Monday, May 31, 2010
Memorial Day in New York II
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Memorial Day in New York
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Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Kunstler on Atlanta & CNU 18FOR THE FULL TEXT of James Howard Kunstler's Out of Darkness click here.
MY HOMEYS, the New Urbanists, held their annual meeting at the "downtown" Hilton there this past week -- a most mysterious selection, perhaps due to an x-treme discount on room rates in a time of austerity. The New Urbanists first came together about twenty years ago as a campaign to reform the tragic fiasco of suburbia. By taking this on they were often labeled as enemies of the American Way Of Life and Christian Decency, but they are a valiant band. I'd guess that architects composed about two-thirds of the org and the rest included developers, planning officials, a few college professors and journalists. They were all out of the mainstream, especially of architecture, whose stock-in-trade had become the emperors new clothes.
...The New Urbanists were fiercely opposed, usually for stupid reasons by stupid people, but also by the mandarin architecture establishment, especially in the grad schools, where mysticism supported a set of theological rackets in the service of celebrity cults divorced from the public nature of things that get built. In the local planning boards, the New Urbanists were accused of being communists; in the ivory towers they were accused of being slaves to worn-out traditions -- like walking from home to work. They certainly proved one principle of the human condition: that even the best ideas will generate opposition.
The New Urbanists had to work within this system. They had to find allies among developers who aspired to create better places, and they had to get under the hood of regulatory system to rewrite the laws in thousands of municipalities. They got a lot of projects built, new neighborhoods and even whole new towns. Many of these places came out beautifully. Some of them were badly compromised in the fight to get them built. Some of them were rip-offs that amounted to little more than the usual suburban schlock with a little window-dressing.
It's a bitter irony that the most ambitious New Urbanist projects were made possible within the context of the housing bubble economy. For about a decade money seemed to grow on trees. Most of that money went into conventional suburban crapola and a small percentage of it went into New Urbanist projects, but when the bubble burst, it crushed all the players, regardless of the ultimate social value of what they produced.
I heard a lot of stories during the meeting in Atlanta last week but one really stood out. It was about the money and revealed a lot about what is going on in our banking system these days. A New Urbanist developer had gotten a small project going for a traditional neighborhood. Despite the global financial clusterfuck, the developer was able to meet the payments of his commercial loan. But the FDIC sent bank examiners around America and they told the small regional banks that if they had more than twenty percent of their loans in commercial real estate (CRE) they would be put out of business. The banks were ordered to reduce their loads of CRE by calling in the loans and liquidating the assets. Ironically, the banks only called in their "performing" loans, the ones that were being regularly paid off, because they were ignoring and even concealing the ones that weren't being paid.
The developer in question had his loan called in when the FDIC descended on his bank. He couldn't pay off the $3 million in one lump, of course. The FDIC's agents are going to seize and sell off his project if he can't get it refinanced in short order. He can't get it refinanced because there is now such a shortage of capital in the banking system that no one can get a loan for anything. Also, since it is now well-known that the bank failed, the vultures are circling above his project hoping to buy it for a discount, so even the few private investors who have money won't throw him a lifeline. By the way, the FDIC agents told him they are doing this because they now expect that virtually all commercial real estate loans in the USA will fail in the months ahead. Pretty scary story, huh? And he was one of the good guys.
I suppose it was a tragic thing that the New Urbanists made themselves hostage to the same banking system that was behind suburban sprawl. Apart from the personal stories of misfortune among them, the movement is still alive. In fact, they have emerged the victors in the long contest over how America will build itself, because it is now self-evident that suburban sprawl is an epic failure. Whether Americans like it or not, whether their identity is tied up in the suburban fantasy or not, we are faced with circumstances that now compel us to live differently.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Live from Atlanta: Talking Head David Byrne Addresses CNU 18
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Stats Yankee Fans Like UPDATEDUPDATE: Two weeks later, the Cleveland Indians' manager made the same move, walking Teixiera to face A-Rod with the bases loaded. Result: a 415 foot home run to straight center field, making A-Rod 5 for 5 in that situation, with 3 grand slams, 1 walk, 1 sac fly and 18 rbis. "Let's ... not tell the opposing managers," A-Rod said to the reporters. With 20 career grand slams, A-Rod now trails only Lou Gehrig (23) and Manny "Let Manny Be Manny" Ramirez (21).
LAST NIGHT, with first base open and Yankees on second and third with one out, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire walked Mark Teixeira to face A-Rod with the bases loaded.
- A-Rod hit a grand slam and is now 4-for-4 with 1 walk, 1 sacrifice fly, 2 home runs and 14 RBI in 6 at bats when Teixeira has been intentionally walked to load the bases in front of him.
- A-Rod's record against the pitcher brought in to face him (who has been the Twins' best right-handed reliever this year) is now 5 for 7, with 4 home runs.
- The grand slam was the 19th of A-Rod's career, the third most all-time. The home run was number 587, moving him past Frank Robinson for sole possession of seventh on baseball’s career home runs list.
Phil Hughes this year: 23 years old, 39 innings pitched, 22 hits, 14 walks, 39 strikeouts, 6 runs, 1.38 era, 5 wins 0 losses.
Mariano Rivera this year: 40 years old, 11 innings pitched, 3 hits, 2 walks, 10 strikeouts, 0 runs, 0.00 era, 7 saves.
Thursday, May 06, 2010
We've Had A Century Of Urban Experimentation, and It's Made Our Cities Worse
YOU MIGHT THINK we all realize that. But in Village Vices: The Contradiction of New Urbanism and Sustainability at DesignObserver.com an Australian planner argues that what we need is more experimentation.
There are so many assertions in this article - and in Lerup's comment on the article - that I disagree with that it's difficult to know where to begin. But let's start with an easy one: New Urbanism is not based on "the village." Related to this village-based characterization of New Urbanism (and despite Lerup's comment), New Urbanists are working in Port-au-Prince, and other places like Kingston, Jamaica, Karachi, Pakistan, Mumbai, India and Havana, Cuba. Here in America, Miami, Florida joined a growing list of towns and cities that have adopted a form based code.
To turn Durack's argument around, she is essentially saying "let's experiment on our cities," even though her profession has been doing that for more than half a century, with disastrous results (Ville Radieuse, urban removal, towers in the parking lot, massive urban freeways, Broadacre City, auto-based planning, etc.) Conversely, New Urbanism adopts *any* method or technique that works, valuing the successful making of cities over theory or ideology.
Durack's proposal is consistent with what architects, landscape architects and planners have been doing since the days of Le Corbusier, the Bauhaus and CIAM. Those ego-based experiments have ruined cities around the world but have failed to produce a single successful city.
It's also consistent with what Lerup taught me many years ago, when I was a freshman in the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley. Lerup was one of the teachers in the core program for first year students, a program which I left because I found the principles they taught so limited and constricting that I thought they made it impossible to make good places larger than the single building. In retrospect, I think I made the right decision in transferring to another school.
PS: Under the direction of Dean Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, one ofthe founding Board members of the Congress for New Urbanism, the University of Miami School of Architecture has worked with the Haitian government and Partners in Health to train Haitian urban designers in emergency recovery techniques and long term planning. Her husband and partner Andres Duany, another founding Board member of the CNU, has donated large amounts of pro bono time at their office for the creation of emergency housing for Haiti, with 1,000 units donated to the country. I don't know of any similar efforts by the Landscape Urbanism that Durack describes.
PPS - only for the hard core: Durack makes a number of comments I question. Here are a few:
As she says, she offers no supporting evidence and "wants" to be a "renegade" voice - in other words, it seems, Landscape Urbanism's argument is flexibility and Landscape Urbanism opposes New Urbanism, so New Urbanism must be inflexible.
I suspect, however, that the village and sustainability are inherently contradictory concepts. This suspicion is offered as a polemic, based on neither empirical data nor a comprehensive review of the literature. My purpose is to voice a renegade opinion on the merits of New Urbanism and its dubious claims to sustainability, and to draw attention to an altogether more sustainable alternative that has been explored in recent projects.
The problem is that it's another straw man.
It could be that the New Urbanist village is just another seductive, formal prototype that is successfully diverting our attention from the overwhelming challenges of exploding urbanization in a world whose limits we have only recently realized are tangible. Perhaps all this proselytizing about a “new urbanism” and its captivating fantasies of village life is just a way to avoid confronting planning and design issues we are not even sure how to think about, let alone resolve.
"It could be..." "Perhaps..." Sort of, "I don't like this, so I'm going to say whatever negative things pop into my mind..."?
On the other hand, since many of the principles of New Urbanism come from what has worked, we can evaluate the models. Landscape urbanism proposes experimentation, so it is harder to evaluate.
Admittedly, we cannot accurately evaluate the impacts of New Urbanism until more communities have been built and occupied for a sufficient amount of time.
Climate change is an issue we have to deal with now. If we leave it to the next generation, they will be in dire straits.
My point is only that if we define sustainability as keeping options open and inviting our children to satisfy their own ambitions, within the same limits of consideration for the next generation, then the village as a model is antithetical to these objectives. And if we want to pay more than lip service to ideas of cultural diversity, environmental justice, freedom of expression, opportunity and democracy, then we have to embrace an open and indeterminate urbanity that allows these qualities to flower.
Re democracy, the polis is the place where democracy was born and has always flourished. In places where we experimented with different forms - as in the Parisian banlieus, exurbia and the Modernist housing project - democracy suffered.