in People, Urban Change

Book Act

The authors in the following (long list) visit New York City routinely.  Perhaps they would enjoy a conference…a workshop.   All of the works listed below are a decade and a half or more. The question to you as a reader is who among them made sense on the “design” for change? Who remained persuasive enough to see implementation? Use the form below. Thank you so much for your attention and participation. One example from personal experience has been the lasting contribution of Robert Gutman to encourage architects to engage in social change through design.


Global Challenge Questions

Architectural Practice: A Critical View by Robert Gutman

Thousands of practitioners in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry may have been influenced (albeit briefly in a classroom) by Robert Gutman’s ratio of professionals to the urban population (Princeton Arch Press 1988). The central point was about 98% of the population never gets to meet or talk with an architect or engineer – ever.  

I would like to recall Robert Gutman to start off. The point being, to define measures of inequality in design practice.

The intellectual rigor of Putnam’s research has much to offer. In Architectural Practice, he established useful controls for a wide range of factors such as poverty, residential mobility, and education that affect “life in architecture.”

To set a relevant tone for making urban design a comprehensive AEC contribution to sustainable earth, re-read and update the legacy of Robert Gutman.  Then work to address questions such as the following to people such Adolfo Carrin Jr.,  White House Office of Urban Affairs (a planner) (Twitter), or Shaun Donovan, an architect (HUD) currently looking to my NYC’s Mayor. (Twitter) and their global counterparts. Believe me, and they are both very familiar with “bottom-feeding” architecture and planning. A key question is whether they continue to find it an acceptable part of the overall community development puzzle as generational or merely transitional/

Question One: How possible is it to locally (if not globally) alter fee structures to represent a new set of values such as carbon reduced, energy saved, life cycle defined.? When will new levels of public leadership effectively encourage changes in the “live-work/play” behavior of humans over the next century that enhances their safety and self-esteem, and well-being? If not, why not? Get a handle on that, and the second question might be fully definable within AEC.

Question Two:  Without a doubt, we live in a house that we all build, but unlike the other service professions, AEC produces places for hundreds, even thousands of private domains interspersed with poorly linked and unevaluated public realms.  It has the name SLAP, for space left over after planning! How can this industry change the existing contours of civic representation in AEC?  AEC is tragically invested in so few that it seems illogical not to address a greater sense of balance in the public goods market if not, a broader social system for non-litigious support and participation.

The first stage of a humanitarian crisis is generally denial. As a result, defining the first question offers hope for finding and accepting new methods for living sustainably on the earth.  The second question is aimed at biological beings facing an ecological crisis that is not short-term. It must be made clear that a focus on the technology of  “life: work/play” will not effectively define these ecological problems. Essentially, there is no fix without establishing a vastly broader sense of responsibility.

Given this foundation, several other questions require development: What policy changes within New York would the following folks recommend? (fiscal, land use, zoning) How would they implement a regional strategy?

Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

Position: Consumer-driven change will work, given the right iPhone-type app at the right time. To understand the full impact of a single consumption choice, the question “Is this good for Earth?” is impossible to answer for the lack of life cycle data. The moment of consumption is well past design or production and ahead of use and disposal.  Daniel Goleman defines this “being good” problem in his book, Ecological Intelligence and describes “industrial ecology” as a way to act ecologically – confronting a complex global challenge that is embedded in personal consumption choices and, in doing so, alter the forces that drive design and production, as well as, demand new cycles of responsible disposal and retention.

The Entropy Problem

Beyond advancing the bounded rationality embedded in individual consumption choices, the backbone of consumption is the connection between railways, expressways, and the power- and water-grids.  The body held by this backbone is considered infinite. Will the ecological intelligence approach improve the quality of decisions that will make the 50,000 miles of national expressway infrastructure functional, or 225,000-mile national rail system more useful, or keep 200,000 miles of national grid power from routine catastrophic failure or plug up a very, very leaky water grid? Simple answer — no f’n way.

The scale of coordination among states to address these questions is well beyond the power of individual consumer choice. The mega-city structure of these regions and mix of private, government, and public benefit corporations serving as ad hoc regulatory bodies do not appear to have a capacity for rational thought, let alone ecological intelligence.

Sustainable America by John Dernbach

Position: Sustainable development will make the US livable, healthy, secure, and prosperous.  Ten themes are developed by Dernbach as follows:

  1. Ecological footprint system integration
  2. Greenhouse gas reduction programs
  3. Stimulate employment for unskilled persons in environmental protection and restoration
  4. Stimulate NGOs to play a major role
  5. Organizing government using sustainability principles to prioritize
  6. Expand options for sustainable living to consumers
  7. Advance general public and formal education
  8. Strengthen environmental and natural resources law
  9. Lead international efforts on behalf of sustainable development
  10. Systematically improve access to data for decision making

Released 1.12.2009: Order from Island Press.  Also see: Stumbling Towards Sustainability

With the Ten Items Above in Mind

Sim Van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan said it best in Ecological Design when they contrasted sustainability defined technologically as opposed to ecologically (pp. 18-23) Here they summarized David W. Orr’s position on ecology.

  • First, people are finite and fallible. The human ability to comprehend and manage scale and complexity has limits. Thinking too big can make our human limitations a liability rather than an asset.
  • Second, a sustainable world can be redesigned and rebuilt only from the bottom up. Locally self-reliant and self-organized communities are the building blocks for change.
  • Third, traditional knowledge that coevolves out of culture and place is a critical asset. It needs to be preserved, restored, and used.
  • Fourth, the true harvest of evolution is encoded in nature’s design. Nature is more than a bank of resources to draw on: it is the best model we have for all the design problems we face.

Technology is zero sum when placed in a priority higher than these principles of real change.

Peter Droege also believes the question of technology is probably secondary.  He is the author of The Renewable City: A Comprehensive Guide To An Urban Revolution and offers up the tool kits on city greening that have been around since the 1970s. The kicker is they were not implemented for the lack of “payback” and other reasons.

Mitchel Joachim seeks to integrate ecological design, but Dr. Joachim wins Time Magazine’s Best Invention (2007) for work with Smart Cities Group Compacted Car. As a partner in the nonprofit design organization Terreform, Fab Tree Hab project, and so on, he baits the Sprawl vs. Urban Center debate as a choice: is it better to spread over the landscape or produce dense, compact cities. Aside from the “unstoppably both” answer and the more jargon than juice issue, is anything going on here other than too much talent chasing after too much money, or is it more hubris?  I’m talking about the kind of technology embedded in Tom Perkins’ Maltese Falcon (the $100M sailing ship that one person can sail). Even he is embarrassed.

Mike Davis would seriously disagree about the “urban solution” to the “global challenge” question in Planet of Slums.  As an urban theorist, Davis takes a global approach to the poverty that dominates the planet’s urban population.  The list is growing from Cape Town and Caracas to Casablanca and Khartoum. Davis argues health, justice, and social issues associated with gargantuan slums like Mexico City’s estimated population of 4 million seem invisible in world politics.  He writes, “The demonizing rhetoric of the various international wars on terrorism, drugs, and crime is so much semantic apartheid: they construct epistemological walls around gecekondus, favelas, and chawls that disable any honest debate about the daily violence of economic exclusion.”  Statistics showing the number of “mega slums” or “when shanty-towns and squatter communities merge in continuous belts of informal housing and poverty, usually on the urban periphery” have been forming since the 1960s. Davis paints a bleak picture of urbanization’s upward trend and a severely negative outlook for urban slum-dwellers.

Matthew Kahn wrote Green Cities: Urban Growth and Environment to frame the process of rapid urban growth and sprawl as a source of concern about economic exclusion and environmental health.  Are they mutually exclusive? Most policies pursue both, but Kahn suggests it is naive to do so.  Is Kahn the best for asking the tough questions about the costs?

Douglas Farr’s recent publication, Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature (2007): Wiley (and a whopping $75.00 and 304 pages) is his admitted first “draft.” The debate is open, case studies are available, but the initial steps toward a neighborhood-based “excellence” process on the long list of techniques worthy of implementation are outlined well.  Doug will be the first to tell you that it is “hell” out there, especially after spending a decade on a relatively simple process of trying to make it easy to walk from one place to the next. New Yorkers know intuitively that so many solutions to the problems of the glog lie quietly inside our tiny realm of islands.  (glog? – the blogged globe).

Peter Newman and Isabella Jennings most recent work is Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems, Principals and Practices. (2007) This book explores urban design as a resource for streaming energy, materials, and information into a new urban system.  Newman and Jennings recognize that “a system” can only be described in larger, more complex systems.  In this brief introduction (296p), urbanization as a system presents a series of human/non-human “man against nature” interactions inexorably overwhelmed by the larger ecosystem. Nevertheless, Newman and Jennings make a case for an urban solution to the compelling global challenge.

Christopher Leinberger’s recent work is The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a New American Dream. (2007)  Chris is within driving distance of Detroit and must therefore be compelled to write a book with this title.  Top on his list of problems is the lack of affordability in communities where walking to most services is available and mass transit for the remaining specialized services affordable and comfortable. Concerns regarding recent land-use policies in NYC now support as many as nineteen different forms of “drivable sub-urbanism” in New York City that seriously challenges the existing walkable urbanism structure. Local leadership is failing as developers (who only know how to do it their way) continue to be very pocketbook persuasive with policymakers. What is that other book – Retrofitting Suburbia?

Kim Moody has prepared a detailed summary of political/fiscal policy From Welfare State to Real Estate: Regime Change in New York City 1974 to the Present. (2007). The book summarizes the transformation of political and fiscal power by the Financial Control Board following the 1974 Fiscal Crisis.  Since then, the New York City Planning Commission and the Department of City Planning’s budgetary powers are in the hands of the New York State government, whose “fiscal order” has become a national embarrassment.  Several questions require development as follows: Even though he believes it is “nearly too late” to make policy changes that would effectively address the economic “bifurcation” of New York, we are compelled to ask what might be done?  How would he implement a regional strategy that also recognizes older urban centers’ impoverishment throughout the region?

Other options:

Collaboration in Urban Design and Planning was recently extolled in Part III “The Design and Planning Components (Levels of Integration)” in the second edition of The Built Environment: A collaborative inquiry into Design and Planning (2007), edited by Wendy McClure and Tom Bartuska, Washington State University.

Glenn Beck and Kevin Balfe wrote An Inconvenient Book (Threshold Editions). The tough solutions to problems such as global warming, poverty, and political correctness are described.  Many weeks on NYT bestseller list.  I suggest following it up… via James Lovelock vs. James Hansen? Panel and workshop?

ULI’s Army (always used their Dollars and Cents series but this caught my eye)

Getting Density Right: Tools for Creating Vibrant Compact Development. The compact development tools are in place for New York City, yet walkable communities remain strangely incomplete.  What is missing? According to NMHC, the key to improvements will be better leadership from local officials and neighborhood activists. The “frontline” obstacles to compact development are many. A review of this resource is needed.  Get it, read it, report and review.  It’s $40 with a DVD of start-up presentation materials.

Robert Wright in Nonzero – The Logic of Human Destiny (New York: Pantheon Books 2000) draws parallels between the trials and errors in the evolution of life and the determination of human culture to form a moral architecture.  The competitiveness for “place” through manipulating resources ultimately demands a social, if not a moral, trade and exchange framework.

For the most part, this relationship is the stuff of embedded knowledge that we “just know” but don’t talk much about in our day-to-day discourses.  Wright suggests this social data frames the trajectories of the community through selection.  Well examined, these processes become predictable and will ultimately lead to nonzero.  Why? Our capacity to produce increased system complexity is grounded in the reality of trends and organic form evolution over thousands of years. It is also a confirmation of the inevitability of convergences in the emergence of civilizations.

As we know, life emerged from the inorganic to organic, to biological, and ultimately to physiological specializations producing the psychological – the mind.  In this continuum, the next stages of human history will be defined by the globalization of trade and communication technologies. Yet, is the human transcendental destiny defined by expanding our potential to shop?  Is this a world with meaning? Is it worth having? Where is the glue to bind these survival and pleasure imperatives to a moral reality? The argument in Nonzero is the application of design as the teleological determinant.

The nearly irredeemable corruptions of systems that would process and manipulate physical material, including DNA, are balanced best by seeding human capacity with the information management resources to see, feel, and define the interwoven refined transformations into these choices. We are now entitled to answer “of what community am I a member?  We should also be entitled to ask and answer “of what community will I become a member by the making of these choices?”

Witold Rybczynski

In Makeshift Metropolis by Witold Rybczynski allows his teaching ability to lay down a lecture without admitting that at this stage in human history — people really need to be protected from what they want — Americans especially. Like other top-level designers who succeed in a big way, I think Rybczunski writes to compromise with this success’s realities as a teaching moment.  You see it in the choices he makes to think once again on his own terms, or at least free of his client’s terms in a way that justifies the work of being incremental in the urban landscape.

The urban world is a physical and intellectual experience that fuels periods of vast prosperity, civic responsibility, investor confidence, and an intangible sense of “pride of place†regardless of economic status. Cities are catalysts for millions of experimental expressions of human thought and desire. They range from the myopia of projects for rapid capital returns to civil self-reforming society’s grand visions. Within these many experiments, perhaps the greatest question confronting the expansion of global urbanism is whether it is capable of containment. Is the city a physical entity that can stop expanding?  Were this possible, it would give the city entity a new ultimate purpose to focus on humankind’s intellectual capacity and to recognize one key priority.  Protecting the diversity of the wilderness requires separation.

We tend to forget that the market is never right until it corrects what some call the race to the bottom in corporate governance. It also suggests that the aggregate of individual decisions eventually becoming overwhelming in every system.  Turn the econometrics of this fact on the earth as a whole, and the rate of resource consumption is approaching the equivalent of 1.4 earths per year.  It now (11.30.2011) takes approximately 18 months for the Earth to regenerate what we use in one year. The level of correction suggested in this model is painful to contemplate.

Like so many before him, I fear that Witold Rybczynski will force himself or will be forced into the survivalist fringe of Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti or the anarchy of Larry Harvey’s Black Rock City to be true to his word. One is physical proof of intellect. The other is a call to the intellect for proof. Both illustrate how messy humans (OK, just architects) will get to make a disjointed point.

More?

See Writers Wanted if you would like to continue this punishment.

As you’ve scrolled to the end breezing through all of the great thoughts of the thoughtful and yes, nothing has happened in the physical world, save a few hints here and there.

People all over the world select great readings and reviews to share. An architect, engineers, and construction filter for this summary of “human condition writers” are built on one question. What kind of earth are we building? Please submit similar networks that use similar filters. An occasional joint session with “same bubble” choices could produce excellent results. Please consider participating in the development of this resource.

The main ability to learn is new ways of thinking is due to an initial agreement. Every idea is carefully coupled with a resonant resolve to stimulate a rejection of it in trade for a larger union.  This practice is both intellectual and anti-intellectual, and it is healthy. The following agreement accepts the idea that communication will not occur without the willingness to persuade or be persuaded.

    An inspiring first 50. However, if a name and description has occurred to you and not found in the next 50 and fits the "urban change" category or tag, please come back here and make the addition. Especially, if you have the names of women. Also, please suggest other categories with the idea that there is a network out there for creating positive change.

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