Making place or planning chaos [broadband recommended]

ablarc

     
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#21
Lee Nellis said:
It is not my intention to rain on your parade, ablarc. I appreciate many of the same things you do.
Lee, thanks for tempering your comments; I really appreciate that.

Lee Nellis said:
1) Whatever else the "mountain" of regulations is, in most communities it is a reflection of what the developers want - they hold the cards.
Not just the developers, Lee; the people also have some input, and neither the developers nor the people have as good a grasp of the issues as they should to be giving out non-negotiable directives that achieve the force of law. (Btw, I detected some ambivalence in your previous post about whether we have a democracy or oligarchy. You talked about democracy but you described an oligarchy. The developers in charge: that sounds like oligarchy.)

Lee Nellis said:
2) if you want things to change, you have to change the fundamental system, you have to start change at the economic roots.
That’s a pretty tall order. Can you think of anyone outside a totalitarian system that actually accomplished that goal? Lenin did it I guess, and Deng Hsiao Ping, and maybe a few others like them. But even FDR and Margaret Thatcher can’t really claim to have done that.

Anyway, I don’t believe for one moment that it’s true. Thinking like that –deep-diving all the way to the ocean bottom to first principles—is a legacy of Sixties thinking. All those Karmic threads of causality…all that interconnectedness, what's the use…why, it’s the Universe, man. Om.

No, it’s enough to change the smallest circle that you have influence over; you’ll be amazed at the results you get if you try. You don’t have time to change the economy—and anyway you don’t seem to have the stomach for revolution. Do you know how to fire an assault rifle?

Lee Nellis said:
I am working for a place right now where the developers do not hold the cards.
So glad to hear that; sounds like Vermont. Here’s your chance to do something worthwhile: if the no-growth crowd have got a hold on things, you should encourage them with a joyful heart. If ever there was a place where I would wish for zero development, it’s Vermont. But if you can: sneak in a few little hippie communes all informally jumbled and tucked away, like any one of the settlements in Lord of the Rings. And if the big box crowd comes in all disappointed, just shrug sympathetically and show them your hands are tied. Then go home and tell your wife about your good deed.


Lee Nellis said:
…but half of the regulations we have don't work right because the economy makes it impossible for developers to follow them - they can't get financing, they can't lease the spaces we want them to build. Our best developers actually like the concepts - at least some of them - from their own personal point of view. But they throw up their hands over the practical consequences.
Halleluiah.

* * *

Lee, I need to tell you where I’m coming from:

I used to have a handyman; let’s call him Jake.

Jake was good at everything he did. When I left him to install an antique light fixture beside the front door, I knew when I returned I’d find it plumb and true. When I said to him, “square up the hedge”, I knew I’d be greeted with a sharply trimmed wall of green. When I left him to wash my wife’s car I could count on it to sparkle on my return.

But I just had to let him go; Jake was too good. There were signs of it all the time, and finally it got to be too much.

One weekend I asked him to paint the house with plain white paint while I was out of town. He did it with his usual proud standard of workmanship, using nice eggshell paint. I was horrified. “Jake,” I protested, “you didn’t listen to me; I asked for plain white paint.” “But Mr. Ablarc, no-one wants plain white paint; it shows dirt and looks harsh.”

Jake failed to take into account, you see, that I’m a weirdo. I know what I like, and I like plain white paint. I also like harmful ivy growing on my stucco house and I like my polyurethaned floors glossy, not satin --and hold the stain. I’m incurably weird.

I also think the mark of a city worth living in is that there are never enough places to park.

I don’t give a rat’s a$$ that most people prefer off-white, that they like stain in their wood finish, that they hate flat roofs and that they think convenient parking is the most important requirement of their environment.

I’ve also replaced the switch in my office bathroom –the one that automatically turns on the exhaust fan along with the light; sometimes I just like to go in there and experience a quiet minute. Incurably weird.

I have a small circle of flaky friends. They also have strange walls; some are purple, some are faux-marbre, and the ones that are white are mostly not eggshell. You can imagine some of the other fringe tastes you’ll find in my circle: Truffaut movies, opera, even anchovies.

Where I live, we crackpots are a minority, almost an underground. I used to live in places that had actual weirdo majorities --you can probably name most of them—but a lot of them were after the same work as I was, and these whackos were smart. Then, quite by accident, I discovered it was easy to make a good living in the Sunbelt, where the competition is weak.

I’m adaptable, so I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut when my clients drop their casual racist comments, and I’ve learned to flick on the fluorescents in my sunlit office when I see one coming; I don’t want them to see just how weird I am. And I never talk politics.

I still go for vacations to places with severe parking problems—just as often as I can; sometimes I just have to get out of my convenient and well-sorted sunbelt Valhalla. This Spring will find me in London, where there are never enough places to park, and where I won’t need any. For a week I’ll walk my body back into half a state of fitness and look at strange things. My sub-sixteen children will melt daily into the Underground (Gee Dad, this is so…o…o neat…we don’t need to be driven; we’ll be back at the hotel by nine.), and I’ll dread the looming day of my return.

So you see, Lee, I probably have nothing much in common with some folks. I probably don’t like the things they like, and they don’t like the things I like. But we all have our right to a place in the sun.

That’s what I see trampled by such things as zoning regulations; there’s no natural habitat where I live for the likes of me. Or my fellow weirdos, who may be a minority hereabouts, but not a minority of zero.

* * *

I hope you don’t need further elaboration about why this is so, but if you do, let me know and I’ll write more to explain. Right now, I have to go home to my family.

.


noj said:
[We too have regulations covering the many things, but I like to think that the regulations have an inherent degree of flexibility built into them, which enable good, innovative design to be built where possible...This is where the human judgement comes to pass, for better or worse. It may be devolved to a planning officer, it may be done by an elected member, but the effect is the same.
Sounds more flexible than what we have here. More details of the process?
 
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#22
Hmm? Firing a handyman that was too good sounds like a '60's thing to me. But perhaps I am mistaken.

We all have the right to be weird in our own ways. One of my ways is that I can't not start from first principles. It causes a lot of distress, but it doesn't appear to be subject to change. Sort of like a preference for plain white or places where there aren't enough parking spaces. Which is an interesting thing: you're off to London, while I'm going to the Canyonlands, into the deep wilderness where there are no parking spaces at all.

Peace, and keep sending us your essays. You really do have a book in you, you know. I will keep fretting about first principles and buying my food direct from the farm, changing the economy one transaction at a time. As for revolution, while I am no expert, I shoot well enough to have fed myself for long periods of time. I think well enough to see that Lenin and Mao changed nothing except who held the whip hand.
 

ablarc

     
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#23
Nikos A. Salingaros interviews Léon Krier on the future of cities


False steps and ideology.

NS: Has humanity, as you claim in your writings and talks, made a fundamentally false step in building its cities, and if so, what can be done about it now?

LK: Humanity lives by trial and error, sometimes committing errors of monumental scale. Architectural and urbanist modernism belong -- like communism -- to a class of errors from which there is little or nothing to learn or gain. They are ideologies which literally blind even the most intelligent and sensitive people to unacceptable wastes, risks, and dangers. Modernism's fundamental error, however, is to propose itself as a universal (i.e. unavoidable and necessary) phenomenon, legitimately replacing and excluding traditional solutions. Thank God there are, through the applications of New Urbanism in the last 20 years, enough positive experiences worldwide to see a massive return to common-sense solutions.

New Urbanism.

NS: Many of the leading new urbanists look to you for inspiration. What are your suggestions for the future of cities if the world can be convinced to build in a New Urban context?

LK: There already exist excellent New Urbanist models for living in small and medium size towns; higher density projects are only recently being completed, but they don't get the media attention they deserve, so the learning process is slower than it could be. Very great sums are being invested now to renovate 1950s and 1960s modernist estates and campuses, but many of these are no more than the artificial prolongation of failed experiments of social and architectural collectivism. New Urbanism is not utopian and does not impose social master plans. Instead, it allows the infinite variety of human talent and ambition to build harmonious and pleasing environments. It channels competitive forces to flourish as good neighbors while pursuing their own self-interest. The very great challenge of the future, however, will be the urbanization of suburbia, the redevelopment of sprawl.

The theoretical models are ready, but their application is slow. What is now already certain is that even the most soulless dumps on earth can -- with the right ideas and people, and sometimes very modest means -- be turned around to become places of beauty and human thriving.

NS: There remains a serious misunderstanding. Planners -- and more importantly, citizens in general, including those elected representatives in a position to make decisions -- don't realize that the solutions you propose apply to all cities, irrespective of style. Urban structure obeys scientific rules that are independent of region. There is a secondary dependence on local tradition, climate, resources, and materials, but that has long been erased with the uniform modernist approach. Current planning practice creates two separate and artificial images of urban form: traditional, Classical and historic centers on the one hand; and vital, dynamic, growing urban fabric on the other. Within this mind-set, the governing body of a city comes to you only when it wants to revitalize itself in a Neo-traditionalist manner. Have the New Urbanists, in carving out a niche for themselves, helped to isolate New Urbanism from mainstream planning? How can this be corrected, and how do you convince the profession that there is no such difference?

LK: You are absolutely right to point out that urban structure as a set of organizational principles is largely independent of style. Many New Urbanist projects are done using buildings in traditional style because that is the way that we prefer them to be done; at least for the time being. Modernist architecture is generally so bad and arbitrary that it is almost totally inappropriate for most common uses and climates. The most successful and well publicized New Urbanist projects are of course the neo-traditional ones like Seaside, Celebration and Poundbury, but there are plenty of similar schemes done using modernist architecture in Holland, Denmark and Germany, which follow the urban principles but are architectural no-man's land -- and consequently remain unknown.

I personally resist for the moment mixing traditional and modernist architecture because from experience one modernist building is enough to destroy the spirit even of a largely traditional scheme. The Steven Holl building in Seaside may be the best example of this. Modernists seem to be so disorganized in their ideas that they are quite unable to realize anything so coherent and complex as Windsor or Poundbury; the situation is so critical that Andres Duany and I have discussed for a while designing a modernist town simply to show them how it is done. A town design code could easily limit itself to Le Corbusier's 1920s or 1950s grammar and produce a meaningful townscape; the same could be done with Frank Lloyd Wright -- or even Zaha Hahid or Oscar Niemeyer idioms. New Urbanists are at any rate not limited to traditional architecture, and yet a lot of people spend sleepless nights and are torn between old and new allegiances. But I would say that this is not a transcendental or moral issue, and in the end every one should do in this area what he or she feels is right; and if one is not sure, experiment around a little if the client is prepared to take the risk and then make a lucid choice.

However, if you are faced with a political situation of common complexity I would always recommend a local vernacular as the basic architecture, because it moves design issues away from the arbitrary and from the political terror of modernist moralism. This choice reduces stylistic and architectural errors to the level of the bearable and away from spectacular errors so common to modernist experiments. Traditional detailing generally has to do with resolving practical problems of building in an elegant way, whereas style is really the quality with which you master what are technological issues.

What we have to point out to modernists again and again is that in democracies even architecture and urbanism are a matter of choice, and are not metaphysical constraints or absolutes of their own making. Those who don't accept choice in these matters are ultimately anti-democratic, totalitarian and possibly un-modern, however futuristic their buildings may look.

Scarcity of land.

NS: Architects trained in the modernist tradition of our schools do not share the same reverence for your ideas as do New Urbanists. They argue that you neglect the serious population pressures that force high-rise buildings on the third world, and commercial pressures that do the same in downtowns the world over. Can you respond to such criticisms?

LK: There is strictly speaking no correlation between demographic pressure and high rise buildings (with the rare exception of the type of conditions found in Hong Kong). In the US or Europe the "scarcity of land" argument is promoted and maintained by people with a variety of contrasting agendas, reaching from those of landowners to those of ecologists. It is an artificially fabricated myth which dissolves into thin air when we look down onto those continents from the air. We will then realize that our towns and landscapes do not suffer from a scarcity of land or generalized road and building congestion, but rather from badly used land, hence from bad planning. For instance, while Paris doubled its population it spread its buildings over a territory 15 times that of central Paris, despite the proliferation of utilitarian high rise buildings.

Market forces.

NS: The built environment is created by market forces, speculative greed, zoning legislation, etc. Is it even possible to build a humane environment within these unfortunately real restrictions?

LK: Market forces are vectors of human energies and enterprise. No city can be built without them. Planning laws have in the past often strangled such activities rather than let them flourish. New Urbanist principles have the simplicity and practicality of moral precepts rather than the tyrannical sophistications of utopian reform. They are not so much prescriptive as they are permissive. In that perspective, the common interest, in the form of public spaces, is the product of neighbors realizing their contrasting and variegated self-interests.
 
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#24
"the simplicity and practicality of moral precepts" Oy! I don't disagree with too much of this, but there is way too much ego in it for it to be inspirational. And, of course:

The notion that market forces are any more or less vectors of human energy than government is just silly. Where planning strangles good design it is not, ordinarily, an accident. Right or wrong, it is intentional and it expresses emotions about the changing environment that are every bit as fundamental as the market, and indeed far deeper rooted that the worship of the market that began to be encouraged (by those who benefit most) only during the last 300 years or so, beginning when the British had to use armed force to herd people into the cities to work in the mills.

ablarc, have you read Murray Bookchin? If not, you should do so. As, for that matter, should all of the other participants in this forum.
 

ablarc

     
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#25
Lee, Krier admires Kropotkin as much as Bookchin does, and he even shares Bookchin's belief that society has to reform itself from first principles. And furthermore, those first principles are mighty similar. Amazing how most Utopians share certain beliefs.

I can't sign on to Utopianism; the wait is too long.

Fortunately, Krier hasn't kept the ideal from becoming the enemy of the possible; if he had, he would not have been able to get anything built. Talk isn't enough.
 

ablarc

     
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#26
Whew, ol' Bookchin derailed this thread for a few months.

Sorry to ambush you like this, Lee, after all this time; but revisiting this thread has convinced me that I need to dispute much of what you say; I think you’re just dead wrong about some things, and I can’t let it stand.

Lee Nellis said:
Ah ablarc, if your analysis were only as good as your images. And while this is your most direct attempt to counter the fact that development is as it is due to market dynamics
Is that really a fact or only partly true?

Lee Nellis said:
(which zoning simply mirrors)[/b]…
I vigorously dispute this. Zoning’s purposes are as much aesthetic and moralistic as they are eonomic (just read the mission statement in the front of your codebook). In reality zoning succeeds in serving not one of the three purposes, for it’s misled by faulty theories. That’s what makes it a dismal failure: it states its goals and misses them by a mile.

Lee Nellis said:
… it still fails. Indeed, the evidence you present as an alternative to development regulated by zoning argues powerfully against your own point.
How so? I can’t find the evidence to support your contention; maybe you can supply it.

What I do find in some of your responses is assertions that are unsupported by evidence, untrue, and that give off the weary and hackneyed aroma of received and unexamined wisdom. Here’s an example:

Lee Nellis said:
The spaces you idealize grew up over hundreds of years.
Some did, some didn’t; and more to the point:so what? This one's a red herring.

I’ve heard this old saw so many times, I know it’s just an article of faith. As wisdom it’s both store-bought and shopworn. It has no relevance to the present discussion despite its comforting familiarity. We’ve all heard it, and it’s never been anything but a cliché; it’s like saying your car’s engine runs better since you put on new tires: plausible to the inattentive, but untrue.

I didn’t talk in my post about the effects of time, because history doesn’t interest me as a connoisseur or as an antiquarian; I don’t require my walkable environments to be “authentic,” i.e. old. I’d be quite content if someone would build me some new ones, and I don’t give a rat’s a$$ about the style. That’s why I was so happy with my five days in Seaside without once getting in my car. I’m interested in what we can do here and now. And we can do the same things now as we have ever done. History doesn’t bind us unless we rush to declare defeat; we make history if we give ourselves that option (ask George Bush). And we all have unused reservoirs of power.

If I use images of old places to illustrate well-designed pedestrian environments, that’s because I’m forced to; zoning mavens like you have outlawed such places, so lately we haven’t built too many. (Now there’s a concrete example of making history.)

“You can’t replicate what grew up over hundreds of years.” The part you can’t replicate is the actual effects of the hundred years, which are often minimal: wear and tear, “patina,” construction techniques, minor alterations. These are certainly not the essence of what I’m talking about; thirty years ago we thought –with equal perceptiveness—that the essence of such places was to harbor crackheads and pimps. What I am talking about is an inspiring, beautiful and ecologically sound walkable environment, and that doesn’t need to be replicated, just permitted.. The only reason we can think preposterously that such places are the result of time is that we haven’t built such places lately. The ones we have built are often ridiculed on the grounds that they’re not convincingly old-looking or (equally, and sometimes from the other side of the same mouths) that they look too old. The snake has swallowed its tail.

The South Slope of Beacon Hill was developed rapidly; it achieved its present form over a mere ten years. It’s not growing up over time that makes the South End or Beacon Hill walkable; it’s the physical form. It’s houses that touch, it’s close-by or interspersed shops and community facilities, narrow streets, specific responses to local conditions, and absence of parking lots, front yards, sideyards, setbacks, buffers, permeability ratios and landscaping strips. In other words: the opposite of everything conventional zoning holds dear and mandates. And when the dust settles on an assemblage of zoning blunders like Beacon Hill, injury’s added to insult, for you find that fools pay upwards of 5 million to live in such substandard inadequacy. That’s the kind of foolishness that nobody needs protection from; nor does the environment.

Truth is, Beacon Hill was as walkable when it was brand new as it is now, as well-liked by its inhabitants, and almost as charming. And though it’s been around for almost two hundred years, it hasn’t changed much in that time. It, like all of Back Bay, was built up fairly rapidly in small increments by a large number of speculative homebuilders and individuals erecting custom houses –exactly like a modern subdivision. What’s different is that the rules in the older cases yielded row houses and a walkable, humane environment, and in a modern suburban subdivision you get…the familiar barf.

The South End didn’t grow up over hundreds of years either, and Bath didn’t, and the original Regent Street didn’t; they were built all at once by big developers, as more recently were Hampstead Garden Suburb, Normandy (Thornberg) Village, Coral Gables and Forest Hills Gardens, none of which can be replicated under present-day zoning (and all of which were built in kitschy revivalist styles we’re allowed to love by the aesthetics police because that was seventy years ago. Exception: walkable Miami Beach, built in “modern” Deco style).

Here’s a surprise: the people who moved in loved these places from Day One, because their minds weren’t addled by Modernist moralism: “it’s immoral to not be ‘modern.’”). If you were allowed (I didn’t say "required") to build places like any example mentioned above, you can be sure the yuppies would snap them up –even at the astronomical prices you’d have to charge (less, however, than the construction cost of a Manhattan condo by Richard Meier). The market for genuinely nice places will never ebb (at least not during an administration that keeps kicking money upstairs); and the price of housing would ease minutely for all the rest of us, who can't afford the nice places.

That’s exactly what happened at Poundbury, one of the recent projects with the vision, foresight, courage and perseverance to build an inspiring, beautiful and ecologically sound walkable environment. You recall what a battle-royal it took to change the zoning to permit that one; now that it’s built, it’s detractors –shepherded by modernist cheerleaders like Norman Foster-- simultaneously accuse it of being too clean and new and too old-fashioned looking. But truth is, it’s barely distinguishable (shame on it!) from the rest of Dorchester, built a century or two ago; and that should surprise no one, as the requirements for accommodating the human stride and occupying the pedestrian’s attention haven’t changed at all over time. What has changed is the introduction of the automobile; and its suave integration is certainly Poundbury’s great innovation.

So we get the conclusion before the observation, the cart before the horse: “You can’t build like that these days.”

I can tell you why you might believe this deluded nonsense --and even who got you to believe it-- but I find it mystifying that any thinking person would cling to this view, when so much of the ideology that promulgated it has already been discredited. And I know for an indisputable fact that it’s untrue, because I personallyhave built like that, and with dazzling profits. And it looks like there’ll be plenty more. So I reply from personal experience: “Hogwash.”

Get with the times. This is what you always hear from people who are mired in the present, therefore behind the times:

Lee Nellis said:
Modern development doesn't happen that way, so it can't possibly look that way.
Modern development, like development of any era, happens according to the rules you set up. If you set up bad rules, you get bad developments. The only thing keeping you from building an inspiring, beautiful and ecologically sound walkable environment in 2005—if you are inclined to—is the rules that forbid it. If the rules allowed greater freedom, most developers would choose to go on doing exactly what they’ve always done and find familiar –but not all! I’m not proposing to circumscribe one single solitary lil’ ol’developer’s god-given right to go on despoiling the environment exactly as he pleases; I just say the developers who would choose a better way should be given a chance to run without leg irons. I’m arguing for more freedom here, not less; leave the crappy zoning in place for those who want to use it, but for goodness sake don’t hobble those who want to do better.

As it is, the intrepid few successfully evade the regulations through PUDs and other mechanisms, and produce the first glimmerings of the next era in placemaking. It’s through their efforts that we have Kentlands and Seaside and Windsor. And though there’s much to criticize (PUDs produce increments of development that are, we agree, too large and mostly too greenfield), and though it will take half a century or more for these places to grow together or otherwise achieve critical mass and significant impact, they clearly represent the future in post-Peak Oil times.

We need to let the dinosaurs of development lumber placidly into their tarpits, instead of creating and enforcing regulations to guarantee their survival.

Lee Nellis said:
It is going to look mass-produced because it is,
Are you saying housing is mostly made in factories? I design housing, and I know it's one of the last bastions of hand craftsmanship; surely you must know that.

Lee Nellis said:
and will always be unless well-designed regulations counter the market.
Are you saying well-designed regulations make housing look not mass-produced?

Clearly you are saying “well-designed regulations counter the market .” Isn’t that a direct contradiction of “development is as it is due to market dynamics (which zoning simply mirrors),” only a few sentences back?

Lee Nellis said:
…I do not believe any of the positive examples you present evolved in a capitalist economy.
If that’s so, it’s for poetic reasons, and has no meaning; I’ve rectified that by presenting only examples from capitalist economies in the present post.

Lee Nellis said:
Does zoning create visually dead places? No. It may accede to them for political reasons, but developers do that, and reap the profits.
All those consumers out there, hot to buy into visually dead places…All those bucks to be made by creating them…

Lee Nellis said:
Do local zoning regulations and decisions reflect the market? Yes, they do. Does that lead to crappy development? Yes, it does.
Q.E.D.?

Lee Nellis said:
But one does not cure a disease by mistaking the symptoms for the cause.
This could do with some elaboration; as it stands I recognize a truism but I don’t know what it means in the present context.

Lee Nellis said:
Your frustration is going to continue unabated until you get the message.
I’m not frustrated; I have plenty of soul-satisfying work to keep me happy –but none of it’s within the rules. The stuff that is is just crap I churn out to feed my family (you can’t criticize that, since you think that’s what I ought to be doing).

Lee, I do sense some frustration in you, however. You already know the solution to that: as you say, “get the message.”

Lee Nellis said:
Yes, there are one or two developers who might try something different if the regulations were altered in some specific way. But they are the exception that proves the rule.
Why not give them a chance? What they do can’t be worse than what we have now, which is terminally crappy. And if people don’t like it, they won’t buy it, and the developers will reap their just desserts.

Lee Nellis said:
Capitalism homogenizes all that it affects. And that is not an unintended side effect. It is structurally inevitable.
Aren’t you confusing capitalism with Marxism? Closet Marxists often do that; they also refer to inevitability. I suspect you of a little closet Marxism here, Lee; it’s ok, we all went through that.

But I have a whole lot more faith in people’s discernment. Give them a chance in a genuinely free market and most will eventually make the right choice. It’s a slow process under the best conditions; that’s why if you can’t help you need to at least –in John Wayne’s immortal words—get the hell out of the way.

Lee Nellis said:
Condemning community's efforts to counter the market reality, however unsuccessful and sad they often are, not only misses the point, but it lends considerable comfort to the folks who are profiting from the problem.
Now, enough flip-flopping, Lee: is zoning the “mirror of the market” or does it “counter the market reality”?

Elsewhere in this thread you proclaim that you’re incurably addicted to first principles. Delve into those now, Lee, and find unequivocal answers to such questions, clear of cobwebs and fuzz; and then stick to them unveeringly until rational observation causes you to change your mind (which I hope is right now:), since your thinking clearly isn’t rooted in spite of your protestations to the contrary.)

At the very least, your first principles should tell you more than what’s impossible. They should be empowering, not enervating. Lee, it should be obvious from the very fact of this response that I regard you as a friend and have a high opinion of your capacity; that’s why the best advice I can give you is: Wake up; you’re in danger of turning into a tired, played-out bureaucrat.;)

Trips to the wilderness aren’t enough.
 
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abrowne

     
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#27
I've not commented here yet although I have been reading intently. I am finding that I share many of the same views expressed here thus far. Lately I have been thinking a great deal about a great many things, but I always find my thoughts intersecting, despite the widely varying topics I choose. After dinner I have been known to go on walks with my mother and she listens as I talk, nearly the entire walk, about each and every property we pass, each and every street and lane and park and intersection and how they might look in another world, or another time, or simply if someone had put more thought into whatever we pass.

I'm enrolled at the University of Waterloo right now. I'm having a bit of trouble in my mind as I find that planning is not oriented enough on design as my tastes would dictate, but contemporary architectural schools (of which Waterloo also contains) seem wrapped up in such bullshit and dick-waving egotism. Light shines through, here and there, but the same sort of rhetorical blinders that planning suffers are present - and on steroids - in today's architecture.

So where does that leave me, a student? I must admit that as of the last few weeks I harbour more than a small notion of helplessness, and this does enrage me. ablarc, your campaign against zoning is an example - how likely is it that an already existing urban centre would give up zoning? I've buried myself in literature again and that is generally a sign that I am fed up with what reality lies out my door.

ablarc, if you are in or near Vancouver this summer, or, for that matter, in or near Waterloo area from Sept-April, perhaps we could meet over a brew?

While I write, I would also like to make apology. In past threads I may have gruffly dismissed your arguments, which is completely unsuitable and childish. It is good that you have ideas and write of them.
 

ablarc

     
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#28
abrowne said:
I'm enrolled at the University of Waterloo right now. I'm having a bit of trouble in my mind as I find that planning is not oriented enough on design…but contemporary architectural schools…seem wrapped up in such bullshit and dick-waving egotism. Light shines through, here and there, but the same sort of rhetorical blinders that planning suffers are present - and on steroids - in today's architecture.
You said it, abrowne, and it’s all right on the money. Obviously you’re a realist, which means you see with your own eyes instead of believing all the garbage your teachers try to palm off as wisdom or knowledge. This means you’re already way ahead of the pack, and are equipped to have a distinguished career --if you can keep an optimistic outlook.

abrowne said:
So where does that leave me, a student?
You do have to get a degree, or nobody will take you seriously –unless you’re as much of a genius as Leon Krier, who has no degree in anything. What you have to do is keep your eyesight clear exactly as though, like Krier, you had no degree. Otherwise you’ll end up as brainwashed as most of your classmates, who are almost certainly on their way to becoming zombies. From your comments, it’s clear you already have more understanding and insight into the true issues than your classmates will ever have. Later in life, while they’re shuffling paper, you’ll be designing cities.

So grit your teeth and stick it out; and whatever you do, don’t believe anything your teachers tell you that skates anywhere near the realm of opinion or ideology. You already know they’re ignoramuses; the state of the environment is proof enough of that. What you see didn’t get that way in spite of what they believe, but because of it. And don’t you believe them when they tell you how powerless they are to change things. They’re powerful enough, and they already have changed things; you’re looking at their fruits.

“Planning is not oriented enough on design”: bullseye! Ask a reasonably educated and well-informed person to name some planners, and he’ll rattle off a list of architects. Michelangelo through Nash and Corbusier to Duany, it’s architects who have driven planning where it’s gone: to the heights and to the lower depths. That’s because architects know how to draw and have training in art. You can’t have visions unless you can draw; it’s in the process of drawing that the visions occur.

You’re right about architecture school, too. There, ignorance and ideological orthodoxy are compounded with arrogance; the only usefulness is in the exposure to art and the creative process. Learning to draw is reason enough to attend. But there too: don’t believe your teachers (and keep it to yourself). Once you pass your exams and collect the various scraps of paper that purport to make you a professional, you can come out of the closet and show your true colors; you’ll be a certified expert at that point.

There is a kind of bastard offspring of architecture and planning. It’s called urban design. In places where this program exists, you’ll be amazed at the relative absence of bullshit; and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised that almost everybody has a good grasp of the issues. This is where you’ll find like-minded individuals who are interested in the ideas and skills that you’re looking for; this is what planning should be in a better world. These are artists, not policemen.

Problem is, the field has no legal standing: states don’t issue scraps of paper emblazoned with the words, “Urban Designer”; and anyway you usually need an architecture degree to enter one of these programs. Once there, you’ll find you’re surrounded by sympathetic peers, though.

It’s a long haul; you might find it easier if you think of yourself as an undercover agent—you know, the Old Mole.

Meanwhile: Illegitimi non carborundum
 

Luca

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#29
Hah!

NOW, finally realize what your problem is, "Ablarc". You like beautiful buildings/townscapes.

That's so old fashioned. Aren't you ashamed? What would happen if, thanks to today's mind-boggling productive capacity and technological inventivenss all cities ended up looking as good as Venice or Paris or Kensington? Are you mad? No crappy McMansions and ugly burbs? People might start VALUING their surroundings. Wot, in Gawd's name is WRONG with you?!?! ;-)
 
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#30
Good Lord ablarc! I just got back to work.

But because it relates to something I am working on, I have a practical question about one observation. You say it will take 50+ years for some of these places to achieve "critical mass." I have been thinking much the same, and feeling some despair about that. My question is, what specific things could be done to hasten the process? And I am not just asking about the zoning, although that is fair game, I am also asking about what the private sector could do. The developers I am working with are tentatively saying that they may have made "mistakes," but it is clear that they have no idea what to do instead of the same old pattern. One of the critical properties has a new owner, so now is the time to make suggestions. Our recent reform of some very strange provisions in the town's subdivision regs has given me some influence in the development community for the time being.

More later. I have to go inhibit the local Coca-Cola distributor's creativity.
 
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#32
abrowne said:
So where does that leave me, a student? I must admit that as of the last few weeks I harbour more than a small notion of helplessness, and this does enrage me.

Abrowne, I completely understand the helplessness you are feeling right now. There is no degree program for those of us who envision better environments and want to be part of the process of seeing them to fruition.

The reality is you need a degree - any degree - for the professional world to take you seriously. I chose planning in order to learn the intricacies of the system and the public process. I had to stimulate my creative side outside of the traditional educational environment.

Keep imagining better places. Keep reading Kunstler, Katz, and the like. Revisit Jane Jacobs. Look through A Pattern Language and think about what could be possible (you don’t have to agree with Alexander’s politics to gain inspiration from his principals). And, as ablarc has stressed, draw. Draw alot, put your ideas on paper so you can effectively communicate them to others.

Remember you are breaking new ground. It’s not easy to deviate from the status quo. If you stick to your principals you will succeed and have a positive impact on our built world.
 

BKM

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#34
I'm sorry ablarc, when I read this thread, then go over to the thread celebrating TEH GREAT GENIUS, I realize now that you are TROLLING over there as you extol the earth-shattering beauty of Frankie G's concoctions of advertising logos, billowing foam, cardboard computer cutouts, and pointless egotism. :p
 

abrowne

     
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#35
I have a tremendous need to resume writing. I've always been fairly opinionated (albeit more towards politics and literature than the urban form), and the local newspapers have taken to printing my letters to the editor out of habit. There is a notion forming in my head that I want to shop around a small, weekly column about urban issues and urban history.

Off-topic:

Thank you for the words of encouragement. I'm looking happily to my fall studies as I have NO planning policy or regulatory type courses to speak of. The lineup:

ENVS 200 - Field Ecology - This should be a blast! Nothing too new in terms of information, but the application of theory should prove interesting. I appreciate the very practical nature of this class... an escape from the puffery of regulations and the Planning Act.
ENVS 201 - Environmental and Planning Law - Cautiously optimistic about this one.
ENVS 278 - Advanced Environmental Research Methods - This isn't even interesting math. It will provide useful tools in order for me to manipulate statistical studies to my advantage :)-P), but that doesn't change the fact that its dry, dry, dry.
PLAN 210 - Planning Design and the Environment - A problem-based exploration of urban and regional design in the physical-natural, built, social-cultural environment. Individual and group projects, studio consultation and critiques explore traditional and contemporary approaches using sketches, constructed and computer models, and verbal analysis. Feck yeah! Builds upon our first year studio course, which was centred more on getting accustomed to drafting, drawing, and expressing ideas in drawings.

My fifth course is a class in French. Practically, Spanish was full and didn't fit into my timetable well anyways (I trust that Barcelona will wait for me... they'd prefer Catalan anyways). There is always Paris.

Next term I have these required classes to look forward to, plus two electives:

PLAN 233 People and Plans
PLAN 255 Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
PLAN 261 Urban and Metropolitan Planning and Development


I've developed a few fascinations as of late, those being courtyards, courtyard homes, row houses and their streetfront sunken patios, medieval street layouts (or more accurately, building layouts, as the streets are subordinate), and Barcelona (where I dream of renting a flat for a month and exploring).

UWaterloo's school of architecture recently moved to a building about 30km away, where previously they had been in the same building as us planners. The interaction was apparently less than civil at times, but I mourn the loss of differing view. I had hoped to flow a bit between both the planners and the architects but this seems very difficult now. Not only did they physically move, but they left the Faculty of Environmental Studies and joined the Faculty of Engineering. A strange shift. But it certainly does reflect modern Architecture that seems to place more importance on materials and shiny industrial puffery rather than people and space.

ablarc: I plan on continuing my education with a graduate degree - that list is very helpful. Thank you.
 
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#36
The proposition that market forces create the landscape is an easy cop-out for cities having absolved themselves of their role as the creators of neighborhood and place. The city itself is an agent in the market. It is in constant competition with other cities for citizens and industries. It must accomplish this by creating the most compelling places available to man, places that answer human desires. The cities are selling a product, just like an architect sells a building design or Toyota sells a car. Certainly the architect and Toyota do not rely on speculators and 'market' forces telling them how their buildings should look or their cars should be made. They themselves hold the expertise, they themselves have a relationship with the customer. They know best how to plan the direction of their enterprise. The city planners should be entirely in control of the city's transformation into a better place for its residents, and should harness the forces of the market to accomplish that. The expertise of the city obviously begins and ends at the physical form of the city. It has no need to define what the interior of buildings should be like, or what kind of commercial activity should take place within them. That is up to the individual choices of the people who own the buildings, because they ultimately have the right expertise and right incentives to make it suit human needs.

No other economic agent, be they home buyer, subdivision developer, real estate superstar, etc, know what makes a good city better than the expert city planners in competition with thousands of other city planners in the world. They have the full right and the responsibility to define the city's future. Zoning is not building a city, it is only putting limitations on the use of land. If developers are better informed about the needs of their customers than the city, then they should be placed in charge of their own cities and the limitations put on them by zoning from incompetent cities should be removed so that their full creative entrepreneurial power can be utilized. The developers should then become the city planners.
 

ablarc

     
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#37
jaws said:
The proposition that market forces create the landscape is an easy cop-out for cities having absolved themselves of their role as the creators of neighborhood and place. The city itself is an agent in the market. It is in constant competition with other cities for citizens and industries. It must accomplish this by creating the most compelling places available to man, places that answer human desires.
Good point, jaws.

jaws said:
The cities are selling a product, just like an architect sells a building design or Toyota sells a car. Certainly the architect and Toyota do not rely on speculators and 'market' forces telling them how their buildings should look or their cars should be made. They themselves hold the expertise, they themselves have a relationship with the customer. They know best how to plan the direction of their enterprise.
Your selection of Toyota’s particularly apt in this regard. Toyota’s about to overtake General Motors as the Number One auto company in the US market. Industry analysts agree this is because Toyota is product-driven and regularly introduces exciting new cars that create their own market. GM by contrast is constantly taking the measure of the market. They produce unimaginative, second-rate products that fewer people want each year; their market share’s down to 20% from 51% five decades ago. Next year fewer still will want a GM car, and their market share will reliably drop to 19%, leaving Toyota as king of the hill.

jaws said:
If developers are better informed about the needs of their customers than the city, then they should be placed in charge of their own cities and the limitations put on them by zoning from incompetent cities should be removed so that their full creative entrepreneurial power can be utilized. The developers should then become the city planners.
I’m not ready to give developers free rein yet; they have too many bad habits to kick. But so do planners.

If there’s to be change, the established need to re-program themselves, and the new faces need a more useful education.
 

BKM

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#38
jaws said:
The proposition that market forces create the landscape is an easy cop-out for cities having absolved themselves of their role as the creators of neighborhood and place. The city itself is an agent in the market. It is in constant competition with other cities for citizens and industries. It must accomplish this by creating the most compelling places available to man, places that answer human desires. The cities are selling a product, just like an architect sells a building design or Toyota sells a car. Certainly the architect and Toyota do not rely on speculators and 'market' forces telling them how their buildings should look or their cars should be made. They themselves hold the expertise, they themselves have a relationship with the customer. They know best how to plan the direction of their enterprise. The city planners should be entirely in control of the city's transformation into a better place for its residents, and should harness the forces of the market to accomplish that. The expertise of the city obviously begins and ends at the physical form of the city. It has no need to define what the interior of buildings should be like, or what kind of commercial activity should take place within them. That is up to the individual choices of the people who own the buildings, because they ultimately have the right expertise and right incentives to make it suit human needs.

No other economic agent, be they home buyer, subdivision developer, real estate superstar, etc, know what makes a good city better than the expert city planners in competition with thousands of other city planners in the world. They have the full right and the responsibility to define the city's future. Zoning is not building a city, it is only putting limitations on the use of land. If developers are better informed about the needs of their customers than the city, then they should be placed in charge of their own cities and the limitations put on them by zoning from incompetent cities should be removed so that their full creative entrepreneurial power can be utilized. The developers should then become the city planners.
All very good points. I would argue, though, that cities HAVE largely absolved themselves of this role in the United States, except in the case of a very crude, largely ineffectual set of tools (zoning). Partly because many of the ideas used by planners have proven to be ineffectual or even harmful. Partly because many American cities are interested only in the continuous chase for jobs, any jobs, at any costs.

City planners have also proven unable to deal with the major forces makeing city form so...inhuman today. Namely, the consolidation of economic power in fewer and fewer hands (resulting in larger and larger building footprints) and, more seriously, the dominance of the private automobile. Parking garages are only one solution, but they are amazingly expensive. Even putting the parking lot behind the building is uncomfortable for users (I know I feel a strong sense of irritation when I have to park in a multilevel garage or behind the building. We are spoiled residents of the National Parking Lot).

Challenging issues, all. :)
 

steel

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#39
This is one of the best threads I have ever seen. It is a great outline for a book. I have not had time to read everything here but here is my 2 cents (as an architect)

Zoning has its purpose. Certainly everyone wants to be protected from a steel mill moving in across the street. But zoning has grown way beyond that to a thing which tries to control our lives.

Planners are trained more like engineers. They plug in numbers and the answer comes out the other side. People and society do not operate on numbers and formulas. Society is more complex and has many answers. Architects (good architects) realize this and understand that any number of solutions can be valid if they take human nature into account. People trained as engineers do not understand the idea of multiple correct answers and will design for a single correct solution to every possibility. Our zoning rules are a result of this.

No complex dynamic human environment can be designed and constructed in one fell swoop. We love old cities because the complexity that they hold is the result of thousands of people and generations interacting over long periods of time. Today we try to achieve that result with one planner one architect and one developer. There is no way so few minds can compete with generations of minds in creating space.
 

NHPlanner

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#40
steel said:
Planners are trained more like engineers. They plug in numbers and the answer comes out the other side.
I don't know what planners you're talking about.....since from my experience planners and engineers conflict on far more issues than any design professions.

Good planners (IMO) have a background in design, and use that to complement their other skills (analysis, administration, negotiation, mediation, etc....).
 
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