Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Zookeepers, Landscape Urbanism

Since I popped on the KunstlerCast of James Howard Kunstler reacting to Charles Waldhiem's presentation at CNU regarding Landscape Urbanism, my mind immediately leapt to a series of photos I took at the BioParc in Valenica, Spain, a fancy name for a zoo. Landscape Urbanism, no matter the context essentially creates prairie, natural habitat as if we're all still emerging from the African Savannah 15,000 years ago. That's the downside. The upside is that each Landscape Urbanist design is ecologically friendly, filters water, gives life back to the land once urbanized. Is that really the goal?

The point of actual urbanism is to facilitate interconnectivity and magnify all of those good things that come from population clustering while minimizing the bad, which does include environmental degradation. Actual urbanists give up some local environmental degradation in the hopes of preserving real natural habitat everywhere else, ie a plaza for people is more appropriate than a wildflower meadow in a downtown location. Sure it might be pretty, but it will get trampled anyway, so why fight it.

Landscape Urbanism does have its appropriate applications but the everywhere and anywhere its acolytes would have you believe is not the case. Therefore, it is hardly the sweeping ideological force they claim it is, but merely 2-dimensional geometrical abstractions applied from plan to landscape, sharp angles and alluvial waves. Superficialities indicating the depth of thought actually behind it.

In the end, we don't know how to interact with landscape urbanism. It has neither form nor function beyond placating (or plating) more starchitectural objectification and/or sprawl beyond water filtration, above and beyond all things. But is a man-made, designed ecosystem really better than the natural ecosystem that true urbanism protects by making denser, walkable, clustered, and interconnected cities more desirable than living in a zoo, a man-made eco-habitat?

We just walk in bored circles like this Rhino in need of socialization.

In other news, here is Michael Van Valkenburgh's work on the George W. Bush Library and the so-called "urban" design:


It's going for LEED-Platinum. And you have to drive to it. Then you get to walk through the zoo, so it's walkable! Try not to walk in circles.

I have no problems with it, but just call it what it is, cuz it ain't urban in any sort of functional sense other than being located within an arbitrary political boundary of a city. Just like all landscape urbanism.