Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday Linkages

Some fun reading today (okay, maybe only for urban morphologist nerds like myself) while I get to play "I told you so" before unpacking my mittens and winter coat for this weather:

First, Next American City takes on Witold Rybczynski's recent broad-brush painting that all centralized planning is faulty:
Rybczynski goes on to defend the private sector’s efficacy when it comes to urban development efforts, but he omits the private sector’s failure from the dark days of the 1960’s. Blockbusting—the practice of scaring middle-class whites into thinking their home prices would plummet when people of color moved into their neighborhood, then buying the home from them at a low price, and selling it to minority buyers for an inflated price—was instrumental in the ghettoization of many American cities in the postwar years. Blockbusting at times took advantage of Great Society mortgage programs, but was ultimately a free market phenomenon. This was what the private sector did in declining neighborhoods: it expedited their decline for a quick buck. Careless federal urban policy and racial distrust created the incentives, and the free market delivered the coup de grace. This, in essence, is the problem with giving the private sector too much control over urban planning: public benefit is not at the top of their list of priorities.
This is what I had to say in reaction to first reading Rybczynski's Slate piece:

"Rybczynski is simply being reactionary here. We still need centralized planning to UNDO all of the mistakes centralized planning created. Government entities will be the only ones able to tear down intracity freeways and it will take cooperation of all levels of government to do so. Our cities will all be the better for it. This I promise you."

Not unrelatedly, a super-sweet haircut courtesy of Project for Public Spaces uses the recent rescinding of the Athens Charter in Greece to say something similar:
Economic experts believe this action will boost the sluggish global economy. Scrapping outdated zoning codes will spark a construction boom of corner groceries, pubs, ice cream parlors, coffee shops, hardware stores and small-scale office buildings in neighborhoods around the world.
Here is what I said last week and not to brag, but more poetically and (rare for me) concise:

"The tragedy of 20th century city planning is the task of the 21st."
WorldChanging on the Life Cycle of Concrete:
In addition to its contribution to climate change, concrete production generates substantial amounts of waste. In China, it is responsible for more than 40 percent of industrial dust emissions. The dust can be recycled into the production process, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns that the highly acidic substance could pose "toxicological problems, human tissue burns...corrosion in pipes, and objectionable taste in drinking water" if released into the air or water...

Alternatives emerged this past year that may redefine the future of concrete. Competing U.S. and British inventors claim they have developed cement production methods that generate zero greenhouse gas emissions and capture emissions released as the cement hardens. If true, their discoveries could become the pillars of a sustainable future.
The Baltimore Sun reviews their City's new rubber tire urban circulator and mercifully not their owner-crippled baseball team (yes, I'm bitter). Short article but with several good insights:
But surely even a Tea Partier would have to approve of the circulator, which funnels parking taxes to a bus that helps you avoid paying parking taxes...

It was quite well-ridden the day I decided to test it out — there were commuters heading to or from work, workers from the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus or biotech park grabbing lunch at Harborplace, tourists from Harbor East or downtown hotels heading to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum and other attractions along the line.

Riding it is much more akin to being on a tourist coach, with cushy seats and a smooth ride, rather than a groaning, exhaust-spewing city bus. (The circulator buses are eco-friendly hybrids.) Not much waiting on the street, since they come about every 10 minutes, or to get on board since there's no fumbling for the exact change.

I actually felt a little guilty not paying anything, like I'd jumped the turnstile. Instead, we passengers were a rolling band of freeloaders. One woman told me she was saving $20 a day on parking at her job. Parking should be expensive, and public transit cheap — you want to discourage driving, particularly downtown — but should it be free?

Kendrick says in this case, yes. "It's not that one dollar or two dollars is a lot of money," he said of charging for the circulator. "But it's a psychological barrier."
Steve Mouzon at his personal blog Original Green discusses the similarities between Sprawl and Cancer:
Disease occurs in a living urbanism just as it does in living creatures. Parts of a city designed by specialists rather than generalists usually act as disease agents to a living urbanism because specialists usually create things for very narrow purposes rather than for the general welfare of the city.
Assembly Line
Streets designed by transportation engineers are a classic example of a specialist’s solution because they have a single purpose: getting as many cars as quickly as possible from point A to point B.
By creating connections like this, they are really creating barriers. Or, perhaps to continue with the metaphor, those "connections" become the straw that draws the life from the healthy organism to the cancer.
But in doing so, they make no contribution to the overall health of the city: It doesn’t matter if the zooming traffic makes the street a terrifying place to walk, or if nobody in their right mind would even think of shopping there because those things weren’t part of the engineer’s program.
The logic of barriers becomes ingrained in all things, and the end product, sprawl is the aggregation of things that have no relation, no communication with any of its surroundings, besides leaching off the healthy organism.
A specialist, you see, is someone who knows more and more about less and less until they know absolutely everything about only one thing.
The lamentable decline of liberal arts studies.