The tallest building in Caracas, Venezuela is vacant. Well, was vacant. Until squatters moved in. And a funny thing happened. An entire economy emerged including bodegas, beauty salons, dentists, etc.
While the situation is not ideal, it tells an important story about incrementalism and the emergence of organization within populations. Might this be a starting point for discussing how to populate, restore, and rebuild the desirability of all the empty towers of downtown Dallas?
Steve Mouzon has a two-part series on Automobile Poverty at his Original Green blog. See part 1 here and 2 here - not to be missed, the before/after pictures of Steve himself and the toll walkable vs. unwalkable living situations had on his body/health:
So what happened to the tired old man? I came to South Beach at a portly (to be kind) 245 pounds. Before I’d finished losing, I was down to 185. I occasionally get back up to 205, but then I get busy again and get back down to a healthy weight. This is me now... and the difference between now and then illustrates one of the great advantages of walkable places over sprawl.
Lastly, Tim Stonor of Space Syntax and a Loeb Fellow at Harvard gave a lecture the other day at GSD and he posted highlights of the Q&A. The most important point:
So, if you had these three properties and the buildings were bland or even ugly (ed. note: and highly functional from a spatial arrangement standpoint), would that be better than having beautiful buildings with poor spatial integration, land use distribution and inactive frontages?
There is hardly a more succinct way in stating why the Arts District is so empty. There are real rules to urbanism even if there is gray area or wiggle room to them beyond some architect's subjective view of beauty, which we all buy without question. If we hold all forms of architecture and therefore city-building ONLY to subjective standards, no design is ever wrong.
This is also why there is such a disconnect between the supposed intelligentsia who don't understand this point nor real urbanism and the rest of us rabble that wonder how billions spent on bridges and trinkets and self-referential, overly repetitive monuments by starchitects for starchitects and to starchitects really help a city that in some cases can't read nor feed itself.
"Here's culture for you little people. Pick up some of it as you eat cake. Then get back to work on the garden."
What they're really saying is, "we have no idea what we're doing, but some dude dressed in all black clothes and horn-rimmed glasses sure looked the part of what I imagine an architect and designer to be, or at least a fashion designer, but aren't they the same? And well, that is all the authority and persuasiveness I need."
Architects aren't free of blame either. Often too interested in the new, whatever that might be, rather than proper form. If you pay attention to any architectural awards, proper planning is too often treated as, oh, just more of the same, masking their lack of depth and understanding of the subject. They'd rather pick paint colors, truly important tasks.
Which really then points the long, scraggly finger of blame back towards the architectural schools and their priorities...