Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Draft Part 2 of who knows how many...

In ten years, what will the City of Dallas look like? How about in twenty? Fifty? One hundred? The answer in the near-term is far easier to imagine than far into the future. That unpredictability ought to give us some insight into the process of zoning and coding for the City.

The United Nations defined sustainability as taking care of the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs as well. In many ways, our building and zoning codes should represent a similar logic in order to rectify the mistakes of previous generations to be more accommodating for our needs and more adaptable for the future. They must achieve the goals set forth by the City yet be adaptable to prevent the institutionalization of what might have been one generation’s preferences instilling an inertia at the expense of another’s.

In a period of economic and general transition for people and their cities, now is the time to revisit codes cemented in place for so long and mold the underlying “genetic” codes of cities for the functional urban form we desire. Geographer Richard Florida similarly refers to the present version of these periods of varying degree of trauma as the Great Reset.

Urban Genetics, the underlying code and resultant physical form

Howard Bloom, popular science author and neurobiologist, calls these recessionary lulls the growing pains of shedding one form of living, that which is no longer useful for another new way of being, existing, and often, a yet to be determined one. According to Bloom and countless other urban theorists, our cities are the physical manifestation of our economies, meaning our phenotype, which with an understanding of genetics is directly connected to our genotype, or underlying genetic code. To get the cities we want, we must alter the genetic code of cities.

Our current challenge is unpredictability: what if we rewire the City’s code incorrectly? The worst thing to do is the obvious, to stick with the status quo or the comfortable. If Bloom is to be believed, we do not yet know what the future city will be because it is yet to emerge from the competition to replace the failing version of the existing. However, it is equally bad is to code a potentially incorrect prediction. We need to allow for flexibility and the determination of potential new urban phenotypes to battle it out and determine the optimal direction for our City. Lesson: Don't code to specifics.