Monday, August 31, 2009

Is Harvard Cribbing From Me Again?

I'm just kidding about the poaching of ideas, b/c in actuality they are more like memes or thought viruses spreading and taking hold to approach the necessary issues of the day, but the Harvard Business Review is starting to seriously address the issue and impossibilities of forever growth:

Economists describe this new model in many ways. One way is to use human cellular structures as a metaphor for economic growth. Call it cellular economic theory.

What do cells tell us about business? Well, consider that cells that grow continually and exponentially (like we've been taught our economies should grow) are a form of cancer. We know intuitively and logically that continuous growth can't be sustained in living things. It's likewise unsustainable (and undesirable) in business.

and the relevant examples:

For example, a brewery in India is using cellular economic thinking to grow its bottom line without producing and selling more beer. Instead it's using chaff and grain detritus to create fertilizer and biofuels--regenerating resources to lower their own production costs while widening the life cycles of their inputs.

KATIKA, a Swiss wood furniture maker, is reforesting at a rate greater than their production, using profits from their sales today to ensure the availability of resources later. In the meantime, their reforestation projects create local jobs and other sustainable benefits (home for wildlife and food, CO2 reduction) while increasing the value of formerly degraded land holdings.

LEED not doing a whole lot of leading, apparently

From the NYT: Some LEED certified buildings aren't who we thought they were.
The council’s own research suggests that a quarter of the new buildings that have been certified do not save as much energy as their designs predicted and that most do not track energy consumption once in use. And the program has been under attack from architects, engineers and energy experts who argue that because building performance is not tracked, the certification may be falling short in reducing emissions tied to global warming.

Needs vs. Wants

I've nibbled around the edges of this subject a little here, mostly in regards to how we much more varied wants are in relation to needs, meaning that needs are much more apt to generating common cause. As a wealthy society (and even worse, one that still thinks it's wealthy living beyond its means and off past successes), we all want different things, many of which materially or carnally related.

But, when we are reminded of what our basic needs are, shelter, food, safety, and work our way up that latter towards more abstract notions but nonetheless every bit as necessary for "the good life" like improved quality of each of the above, community, family, friends, human interaction, commerce, etc. and when any or all of those needs are threatened, I theorize that we will be able to once again build more livable cities, when our individual priorities no longer compete between your desire to own a new F-650 and my wanting to walk across the road without being run down like a opossum on a country road.

The real underlying question in reality however, is at what price survival? Without further ado, the Indian Minister of the Environment raises similar points:
"For us this is about survival. We need to put electricity into people's homes and do it cleanly. You in the west need to live with only one car rather than three. For you it is about luxury. For us survival."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Dreams May Come

Watch the video and you'll see, there was no other goal than free flowing traffic. Cities balance competing demands of hundreds if not more issues. The shiny visions of the future through the eyes of the 1950s, saw one purpose...and they excised the center of cities to do so, and all that complexity that goes with it.

Something tells me that behind the production of this sort of propaganda, you'll find the likes of Standard Oil, Firestone Tires, GM, and the usual gang. In the end, we traded urban congestion on city streets, the kind that populates city centers and patronizes small and local businesses, for this:

Where is your freedom and independence the car was supposed to bring to you now that you're stuck in this?

ht: Will.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

DPZ: NU or Starchitect in Sheep's Clothing

I found this interesting, at Planetizen: The Quest for a Contemporary Urban Pattern. I haven't deciphered yet as to whether the vainglorious nature of the title comes from the author of the article or DPZ themselves. If it the former, I apologize to DPZ for the remainder of this article and the writer would be not much of a journalist, but of course, he isn't. In fact, he comes across more as a cheerleader.

At worst, I find it wishful of the sort that proposes some roof gardens and windmills will make a skyscraper green somehow, if not whimsical, which is the same accusation we like to hurl at guys like Rem. Perhaps, this is why I rarely give a shit about a particular "style" of a building. It's little more than window dressing. Styles come and styles go, but quality lasts forever. If architects are no more than fashion designers how will we make the difference we claim.

Personally, I find this neverending "quest" rather shallow and arbitrary. It is much the same trap contemporary architects find themselves. Any and every work must be different in some, nay, any manner and the designers heralded for such creativity by their sycophants when underneath the trappings it is really all just more of the same.

In fact, the term "quest" itself really undermines the significant nature of the changes in the mainstream development pattern that need to occur by the underwhelming nature of the "changes" proposed. So, it's for drainage. Say that. It is by no means some radical new form of city that will save they day. In fact, these things aren't concocted. Changes in city form are natural outgrowths of the needs (or wants when abundant wealth makes people act rashly and stupidly) of the day.

So as the city is an outgrowth or the physical manifestation of economies and/or human needs twisting a grid a little bit is preposterously superficial (in juxtaposition to the pompous claims) unless fundamental shifts in the economy occur, coordinated with organized and focused needs and desires of communities.

I understand perfectly well the role as architects and designers we must play in shaping the city and steering this ship in some direction, but as I said, such artificial claims of substantial change without the necessary fundamental shifts diminish the cause. Perhaps, this is why Duany himself, despite all of his fame or notoriety in the city planning world has never broken thru to the real powers that be or designed anything that altered a city's internal functionality in some paradigmatic way despite his incredible rhetorical skills.

Appropriately, out comes Nouriel Roubini warning of a "double dip" recession once the gas (the stimulus) gets put back into the same clunker (the 20th century economy). Commentary by FreeExchange at the Economist (my emphasis in bold):
That may mean that no matter what governments do, oil prices will act as a governor on the world's (or at least America's) economic engine. Growth above a certain rate will be sufficient to boost oil demand and prices up, dampening consumer spending and slowing expansion—potentially keeping the American economy from growing at a rate sufficient to decrease unemployment. That will be the dynamic until dependence on oil is sufficiently wrung out of the economy, which could take some time. This is yet another point arguing in favour of a prolonged and shallow recovery for the American economy.
Every aspect of our economy, and in turn, our cities (and vice versa) are defined by the cheap oil of the 20th century. Cities have lasted so long as the primary organization of human civilizations for so long because they are so inherently durable due to their diversity. A homogenous economy/city defined by one potentially volatile element in the equation is foolhardy. Just ask Detroit.

Kunstler adds, in his exclamation Financial Crisis Called Off!:
They seem to think this mass exercise in pretend will resurrect the great march to the WalMarts, to the new car showrooms, and the cul-de-sac model houses, reignite another round of furious sprawl-building...
Or as the Daily Reckoning adds the words to my worries over the last five years pre-dating the collapse, (once again, my emphasis in bold):

The process of de-leveraging will be slow. Maybe five years. Maybe 15. Maybe 25. It will go up and down…with high unemployment (businesses will cut their wage costs as sales fail to recover)…low prices (at least in real terms)…low profits…and slow growth, or none at all.

Is that bad? No, not at all. It’s good. Economies need to adjust to the new realities of the post-credit bubble world. It will take time. And with the world’s financial authorities fighting it every step of the way…it could take a LONG time.
So I'll end with the oft cited, and over-represented Churchill quote:
We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.
As I stated previously, however, in reality we shape policy, which shapes economies, which then shapes our cities, which then shape us. And that shape is globular and slovenly.

Saw this posted on Facebook

From a colleague. The Guardian offers forum for Debate:

Is there any point in fighting to stave off industrial apocalypse?

The collapse of civilisation will bring us a saner world, says Paul Kingsnorth. No, counters George Monbiot – we can't let billions perish.

I add my brief thoughts/wonders:

Coincidentally, on this morning's dog walk, I was wondering if the wealth of American Society has so divided our individual wants and needs, meaning hypothetically mine from yours, rich from poor, black from white, one neighbor from another, etc., that we are incapable of coming to a common solution until a catastrophic economic collapse returns us... Read More all to a more basic level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Or perhaps it is that a necessary majority aren't on a similar level of need vs. want, rather we are scattered across the spectrum, unlike a wealthy country such as Denmark that is predominantly all "middle class." Ironically, I suppose, they have a hundred functionally operative political parties to our two.

In the end, as with many questions, I tend to find myself in agreement with Monbiot.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Once Upon a Time

Time takes on the High Cost of Cheap Food and frames it within the healthcare shout fest "debate":

A food system — from seed to 7‑Eleven — that generates cheap, filling food at the literal expense of healthier produce is also a principal cause of America's obesity epidemic. At a time when the nation is close to a civil war over health-care reform, obesity adds $147 billion a year to our doctor bills. "The way we farm now is destructive of the soil, the environment and us," says Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist with the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Crowd is Wise. Occasionally.

In this case, far wiser than the architects who dreamed up this obnoxious recreation of the giant extra-terrestrial communication machine from Contact:
And, this is why architects are designing themselves right into irrelevance.
HT: Will.

Comment All-stars:

Was this another one of Brad Pitts ideas?

Have you people not watched Dollhouse? Your self-contained habitat needs to be built underground. Duh.

Because why should Dubai get all the gargantuan monstrocities?

All these eco-retarded structures that are coming out now are such a waste of time and computing power. As others have pointed out these pieces of crap will never be built, never. And obtw weren't we supposed to be in flying cars by now anyways?


Sorry for the absence. I was in New York, state then city. Where I walked to Central Park, checked out the road closing at Times Square, used a NYC subway restroom, and ate at Bobby Flay's Bar Americain. /becoming a Food Network junkie.

More pictures to come, but for now, here is a Panorama from Central Park:
Now, I've been to NYC a dozen times for work trips and various other purposes, but this was my first time ever to Central Park and I was literally amazed how many people occupy every acre of that park. There are probably more people in that park at any one given time than have EVER been in downtown Dallas at once.
I'll write more as I get back into the swing of things, but until then, I'll stop at these walkable/clickable links:

Most people think we are doing all that can be done to keep our roads safe. They are wrong. Road traffic injuries kill more than a million people a year worldwide, including 40,000 a year in the United States. We will continue to have drivers who are too young or too old, too distracted, or too bold, but we can change our roads so they help protect both drivers and pedestrians.
CEOs for Cities on new report regarding increased home values tracking with increased walkability. Walkscore strikes again.

"There are a number of trends that are reshaping the American Dream," said Coletta, "and the value home buyers now place on living close to more daily destinations is one of the most important. Now, planning, zoning and development decisions have to catch up to consumers."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pinch Me

I don't know how to live in a world where TTI (Texas Transportation Institute) has begun arguing for narrower, more "friction-heavy" streets (meaning more stuff, i.e. trees, parking, um, ya know, actual people). One wonders, what was there come to Jeezus moment? From Sustainable Cities Collective.

1. They rejected that wider, straighter and faster is better for non-freeways in urban areas.
2. They adopted a multi-modal approach to safety. Travel by bicycle or on foot is valued equally and bikeped accommodations are universal. The Dutch have accommodated bicycling so well that a woman feels comfortable toting her three children to school.
3. They are managing access to their “arterials” to a degree that many American access engineers would envy. The helps eliminate conflicts between mobility and local access, which destroys the capacity of our through roads and leads to substantial deterioration of safety.

And, from the LA Times comes a criticism(?) of public transit proposals in the U.S. The underlying point, it will be impossible as long as we continue to subsidize personal automobile transportation at every level, from ownership, to gas prices, to the roads we drive them on, to parking ordinances, to free fare roads. No argument here. I would toll the $#(@ out any and every highway and arterial in North Dallas if I was king for a day.

Friday, August 7, 2009

10 Truths You Already Suspected

Linked from SF Chronicle:

Of most interest, 9 and 10...

9) Wal-Mart is, apparently, hankering to launch a big initiative to stamp every product it sells with an eco-friendly rating label, some sort of grand, awareness-raising system to inform all Earth-conscious Wal-Mart customers -- I know, I know: oxymoron -- where every product falls on the you-are-destroying-the-planet scale. It's a rather wonderful idea that could radically transform the company's entire supply chain for the better.

Except for one thing: Wal-Mart has no plans to slap a giant label on its own bloated megastores themselves, no plans to reveal the enormous waste and
destruction Wal-Mart itself embodies merely by existing, by shipping a million
products over from sweatshops in China and Malaysia and India. Nor does it plan
to offer a Smiley-Face Local Economy Decimation rating to all those countless
small towns it's swooped into and gutted. But hey! That giant tub of HFCS-blasted caramel corn? Not all that bad for the planet. Yay!

We could totally do light rail in the United States. We could totally invest in this massive, culture-altering project like it was the next man on the moon and within 20 years have this ridiculously cool, lighting-fast, super-efficient Euro-style train network connecting most major urban hubs like we were Italy and France and Japan and Disneyland all rolled into one, but with better drinks and free Wi-Fi and
superlative in-seat movies like they do on Virgin.

We could totally do it. But 50+ years of Big Auto PR bulls--t has slyly convinced us all we really can't, that no one wants it, that big dumb America loves its big dumb
open-road freedom far too much, that car culture is so embedded in our
road-trippin' nostalgia-thick psyches it can never be extricated.

Of course, Big Auto is full of crap, is now begging for table scraps, handouts,
oxygen. Who we thought we were, who we thought we had to be has essentially been a giant lie all along. Didn't you already suspect as much?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

WalkScore Goes Academic Upside Yer Head

So we've liked the idea of walkscore in the past, but also enumerated its drawbacks. So who'da thunk (sic) that it would end up as the foundation of a scholarly study:

The effects of Walkability on Real Estate Property Values.

I'm sure I'll have more when I dive into the report. Just as soon as I finish drawing a few more mind-numbingly monotonous lines in AutoCAD.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What All Institutions, Industry Included Have Become

Drip Drip Drip

So this guy says that most of the oil fields in the world have passed peak. Personally, I'm getting tired of the debate of if/when, the key point he clarifies:

"One day we will run out of oil, it is not today or tomorrow, but one day we will run out of oil and we have to leave oil before oil leaves us, and we have to prepare ourselves for that day," Dr Birol said. "The earlier we start, the better, because all of our economic and social system is based on oil, so to change from that will take a lot of time and a lot of money and we should take this issue very seriously," he said.
The critical point is that it is a finite resource and once all of the easy to extract oil is gone, it becomes more expensive to produce right when demand is at its highest and production can not rise to meet the demand. So supply falls, demand is high, prices go thru the roof.

We saw the effect a year ago when gas prices tickled $4. Will they get there again any time soon? I have no idea. The point is that our dependency makes every aspect of civilized society and economies as we know them, extremely fragile. Prices can jump via market forces as mentioned above, shenanigans from OPEC, or rampant or predatory speculation (as many suggest caused last year's spike). Any or all of which can sieze up our economy and way of life like sugar in a gas tank.

Once again, I feel the need to quote Lewis Mumford with regards to the point of transportation and the underlying message that should percolate through all transportation planning decisions:

"The purpose of transportation is to bring people and goods to places where they are needed, and to concentrate the greatest variety of goods and people within that limited area, in order to widen the possibility of choice without making it necessary to travel. A good transportation system minimizes unnecessary transportation; and in any event, it offers change of speed and mode to fit a diversity of human purposes."

Monday, August 3, 2009

CarFree Guy Recommends

This weekend I had the opportunity to watch Food, Inc. a recent documentary showing at the Magnolia Theater in West Village. While anybody familiar with two of the prominent interviewees, Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan (who got a lot of press within the last year for his book the Omnivore's Dilemma and his open letter to Obama), nothing in this comes as a surprise. But, for us American's we need things in moving picture format to absorb the information apparently, spoon fed if you will, with loads of corn syrup... So we have this documentary to show for it, which is well worth the time and 10 bucks.

The film does an effective job of completing its stated goal of pulling back the curtain on what happens from farm to fork and the potentially related and personal outcomes of this all-interconnected chain without grand standing or stepping onto some sort of Vegan soap box. One of the striking contrasts shown effectively, is that we're so disconnected from what actually happens that they bring the process of the healthy, natural farm-raised version of killing animals and puts it right on film. We get no such video of the actual slaughter, maintaining that lazy arm length distance of what happens to put that steak on your plate (or ketchup or coke for that matter).

On the farm, we see chickens getting their throats cut. In the factory floor, we see live hogs get shoveled in one side, and dead hogs rolling down a conveyor belt on the other. What happened on the inside? That is left to your imagination, but the disconnected killing efficiency was eerily remiscent to the Holocaust (obviously, I don't mean to compare killing of pigs to people, the method, efficiency, and impersonal nature of it is what I'm after). This isn't a "We Love Animals" movie, it's more about "Look at what it is doing to us."
The other issue that struck me was that this is just such a small detail, just one industry. Even if you wanted to fight it, you would get the health care industry and the insurance industry's backhand upside your head. Which brings me to the underlying issue that is raised in a broader documentary, The Corporation. The fundamental flaw behind ALL industries of which are very similar, in that they destroy the very support systems (the consumers) and raw materials (and the planet) sustaining their particular industry for the sole purpose of growth.
They will tell you it is about cost savings for the consumer, but it never actually is. Do you really think these businesses came to dominate their market segment through benevolence? Nike shoes didn't get cheaper when they started using little boys and girls in Taiwan to lace your sneakers. It merely meant more profits to the shareholders and bigger bonuses for the clever executives who are pressured to find new ways to "cut costs" i.e. externalize costs. You know, like health care, pollution, etc.

Lastly, it is always important to note that these businesses, like the primary 4-6 goliaths (or leviathans) in all industries, have more representation in our elected government than do the people. Exactly none of these problems can be solved until that is, I don't care if WalMart serves nothing but organic milk on all of its shelves (the movie seemed downright apologetic towards WalMart). It still has fundamental issues of its own.

Lastly, I was struck by how NOT FREE anybody and everybody in the movie and watching the movie really is, ignoring all the empty platitudes from Fox News for the moment. We don't know where are food is coming from. We don't know what is in it. We don't know the ramifications on human and planetary health. The local farmers have no choice but to do business the way the industries giants want them to do business and crush their profit margins in order to increase their own.
In many ways, we have ourselves our very own (and very pure) version of fascism by Mussolini's definition, who originally coined the term, without all that messy extermination of Jews stuff. It's a much happier version, with a smiley face.


WORST: The very end notes to the movie, they suggest voting "three times per day" with your wallet/food choice. But, during the movie they made the very point that the poor can't afford to eat healthily and are the ones most effected by the slop the industry puts out. As Pollan states, "farm subsidies make the candy bar cheaper than the carrot."

BEST: There is something for the fiscal conservative and the tree hugging liberal. The underlying theme is the tremendous taxpayer subsidies for grain farming and particularly corn, which they examine at length as being in some form within nearly all food we consume, mostly as sweeteners.

BEST (1st and 2nd runner-ups): The two local farmers quoted near the end of the movie.

First, one suggests that we should different goals for our policies. In his words, "how about we measure the health of our system based on having less sick people in the hospital next year." Basically, this means focusing on outputs as goals rather than inputs, which I'm seeing in increasing frequency as a measure of success and it makes sense.

Second, the other local farmer asking the viewers of the video, to count on "the local farmer and they won't let you down." I have said something similar many times. We don't need industry "to give us jobs." People create their own jobs and businesses to meet the needs/demands of society. This is paternalistic hokey pokey to maintain the status quo. If you haven't noticed humans are very resourceful and capable, but 20th century industrialism treats/makes us stupid and incompetent.