquerque store to a Super Center on the same lot. Rather than add on to the existing structure, they knocked the entire thing down and built a brand new one. Part of the reasoning is that the company's efficiencies are achieved in part by making every store exactly the same. Once the building is constructed, they will send an unbelievably detailed plan that will tell stockers foot by foot which items go in which sections and at what locations on which shelves.

    So, efficiencies at the economic level have impacted the nature of how these commercial structures are assembled. Emphasis for Wal-mart is almost entirely laid on achieving the lowest possible price and not really on establishing a desirable shopping experience or attracting you to an intriguing building. That's their hitch - we're cheap as hell! - and it drives a lot of how they go about building their stores. Starbucks, on the other hand, has a great concern with how their spaces (and particularly the insides) function. Its about creating an experience that justifies overpriced coffee.
    Most people are also unware of how Federal tax policies ushered in the era of cheap, throwaway construction. Specifically I'm referring to the 1954 tax law which instituted accelerated depreciation and encourage the production of cheap buildings that could be quickly constructed and disposed of as needed.

    From a 2004 New Yorker article on Victor Gruen:

    Under tax law, if you build an office building, or buy a piece of machinery for your factory, or make any capital purchase for your business, that investment is assumed to deteriorate and lose some part of its value from wear and tear every year. As a result, a business is allowed to set aside some of its income, tax-free, to pay for the eventual cost of replacing capital investments. For tax purposes, in the early fifties the useful life of a building was held to be forty years, so a developer could deduct one-fortieth of the value of his building from his income every year. A new forty-million-dollar mall, then, had an annual depreciation deduction of a million dollars. What Congress did in 1954, in an attempt to stimulate investment in manufacturing, was to “accelerate” the depreciation process for new construction. Now, using this and other tax loopholes, a mall developer could recoup the cost of his investment in a fraction of the time. As the historian Thomas Hanchett argues, in a groundbreaking paper in The American Historical Review, the result was a “bonanza” for developers. In the first few years after a shopping center was built, the depreciation deductions were so large that the mall was almost certainly losing money, at least on paper—which brought with it enormous tax benefits.

    ...

    Suddenly it was possible to make much more money investing in things like shopping centers than buying stocks, so money poured into real-estate investment companies. Prices rose dramatically. Investors were putting up buildings, taking out as much money from them as possible using accelerated depreciation, then selling them four or five years later at a huge profit—whereupon they built an even bigger building, because the more expensive the building was, the more the depreciation allowance was worth.

    ...

    This was also the era that fast-food restaurants and Howard Johnsons and Holiday Inns and muffler shops and convenience stores began to multiply up and down the highways and boulevards of the American suburbs—and as these developments grew, others followed to share in the increased customer traffic. Malls led to malls, and in turn those malls led to the big stand-alone retailers like Wal-Mart and Target, and then the “power centers” of three or four big-box retailers, like Circuit City, Staples, Barnes & Noble.
    "I believe in pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. I believe it is possible. I saw this guy do it once in Cirque du Soleil. It was magical!" -Stephen Colbert

  8. #8
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
    Registered
    Mar 2004
    Location
    Where the weak are killed and eaten.
    Posts
    6,221
    I love generica, it makes us to be more Canadian!
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  9. #9
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
    Registered
    May 2005
    Location
    New Town
    Posts
    3,844
    Excellent points, reductionist! I agree that most people have little insight into the property development world and so may not realize how things like depreciation impact the process of land development and management. I had not even thought about this angle, but it makes a great deal of sense.

    I certainly don't know much about land development, only that I took a very good real estate development class to understand more about the factors involved. Too often, I feel, planners make unrealistic suggestions about how businesses like bookstores, cafes. etc. will enhance the functionality of a place without considering whether this is realistic from a developer's or business owner's point of view. Since I took the class, I have often thought that downtown's looking to be more aggressive about enticing a specific type of development should go so far as to develop detailed pro formas to show feasibility both to themselves and potential developers.

    But I digress...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Tinkering in my imaginary garage
    Posts
    34
    I believe that Kunstler is a scare-monger, profiteering off of hysteria he is trying to instill. I was him speak at a CNU event before he released "Long Emergency." I haven't read the book, but at this lecture, he felt that a large majority of Americans were sleepwalking into the future, or "stuck up a cul-de-sac with concrete tires," or something like that. Above all else, he entertained the pessimistic side of my plannerly sensibilities.

    After my Kunstler experience, I read Geography and Home from Nowhere, Notes on a City, and determined that the guy is a genius for taking on sprawl from a "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" slant. More power to him, because his message is rather jarring.

    I posed one question to him at that lecture: "Where are we going on the downside of Peak Oil?" He took a rather long historical view and said that society would revert back to feudalism, as in the middle ages. Lords and serfs and such. Uh, how many centuries ago was this system of governance? Needless to say, I was disappointed by his answer.

    Pooh to Kunstler, I think we'll have plenty of time to either become more energy efficient or develop energy alternatives in the next hundred to three hundred years before feudalism catches us on the downside.

    - Ratchet

    PS - My grandmother was born in 1919 in rural, western PA on a farm, one of twelve children, and lived through the depression. Though she still drives a car at 88 years old, she remembers life before the automobile. How many people can do that? I think far too many people Americans don't know, and can't fathom, what it was like and what it *would* be like, if Kunstler's predictions came true.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian AubieTurtle's avatar
    Registered
    Dec 2003
    Location
    Downtown Atlanta
    Posts
    894
    Cheap energy allows us to be generic. If it becomes more expensive, you'll likely see regional variations in architecture increase.

    Right now you can build the same house in Mobile, Alabama that you do in Warren, Michigan even though both places have very different climates and local materials. Once shipping becomes expensive, builders will need to turn to local resources. While you see this to some extent even today (redwood houses in the northwest, pine in the southeast), if you want a Spanish tile roof in Maine, you can easily get it. Large builders like Centrex and Toll Brothers primarily build the same dozen or some homes hundreds of thousands of times all across the country. With an inability to obtain similar materials at similar costs across the nation, they will have no choice but to create localized plans (though I doubt the Centrexs of the world will still be around).

    The greater expense of air conditioning and heating will cause more variations. Houses in cold areas will likely get smaller with few windows so the heat can be better contained. Houses in hot areas will become more open, with features like transoms and large windows to allow free flow of air through the building. These are regional variations that existed in the past but now are seen mostly as architectural flavor used in a Disney like fashion for decoration to set a mood rather than for actual function.
    As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. - H.L. Mencken

  12. #12
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
    Registered
    Apr 2004
    Location
    Colorado
    Posts
    9,025
    Blog entries
    2
    Quote Originally posted by AubieTurtle View post
    The greater expense of air conditioning and heating will cause more variations. Houses in cold areas will likely get smaller with few windows so the heat can be better contained. Houses in hot areas will become more open, with features like transoms and large windows to allow free flow of air through the building. These are regional variations that existed in the past but now are seen mostly as architectural flavor used in a Disney like fashion for decoration to set a mood rather than for actual function.
    I was talking about this the other day... there seem to be more windows in the older homes because of electricity and lighting. Perhaps we'd see more of those.

    thinking about the localization of architecture, I could see that the latter half of the 20th century has set a bad precidnet for lame housing design. We may have local materials and builders, but they could be peddling the same subdivisions of one floor plan/different facade.

    However, since the economy is energy based, would people have the means to build and buy new houses?
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  13. #13
    Be warned (especially Kunstler) that even though life will become more local, it does not imply that local institutions will work any better.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian AubieTurtle's avatar
    Registered
    Dec 2003
    Location
    Downtown Atlanta
    Posts
    894
    Quote Originally posted by jaws View post
    Be warned (especially Kunstler) that even though life will become more local, it does not imply that local institutions will work any better.
    This is very true and I suspect that as much as the public complains about too much government interference in their lives and a federal government that steps on state rights, that deep down they know that the local government, given a chance, would attempt to grab even more control over their lives. Though much of the information on dumblaws.com is outdated, the laws mentioned there were once upon a time actual laws in local communities. The interstate commerce clause has given the federal government tremendous moderating power over local extremes that use to occur.

    I doubt I would remain in the southern US if the power structure of the country tipped towards local control. It was just a few years ago that forty percent of the voters in Alabama voted against repealing the ban on interracial marriages, even though they knew it was unenforable and made the state look bad.

    From a business point of view, a local business owner might be less inclined to cheat consumers that he/she has to face in church every week than would a large corporation but that is by no means guaranteed. I suspect there would be a big decrease in efficiency (though one could debate how much is true efficiency and how much is the ability to externalize expenses).
    As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. - H.L. Mencken

  15. #15
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
    Registered
    Apr 2004
    Location
    Colorado
    Posts
    9,025
    Blog entries
    2
    Quote Originally posted by AubieTurtle View post
    From a business point of view, a local business owner might be less inclined to cheat consumers that he/she has to face in church every week than would a large corporation but that is by no means guaranteed. I suspect there would be a big decrease in efficiency (though one could debate how much is true efficiency and how much is the ability to externalize expenses).
    Excellent point. Localization may breed more accountablity. Never thought of that.
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

+ Reply to thread

More at Cyburbia

  1. Replies: 1
    Last post: 07 Dec 2012, 5:26 PM
  2. Replies: 6
    Last post: 28 Sep 2012, 2:20 PM
  3. Peak oil? What about Peak Coffee?
    Friday Afternoon Club
    Replies: 20
    Last post: 30 Jul 2008, 6:43 PM
  4. Replies: 8
    Last post: 28 Apr 2006, 10:11 PM
  5. Paper on Peak Oil
    Student Commons
    Replies: 4
    Last post: 10 Jun 2004, 7:10 PM