Thursday, July 21, 2011

Flower Pots: Integration Then Accommodation

I've made this argument a few times that we declare the things we touch and feel or see as "urban." But why? What makes one set or family of designed or otherwise elements within a public realm or private development "urban" or not urban? In fact, the majority of professionals practicing in "urban design" (as their websites suggest), also confuse emergent characteristics as urban.

These things include such items as ground floor retail, mix of uses, street trees, and so on. Basically all the things the average "urbanist" says a project needs in order to succeed. And then we end up with projects like the Arts District, Victory, Park Lane Place, or even the Villages at Allen and Fairview. In each of those places and countless other around the metroplex as well as nationwide, projects carry the marketing exclamation "New Urban" but actually only carry the mask of truly urban. What is the higher order at work here (or in these cases, not at work)?

"Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken." Tyler Durden

The latest online meme that only the internet and social networking can completely blow out of proportion is the bus stop coffee table which carries with it a number of lessons/messages, both good and bad. See the video here:

A rather decent yet innocuous looking coffee table is placed at a bus stop. I'm left wondering, why are people waiting for the bus so long? And secondly, is there really anything different to this bench than the other bench next door in terms of how people interact? The differences seem minor. So the actual video doesn't interest me nearly as much as the intent of the filmmakers.

A bus stop is a form of integration, or spatial interconnectivity. A crossroads. In this particular case, where the regional bus network interfaces with the local street/block/pedestrian network, particularly the sidewalk. Where such spatial integration occurs, people emerge. Once people emerge and use the space, they instill a demand, accommodation: nicer, safer, more comfortable place (typically correlated with the income levels of the area (mixed or otherwise) and/or the city's willingness to cater to that particular area - touchy subjects therein).

So yes, this microscopic, incremental degree of improvement is a form of emergent urbanism, and we love it and tweet it in the memetic echo chamber because it plays well with empowered, democratic placemaking dynamic, but it is always important to know there are deeper forces at work. It is the flower, and to some extent the cultivation, but not the seed. The flower never happens without the seed.

Unless you buy the cut flower and put it in a vase until it dies. And isn't that really what those pretend urban places are really like?