Planning Together: Part III

carbon dioxide equivalent in metric tons per square foot, per year

Two forces are at work in the continuing creation of NYC.  First-force is energy aimed toward “centers.” Second-force moves outward and away from its centers.  Implementing the Climate Mobilization Act (CMA) is an interesting example using a comprehensive urban planning perspective of both. The centers are locations where there are buildings with more than 25,000 square feet in NYC.  The force is generated by a global condition demanding a reduction in GHGs. The focus is on large urban centers within large metropolitan cities.



The CMA requires building owners to contribute to meeting the 80/50 goal.

By 2050 NYC will reduce GHG’s to 80% of current levels.


If the legislation passes, the first milestone in the ten-year LTCP will be the City Report’s Conditions (COC). The narrative will draw on the ongoing objective, measurable data that City agencies generate every year over the last five years and punch it into the COC. The COC focus on long-term issues as embedded in the data concerning long-term planning and sustainability will have to face the Climate Mobilization Act’s impact.

Suddenly the Climate Mobilization Act marches into the room from 2021 to 2024 with compliance requirements through 2029. If there were anything like a 1,300-pound Grizzly in community planning, it would be every building owner in the community with square footage over 25,000 square feet yelling, “the investment in energy efficiency, for the reduction of GHGs, will cost the community jobs and displace residents.”

The law says tenants will be protected, but we are in a buyer beware world. The following was set from “deepdive

“When the act originally passed last year, owners of buildings where rent-regulated units make up less than 35% of the total were given an alternate path to compliance due to what officials called “outdated” rent laws in New York State. That path allowed landlords to pass the cost of building upgrades to tenants by charging for major capital improvements through higher rents.”

“Then in July, the state-level Housing Stability and Tenant Protections Act of 2019 altered how such improvements can be imposed by only allowing rent increases for rent-stabilized units if they make up 35% or more of the units in a building. While this adjustment saves tenants from having the costs of capital improvements and retrofits passed on to them, some councilmembers worried about landlords’ ability to absorb those costs themselves.”

Elected officials said while more established landlords can likely take on the costs for improvements like HVAC and lighting upgrades. Still, those who manage smaller buildings may not be able to, especially as the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has affected their rental incomes.”

Residential building owners will see it as a perfect opportunity to displace tenants through major capital improvements with added harassment efforts. Major Capital Improvement (MCI) and careless rule enforcement allow building owners to raise rents on the unsuspecting. Documented abuses in monthly MCI rent hikes over $800 per apartment are well-known and feared.

Is it possible to imagine that the plan that eliminates jobs doesn’t matter because the people who have them will be displaced anyway? A counter-measure is available if the focus on the green economy is on jobs. The data is available in jobs from the production of a net-zero supply-chain to the production of well-educated people in the universities NYC has to offer. (See list)

Whether that ridiculous scenario occurs or is more likely in some neighborhoods than others, the Climate Change crisis is that Grizzly in the long term. It has the capacity to push aside all the other issues, education, transportation, public health, arts and culture, economic development, zoning, and land use.

Set by climate policy, the Climate Mobilization Act’s implementation priority will focus on projects that involve about 50,000 buildings in this category, about 2,500 have a million square feet or more. NYC’s Open Data portal has an example Building Footprints to illustrate that the city can be super-square-foot smart on a building by building basis.

The GHG reduction goal is a force applied from the outside toward these locations. The impact on sales and acquisitions in real estate markets for all land uses old, new, and proposed will be significant. The buildings are known and mapped. This is where defining the second-force comes into play.

An old example of a first-force, “center-inward,” and a second-force “center-outward” impact was global thermal nuclear war and auto-technology.  The policy was to spread out urban life, leaving energy-efficient public transit systems behind and in decay. The priority was to produce the massive growth promised in an auto-driven economy.  Hey, it looked great for a long time, but now hundreds of articles available from the GBC and elsewhere talk about the lack of balance in this policy.


The building owners and communities involved and informed by the Climate Mobilization Act will be encouraged to understand its requirements. These reactions to a problem will occur outwardly from the lawmakers who know stuff to ordinary people who haven’t been told and may never know.

The conduct required involves analyzing existing energy use, building condition, and capacity for financing implementation. Depending on the community, facility projects will either fail or comply with their carbon emissions reduction to 26% by 2024 – 2029.  The Green Building Council (GBC) here provides details.  The structures involved are organized by space classification, and fines and penalties for non-compliance may not be significant.  A good example is the Empire State Building will have to pay $1.25 million as a fine for failure.  See story, The New York Times


Poorly defined second-forces can include the displacement of low- and moderate-income households in rapidly complying and gentrifying NYC neighborhoods due to the well-known impact of “major capital improvements.”. A well-funded outreach and community planning process is needed to get beyond the dubious effect of fines. Assured compliance with Social, Economic, and Environmental Design (SEED) and the LEED nod to this issue is essential. The SEED Evaluator and certification framework establishes social, economic, and environmental goals for building projects to measure success. Buildings are the major contributor to global warming. Still, the people of dense cities such as NYC are the low per capita energy users.  The people in the buildings (residents and workers) should have a higher value than the buildings.

The lessons of displacement are throughout the United States.
I urge you to hear Colette Pichon Battle. What she knows now, we need to know.

The Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy and Colette Pichon Battle’s work raises awareness on equitable disaster recovery, migration, economic development, climate justice, and energy democracy. Climate change is not the problem. It is a symptom of a more significant system problem the American people must address. TED presentation (here).

The NYC Zoning Resolution is now open for business as a negotiating tool.  Mandated inclusion to subsidize rental housing is the most recent example.  A mandated subsidy drawn from the energy savings produced could be used to prevent displacement and sustain affordability.  A therm saved is one earned. The thing is, there is no negotiation with a rising ocean, only the duty to protect all people from all the forms of displacement it will cause.

Exposure to all the wiggle room (cash savings for wealth owners) could help line up social justice and equity goals with needed compliance. For example, Local Law 84  mandates benchmarking and disclosure of energy use.  However, it exempts buildings with 10%+ (really, seriously) floor space devoted to data centers, trading floors, or broadcast studios.  No Energy Star score is required because disclosing a terrible energy use intensity (EUI) is awful PR. Example abound in this arena of the wiggle.


Carbon offsets are allowed. Purchasing unlimited renewable energy credits (RECs), also known, can reduce reported emissions for electricity.  A citywide emissions trading scheme (ETS) focused on greenhouse gas emissions will come up in 2021 and so on.  Every dime should turn into an anti-displacement dollar for one reason — the law outlines “guidelines” most of the specifics have yet to be reconciled. And, in addition to Local Law 97, the Climate Mobilization Act includes other laws:

Local Laws 92 & 94 – Green Roofs & Solar PV: Requiring green roofs solar PV systems on specific new construction and renovation projects.

Local Law 95 – Building Labeling: Adjusting metrics used for letter grades assessing building energy performance.

Local Law 96 – PACE: Establishing clean energy financing tools for building owners

Local Law 98 – Wind Energy: Obliging the Department of Buildings to include wind energy generation in its toolbox of renewable energy technologies.

Thankfully, there are resources to help building owners navigate this evolving regulatory landscape. The NYC Retrofit Accelerator supports building owners’ efforts to improve their buildings’ energy efficiency. (calculator) At the state level, NYSERDA has several programs geared towards putting buildings on the path to energy efficiency.

Voluntary nonprofits are gaining traction to assist institutions with the measurement tasks for a price. A good example is CRIS — The Climate Registry’s greenhouse gas (GHG) measurement, reporting, and verification platform, accessible at This tool is used by The Climate Registry (TCR) reporting members, TCR-recognized Verification Bodies, and the general public to measure and/or communicate the carbon impacts of organizations of all sizes across all sectors.

James Baldwin

I have no idea if Aeon Video is a good source to use, but these few minutes of James Baldwin are vitally important to recall as words spoken a half-century ago. Even more instructive is the obsequious British joy in gaining Balwin’s participation in their instruction and then of the insight of Buckley who became an apologist for racism while defending American values as he has learned of them.

Nowhere else can one see more clearly how the knowledge and experience of hypocrisy carried by Baldwin contrast with a white male intellectual who sees his world as one designed specifically to conduct “a win” at the expense of all others. The community’s authentic voice is diverse, and it is this built-in strangeness that every agency or agent for change struggles to understand.

Do you know how a disaster (flood, fire) in a city will strengthen resolve while drought will have people at each other’s throat? I do. We are in that drought, and the political premise is correct — we do overvalue consensus because people want it to exist.  A bit of core knowledge in the people of the color world is that change tends to be for the worse, exceptions prove the rule, and there is a pedagogy of the oppressed. These core perceptions are poorly understood and that when “the white world of capital investment” comes knocking at the door and says we are here to x, y, and z you all. It becomes incredibly disappointing. The things to which you, we, or they can agree to “at least somewhat” do not built well on contradictory and unevaluated value systems. Not once in my long life has a developer entered the room saying we are racist. We represent a racist system. What is said is you have a role to play. If you move outside of that role (caste) and exact a price on the change we propose, we will label your efforts extortion. Not once have they ever said we accept full responsibility as system representatives. We commit ourselves to finance a way for you, for all of us to being that way starting now and forever.

Eye on the Mountain Top

snow covered mountains
Photo by Patrick Doyle on

Tale of Two CTs

City Center
Lincoln Square

Robert Venturi once observed Las Vegas as the only uniquely American expression of architecture. No one ever says it is a product of thoughtful planning. In 2006, when MGM Mirage and partners decided to build City Center, Las Vegas, NV, New York news aptly described it as an entertainment-based retail project. A comparison with an older effort confirms why metaphor-desperate architecture critics get super busy; however, I think lousy planning is the more useful element to engage. Enter stage left, Lincoln Square, Center, and Circle.

A viewpoint for examining the similarities and differences from one other kind of uniqueness can be useful. America is not built on ancient traditions, universal religion, ethnicity, or race; its founders believed that a nation could be built on ideals. The principles of human dignity are given the highest value. Without the rigorous implementation of this core value, community development tends to fail this purpose. The question is not if the development practice in Lincoln Square, NYC, and City Center, Las Vegas was racist. The question is, how much racism is in play?

These two real estate investments are instructive of American urban development. They stand fifty years apart, but it might as well be five centuries regarding their exposure to values. Robert Moses broke ground on the Lincoln Center project with President Eisenhower. The biography of both patriarchs confirms a systemic racism component. Both believed Black people should be treated equally but did not think they were equal, and many of the policies and actions of both remain as proof.

Lincoln Square is an example of racialized architecture in New York City because its backdoor (parking/shipping) was placed on Amsterdam adjacent to public housing. The entry plaza favored the Broadway/Columbus intersection. This was a reasonable architectural decision for many reasons. However, one reason rarely, if ever mentioned, is that architecture as a profession has no design solution for racism. They are subservient; the racism of their clients is included. The profession received clear notice of this problem in 1968 at their 100th convention (here).

Lincoln Center’s development is not as apparent as the proliferation of Confederate monuments from 1900 to through the 1920s, which continues through the 1950s. It was not used to support segregation with warlike intimidation. It found and developed rules of law to demolish a mostly Black neighborhood. The Civil Rights Movement’s pushes back, and Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee Park is now Emancipation Park. A record of this effort is kept by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). On the other hand, the high culture of Lincoln Center uses the grade sheet of their traditions. They seek to convert participants into high arts as their earnest effort to confront racism to claim success in their terms.

Lincoln Center represent issues that architectural design or sculpted monuments cannot handle. Its creation was born of the slum clearance, race intimidation movement known as Urban Renewal. It developed through the redlined 50s and into the late 60s in NYC. The civil rights response pushes back but is compelled to accept reconciliation measures. Reconciliation also occurs in the offerings of special district law in 1969. The Lincoln Square District’s roots can point a bit remarkably to its transformation. It led to comprehensive inclusionary zoning laws, albeit fifty years later.

As a renewal program, the special district design attacked the southern diaspora of poverty into the North with displacement strategies. As for tactics, restitution-like compromises such as the promise of affordable housing and well-funded ‘top-down” cultural services can be agreeable goals to the “fighters” and the losses, grave as they may be, deemed acceptable.

Understanding these programs’ rectitude provides the added depth needed to understand the term “systemic” in race relations and economic change.  The displacement practice, once quoted to me once as, “you are free, just not here, because you can’t afford it,” continues to this day and well examined in a report from the University of Pennsylvania’s City Planning program (here).  Displacement is a percentage game, and if human dignity was the measure, the players on both sides are losing. Penn’s work is an excellent update of Chester Hartman’s book, “Displacement: How to Fight It,” developed by Dennis Keating and Richard LeGates (1981). The truth in both publications, now decades apart, is the displacement process has only changed on the margins. Therein lies the terror of it all.



A small portion of New York City (Map: CT 145) covers an area of eight typical city blocks just west of Central Park. It had a 2000 population of 4,500 people living in 2,900 housing units that sustains a low vacancy rate of about 2%. The land area is 60 acres to yield a residential density of 48,000 people per square mile. (Facts to be updated following 2020 Census – see below.)

The area includes the Fordham University Law School and it is just south of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Juilliard School, and a dozen other cultural miracles. It is not just a neighborhood composed of multiple story apartment buildings, it is a destination experience established by cultural centers, the splendor of Central Park’s open space, and the Time Warner 12-story, shopping “mall” without the standing auto-surround. The daytime population density can be doubled with ease, and well supported by a transit system at this location that can deliver 5,000 people per hour, 24/7/365.

Zoning Resolution Chapter: 82-00 Map:  8c Effective Date: 4/24/69

The public goal (1969) of the Special Lincoln Square District is to enhance the area as an international center for the performing arts. To achieve this goal, urban design along Broadway will follow street line rules. Arcades for interior urban-room retail and service facilities provide a compromise for regulation and limits on street-level uses. Supply-side development bonuses are through special permits that offer added square footage for housing rented at lower (but not low) rents governed by Inclusionary Housing R10. and subway improvements. The demand side bets on good shows, a friendly neighborhood, and a sincere hope that the NYC mass transit services do not collapse.

Lincoln Center is a life-long learning opportunity in community development. Despite a long history of cultural engagement efforts as compensation for a vast mid-50s clearance of thousands of families, a tabula rasa planning strategy, and elements such as the fortress edge at Amsterdam Avenue, the entire project remains an unfulfilled story of transitional urban power.  Its future continues to be written for the success it still might get, not by crossing Amsterdam, but in recognizing how well the social fabric of this part of Manhattan is willing to attack its drift into a binary culture and ignore new opportunities that offer exceptional new levels of depth.

Instantanious Urbanism

The comparison with another entertainment-retail center for the high-spend culture has America written all over it. It is instructive of the “binary-problem” and a warning of competing solely for the high-end. The City Center was a five-year design and build “hit”, not unlike graffiti, but way neat and well worth the time exploring innovations.

The $9+ Billion Las Vegas City Center (left to right): KPF’s Mandarin Hotel, (392) Libeskind, and Rockwell’s Crystal’s premium goods mall, Pelli’s Aria, (4,000) Helmut Jahn’s Veer, (335) Foster’s ill-fated Harmon. (demolition was in 2015) Also in the City Center, Rafael Viñoly Vara hotel and residences (1,495). A “who’s who” of architect high-end destination creation. The City Center project broke ground in 2006, and despite significant construction difficulties, including nine deaths in sixteen months, the new skyline hit the press in late 2009. The plan for this massive development was based on speed regardless of the human cost and a systemic “rent-comes-first” problem.

The entire project is symbolized by the demolition of Foster’s Harmon hotel, but like New York City’s development projects, the larger effort survived the 2008 recession. In Las Vegas, all bets are all on the black. Undeterred, billions spent in building the City Center out of nothing that can be remembered occurred even though Las Vegas sits amidst, the aridest desert on Earth. Most of the 2.6 million residents trust in the spin on Lake Mead as shrinking (or not) rejecting any notion of a prolonged era of despair due to the rains of 2016/17.

The fresh knowledge of anguish from the City Center project became available when the Las Vegas Sun received a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering the causes of construction deaths and lax regulatory assessments. The tragedy of a worker’s family is described (here). All of the stories by Las Vegas Sun for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Public Service can be read (here), one-story points to NYC’s positive response to construction safety. Please read the work of Alexandra Berzon of the Sun who explored the pace, fear, and death and terror that accompanied the creation of City Center before taking in the five minutes on the spin on the final product in the following presentation.

Bill Smith managed construction of the $9 billion City Center completed in 60 months.

All of Las Vegas began as a city of no rules sprawl. The property taken didn’t make the news. It produced thousands of hotel and residential condo-units spread through multiple structures on a 67-acre site. The Vara overlaps residence floors with a 1,500-room hotel. Regular housing is included in the Mandarin Oriental and a 37-floor twin tower. The housing and related residential accommodations combine a complex of hotels, shops, and gambling entertainment. Whether the housing is composed of permanent residents or time-shared ‘hotel-condo’ participants is of small consequence. The community with this density can resolve the service implications with reasonable ease based on density. That leaves median-income and whether racial and gender disparities are becoming dispositive.

Developing business models on the provision of unique destination-retail cultures (high or low) are coupled with a base of rental units, permanent, and condo-hotel housing. Development of this kind suggests the need for a comparison built on the demography of a place, before, during, and after. Such a comparison could yield measures by which the fast “time is money” impact of capital project disruptions that often lead to forced and economic displacement also provide proof of balance. There would be sufficient generational investment for those found in the wake of this harm that it will never occur to that household again. It would be a guarantee, a promise that the cycle of poverty ends with an emphasis on every child regardless of the cost.

AKA: Near Win Wheel

The resident population of Las Vegas will be close to three million people in 2020, and prior to the 2020 pandemic, this city had 42.52 million visitors in 2019. There are just two “isms” that describe gambling in Vegas, “tourism” and “capitalism.”

The increased competition for gamblers as entertainment-based retail, comes clear in a joke you would not hear at City Center. “What is the difference between an online casino and a live casino? – When you lose online and cry, no one will laugh at you.” The enclosures of the modern casino encourage over-confidence, leading to the illusion of security. Our brains like this as a sense of pleasure and contributes to the idea that an educated guess can be precise. Illusions of control also negate outcomes of chance into more extreme emotions such as a “near win” means getting close to one.

To the visitor, the core illusion is gambling is a personal decision not influenced by the environment or knowledge of “the odds.” Both support and encourage the fantasy of winning and a sense of superiority despite a uniform failure (not-wining) rate. This phenomenon is well understood; however, the public policy allows gambling while discouraging it as a dangerous, potentially addictive practice.

A growing proportion of society participates in gambling. The economic impact occurs in every public jurisdiction. It is not treated as a preventable problem, but a percentage of the population issue, leaving it to post-trauma “hot-lines” to resolve. Proof of a high-quality education system will occur when the “casino” as a land-use disappears or when no one other than the fabled 1% gamble.

Demographic Comparisons

Every resident, business, and neighborhood in the nation has a census tract. The Bureau of the Census has made significant improvements in providing online access to data for the ordinary person and there are thousands of tables on who we are as a nation, city, state, county. The census tract is the “where” of this data and it adds knowledge. Knowing the actual condition of our lives yields an assessment of fitness and reasons for action based on comparisons. The first and most important bit of that knowledge is to know that the harsh gavel of the patriarchy used to hammer society into submission cannot be used to dismantle that house effectively, one must know how the house got there in the first place.

The creation of the structures you enter to live, work, shop or play must be safe structures. To assure these objectives, the regulations governing land use and the practice of architecture, engineering, and construction are strict. When errors are discoverer and repair is impossible, the building comes down as in the case of Foster’s building in Las Vegas. The structures also have social and economic impacts, but these products are not well regulated or measured. The ideals of the American Constitution demand fair measures of equal treatment under the law, of fair and just compensation and unfettered access to quality education, and a “we the people” promise of fairness in the pursuit of happiness.

Following you will find a glimpse of the 2010 data on two U.S. Census tracts illustrated in the description of these two locations. This glimpse will await the final publication of the 2020 Census. It can be said with fairness that both locations are products of a largely racist power structure focused solely on the flow of capital as exhibited by the value of the real estate. The fulfillment of America’s constitutional ideals is deemed irrelevant or at best, secondary to that flow of capital.  Ironically, improving the flow of capital is touted as the best remedy to whatever set of problems a social justice agenda might present. The quality of life, therefore, becomes a material consequence of profit, and rightly so, until a tipping point occurs when the measure of quality lowers to an ability to subsist.

Population, Sex, and Race

Census Tract 145 Manhattan (2018 estimates) has a total population of 5,960. It is 64.4% White, Non-Hispanic, and 38% of the population 15 years and older have never married. Census Tract 68 Las Vegas (2018 estimates), has a total population of 5,077. The White, Non-Hispanic population is 23.2%, and 45% of the population 15 years and older have never married.

2010 City Center (CT 68)
Total population3,986
Median age (years)35.1
Sex ratio (males per 100 females)101.9
Age dependency ratio56.6
Old-Age dependency ratio17.0
Child dependency ratio39.6
One race99.0%
Black or African American7.4%
American Indian and Alaska Native0.0%
Some other race12.3%
Two or more races1.0%
Hispanic or Latino origin (any race)45.4%
White alone, not Hispanic or Latino41.7%
2020 City Center (CT 68)
to be written

2010 Lincoln Square (CT 145)
Total population6,245
Median age (years)34.3
Sex ratio (males per 100 females)105.0
Age dependency ratio33.8
Old-Age dependency ratio20.2
Child dependency ratio13.6
One race97.3%
Black or African American3.8%
American Indian and Alaska Native0.3%
Some other race1.4%
Two or more races2.7%
Hispanic or Latino origin any race)14.4%
White alone, not Hispanic or Latino69.4%
2020 Lincoln Square (CT 145)
to be written

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In 2006, New York Magazine identified 50 projects and commissioned the “world’s best architects” composite.

In 2006, the most active and closely watched areas were:

  1. Atlantic Yards, Brooklyn, 2010 & 2016 (changing) See Atlantic Yards Superblocks.
  2. The New Museum, Chelsea. It’s done. Good neighbor? Bad neighbor?
  3. 80 South Street, Downtown, future (changing) approved in 05, so now what?
  4. IAC Headquarters, High Line, 2007 (ceramic pebbles in the glass to save energy)
  5. Silvercup West, Queens, 2009
  6. Freedom Tower, Downtown, 2015!

Now approaching twenty years later for these areas time set aside for an assessment will prove instructive. Comments on the products regarding the social, economic, and environmental concerns are due. The public process used to promote the plans requires comparison with the end product requires analysis. The image source is New York Magazine 2006.

Greenpoint Northside Waterfront

Manhattan/Brooklyn Heights

  1. The Edge Stephen B. Jacobs; Master Plan FXFOWLE and TEN Arquitectos, Sept. 2008
  2. Palmer’s Dock FXFOWLE, phase one, 2008; phase two, 2009
  3. North 8: Greenberg Farrow Architecture, spring 2007
  4. Domino Sugar Site: Rafael Viñoly Architects, Park opened in 2018 FEMA flood plan
  5. Schaefer Landing: Karl Fischer Architects, 2006
  6. Freedom Tower, David Childs/SOM; World Trade Center Transit Hub Santiago Calatrava; Tower 2, Sir Norman Foster; visitor center, 2011
  7. 101 Warren Street; SOM, Ismael Leyva Architects, 2007
  8. William Beaver House; Developer André Balazs, no completion date
  9. Staten Island Whitehall Ferry Terminal; Fred Schwartz, 2005
  10. Battery Maritime Building; Renovation, Jan Hird Pokorny Associates, 2006
  11. Beekman Street Tower l Gehry Partners, Ismael Leyva Architects
  12. 80 South Street: Santiago Calatrava
  13. Pier 17; Beyer Blinder Belle, no completion date
  14. Drawing Center; Architect TBA, 2011.
  15. East River Waterfront; SHoP and Richard Rogers Ken Smith Landscape Architects, 2009
  16. Brooklyn Bridge Park; Michael Van Valkenburgh, 2012
  17. One Brooklyn Bridge Park/360 Furman Street Creative Design Associates, fall 2007
Upper West Side
  1. Javits Center; Rogers FXFOWLE Epstein, 2010.
  2. West Side Rail Yards No completion date.
  3. Moynihan Station David Childs/SOM, late 2010
  4. High Line; Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, phase one, 2008; phase two, 2009
  5. Chelsea Arts Tower Kosser & Garry Architects, Gluckman Mayner Architects, HOK, Fall 2006.
  6. Vesta 24; Garrett Gourlay Architects and James D’Auria Associates, April 2006.
  7. Marianne Boesky Gallery Deborah Berke & Partners Architects, September 2006.
  8. West 23rd Street building Neil M. Denari Architects, Marc Rosenbaum, Gruzen Samton, 2008.
  9. General Theological Seminary Tower The Polshek Partnership, no completion date.
  10. High Line 519; ROY Co., late 2006
  11. West 19th Street building Ateliers Jean Nouvel, no completion date.
  12. IAC Headquarters Gehry Partners, March 2007.
  13. 516 West 19th Street Selldorf Architects, 2008
  14. The Caledonia Handel Architects, 2008.
  15. Chelsea Market Residence Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects
  16. The Standard, NY The Polshek Partnership, 2007. High Line Club Developers Charles Blaichman and André Balazs, no completion date
  17. Pier 57 Michel De Fournier and Gensler, no completion date
  18. Dia High Line; Roger Duffy/SOM, 2008.

The health and prosperity of the world are at stake in this century. Planning, architecture, urban design, and engineering must become one discipline. It must take power to build connections to a far broader set of responsibilities. The need to produce so we don’t fail our kids, and their kids are now. Are the steps taken by these projects enough?

Are public agencies overwhelmed? Can they force the building of the city that should be built, or managing the one that can be built by those this limited imagination and concise term interests. Our public bodies have enormous authority. They miss opportunities to correct imbalances, leverage resources, and eliminate errors for the lack of political will and the ability to take power?

Anyone what to upgrade this with a starchitecture review?

Mega Region Design

Megaregion Design
In November 2007, Bruce Katz presented the challenges of the urban world at the Metropolitan Policy Program

The exquisite logic of Blueprint for American Prosperity was this century’s “Rachael Carson” moment. The truth is almost impossible to believe, and as it turns out, no one did. That is a serious problem.

The 2050 population estimate by the U.S. Census is about 440 million people.  This is a 60% increase from 2000 at 280 million and sufficient to sustain modest GDP growth were it not for one salient fact.  One-third of the population in 2050 will be 60 years or older. 

Where will the majority of this population decide to live? Economists seem to think it will be in warm places. This is a critical question for many reasons. One of them confronts an enormous labor shortage expected to begin around 2025. Perhaps the most compelling policy question involves the demands of this population for elder care services concerning the quality of its provision in the market place.  This affects everything. 

Knowing how this population will decide to live also goes a long way toward knowing where it can work and be well received.  In order of preference, the following answers are probably accurate:

  • living the same way we always have since we settled here until we drop dead, or
  • seek a village-like setting with easy access to my favorite recreation — theater, movies, dining, and health sports such as running, cycling, golf or tennis, or name it.
  • Move closer, but not too close to the kids, or their kids and some of our friends.
  • Be living with the children in their house as they or we become caregivers or receiver
  • find ourselves in elder care or nursing facility/hospice eventually.

One way to resolve the conflicts of prediction is to define the population’s cohorts by the 2050 geography of megaregions from Brookings and work back to now. Say it is 2020 – you have thirty-years to arrange policy and resources.

Planners and developers know the analysis well. Work in the context of the above categories and then modify a carefully selected yet thin wash of possible local development sites with existing services density or links to dense parts are probable. The question of where is then partially resolved. It is least risky to recognize high demand potential regressed to the mean of less predictable costs, including displacement events associated with the climate change crises, including COVID-19. The choices also involve a broad landscape of existing housing, large to small retail districts, office parks, and industrial areas.  All of the megaregions will require analysis of the historically contrived municipal boundaries organization with rapidly changing demographic characteristics.

A guidebook called Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs documents those who have taken this approach.  (see: Ted Talk by Ellen). It observes how redevelopment plans in low-density areas can be diagnosed. The failure of many developments must be understood. These include grey-field office parks, dead or dying malls, and housing subdivisions altered by illegal or loop-hole conversions. Suburban communities are feverishly working to stabilize or lower personal and property taxes by urgently digging for new options in more haphazard manners than ever before. There is no reason to believe the economic and social forces that accelerated central city decay is not at work with similar consequences in the spread city.

Face it, successfully injecting an urban design agenda into these communities will require a much sharper, top-down “Brookings, APA, AIA, Lincoln, ULI” coalition, and a public focus on how impossible it is for local government agencies to direct development in a free market economy.  It comes done to one question. Why are people such as Bruce Katz and his team all alone on the significance of this make or break analysis? Where is the public capacity to ban all shovels until all projects proposed to comply with regional rules that clearly recognize the age cohort and highly disruptive displacement events? 

Mandatory rules in the following order of priority are available. The guidebooks and manuals for a more successful urban world are well written.  The missing element is a coalition level of political enforcement that would help assure community planning, urban design, and architecture will accomplish the following:

  1. a residential environment that is safe and walkable to meet convenience needs
  2. design solutions that allow for the routine use of human-powered and power assist vehicles
  3. provision of mass transit access serving all comparison goods, needs, interests, or desires
  4. zero footprint impact and plus-grid (micro) energy, natural and technologically advanced waste (of all kinds) management systems
  5. integration of open space systems responsive to natural environmental conditions of wilderness (preferably not fragmented).
  6. Oh, and end the crapshoot presented by the following image of Atlanta as it really exists.

Experience plus reflection produces knowledge. The Brookings Institute’s Metropolitan Policy Program back in 2007 presented the real challenge of the American urban world.  Why has it not taken hold in a way that ordinary people can absorb? I think the exquisite logic of Blueprint for American Prosperity failed to convince Atlanta. Except for NYC, nobody got it because the hard truth was impossible to believe. Time to repeat it, SAM.


Seven Elements/Four Topics

The following few thousand words seek a new value system for the professions of city and regional planning, architecture, and engineering. Your bones tell you, you smell it, there is the challenge of unclear change on the tongues of the public speakers. The sticky multiple versions of the truth offered in the political-speech of our modern lives will be swept away by the clear mind of science. This is a call for action in that simple pursuit.

The challenges embedded in the failures of planning, architecture, and engineering are vast. Only a third of the earth’s landscape is urban and it holds over half its population and will not stop. The densest regions are near natural resources and ocean and every part of it is instructive of an adaptation to restraint and the failure to do so. These regions range from heartbreaking failures to soaring enclosures of fully actualized human potential. This duality is now squarely before the change-makers. The rationalized contradictions of “have” and “have not” has become the tragedy of the knowing and the unknowing.

Core Elements of Planning, Architecture, and Engineering Practice
  1. The practice knows that humans experience the world through their bodies.
  2. The practice focuses on specific purposes for buildings and built environments for humans to provide experiences of the world.
  3. The practice builds environments made of materials drawn from the earth’s crust, for which there is a timeless responsibility.
  4. The quality of an architectural solution derived from demonstrations of extraction processes includes responsibility for all human experiences in the creation and use of each product.
  5. Demonstrations of quality derive from combinations of functional and technical requirements.
  6. The creation of a place, its coherence, and material quality produce an aesthetic experience assigned by its users to the design solution.
  7. Standards of practice develop through deliberate periods of reflection, evaluation, and routine performance tests to establish planning, architecture, design, and engineering expertise.

The desire to build a city of gold or a shed in the forest does not require the expertise of architecture and engineering (A&E). It does require the confidence presented by preexisting, demonstrable products. Regretfully, the solutions are, therefore retrogressive on all aspects of economic as well as social change. Less understood is the fundamental intention of design as a producer of hedonic experiences known as aesthesis. However, the ability to love, like, or just appreciate your environment, yourself, and other people as part of that experience require psychological and physiological knowledge. At the center, the human ability for profound learning is an ability to anticipate and empathize with the knowledge of another. In the A&E professions, this responsibility has been allowed to remain indeterminate, weak, and damaging to the United States. This is due to a “first” principle. Remaining accountable to the desires of the bill payers, and only as accountable to government as the law requires. See (Finding Density)

Whitney M. Young Jr raised the issue of racism in A&E in 1968 at the 100th convention of the American Institute of Architects. Just a few years before his accidental death (1971) he put a deck of cards on the table and explained to the AIA membership that they were the problem.

“Now, you have a nice, normal escape hatch in your historical, ethical code or something that says after all you are the designers and not the builders; your role is to give people what they want. Now, that’s a nice, easy cop-out.”

Whitney M. Young Jr.
Read the complete speech here.

Providing the service of design expertise to meet severe challenges such as “sustainability” exists, but it is weak. The desire to end development practices that contribute to racism are supported, but with actions subservient to the an historical ethical code used as an escape hatch.

Demands to improve the human experience with the world require steps well beyond establishing the coherence of place. Confirming a sense of safety, comfort, accessibility, mobility, novelty, color, harmonics produce a long set of demands for consistency. The designer’s production of spatial and aesthetic content requires a new social resonance in the 21st century, an open and uncertain intelligence essential to understanding every human need as more than physical. The space-makers knowledge of existence will grow in service to a higher cause, and one of purpose in service to humanity, not the bill payers. In failing to take these steps, architecture and engineering are not improving the human condition and the world must ask why?

The following four topics summarize research and analysis of social and economic issues affecting the professional and non-professional urbanization of the United States. It began with the idea that a small laboratory on the idea of breaking some rules in one medium-sized A&E firm could reveal the brilliance of design as power. The topics outline an Occam’s Razor set of four simple steps by the professions of planning, design, architecture, and engineering that might save us all.

Four Topics

Challenging Planning, Architecture, and Engineering Practice

Topic One: The Arc of History Is an Act of Construction

For the last few thousand years, humanity has gathered and shaped materials from the earth’s crust. It now occurs at a rate unprecedented in any other period. From Fordism to now, history does not describe the cost of this change as safe practice in any sense of the word, but as one designed to be continuously more profitable.  

As a matter of national policy, this practice pushed manufacturing labor out of the United States to less regulated, lower-cost areas in trade for lower-cost goods at home. Globalization is a well-documented force of history; however, its impact on the city-building trades is a research and development task tossed like a ball to the city-builders, the designer, planner, architect, and engineer and they can’t catch.

Yes, individual projects represent extraordinary exhibits of design and technical expertise, but they are caves in the storm of urbanization history as it spreads the poisonous mass of human endeavor “as construction” across the surface of the earth.

Cities cover the earth’s prime locations, and yet they remain little more than a vague notion. As a stimulant to further discussion on this topic, I refer readers to “How cities took over the world” (here). The project experience of the A&E firms expressed by those in the graphic (below) along with as many other contributors would care to recommend is needed. The Guardian (here) offers readers and extensive review of the earth’s urban reality. A video illustrates (here) the explosion of cities in the last two seconds of a three-minute presentation covering 4,000 years of urban development, or 9,000 if you want to go Neolithic.

The growth of architecture and engineering as a professional force surpasses all others in city-building, yet it remains an undistinguished expression of political power. Management companies such as McKinsey & Company noticed this as a productivity problem in 2017 (here). Its city-forming capacities and influence are self-suppressed in preference for praise as an art. Over the last four thousand years from Alexandria to the Erie Canal, the practice has turned away from recognizing how it shapes the world as a political force in preference to its services for expressing the imaginations of capital. This behavior needs to stop.

The global A&E practice has developed in service to those who desire to build cities at a development rate rightly criticized as endangering the well-being of life. The thousand-year arc of history in this context exhibits urban life brought to its knees many times in countless submissions to the destructive forces of black death, war, resource overreach, and the anticipatory ignorance of central governance. This behavior needs to stop.

The thread in this demand for discussion asks participants to examine this history with the presumption of a continuously urbanizing, global system, structurally and destructively embedded in or alongside another world that uses only what it needs, wastes nothing, and obtains its energy from sunlight. Looking forward and back, questions regarding the medium- and long-term must recognize the incompatibility of these two systems as currently designed. How can the destructive forces of each establish balance and at what cost to human life?

Preceding our few thousand years, millions of species have come and gone over the last four billion years. The genius of time in this context is the formation of well-informed and reflective humans, capable of explaining and understanding the universe well enough so as not to become its victim. The first question of history that points to this future of knowledge must be to discover an urban world that is generous with the earth with near-perfect information. The history of urban construction needs to change. Finally, can the powerful development expertise of actors such as those exhibited above, become more mindful of this challenge. What forces are needed to get more effective thinking and where necessary force corrective action?

Topic Two: Erase the Contract

Architects and engineers have defined a set of professional restrictions on themselves. They also accepted limits demanded by investors (public and private). As the classic phrasing in the contract documents describes, A&E work shall be limited work. A&E provides two services design and construction documents, or more directly, build design expertise reputations to “get the job” and “documents” that get a project built.  

When a building is to be built, the process begins for the construction manager when there is an agreement between the owner and the architect followed by a separate agreement between an owner and the architect called the B132 agreement between the owner and a construction management adviser. This agreement follows the A232 that outlines the general conditions of the contract of construction. Following this step, the litigious nature established by these first two agreements sets into motion the possibility of many other contracts designed to avoid complaints.

The climate warming crisis has encouraged a process for implementing the concept of “sustainability” into every project as an exhibit (E 235).  The process for change orders, and the steps necessary to acquire certifications for payment, new construction change directives, and ultimately a certificate of substantial completion with sets forth the final payment elements of the initial contract between owner and contractor.

After these two tasks (get the job and sign documents), A&E is without power and trapped in binding contracts of its own making. It can observe well-paid union workers in conflict with the non-union worker through strategic “divide-and-conquer” tactics in the accomplishment of profit. Profit, of course, is essential. It is only the term and structure for defining returns and accruals that are in question — the result involves the intervention with the use of public funds for supply-side subsidies and demand-side incentives of public policy.

Change in response to unmet human need is injected into the city-building process to lower the cost of money or support efforts to produce better and safer environments through a variety of zoning and construction regulations. The result is a maze of contractual requirements. Finally, A&E remains relevant in its examination of a long list of issues and concerns related to the use of building materials and construction practices to maintain public welfare and prevent litigation on a project-by-project basis. The knowledge drawn from the application of technology in planning, architecture, and engineering in city-building has the power to prove that humanity is not an infestation, but an instrument capable of understanding the full complexity of all the conditions in which a building is made, not as an object in space, but as an addition in a community where much more needs to be done and with whom new partners are needed in a very different type of contract.

Efforts to change the system from within have resulted in the introduction of technology and law to produce contracts such as presented by the Integrated Project Delivery introduced by the American Institute of Architects in the mid-2000s (AIA pdf here).

As a stimulant to further discussion on this topic, refer your readers to the implementation of IPD ( pdf here) that reviews a dozen projects in the United States. I also ask you to refer project experience of A&E firms expressed in the graphic (above) as it relates to the construction trade organizations exhibited in the graphic (below) along with as many other “workers organizations” as you would care to recommend with one additional component – add your focus on the expertise of the construction trades as exhibited by their union representation and by spending about three minutes with some people talking about their life-experience in construction.

‘The vitality of architecture does not stand on the strength of its foundations or the vision of its builders. 
It stands on the dignity of life formed in the heart of all of its creators.”

I offer the following change tactically aimed at a far more significant change in the city-building contract than exhibited in the well-intentioned tinkering offered by the IPD program. I would include a demand to recapture a resource such as building information modeling systems (BIM) as a public responsibility. It is adopted widely and somewhat inappropriately by construction management firms in contract with owners and developers. It belongs elsewhere in a new partnership.

If significant improvements in system management toward a practice of architecture and engineering is to occur it must defer to the lives of people in priority over the property. In response to demands for resilience, it must meet the goals of sustainability in preference to weathering the next storm whether it be fire or rage. A new relationship between the construction trades, their unions, and A&E can produce the balance needed to move forward as a force for political change. Accepting this idea may be essential to eliminating the destructive forces of raw capital at work in the world.

An improved concept of change that gets well past the profitability of managing time is needed. The cold industrialization of construction awaits on the global factory floor. In this writer’s mind, a new alliance of architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) are the best means toward retaining the art and humanity of architecture with the precision of science and engineering sustained by the heart and soul of its human builders. Many of the contributions of technology to city-building offer exhilarating promise – the embodied energy in building materials could be sustained for centuries as recyclable, all of its surfaces would collect tactile and sun-energy, the movement of people and goods occurs seamlessly. When these changes can be made to recur there is proof of control. With these proofs, one other human problem requires careful examination in the United States because it is the most diverse society on earth.

The argument in this brief look at changing the city-building contract is one that must occur between design, the technology of architecture and engineering with the construction-trades and its workers. Without this change, the city-building professions will fail in their contract with humanity.

Topic Three: Change the Concept of Change

Building diversity is an adjustment of social justice and a step toward extraordinary new powers for change.

Open processes that value human dignity, fair wages, health, and safety occur in countries with the capacity to make a democratic change. Over the last fifty years, public regulation and litigation regarding the safety of construction sites make them marginally protected. Elsewhere in the world, the record shows construction labor as a struggle with death, and if not death, despair.

Investors know creativity is in the major urban centers, and the time to capture it is now.  When business and government leaders put options on the table that don’t create change, the policy is not to create change. The CEO’s from small to massive A&E firms recognize the prevailing narrative of a nation’s white, male, racial preeminence, and how it is represented in their businesses today. They should see it in the context of a rapidly changing American value system aimed at high levels of fairness that eliminate wrongs, thereby opening an exponential capacity for growth through innovation.

As the more responsible power holders take a good look at the nation as it is today, they will discover how to shift the subtle and corrosive ideology of gender and racial pre-eminence that is white and male toward greater inclusion. They will learn how it creates the invisibility of all others. The first step is to identify the privileges that have enabled past “rights” to continue for so long that they have become today’s “wrongs.” In the light of a society that seeks to improve its understanding of itself, the demand (while painful) for a “facts are friendly” approach to solving problems is paramount.

Nearly 40% of the U.S. population are people of color.  Their lack of representation in many influential fields reveals obvious “white race preeminence” that remains unchallenged. Department of Labor (DOL) numbers to back that up are:

  • From 2009 to 2018, the percentage of black law partners up from 1.7% to 1.8%.
  • From 1985 to 2016, the proportion of black men in management at U.S. companies with 100 or more employees barely budged–from 3% to 3.2%.
  • People of color held about 16% of Fortune 500 board seats in 2018.
  • A 2018 survey of the 15 largest public fashion and apparel companies found that nonwhites held only 11% of board seats and that nearly three-quarters of company CEOs were white men.
  • In the top 200 film releases of 2017, minorities accounted for 7.8% of writers, 12.6% of directors, and 19.8% of lead roles.

As a stimulant to further discussion on this topic and resistance to it, I will refer readers to two discussions on the implementation of diversity (AIA pdf here, a research article here) that addresses a range of issues. The task of linking A&E to the Construction Trades experience offers lessons in racial and gender in both of their ranks.

At first glance, architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms have improved gender balance with a significant influence on education and training programs. The construction trade unions have improved racial access and trust in diversity with added strength in the transparency of pay equity and negotiations for health insurance services in their ranks. There is a strong win/win potential in developing this relationship through education.

An alliance of knowledge and choices in career ladders between the building trades and city-building professionals can produce any more levels of participation from designing a building to building one. The enrichment for a cross-disciplinary engagement in the challenges faced in city-building is infinite in its possibility. It is capable of crushing the intellectual silos in which the trades and professionals find themselves trapped.

Topic Four: Realign City-Building

Until recently, the history of the construction industry regarding change issues has been not to allow social change. The history of A&E, however, illustrates policies more responsive to demands for change. The focus on education serves greater gender-balance positioned to achieve equity; A&E policies are also eager to adapt to new technologies to their portfolio of problem-solving tools.

Few evaluation systems address social change and sustainability beyond the capacity of marketing to claim “steps.” Departments of Commerce (Census) and Labor produce measures for evaluating responses of business and industry to social demands. Agents can claim modest advances in broad areas such as social justice and point to specific areas such as sexual harassment. However, steps in preventing environmental damage do not quantify threats to future generations effectively. Vague, and in many cases, unverifiable measures are used on a project-by-project basis with impunity. Draw a line around the city. Inside unlimited growth is on offer if nothing damaging can go outside that line. With this alignment, there may be enough time to make it work. If not, I fear doom awaits full expression in the screams of the impoverished.

On the question of accountability, these issues concern any thinking person. The design professions and construction trades can take a more substantial leadership role in public policy. There are more questions, and please offer them, but the best of them to seek opinions as follows:

Thank You

Yep, this is a tunnel search.

Please contribute facts, names of places, numbers, sources, and resources to help this little think tank community explore some ideas, and define the problems presented in each of the following questions. Our focus is simple — no one is as smart as all of us.


Should the A&E community enter into alliances with the construction trades industry to make both more responsive to social and environmental challenges?

Knowing that an alliance with the construction trades is not considered possible at this time, what strategies might you offer or what purposes might this action serve?

Please respond: link to email here


Is it possible for you to envision the formation of a highly trained, architecture, engineering, and construction industry as a highly advanced technological force in the city-building world? If yes, what national and global structures would you deploy (real or imagined).

Knowing that the top annual billing rate for the world’s largest A&E firms falls short of a billion U.S. Dollars, consider your answer in terms of taking full development control.

Please respond: link to email here


Through legislation and changes in central governance policy, will it be necessary for A&E to develop the capacity to establish a controlling and deciding role in every expenditure related to urban preservation, re-development, and construction?

This question presumes an inability of nation-states and global regulatory bodies to establish ground rules for managing the displacement of millions of people over the next half-century.

Please respond: link to email here


Can A&E define and resolve the challenges of the next two decades that predict enormous physical damages to the urban infrastructure of America?

Please respond: link to email here

The question imagines the availability of substantial capital to resolve coastal and southern border disruptions in new multi-national business partnerships designed to define specific levels of design expertise rapidly when needed.


Will A&E lead in its capacity to design and plan environments that respond to the vast creativity embedded in the social and economic diversity unique to the United States?

The representation of the multi-cultural, ethnic, and racial composition of the American population is considered a valuable asset. Can A&E in the United States respond effectively in resolving issues?

Please respond: link to email here


Will AEC envision new ways of life that focus on the humanity embedded in our shared realities that produce new forms of comfort in life and health in living with the knowledge that we sustain the joy and laughter of all those who wait in the deep future?

Asking for your theory of change in this closing question asks you to reflect on all previous answers with the idea that some elements of hope for the leadership in the profession will become possible, if not in your heart, then in your imagination

Please respond: link to email here and thank-you.

Click for Site Map and Index

The challenge is to combine design skill and construction knowledge and progressive nature of labor unions, architecture, and engineering to create the opportunity to save us all, or save anyone who looks into the eyes of a six-year-old to know that we had better try hard and start now.


The July 2019 review will focus on the Tweets from housing advocacy groups. Just as these organizations warned of the 2008 Recession, they see another housing crisis forming in America. How equity was kept away from people is an issue of the nation’s 400 hundred-year heritage of enslavement, cold, racist terrorism, and bigotry. These facts also describe the world’s history, but it is the U.S. Constitution that had some ideas about how moral people could change immoral societies. Problems that hurt people and go undefined and unanswered creates a climate for authoritarian solutions.


Every problem is a housing problem.

The often-told solution is an old retort of hard work, healthy homes, communities, and families. The response is correct but blind to the history of privileges extended to white America as it became the United States. For centuries rights and freedoms extended to all people not of color without a moment’s reflection. The crime of bias barred the accumulation of wealth from property to succeeding generations. The quiet yet insidious reduction and denials of opportunity from education are proven.

Access to work from the ordinary trades to the most highly skilled professions is proven with painful references such as “they are not ready,” or the best work suited “for them” is agricultural service. These actions still rip the opportunity for equity with an intense generational impact on people of color. In the centuries that led to the rise of American hegemony, no one, not one person, not W.E.B. DuBois or even Martin Luther King, has been able to fully articulate what this loss of equity has meant to the people of color in America. The voice of Ta-Nehisi Coates is the most current (here). He stands on firm ground because the U.S. has participated in reparations four times.

Ending the Wherever Movement

A new housing crisis is in the air for reasons other than systemic racism in America. Every issue connects to a housing problem. For some time, the equity crisis re-establishes classicism under headings such as “culture wars,” but the results change little. The metaphor is weak. The facts on the structure of every “next disaster” can be different. Technology offers opportunities to build a broader coalition on equity with justice that includes race by correcting past wrongs, yet moves forward to circumvent long-established rules of “divide to conquer.”

The surge of affordable single-family housing in America continues in the hot wetlands of the south with sporadic drought and the flat drylands of the southwest with asymmetrical flash floods. The onset of climate change will drown the wetlands, scorch and burn the drylands, and cause enormous disruptions in every region of the United States. Denying the annual recurrence of this possibility is just plain denial. I will not be surprised if we experience a bout of biblical pestilence. These impacts are called “environmental racism” by pointing to the disproportionate number of low-and-moderate-income people losing equity. The damage and despair reveal a broad swath of painful historic bigotry, but now the dangers are thrown at all people.

After WWII, localities have kept their hand on the tail of the revenue bull, blind to the rest of the beast. In the last century, millions of households benefited from federal housing policies with only one location principle – housing wherever you want. In this new century reducing the mortgage interest subsidy on the demand side and weakening a long list of development incentives on the supply side has severely weakened federal leadership in housing preservation and development to continue the “build wherever” policy.

The opportunity to bring national policies back with conditions that mitigate the impact of regional climate change by region makes it possible to re-establish national housing development policies as the leading edge of a new strategy. It will be re-focused by climate protection that builds restoration with resilience. It will create sustainable equity in communities despite storms of enormous ferocity and designed to survive the hatred, bigotry, and high water, drought, and fire.

Two Centuries Out

In the following summary of Tweets from the Housing Advocacy People (HAP) of July 2019, it may be possible to find threads of principle and elements of novelty in current policy efforts that will alter the pervasive opinion that the size and purpose of the national government have not lost its way, that it will be possible to forge new policy from environmental protection as a national defense strategy forced by the bright light of survival. If the ocean’s tide is once again destined to flow up and into the Great Appalachian Valley from Maine’s ports to South Carolina’s shores over the next few centuries, getting ready should be a top priority. Preparation for this kind of “sea change” in all its meanings is the most important action of this century (the original map is here). Issues like this are just the beginning:

Climate Central

If the Gulf of Mexico’s fate is to be an alga thickened swamp, we need ideas to be prepared if the Pacific Ocean’s vast torrents alter the Gulf Stream and El Niño yields’ surface heat hundreds of tornadoes and hurricanes. Not being ready is a super bad idea. Whether friendly or with horrible force, from the sky or the sea, heed the words, “the water will come.” The plan seems different when time itself became for sale in 2021, and that is not a surprise if you know how non-fungible tokens (NFT) and blockchains began to change all financial transactions. A true distraction, for all the world, is lost to that stage.

The March 2019 summary (here) introduced all the Tweet-O-Rama organizations and the Random Tweet-O-Rama. The idea is to learn something from the wits from this vast new area of the blah blah world.  The April summary (here) examined the Think-Tank People. In May (here), I looked at the organizations working to produce a good economy combined with voter rights organizations. With those thoughts in mind, it is logical to look at politics as a sport and as a practice that is now very different from the role of leadership that it implies. Please enjoy June, everyone should, and then July (here) for a look at the one thing of great importance – housing (here)

Political Waters

Jeff Goodell at Long Now Foundation

Goodell is a journalist focused on energy systems and climate change. At the end of his talk, Jeff Goodell was asked what he would do with $200 billion. His answer was surprising. He said he would spend it all on finding ways to improve the quality of political change and its ability to adapt to solving big long-term problems. He said we have the intelligence and capacity to deal with the problem of a constantly rising sea. Still, first, it must be recognized as daily and inevitable by our leadership. He adds this is a problem that will last for several centuries, so we might as well get started.  His full discussion of “The Water Will Come” is available at the Long Now Foundation.  His five main points are below. Buy “The Water Will Come.”

1. Gravity

Sea rise is like the existence of gravity. It is all around us; it is happening now every day. Like gravity, the increase in seawater is subtle, and it is a fixed part of the world because you cannot make water go away. All you can do is watch it get redistributed. In every locality, the hydrology of the rise will be unique. The conservation of matter remains the physical driving principal – added moisture in the atmosphere; the higher intensity in storm surges is part of a global system with a deep billion-year-old history.  The need for action to deal with sea-level rise and adapting to it is not physical. It is the hyper-political “not on my watch” principal. They are incompatible. What we can do today is the value to instill in leadership.

2. Rate of Change

The geological record covering billions of years shows 25 to 60 feet of sea-level rise is part of the system, leaving the central question’s time and rate. Jeff refers to Richard Alley as the world’s top ice analyst (climate scientist) who finds the rise of 15 feet by 2100 “is not out of the question.” The geological record also suggests the sea rise occurs in pulses, but the historical average is 13 feet per century. Huge unknowns remain. How will trillions of tons of water change the sea due to the catastrophic collapse of Antarctica? How big and fast questions will last for a century and vary in probable impact in places worldwide. Definitive answers to these questions drive political policy toward resilience. For example, the effect of climate change in the form of “storm surge” on the value of the coastal property is top on the list. The political response, on the other hand, is little more than a finger in the dike.

3. Value

Long before any individual city or region comes up with mitigation resources, the “troubles” will have spoken and measured in dollars. A part of the American culture is that it tends to leave the important things unsaid. For example, the coastal states are losing property value. People are selling (caveat emptor) and moving to get ahead of their sea rise fears following one experience: a sunny day flooding or a crushing surge in the ocean’s new normal. Others take advantage of generous publicly funded encouragements to sustain tax revenues with “move to the shore,” campaigns deemed essential to borrow long term financing for local “fixes” (higher roads, bigger dunes, pumps, and so on) and. In political words, what we have here is a capital mess with a Catch 22 attached.

4. Resilience is Now

There is no way to know what plan will work best or who will call for spending and take the win/lose leadership responsibility to protect against the impact of sea rise. Goodell has traveled the world and has seen brilliance and stupidity. Some jurisdictions pump the water from one place to another. Others raise buildings, but protecting a city is a very different problem. The who is in and outside a mitigation area screams substantial social justice issues on why protections planned for one locality are not in another. Resilience policies are in response to ongoing “chaos costs” because it is too late to achieve sustainable development for five main reasons outlined by Dennis Meadows over a decade ago.

  1. Public discourse has difficulty with subtle, conditional messages.
  2. Growth advocates change the justification for their paradigm rather than changing the paradigm itself.
  3. The global system is now far above its carrying capacity.
  4. We act as if technological change can substitute for social change.
  5. The time horizon of our current system is too short.

5. Why “Catastrophic” Resolution?

The business models used to treat climate change as an economic opportunity is often disguised by waiting for catastrophe. Nevertheless, there are places far less driven by profit-making than the quality of life that may be getting it right and doing so in a timely way.  Lagos is a floating place to live, others in the Netherlands and similar geographies find ways for the sea to take what it will. The re-building design for a flooding world is easily envisioned across the economic spectrum of engineering. Geo-engineering work will attempt to physically alter the atmosphere by buying time or opening Pandora’s box but will not stop the sea-level rise. The question “what now” will help regions know what to do, the skills exist, and get them. To get creativity from skill, it will be necessary to make climate change risks transparent to get the markets and governments to function.


North America’s coastlines are urban, dense, and represent 80% of the nation’s GDP. From the islands of New York City to Virginia’s shipyards to the North and South Carolina beaches’ soft links and from Savannah to Miami, the sea is rising. From hot and sunny New Orleans, Louisiana to San Diego, California, and way up north to the cold and wet of Seattle, Washington, the sea is rising. It took three centuries to build this coastline, and this investment continues.

To sustain these economic giants as viable will require a new force capable of combining political will, economic genius, design, and engineering brilliance and bringing it to the forefront of our thinking. They are all unique urban environments requiring solutions specific to each place’s geology and hydrology, but they are all equally threatened. There are no “need to know” problems, only the need to make an effort. The alternative to a successful push for democratic transparency on these problems will be an authoritarian process that will choose winners and losers the way despots have always chosen.

The Urban Planet

“The social contract for authority is at the center of money, politics, and religion. No surprise there. Each center’s loci has confirming elements such as the high priest’s temple or another supreme power object represented by the elite and their agents. These three realms are carefully designed for the acquisition of wealth. The purpose is to create predictable rates and periods in a political or religious mix. Because it is expected, these failures also predict products such as, when to buy low, followed by the distraction of an intractable political confrontation.”

Rex L. Curry

Money, politics, and religion have yet to recognize the earth as a place. Photographs from the moon made it an island in space ruled by the sun. Still, of the billions of people on the earth, only a small percentage realize the Earth’s location in a solar system of a galaxy, among many. The “Earth Rise” and “Blue Marble” photographs taken a half-century ago from orbit and the surface of the moon through all of the Apollo Missions (1968 – 1972) takes us back a mere five hundred years ago when Galileo began to figure out the earth’s place in our solar system (1600). The first contact with the universe’s vast nature must have yielded a compelling sense of spatial abundance. Galileo would be surprised by how limited it is today among the “knowing” observers of our finite planet. It is the way Galileo used his mind that should be remembered. Read of his thought experiment (here).

Mountain ranges and vast oceans compare to a sea of galaxies in the opposite sense. The earth’s density is close and personal. It begins with roughly 100 people per square mile and climbs to nearly 150,000 people in dense clusters. How do these two experiences “of the earth” and “the city” fit together? That “fit” is oddly similar to the earth in the galaxy.

New York City’s Manhattan island has a residential density surrounding Central Park of around 67,000 people per square mile (2000). Should Yellowstone National Park experience the same fate in another few centuries? After all, the argument for the investment in a “central park” was the increase in adjacent property values. The United States averages less than 85 people per square mile. Methods to evaluate this range became of interest following the 2000 Census with specific new definitions of density in the Census Bureau. See Density.

The designation “urban” has long been in the bureau’s lexicon, but the term “urban area” is new Census 2000 terminology. It is a way to include everything from small urban clusters (less than 50,000 but at least 1,000 people per square mile) down to “at least 500 people” per square mile, in areas immediately adjacent for the cut-off to not urban something else like exurban. Establishing the urbanized area (UA) category and the “urban growth area” (UGA) is helping policymakers to identify areas where urban development regulations predict/prevent growth. Maryland and Oregon have closely monitored examples.

A UA benefit is how it reveals “low density” settlement patterns (less than 100 people per square mile). The presumption that these areas do not alter ecological systems comes from the lack of understanding of either system. Yet, they shape the nation’s mega-regions as we know them today. Low-density areas can be hotbeds of hidden environmental degradation without boundary. Could such places be given a border? Where would the challenge draw a line fall? Would it be at the <100 thresholds or at edges of a <50,000 or within a community that is >100,000 population per square mile? It comes down to perceived value and the primacy of private ownership in confrontation with public interests. (Bundy)

The change in the urban definition of places and census-designated places led to a mild refinement that splits a UA population between urban and not-urban components based on 500 people per square mile. The Census Bureau estimates this change may classify an added 5 million urban people in 7 percent less area (about 6,600 square miles. How much “less area” will continue to be a central question in each recent population census. It may be too late if a policy of urban unification and the wilderness’s defragmentation becomes a recognized priority.

In the Bureau’s decennial cycle, these refinements contribute to local and national policy changes’ poor timing. The American Community Survey may resolve this problem with an equally accurate predictor of annual population characteristics and vital statistics. Growing trust in its sampling technology could help sustain the ecological balance between urban and the remaining landscape. Being able to establish a strategic difference will be crucial.

Fire illustrates the importance of understanding an urban area strategy best.  It is possible to let a forest wilderness fire burn, but less so when the wild is also urban using the 2000 definition. The Paradise Fire in California, 2018 is a clear example of needing a strategic difference policy. Extending this sense of difference to when a river breaks its traditional banks and expands into a flood plain, but far less so when the river upland of a river basin still requires dikes and channelization as seen across the entire Los Angeles basin or bayous of Louisiana.

I do not believe that our sense of fragile earth in a vast galaxy and the sense of ongoing calamity in the world is going unnoticed. Trillions in costs driven by environmental changes to which humans are making a substantial contribution are closely monitored. The “Man versus Mother Nature” series by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Finance and Development in March 2014, Vol. 51, No. 1 by Nicole Laframboise and Sebastian Acevedo make the case quite clear.

This photo of “Earth Rise” over the lunar horizon was taken by the Apollo 8 crew in December 1968, showing Earth for the first time as it appears from deep space.

Catastrophic Resolution (CR)

Good for the City in Small Pieces

“Some years ago, and a year or so after the 9/11 disaster, I was standing near a conversation at a town hall session, when a constituent decried failing systems in service to the simple act of voting – long lines, ill-trained, confused poll workers, broken machines, deplorable participation rates, falling registrations, and so on.  The Senator, politely nodding said, “Little will happen on any of these issues until voting breaks down completely. Only if that happens can action with money be taken, in the meantime…” when the constituent interrupted and said, “But Senator, all the dots are in a row here,” it was like being slapped.”

Rex L. Curry

Photo © (Source Link)

The policy of catastrophic resolution is supported as a congressional decision-making model, and while reasonable in one sense, it has become a disease of denial regarding the value of prevention. Today, a variety of life-denying systems within the western economies are held by self-styled anthropophagus-like altruists whose logic would destroy the village to save it and who govern at an “arm’s length” with the help of psychopaths they put into public offices. They are not the oligarchs of old that hold the spoils of war. In their worlds, surrounded by the obsequious kindness of others, I believe many of them do not know what they do or have done to damage the future. The clutch of sycophants in their spheres quietly whisper in a gaggle of insistence, saying there is no need for decisive action on the unprovable loss of a single species, or global breakdowns in seasonal patterns that bring fire, drought, and thunderous waves from a rising global ocean or the searing heat across ever-widening dry plains. The policy of “no need without undeniable insistence,” must not occur.  There is a need for revolution and I think I have a sense where it might begin.

The synergy of dense urban living appears to create or at least support the rise of conditions that prevent damage to future generations as it defines and solves problems squarely ahead. It can be sloppy, however, most of the cycles of sloppiness are short, cover small geographic areas, because only parts of the systems that glue the city together fail at any one time. A city in constates of repair is a city with powerful expertise. When ancient, wood water main breaks, a sewer fails, a gas line leaks and an electric power loss occurs only a few people are affected and only for short periods because of compacity. A word that describes a lot of people nearby that know exactly what to do or how to get it done.

ConEdisons Outage Map shows the number of customers affected by location.
New York City’s “Outage Map” by Consolidated Edison
illustrates outages for 3.5 million customers by location.

If you in a dense area experience compacity by taking a walk for fifteen, twenty minutes in a reasonably straight line, make four right turns to get back where you started and you have probably walked a square mile. On average you have enclosed 30,000 to 80,000 people, miles of road, and thousands of homes. You will have come across multiple subway stations, several hundred, commercial retail, institutional service and public facilities such as schools, police and fire stations. All in a little over a one hour walk. Amazing.

The central and overriding responsibility of political leaders, as well as, public and private service agencies is to assist in the readiness of people to respond to problems of any kind or sign of trouble of any sort. They must know and understand this capacity as it represents the beating heart of NYC’s future. In every one of these enclosures whether it is a random square mile or any one of hundreds of neighborhoods the capacity for positive change is undeniable but it needs to be taught as a practical matter of citizenship, of what to do, or not do when the need for help is immediate or anticipated.

If or when a city’s potential for positive change or the need for occasionally rapid change is denied or obstructed it is readily recognized as a conflict against the humanity in the place where it occurs. The origins of the forces behind these life-defining conflicts may begin as “person-against -person,-nature, -self, -society, -technology or the raw unknown. These are not the elements of fictional narratives, they represent the day-to-day experiences of regular people. They produce these occurrences of conflict with relish in all things, from the simple exchange over the price of bread for currency to a course in high-school algebra for a grade. They are all things wrought by the compacity of urban life that are continuous and in many ways unrelenting.

In many places throughout the city, your walk would have included the observation of a highly diverse population, you would have heard many voices speaking combinations of familiar and unfamiliar words, your opportunity within this environment to purchase and consume your requirement for protein or clothing, a laugh or a smile is easily acquired. A twenty to thirty- minute train ride will take you to some of the world’s finest hospitals and universities, or to airports and trains to see far off places.




Cities are Different

“One number above all other metrics suggests a housing affordability and infrastructure emergency is pending. In New York City, one emergency is around 40,000 people living permanently in shelters, with a growing percentage of emotionally distressed and mentally ill people in the population. The number alone is less telling than realizing how and why it lasts for decades.

Homelessness has become a production function of cities.

In NYC, an additional 35,000 people, by official estimates, are homeless as transient or invisible. There are no rules or initiatives to stop these numbers from exponential growth.”

Rex L. Curry

Pushed Out”  illustrates displacement and its impacts.  Produced by: UC Berkeley Urban Displacement Project, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and The Great Communities Collaborative, an initiative of The San Francisco Foundation

The history of cities is about how problems are defined and solved. The political skill of the dense city is different than other places. The city is regularly expected to create change that people will believe in, even though combinations of corruption and inspiration determine each change. The effectiveness of either or both is fixed in the experience of communities and demonstrated in neighborhoods. Inexplicably, is this what makes the celebration of cities so unique and important in advancing human thought?  Here is one example.

From the 1960s to the early 90s New York City experienced rapid cultural and physical changes unlike any other. Initially, it confronted wholesale infrastructure deterioration coupled with a profound housing crisis, population loss, racism, double-digit inflation, a significant recession, and a nation embroiled in a foreign war. The city responded with improvements in race relations, education, and training. There was just enough of a federal response to prevent catastrophic collapse. Why? People with disadvantages and other people with extraordinary power found themselves face-to-face with the problem of being face-to-face.

The appointment of a financial control board control over the NYC credit crisis lasted a decade. Ending of the mid-1980s. You know the old story borrow $5,000 from a bank and don’t pay it back you are in trouble, but make that $500,000 with a run into trouble, you have a new partner. The concept of leverage is thematic in urban development. It includes knowing the power in the phrase, “people united can never be defeated.”

The agreement struck was to build equity through housing rehabilitation, rent stabilization, education, and good employment.  Community control of schools and ideas on creating neighborhood government matured along with the creation of community-based development corporations in partnership with charitable foundations and city agencies. They had one purpose. Confront the city’s issues directly before them and create a better city.  It worked, but new problems without easy solutions dug into the city’s flesh as irreversible displacement, and permanent homelessness became continuous, like a tide.

Displacement and Homelessness

The examination of the causes of displacement summarized in the UC Berkely presentation has some solutions and remedies offered at its conclusion. Zoning is not one of them.  In fairness to Mike Bloomberg, his comment on the issue was, “Hey, this was the only game in town, so you’re either in or out.”  To this extent, he is correct, the Federal response to urbanization continues to allow the market to have its way until it doesn’t, and the great recession of 2008 was not far off. 

What is poorly understood is how low- and moderate-income people find housing in the suburbs for work and affordability by combining unrelated individuals and families in shared housing arrangements as under the radar as possible. The irony is shocking zoning is used in the dense urban environment to include low- and-moderate-income families in town and used to keep them out in the suburbs.

Evidence of failure to implement the remedies for ongoing home displacement is in the number of individuals and households (largely women with children) estimated in distress.  A detailed look at this is described in a brief article entitled A New America It describes the beginnings of a federal role in housing production, infrastructure, and economic mobility due to the rise of displacement, formal and informal homelessness in America.  Here is a brief excerpt: 

“When violent change hits a community, the question turns to the first responder’s capacity, then speed, followed by when (or if) the full weight of federal support occurs. If the change is massive but slow, as if following the logic of a cancer cell, a long-term sense of resilience is essential. Leverage for needed change will be found in these fast and slow forms of damage. The “small fires” response to sudden catastrophes in the national context continues to produce quality emergency management skills. Service providers and communication systems reach deeply from federal to local levels. The service of a national post-trauma framework is building strength because it is vital, but first-response systems are quickly overwhelmed without front-end steps in mitigation that can pull its people out of trouble at a steady and reliable pace along with outright prevention.”


Isle de-Jean Charles

What if the Isle de-Jean Charles was Canarsie, Brooklyn?

“Without weapons, claws or fangs, humans are not built to kill, but when one group of humans is forced to say to another group facing a life-threatening condition, “we cannot help you now,” I do not know which group is worse off.”

Rex L. Curry Video

If NYC’s ramparts are drawn across its landscape, it forces two questions: 1)Who’s In? and 2) Who’s out? The GND says we need to get practical about the local impact of global climate change problems as a matter of science and humanity. In this spirit, I will apply America’s first climate refugees from Isle de-Jean Charles, LA to a New York City example (video here). The relocation action taken in Louisiana occurred when they were down to the last two-percent of their land along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Can New York or any other city afford to set that kind of relocation standard? Let’s do the math here,  it cost $100 million in relocation funds for 20 households of the Isle de-Jean Charles. Now apply that to the 35,000 families in Canarsie, a neighborhood in Brooklyn threatened by lots of seawater beginning in 2050 if not before. A relocation bill like that given to Isle de-Jean Charles would come to $175 billion. A resettlement plan at 20 households/year would take a millennium. At 500 households a year, the cost would be $2.5 billion/year, and it would take 70 years.

The plan now (and it is a bad one for people) is to allow land poverty to occur and over the course of seventy years of increasing worthlessness, let it go “in rem” and purchase the property at the lowest possible price from the owners.  A variety of development choices could be made then, it could be cleaned of toxins with the help of the ocean as it takes the land at an unrelenting, but unknown rate. The products to be capitalized in this manner could benefit future generations of the families displaced, given the right kind of seller’s contract.  For example, if Canarsie became an artificial barrier reef of old foundations that are already flooding easily, and the acidity could be neutralized, the north side of Jamaica Bay would become a vast seafood farm that would contribute substantially to the sustainability of NYC and it would not have environmental racism pinned on its legacy.

Current policies will destroy lives. The affected U.S. population about 94.7 million or 29.1% of the total live in coastline regions and about 60.2 million live in areas most vulnerable to hurricanes. According to the U.S. Census (here) this is a 15.3% increase since 2000.

A good investment policy would protect the future by creating a value that could accrue to the estate of every displaced household. It would not prevent the “land poverty” plan currently in play, it would also result in lives horribly disrupted, but it would create a benefit to future generations of the families displaced. For a place like Canarsie, or the Rockaways (the natural rampart), the test should be whether a quid pro quo is in place, or just another caveat emptor slap in the face, aimed at people of color that will soon be without the power of an alternative or a public admission of a plan for recourse. Could the pitiful amount of $2.5 billion be put into action today? Unlikely, as the policy of catastrophic resolution is only mechanism for drawing a line in the sand. This is the line drawn around a burned to the ground neighborhood in CA today, and another is the likelihood of NYC neighborhoods soaking in seas of Jamaica Bay and the Hudson River.

Today the planners, engineers, architects, and climate scientists assess the impact of the sea rise, storm surges and micro-bursts pounding down the Hudson River Valley on the city’s property. The Flooded City article points out the big picture these professionals paint for owners and policymakers.

The San Francisco – Bay Area Challenge is an excellent illustration of what needs to be done. The simple answer known solutions will not occur – but take heart there are people out there who know what to do and are not afraid to illustrate the steps. (here)

For example, a rise in sea level far less than a meter places 71,500 buildings and $100 billion of property in NYC’s high-risk flood zones. Sea rise is not a complex assessment. Remote earth sensing devices can measure elevation to less than a meter other, devices calculate small fluctuations in gravitational forces, and for any area in question in real time. The data is in, the “when” sea rise is too high remains unknowable. Analytical programs on weather and storm forces may never get beyond a two-week window. MIT’s Ed Lorenz 1968 paper describing that two nearly identical atmospheric models can diverge widely after just two-weeks of an initial disturbance as minute as a butterfly flapping its wings. This model has yet to be altered beyond two weeks by mathematicians, meteorologists or both for a half century.

The below-ground world of tunnels and conduit (vehicles, gas, power, clean, gray and black water) of New York City is not climate proof.  Given the positives of the walls and ramparts, the capacity to fragment infrastructure systems to function independently is implied, but the policy is dishonest unless the question “who is in and out” is answered.

Global processes are geologically instantaneous events in the context of the last half-billion years. They occur daily but remain well outside of human experience. We are unlikely to “duck and cover” or step back from the waves of an unobservable rise of the ocean at the base of a massive river basin. Creating incentives to do so is the challenge of our time.

Nevertheless, insisting the acquisition and removal of toxins from NYC’s waterfront and flood-prone zones may be the best plan of action for no other reason that it will take a century to accomplish. The planning work as it stands today favors protecting property in the short term. It emanates from the boardrooms and public conferences in the old way.  It is about producing jobs through relatively high yield, short-term investments under the heading of resiliency. The discussion of the chemical, biological, and most importantly, financial toxins encircled by these old ways requires a sharper focus by its critics.

The sea rise may be known first in Kiribati, Vanuatu, and the Marshall Islands who have already given the world a poignant reminder: If the world fails to halt global warming they disappear in the tide. Who will take us in?

Urban Speakers

The authors in the following (long list and growing) visit New York City routinely. Perhaps they would enjoy a sponsored conference or a workshop on persuasion. The question on persuasion is direct. Who among them make the most sense on the “design” for change. No matter how smart they are if nothing happens the design and implementation was about book sales. Sad. Comment here or the LinkedIn site here to participants.


Recall Robert Gutman

I would like you to recall Robert Gutman to start off. The point being, to define measures of inequality in design practice. The intellectual rigor of his research has much to offer. In Architectural Practice he established useful controls for a wide range of factors that affect “life in architecture” such as poverty, residential mobility, and education.

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.  To set a relevant tone for making urban design a contribution to sustainability, re-read and update the legacy of Robert Gutman.  

Questions such as the following should be aimed at people such Adolfo Carrin Jr.,  White House Office of Urban Affairs (a planner) or Shaun Donovan, an architect (HUD) and their global counterparts .  Believe me, they are familiar with “bottom feeding” architecture and planning. There is no courage in this industry outside an undergrad jury room. The question is whether this weakness should be allowed to continue as an acceptable part of the overall community development puzzle.

Question One: 
How possible is it to locally (if not globally) alter fee structures to represent a new set of values (carbon reduced, energy saved, life cycle defined) and to implement levels of public leadership that will effectively produce massive changes in the “live-work/play” behavior of humans over the next century? If not, why not? Get a handle on that, and the second question might be definable within architecture, engineering and construction (AEC).

Question Two: 
How can this industry change the existing contours of civic representation? Without a doubt, we live in a house that we all build, but unlike the other service professions, AEC produces places for million of people in recurring development events in increasingly massive domains that are interspersed with isolated, poorly linked and evaluated public realms that advance human capacity beyond “the hive”. The built environment is becoming tragically illogical by failing to address a greater sense of balance in the market of ideas for living if not, a broader social system for full participation in life itself will not take place.

The Global Urban Challenge

The first stage of a humanitarian crisis is the general denial of facts. As a result, defining the first question offers hope for finding and accepting new methods for recognizing resilience as the first step toward sustainability. The second stage is aimed at all biological beings facing short- or long-term ecological crises. The focus on the technology of  “life, work/play” will not define ecological problems. Essentially, there is no fix without a vastly broader sense of responsibility.

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

Ecological Intelligence
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 the 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 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. Did you just think of all that plastic floating in the Pacific? I did, it was not about waste, it was about currents.

The Entropy Problem is the Solution

Beyond advancing the bonded rationality embedded in individual consumption choices, the virtual backbone of consumption remains the connection between railways, expressways and the power- and water-grids.  Will the ecological intelligence approach work to improve the quality of decisions that will make the 50,000 miles of national expressway infrastructure less dysfunctional, or 225,000-mile national rail system useful, or does it keep 200,000 miles of national grid power from routine catastrophic failure or plug up a very, very leaky water grid? Maybe as an intellectual exercise, but politically no f’n way.

The scale of coordination among states and multi-state regions to address these questions is well beyond the power of individual consumer choice. The mega-city structure of these regions and the mix of private, government and public benefit corporations serving as ad hoc,
impromptu, expedient, makeshift, cobbled together regulatory bodies do not appear to have a capacity for rational thought, let alone ecological intelligence. The timing of their failure requires study, nothing else.

Sustainable America
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 or get stimulated by 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 co-evolves 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 four principles of change.

Do Not Forsake the Following

Peter Droeg finds the question of technology is useful but 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 cities 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, an 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. It depends.

Aside from the “unstoppable 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 that is embedded in Tom Perkins’ Maltese Falcon (the $100M sailing ship that can be sailed by one person) 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.” 

Mike Davis in Planet of Slums

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 the upward trend in urbanization and a severely negative outlook for urban slum-dwellers. Can you say, pandemic?

Matthew Kahn wrote Green Cities: Urban Growth and Environment to frame the process of rapid urban development 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 person to ask the tough questions about the costs?

Douglas Farr’s recent publication, Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature (2007): Wiley ($75 – 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 thought islands.  (glog? – the blogged globe).

Peter Newman and Isabella Jennings most recent work, Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems, Principals and Practices. (2007) 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 terms of larger more complex systems.  In this brief introduction (296p), urbanization as a system presents a series of human/non-human “man against nature” interactions that are being inexorably overwhelmed by the larger ecosystem. Nevertheless, Newman and Jennings make a case for an urban solution to the global challenge that is compelling.

Christopher Leinberger work, 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 to solve 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 “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 budgetary powers of New York City Planning Commission and the Department of City Planning’s 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 the impoverishment of older urban centers 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, $26.) 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 tools for compact development, are in place for New York City, yet walkable communities remain strangely incomplete.  What is missing? According to NMHC, the key to improvements in 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 is $40 with a DVD of startup 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 the manipulation of resources ultimately demands a social, if not a moral framework for trade and exchange.

For the most part, this relationship is the stuff of embedded knowledge – that which we “just know” but don’t talk much about in our day-to-day discourses.  Wright suggests this social data frames the trajectories of 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 in the evolution of organic form.  It is also a confirmation of the inevitability of convergences in the emergence of civilizations.

Life as we know it 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 may be balanced best by seeding human capacity with the information management resources to see, feel and define the spiritual transformations that are interwoven into these choices. We are now entitled to answer “of what community am I and my family apart?  We should also be entitled to ask and answer “of what community will I become a part by the making of these choices?”

Witold Rybczynski

In Makeshift Metropolis by Witold Rybczynski allows his teaching interests 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. As other top-level designers who succeed in a big way, I think Rybczunski writes to compromise with the realities of success as a teaching moment, nothing more. 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 a failing 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 the catalyst for millions of experimental expressions of human thought and desire. They range from the myopia of projects for rapid capital returns to the grand visions of civil self-reforming society freely admitting mistakes and moving on with confidence. Within these many experiments, perhaps the greatest question confronting the expansion of global urban-ism 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 the intellectual capacity of humankind and to recognize one key priority.  Protecting the diversity of the wilderness requires this separation.

We tend to forget that the market is never right until it corrects in what some call the race to the bottom in corporate governance. It also suggests that the aggregate of individual decisions eventually become overwhelming in every system.  Turn the econometric function of this fact on the earth as a whole and the rate of resource consumption is approaching the equivalent of 1.4 earth per year in 2011 and takes approximately 18 months for the Earth to regenerate what we use in one year. The level of correction this model suggests is painful to contemplate with a new sense of enjoyable abundance.

I fear, like so many before him, 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 will get just to make a disjointed point.

More? Really?

The Planner’s Network Book Club also selects great readings….check them out… A parallel group and an occasional joint session could produce excellent results. Please consider participating in the development of this resource.

Ah, so 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.

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

Remember Muir

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1911, pg. 110)
Sierra Club Books 1988 ed. See all of Chapter 6 on the Sierra Club website.

At the close of the century, the World Watch Institute’s call to “minimize consumption” and “maximize well-being” set the best tone with the fewest words. Dense environments can reduce consumption — per cap/per km/per day –24/7/365. The dense city alters the structure of consumption on many levels. So how do we create a renewed sense of abundance in life using these constraints? Remember John Muir.

Urbanization takes about a third of the earth’s surface and about forty percent for food. The remaining twenty-plus percent is the trickiest as a hodgepodge of fragmented spatial leftovers, it is a “SLAP” in the face to everyone from John Muir to those who walk in his footsteps.1

Beyond deserts and high mountain ranges, there are seeds for change, thousands of accessible places, Alaska’s wild glory, and “parks” from New York City’s Central Park all the way up to Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks. Our land use policy tends to give “the wilderness” a boundary and, most vexing of all, nearly ignores the simplicity of our need for it as a thing separate and untouched.

Photo: Carleton Watkins – University of the Pacific digital collections,.

The name John Muir is synonymous with the importance of wilderness.  The tool was to be conservation, but today the river that cut the Grand Canyon no longer reaches the ocean. Muir put it this way in my head, the wilderness is the only way to look directly into the face of God and like it. He could not have imagined we would turn that privilege into our most vulnerable link to the incompetent use of land, labor and capital

1. SLAP — space leftover after planning

Urban Mobility

Artists of various urban futures are fond of envisioning the easy movement of people and goods as a visually exciting urban benefit. We see crowded, yet free-flowing shoulder-to-shoulder sidewalks, sweeping multi-layered elevations serving every possible land use linked to a landscape capable of moving everything from the fruits of a 24/7/365 vertical farm to thousands of colleges students from class to internships across regions.

The visions such as the image (above) presented on the Foster Foundation’s website have begun to meet the technology needed to implement an extraordinary integration of movement with architecture. Three broad questions must be answered to establish a foundation for this vital parts of urban design.

  1. Where would it be best to attempt this expand and integrate free-flowing movement?
  2. What are the political mechanisms for linking the movement of people and goods to the architecture of places?
  3. How does movement infrastructure merge with the architecture of buildings and the layout of cities?

The first question on where this vision might be implemented were examined by the Foster foundation and others using three city typologies – Mexico City with 16,000 residents per square mile as a high-rise, high-density city core, London with 7,000 residents per square mile as a medium-rise, high-density city and the region surrounding the 47 square mile City of San Francisco involving 7 million people in nine counties and 101 municipalities representing the spreading typology of a low-rise, low-density metropolis.  Surrounding counties such as Sonoma have about 4,500 residents per square mile while Marin has a resident population density of around 200 people.



Global Density

Add fees on Amazon books below will be assigned to our effort. This one brings the lessons of the explosive structure of density from observers along the Pacific Rim. Comments regarding content are appreciated.


Don’t run, just know where to go.
The zones vary

Most observers know from experience that the low cost of land and lower population densities occur from the center of their nearest large city outwards in a pattern of uses best described as the fragments of leapfrog development. They also knew they live in one of those fragments, and protecting its value is important. The link below reveals an image depicting evacuation zones based on extreme weather threats in a dense urban setting. However, the fragments of safe locations remain unclear.

Hurricane Evacuation Zones and Evacuation Centers 

The urban world is clearly observable as uncontainable. The image above can stretch to every coast south. Like most things that grow and behave this way, they begin and end, grow and decay. Nothing shows how wasteful urban development is like big storms and fires.

Natural systems that react to storms and fires leave nothing behind that does not have a use in the renewal of the larger system. The detritus of urban decay is not an abnormality or malfunction without use or function; however, corporations such as Waste Management (WM) do not fill critical observers with confidence. The best yet sad statistical example is in WM’s 2106 Sustainability Report that suggests a 36% waste recovery rate (see: Video below).

“Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.” R. Buckminster Fuller

On the other hand, if the city is a container with firm geography, bounded like a water bottle or one of WM’s containers, it defines its users. Accordingly, it will develop to assimilate severe challenges, but not without a preset of physical parameters. Whether water, waste, or something else, if not organized for use in a container of some kind, some remain unknown. Of necessity, the city must become renewable as a whole with reusable components.

One of the people working on getting from the unknown to the known is Michael Storper, author of Keys to the City. He is an economic geographer contributing to our understanding of urban life. He separates “growth” from “economic development” using quality of life and standard of living measures such as real per capita income (nationally), distribution of revenue (locally), and social structures as they attach to income levels nationally and locally.

Storper’s data-rich keys are from highly urbanized places in the United States and Great Britain. The information reveals combinations of urban structures that describe the impact of innovation, agglomeration, or clustering that produce stable urban economies that also offer amenities (e.g., schools, tolerant neighbors, recreation, mobility) to produce choices. Some come with hard economic data for analysis about the softer measures of preference. An obvious top preference is affordable housing in urban areas. In NYC, inclusionary housing loans and square foot zoning bonus rules produce housing for low- and moderate-income households for occupation in the same building and market alongside high-income families.

Two families of three, one earning $63,000 and another $280,000 (2017), will have rent they can afford in the apartments of a multi-family building in a city and neighborhood where both households’ skills are interconnected (See ELLA and Inclusionary Zoning). Using a thirty percent of household income as a measure of affordability, one rent would be around $1,500/month, and the other would be $7,700/month. Arguments examining the drawbacks and benefits of this arrangement are ubiquitous in the urban sociological and economic literature. No matter the depth of each argument, the designers of the containers, define the contents.

Innovations such as inclusionary zoning and similar programs push standard market forces toward choice with civility in a workable urban proximity. Stroper’s observations regarding this kind of urban development identify regional land use patterns as “territorially unequal” exhibiting two types of inequality. The first is that urbanization is itself a form of extreme unevenness: it packs people, firms, information, and wealth into small territories.” It also concentrates poverty, many types of physical deterioration, and social inequality.

Both empirical and statistical evidence of social fragmentation and economic displacement recurs with routine persistence. In the case where low- and moderate-income households live successfully “next door” to higher income households who help assure stable economic settings is a product of policy. The housing market is a “teacher”, but in the experience of a lightly contained city such as New York, it takes far too long to recognize and separate the right lessons from the wrong.

Stroper’s second type of unevenness in urban development is statistically observable over thirty to forty years. Individual metropolitan regions throughout the world undergo considerable turbulence in their fates, rising and falling in the income ranks, and gaining or loosing population at different rates. None of this is bad. Ever since the invention of capital, this behavior is the world’s most successful development process. Trial and error, up and down, back and forth, here or there is how the world works. Stopping the human part if it is stupid and besides, it is not doable. Turning the earth into a machine is well underway. The application of conservation of energy rules, on the other hand, says there is no way to isolate the energy of a machine system. While theoretically possible, conserving energy within a machine is not possible. In short, it stops.

Create 2,000 Dense Places

I have a plan for 2,000 dense urban places, with 20,000 people each connected to high-speed communication systems. Each is an urban core offering specific opportunities for unlimited growth in a limited area. If they do not alter their boundary until 2160, I will give each one of them $20 billion dollars today over and above existing federal fund commitments.

Rex L. Curry

Imagine the nation re-designed in this way. Should it be 2,000 places with 20 million each, limited in area, but not in growth? All those left outside of the bonus core would become stewards of the environment and wild place caretakers and have only a few hundred people per square mile, a bonus in its own right. This solution will happen. It is the answer to every problem that would end the disordered phase of urban development. The right question is how do we get there?

Infrastructure investment in the United States is approaching a classic line in the sand of public policy. On one side of the line, federal legislators support a policy called “catastrophic resolution.” especially if their eye is on eventually paying for a big-ticket investment that actually offered a big return. On the other side of the line, legislators stand for “whatever my constituents want and need,” leaving only a thing called the “debt ceiling” problem. The former see 100-year-old tunnels that, if they crumble, cripples the northeast economy for a decade. The latter will support rebuilding roads and highways, leading to failing big-box shopping malls.

In this form of federal leadership, infrastructure failures of any kind need a critical mass definition of crossing the line. How many horrifying (or just ordinary) deaths cross the line? What is the national dollar amount tallied up in general revenue losses due to a breakdown in transportation or unstoppable forest fires or floods? The thing is, no one knows, and no one will classify or designate a line condition. This is the pornography of public policy – they will know it when they see it.

A grant from the National Resource Defense Foundation (NRDC) brought a video to the public in 2014 that sums up one element of advocacy by Joe Minicozzi of Urban3 that guarantees $20 billion as a solid investment in America. Take a moment to watch it.

There you have it, a basic set of economic facts about why density works. Similar snippets support ideas about building a better federal leadership lever, others describe the power of diversity, and still, others offer new concepts of growth. These ideas are worth debate and analysis and tossed to the wind because the American landscape has a seriously undefined problem. It can regularly absorb substantial damage levels, and no one seems to have a line on how much damage might be too much.

The Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) keeps the data for the world. Much of it is made available freely, but short of making some “end of days” speech, there is no line drawn that will change the trend in the general direction of trouble.  Below is a brief example of just four kinds of trouble.

Define and solve catastrophic resolution problems beginning with CRED data, and there may be a pathway for building a viable urban America that becomes resilient, and with some luck, sustainable.  There is one other table, and it looks at U.S. Federal Disaster Declarations in the same period below.  The trend is as real as it can get.  What needs to be added is a number in lives and dollars.

Source: U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Disaster Declarations by Year” ( Accessed 6 February 2015.

So now what?

I am developing a list drawn from the general advocates of public well-being. It will include some of the specifics offered by environmentalists, revolutionaries, scientists, architects, urban planners, all kinds of real estate developers, community organizers, and political scientists.

Practically everyone lives in an urban area and practically all those who do not feel urbanized see their world threatened by urbanization.  Both share a vague notion of what cities must become, and that is the central issue because creating a clear vision for one means will save the other.

Facts for why 2,000 dense and well-contained urban centers will be needed will become very apparent, very soon.  These metrics can be trusted, and if that can be made to occur and recur, that will lead to a sense of shared control.  A language that will communicate based on these facts will find people from the feds on down and our roots on up.  If this communication occurs, the proof will be whether or not we as a nation will be persuaded to pony up the 20 billion of each urban core.

What is the language needed?

Subtle, conditional messages are not effective.

Embed Density


We live in a culture that embeds information and where the most important things tend to go unsaid. All of us put information into machines that will retrieve data on practically anything imaginable, from an alarm clock to an AI for more complex decision-making. Perhaps this will release the unsaid portions about the vital function of cities in human life.

A recent Rolling Stone article by Jeff Goodell (Flooded City) does not make this point directly but exhibits its results with great clarity. Goodell talks about flooding in New York involving high or low ground impacts with storm surge or microburst variables. The unsaid stuff defines a vast combination of intellectual and architectural ramparts outlined as plans in a series of locations throughout New York City.

A talking head presentation at the New America Civic Hall (9.15.16) proved to be very un-civic but managed to remain polite. All New Yorkers will look at a sea rise map, make a quick am “I in or out” assessment and log that in for a personal assessment of risk. Many of the people attending were either outside the lines. Those who were wet on the map had an obvious self-interest with the prospect of land poverty but could not express them over all the talk of the new walls, ramparts, bounded rationality, and cognitive dissonance presentation about investments in resilience.


I suggest how to escape the Chicken Little problems the “flooded city” approach creates. The last half of the American century has offered two promises (maybe three). The first is the promise to eliminate disadvantage as discovered by the individual, the family, community, and nation. The American vocabulary, its literature, art, law, and architecture present an exquisite language born of the poetry and forums of each for change and communication. The framers of the Constitution strengthen us. We have been given the tools, created the space, and found ways to speak truth to power. We are skilled in dialogue. We remain encouraged by each battle for social justice and civil society. We are routinely encouraged to confront the world’s history in ways that will keep that promise alive.

While not as refined, the second promise adds powerful new energy to the promise of eliminating disadvantage.  It is the promise of sustainability. From the Club of Rome to its reflective twenty-five-year reunion at the Smithsonian, a more accurate word, Resilience, now communicates the correct challenge and implies a variety of post-trauma conditions. We now deploy resilience officers throughout the world, but their task is not to look at high water and low land. The resilience mission is different – find ways to draw a line in the sand. It matters far less about where there will be high water until we know how to draw that line in the sand. There is no crystal ball. Pointing to facts is all that scientists can do. Describe where a part of the sky has fallen. Right now, that is more useful than why to avoid tragedy.


Historically, there is the “duck and cover” hedge and the old MAD way when it comes to a resilience challenge. The worldview of mutually assured destruction is also composed of private investors who are very active in their demand for public dollars to drive down risk. We need a much broader outline of ways to invest publically in resilience that may come down to clearly explaining the difference between the circle and the grid in urban design as we see it in the national highway system and the urban crisis.

The content embedded in the promises leading to eliminating disadvantage through fairness and sustainability can help define the architecture presented as walls and ramparts that encircle something. In this design, there is an inside and an outside. Without injecting these two promises into the process, the design of the walls and ramparts will damage more than any violent fire or storm.

Future articles and public discussion should take a lesson from Elizabeth Kolbert. Her extraordinary review of the science of global change over the last half-billion years defines our entry into the Anthropocene epoch, the knowledge of which might save us all.

Elizabeth Kolbert is author of Pulitzer Prize-winning, The Sixth Extinction

The Isle de-Jean Charles

It is time to get dangerously practical about the local impact of global problems. I would apply the Isle de-Jean Charles Climate Change Refugees (video here) to a New York City example: The action taken in Louisiana occurred when they were down to the last two-percent of their land. (get the untold story on the 98%). Can New York or any other city afford to set that standard or hedge that bet that way?

Un-rough the math here,  $100 million in relocation funds for 20 households applied to the 35,000 families in, let’s say, Canarsie, a neighborhood in Brooklyn. The bill would come to $175 billion. Resettlement at 20HH/year would take a millennium. At 500 HH/year, the cost would be $2.5 billion/year, and it would take 70 years. Buy the property, strip it of its toxins, wait for the ocean to come and you have an artificial reef over the foundations, counter the acidity and make seafood.

An investment of this kind protects the future. It would prevent the “land poverty” plan currently in play that will reflect the ramparts’ tragedy, not the ocean’s. For a place like Canarsie, or the Rockaways (the natural rampart), the test should be whether a quid pro quo is in place, or just another caveat emptor slap in the face, aimed at people of color.

Truth to power, you cannot get that pitiful amount today for a place like Canarsie. The policy for change remains in the MAD world of catastrophic resolution. The Chicken Little approach does not have a chance unless you do one simple thing. Put that line in the sand and be a little scary.  Draw the wall, present its ramparts across the landscape of NYC or any other place on the planet, and have the courage to ask and answer two questions.  

Who’s In? Who’s out? Straight up, without weapons, humans are not built to kill, no claws or fangs. Still, when one group of humans is forced to say to another group facing a life-threatening condition, “you are not selected” now or even in the evolutionary sense, I do not know which group is worse off.

Rex L. Curry

A third promise awaits development given an implementation plan.  The positive side of the formation of ramparts and walls is the opportunity to recognize a dense, contained urban life offering new forms of growth. The challenge is to put a stop to the grid humans have drawn on the earth.  The grid is a symbol of the infinite. The sphere or circle is limited. The fuel of unlimited growth within this circle (ramparts and all) is to develop methods for all that enters the encircled urban world will leave in a non-toxic form. Today over 80% of what flows out is toxic.

Today the planners, engineers, architects, and climate scientists assess the impact of the sea rise, storm surges, and microbursts pounding down the Hudson River Valley on the city’s property. The Flooded City article points out the big picture these professionals paint for owners and policymakers.

For example, a rise in sea level far less than a meter places 71,500 buildings and $100 billion of property in NYC’s high-risk flood zones. Sea rise is not a complex assessment. Remote earth sensing devices can measure elevation to less than a meter. Some devices calculate small fluctuations in gravitational forces, and for any area in question, they can do so in time. The ramparts and walls encircling vulnerable properties using these tools also exhibit various wrongheaded priorities of great value for reforms and the discussion of fairness.

The below-ground world of tunnels and conduits (vehicles, gas, power, clean, gray, and black water) of New York City is not climate proof.  Given the positives of the walls and ramparts, the capacity to fragment infrastructure systems to function independently is implied. Still, the policy is dishonest unless the question “who is in and out” is answered.

Global processes are geologically instantaneous events in the context of the last half-billion years. They occur daily but remain well outside of human experience. We are unlikely to “duck and cover” or step back from the waves of an unobservable rise of the ocean at the base of a massive river basin. Creating the incentives to do so is the challenge of our time.

Nevertheless, insisting on the acquisition and removal of toxins from NYC’s waterfront and flood-prone zones may be the best plan of action for no other reason than it will take a century to accomplish. The planning work as it stands today favors protecting property in the short term. It emanates from the boardrooms and public conferences in the old way.  It is about producing jobs through relatively high yield, short-term investments under the heading of resiliency. The discussion of the chemical, biological, and most importantly, financial toxins encircled by these old ways requires a sharper focus by its critics.



We live in a culture that embeds information, and where the most important things tend to go unsaid. All of us put information into machines that will retrieve data on practically anything imaginable from an alarm clock to an AI for more complex decision-making. A recent Rolling Stone article by Jeff Goodell (Flooded City) does not make this point but exhibits its results with great clarity. Goodell talks about flooding in New York and high or low ground with storm surge or microburst variables. The unsaid stuff defines a vast combination of intellectual and architectural ramparts outlined as plans in a series of locations throughout New York City.

A general presentation at the New America Civic Hall (9.15.16) proved to be very un-civic but managed to remain polite. All New Yorkers will look at a sea rise map, make a quick am “I in or out” assessment and log that in for a personal assessment of risk. Many of the people attending were outside the walls, wet on the map, had an obvious self-interest with the prospect of land poverty, but could not express them over all the talk of the new walls, ramparts, bounded rationality and cognitive dissonance in the presentation.

I have a suggestion on how to escape the Chicken Little problems the “flooded city” approach creates. The last half of the American century has offered two promises (maybe three). The first is the promise to eliminate disadvantage as discovered by the individual, the family, community, and nation. The American vocabulary, its literature, art, law, and architecture present an exquisite language born of the poetry and forums of each for change and communication. The framers of the Constitution strengthen us. We have been given the tools, created the space, and found ways to speak truth to power. We are skilled in the dialogue. We remain encouraged by each battle for social justice and civil society. We on this continent are routinely encouraged to confront the world’s history in ways that will keep that promise alive.

The second promise while not as refined, adds powerful new energy to the promise of eliminating disadvantage.  It is the promise of sustainability. From the Club of Rome to its reflective twenty-five-year reunion at the Smithsonian, a more accurate word, Resilience, now communicates the correct challenge as well as imply a variety of post-trauma conditions. We now deploy resilience officers throughout the world, but their task is not to look at high water and low land. The resilience mission is different – find ways to draw a line in the sand. It matters far less about where there will be high water until we know how to draw that line in the sand. There is no crystal ball. Point to facts and describe where a part of the sky has fallen. Right now that is more useful than if it will fall. American’s do not avoid tragedy we wait for it.


Historically, when it comes to a resilience challenge, there is the “duck and cover” hedge and the old MAD way. The worldview of mutually assured destruction is also composed of private investors who are very active in their demand for public dollars to drive down risk. We need a much broader outline of ways to invest publically in resilience that may come down to clearly explaining the difference between the circle and the grid in urban design as we see it in the national highway system and the urban crisis.

The content embedded in the promises leading to fairness and sustainability can help us to recognize the architecture presented to date is in fact composed of walls and ramparts that encircle something. There is an inside and an outside. Without injecting these two promises into the process, the design of the walls and ramparts may do more damage than any violent storm. Future articles and public discussion should take a lesson from Elizabeth Kolbert. Her extraordinary review of the science of global change over the last half-billion years defines our entry into the Anthropocene epoch, the knowledge of which might save us all.

It is time to get practical about the local impact of global problems. I would apply the Isle de-Jean Charles Climate Change Refugees to a New York City example: The action taken in Louisiana occurred when they were down to the last two-percent of their land. Can New York or any other city afford to set that standard or hedge that bet, that way? Un-rough the math here,  $100 million in relocation funds for 20 households applied to the 35,000 families in let’s say, Canarsie, a neighborhood in Brooklyn. The bill would come to $175 billion. Resettlement at 20HH/year would take a millennium. At 500 HH/year, the cost would be $2.5 billion/year, and it would take 70 years. Buy the property, strip it of its toxins, wait for the ocean to come and you have an artificial reef over the foundations, counter the acidity and make seafood. An investment of this kind protects the future. It would prevent the “land poverty” plan currently in play that will reflect the tragedy of the ramparts, not the water. For a place like Canarsie, or the Rockaways (the natural rampart), the test should be whether a quid pro quo is in place, or just another caveat emptor slap in the face, aimed at people of color.

Truth to power, you cannot get that pitiful amount today for a place like Canarsie. The policy for change remains in the MAD world of catastrophic resolution. The Chicken Little approach does not have a chance unless you do one simple thing. Put that line in the sand and be a little scary.  Draw the wall, present its ramparts across the landscape of NYC or any other place on the planet, and have the courage to ask and answer two questions.  Who’s In? Who’s out? Straight up, without weapons, humans are not built to kill, no claws or fangs, but when one group of humans is forced to say to another group facing a life-threatening condition “you are not selected” now or even in the evolutionary sense, I do not know which group is worse off.

A third promise awaits development given an implementation plan.  The positive side of the formation of ramparts and walls is the opportunity to recognize a dense, contained urban life offering new forms of growth. The challenge is to put a stop to the grid humans have drawn on the earth.  The grid is a symbol of the infinite. The sphere or circle is limited. The fuel of unlimited growth within this circle (ramparts and all) is to develop methods for all that enters the encircled urban world will leave in a non-toxic form. Today over 80% of what flows out is toxic.

Today the planners, engineers, architects, and climate scientists assess the impact of the sea rise, storm surges and micro bursts pounding down the Hudson River Valley on the city’s property. The Flooded City article points out the big picture these professionals paint for owners and policy makers. For example, a rise in sea level far less than a meter places 71,500 buildings and $100 billion of property in NYC’s high-risk flood zones. Sea rise is not a complex assessment. Remote earth sensing devices can measure elevation to less than a meter. Some devices calculate small fluctuations in gravitational forces, and for any area in question, can do so in real time. The ramparts and walls encircling vulnerable properties using these tools also exhibit a variety of wrongheaded priorities of great value for reforms and the discussion of fairness.

The below ground world of tunnels and conduit (vehicles, gas, power, clean, gray and black water) of New York City is not climate proof.  Given the positives of the walls and ramparts, the capacity to fragment infrastructure systems to function independently is implied, but the policy is dishonest unless the question “who is in and out” is answered.

Global processes are geologically instantaneous events in the context of the last half-billion years. They occur daily but remain well outside of human experience. We are unlikely to “duck and cover” or step back from the waves of an unobservable rise of the ocean at the base of a massive river basin. Creating the incentives to do so is the challenge of our time.

Nevertheless, insisting the acquisition and removal of toxins from NYC’s waterfront and flood prone zones may be the best plan of action for no other reason that it will take a century to accomplish. The planning work as it stands today favors protecting property in the short term. It emanates from the boardrooms and public conferences in the old way.  It is about producing jobs through relatively high yield, short-term investments under the heading of resiliency. The discussion of the toxins therein encircled by these old ways should take on a wider context and a sharper focus by its critics as each place could be chemically, biologically, and most importantly, financially toxic.

Seven Declarations

Declarations develop an emotional capacity for change on behalf of family and community, a town or city, a state and nation, province and commonwealth. The following declarations describe qualities of life known to the people and organizations of the dense urban environment. Each one strengthens the purpose of ‘the city’ for more effective technology, continuous innovation, informed public policy, and global urban leadership.


  1. Produces High Levels of Collaboration
  2. Sustains Micro-Change
  3. Establishes the Essential Boundary
  4. Defines Human Abiotic Interdependence
  5. Embodies Intelligence
  6. Advances Diversity
  7. Assures Well-Being, Viability and Resilience


Dense Urban Places and Collaboration

Governments tackle the complexity of urbanization on the drifting structures of accountability. Harnessing the interests of people who take actions that assure a recurring measure of certainty and security, love and family require environments that support collaboration. Measures of accountability attempt to determine the need to renew leadership. Implementation builds contracts between the structures of governance and the collective power of community action. Collaboration is how and why places matter. The benefits of collaboration are expanding rapidly.

The development and preservation of a neighborhood is an ancient practice. The physical conditions required are well developed. The social contracts guiding implementation are renewable. We know how to advance combinations of physical and social processes and with them, sustain lasting human relationships. Yet, there remains a far-reaching list of huge urban failures built on this hubris. What is missing? It is the belief in the power of small change and equally important, the ability to capture the knowledge of all of them, all at once. This is described best as the fierce urgency of now.  Nevertheless, I believe we have reasons for renewed hope.


Dense Urban Places Sustain Micro-Change

Micro change is a substance people must know and feel to achieve goals. Setting objectives creates the instruments of action. In dense urban places, goals and objectives are immediate; occur in continuous succession and produce substantial results. The achievements of multiple micro-change makers reduce the pressures inherent to adaptation. In this sense, they have strategic control. This new reality of connective governance will grow.

Imagine a neighborhood filled with demolished building sites, and abandoned places. Then witness the arrival of small groups who are planting gardens, attempting to occupy and rebuild abandoned housing and demanding accountability for the cause. The authoritative role of government in this context includes developing legitimacy for these actions as a direct means of assuring public safety that includes the preservation of rights for all concerned. Preservation efforts describe many New York City neighborhoods from 1975 to the early 1990s. Many global factors have brought investment to NYC since then, but the most important and creative are community reactions to failure. A vast range of micro-change makers exhibit the vitality of diversity through moms, dads and kids, students of many professions, artists, visionaries of all kinds and cultures imaginable.  This new reality of connective communities and cultures will grow.

Urban Density Establishes Firm Boundaries

Even though the strategies for adapting to change are mainly personal, the larger organizational demands for enabling conditions remain. The progression from individual to the group may occur in a vast expansion of urban places or the isolation of just one, but the opportunity for goodness is only evident with the assurance of survival for both. The complexity of individuals and organizations is a good thing, but due to a lack of boundary, the goodness acquired dissipates.  There needs to be a firm urban boundary.

Imagine how creative a city would have to become if it had a firm and fixed boundary within which the goal is to encourage unlimited growth. What remains of the wilderness outside of this boundary and from which humanity ascended to its present condition would stand.  Humanity must know and learn that there are many more lessons of natural diversity on offer. Each of them will be essential and prerequisite. The wild/urban duality requires full development if either is to survive with dignity.


Abiotic and Interdependent

Life emerges in environments that make intelligence possible. Change is upon new life instantly and upon its place among many others in a vast array. Whether it is the rise of the industrial revolution’s black moth or the loss of Bengal tigers in the shreds of the wild, urbanization is the chauffeur in the express lane of change. Human awareness of this includes the emergence of a global knowing, that the city is truth about being human, yet we stand in its shadows with only a vague notion of it. Nevertheless, the city links ideas and turns them into action.  It  injects a bright optimism into the shadows cast by doubters that prefer to stay alone in the wilderness of our past.

Recognition of actions in the common good occurs instantly and they are most frequent in dense urban environments. Now imagine holding this data among a group of people with great power and knowledge. Suddenly, you recognize one of the decisions by the members of this group will announce to another group – natural selection discards you. You are not selected. The horror of this is evolutionarily unknowable, but were this a real act, it destroys everything.


Dense urban systems collect the experience of the whole with great rapidity. It can sense justice and injustice instantly. The new collective nature of it leads to a pathway of action that adds balance to the human development landscape. Prefer this to the acquisition of power alone.

Urban Density Creates Intelligence

Platforms that link everyone to everyone else on every imaginable question embrace the joy of problem solving as a natural extension of human emotional experience and curiosity. The arduous and combative nature of hard science, on the other hand, can suck the oxygen out of a room and in that same moment reveal the importance of helplessness. When it comes to environmental intelligence, the rules of common sense provide balance by adding the reflections of ordinary observers. Social networks support immediate innovations that do not have the patience to await the proof of science. Platform technologies support small changes in quick succession. They build consensus for action and because of this, control discards the “big stick” of efficacy in favor of simply knowing how to make goodness recur.

Imagine the way science introduces complex questions about genetically modified organisms (GMO) or greenhouse gases (GHG). The demand from the commonplace grows loud with uncertainty regarding the injection of these things into their lives. At this point, govern the strict rules of science with rules of common sense. In this realm, the placeless structure of social networks will select physical places with the resource allocations needed to implement a vital social action, resolve an urgent economic problem or define routine political questions. The cycle of knowledge from experience to reflection is whole. This is a new form of intelligence.  It is prompt due to the connected activity of people and organizations in the dense urban place.


Urban Density Advances Diversity

Our ability to adapt our place in the world and to meet our needs depends on the structures of leadership built into our society. The expertise born of this legacy facilitates the acquisition of skills and presents them without compromise to all observers as thresholds onto pathways. The policies on how or why any of them would open as a choice to everyone have changed to favor diversity without the dissolution of differences. This idea is on a near equal footing with the legacy of privilege.  It will bond them in a powerful new way.

Imagine ways in which the history of leadership that formed the legacies of society will change to become acts of inclusion. The services required that enable accountability are those derived up from the roots of adaptation. Continuous and unrelenting investment in the social capital formation and community-based organization is a combination capable of changing the traditional practices of urban preservation and development. It will build powerful sets of helping relationships that will bring reciprocity to the urgency of thousands of teaching and learning situations that require immediate and useful action

First do no harm

Density Supports Well-Being, Viability and Resilience

We build to control, but we only control what we can make recur. The urban habitat is destructive of complex natural systems. Unlike the human habitat, natural systems operate on sunlight, recycle everything, reward cooperation and rely on diversity entirely. The human pathways to this end remain ineffective, but there is hope because the challenge to secure human well-being has never been greater.

Imagine the drive for urban resilience as the prerequisite for sustainability. The dense urban environment fully isolates natural system habitats. A new urban world can form in ways that are far more protective and respectful of the wilderness.  We will build the means to leave the wild.  By making this so, doing no harm will recur.

Summary in Fifty Words

Dense urban environments offer high levels of collaboration that support quality micro-changes within physically firm, yet flexible social boundaries. Fueled by diversity and interdependence, this forms a unique urban intelligence in the abiotic and human world of urban life, and there is just with one rule. First, do no harm.

Please forgive these explorations if you have stumbled upon them. These platforms force clarification of weak ideas.

cross link to NYC Plan 2030

The Unlimited Inside

Unrestrained Outside & Unlimited Insides.

How does density save the wilderness, support sustainable agriculture, and do not harm purpose?  If the problem is defined within the global colonization and destruction narrative, then the promotion of investment in every technical solution required to sustain centuries of powerful economic growth is driven by population, but not the quality of life. Density offers quality in every aspect.

Population growth is without a technical solution as it demands humanity, even for a review, a postponement of morality.1 Nevertheless, immoral processes continue as a known reality of human behavior exhibited this way: one group says to another, “you are not selected.” Today’s main difference is the globalization of this statement is how it will put terms on the conditions for survival, starting with basics, such as food and water.

The arrival of a world food production and distribution market system provides the most insight into globalization. Like the known environmental impacts of the global energy market, industrial agriculture is also open to similar disruption levels assigned to human error or lack of restraint. The dangers linked to one-crop production failures are well known. On a balance sheet, the cost vaporizes easily by mitigating threats with cheap poisons and GMO technology, and crop insurance.

Two True Observers 

Helena Norberg-Hodge and Martha Nobel

Helena Norberg-Hodge (link is to video) examines the status of profit vs. growth in agriculture. The path sustained thru 10,000 years of human development has depended on the role of water and air to “sweep away” the detritus of human effort and endeavor. With urbanization, a new path is required as one place’s smoke is in the wind of another.

The arguments for change on this subject are plentiful. Still, they spend just twenty minutes with Helena (video via TEDx) as she sums up the chief complaints and neatly outlines the work required to advance the human capacity for re-adaptation and diversity, beginning with food. It needs to be close and thus local. It needs to be part of life, not a store shelf experience with store shelves.

Martha Noble’s presentation (link is to video) at the National Conference to End Factory Farming in October 2011 presents the devil in the details of an impending catastrophe that underlines the Norberg-Hodge argument. Simply put, the third-largest fund and single largest program of the Farm Bill is crop insurance acquired by the largest farms.2 Put directly, ‘the people’ will pay for failures and add starvation to the ledger as the people’s assigned risk served.

Ms. Noble’s general observation of the USDA came in a closing remark paraphrased as follows: In 1995, when visiting the USDA for the first time with some questions about the agency, she was proudly handed a pamphlet that explained how Iowa farmers could now receive food stamps. The national policy governing the finest farmland in America subsidizes people’s access to fruit and vegetables while assuring cheap feed grain for cows and pigs.

When an action in response to a loss (such as a majority of sustainable family farms) turns into a reaction to an unknown, the change caused is well known. It begins with denial, often followed by anger. After that, a process of bargaining begins to stimulate an assessment of potential losses that include the possibility of total forfeiture. This condition is the known psychological state of an individual facing a crisis. Without a doubt, this state is shared by many groups of people who fully understand the metrics of devouring world resources at exponential and incommensurable rates.3 Finally, there is the group hell-bent on serving this ability with industrial technologies.

Coming to know that the earth has a “limited carrying capacity” and becoming able to do something about it locally is the prime existential question of human history. William Vogt put it this way.

“Until this understanding becomes an intrinsic part of our thinking and wields a powerful influence on our formation of national and international policies, we are scarcely likely to see in what direction our destiny lies.”

William Vogt on “carring capacity” (15 May 1902 – 11 July 1968)

It is as if we are asked to choose between two roles. The first is Donald Worster, who documents a careful celebration of Nature as a vital behavior. The second is that of Edward Abbey, who demands that our responsibility includes scraping the scum off the top of Nature’s brews, starting with people that do irreparable damage.

Given the continuous growth model and a market system designed to serve every need, the threat of a global “overshoot” is trumped far too easily by the governance question. When every need that can be satisfied with capital excludes public reforms and protections, the growth process begins to fail at local markets that eventually ripple nationally—the warning T this perspective holds.

The dangerous impacts are proven. A conciliatory approach that keeps the spread of urbanism within a limited area can gain strength as a mitigating activity. The trade-off offers what people want. A tightly designed suburb with quiet natural areas with a “walkable downtown surrounded by small farms capable of meeting 80% of its food needs.

Within this environment, the unknown upper limit of the earth’s population becomes a matter of selection within a human decision-making framework that serves each life to the fullest. The vital aspect of this potential is how it offers a way to overcome the mistaken sense of natural selection, not because we see it as inhuman. Still, the process involved involves thousands of years. The more generational and corporate side of this coin is how starvation can grow to be a massive business.

Retaining the urban potential for unlimited capital growth is grounded in housing and the design for urban living. This formation of an “unlimited inside” also gives way for an “unlimited outside.” Like the vast diversity of the wild from which humans rose, the potential for an equivalent natural urban diversity not only becomes possible it can be guaranteed. The balance and trade process within dense urban communities becomes the primary focus of the human experience, food included.

I would argue for a millennial process that would, in one millennium. Allow for the “unlimited outside” to become a dramatically untouched wilderness. The challenge is to keep within the urban framework all of the energy resources required while expelling little or nothing into the wild. A vision such as this and all attending “ifs, and’s and buts” need the comparison to the existing conditions briefly described as follows:

The demographic dominance of cities coupled with rapid lateral expansion has led to the present “mega-disorder” status of urbanization. Vast cohorts of social inequality embody the leapfrog fragmentation of personified settlements. Recent increases in natural and human settlement disruption and destruction produce higher transnational and regional migration rates. The lack of formal structures that can accept public and private sectors in problem-solving roles on this issue is critical.  At present, there is nothing to enable urban development planning that mitigates health insecurities or reduces crime by means other than incarceration. The most serious of these mega-disorders is the narrowing of pathways for a growing portion of the global population to experience freedom from fear (fill in the blank) policies.

Cities appear on the global agenda for the first important time at the 1976 Habitat I in Vancouver, Canada. An effective urban place agenda has yet to form in the United States as it remains stuck in the spread city quagmire, seduced by cheap land and money, and hopelessly addicted to oil. The urban agenda can develop from these initiatives but remain an unlikely source that would force the city to look in on itself.3

The editors of an excellent book on Food and the Mid-Level Farm subject make an advantageous point of the importance of limiting urbanization. As farm sizes increase, the main economic strength source for the small and mid-sized farms is direct market operations. The growth of farmer’s markets in major urban centers retains a level of honesty and accountability that the immense corporate farm, production, and distribution systems cannot provide. Also, the land held must be nearby and small. Mid-sized farmers can be paid for “back-loading” urban products and a wide range of conservation services and practices that assure ecological diversity, clean water tables, forestry, and land management. Leadership on the principles and practices of sustainability began with local farming. Not sustaining the value of this fact presents a grave threat to the quality of all urban life.

  1. See “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Garrett Hardin, Science, December 13, 1968  Website:
  2. Despite the industry’s spin, concentrated animal feeding operations are not the only way to raise livestock and poultry. Thousands of farmers and ranchers integrate crop production, pastures, or forages with livestock and poultry to balance nutrients within their operations and minimize off-farm pollution through conservation practices and land management. Yet these sustainable producers, who must compete with factory farms for market share, receive comparatively little or no public funding for their sound management practices.’ Martha Noble, Chief Policy Associate for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition  Website, is here.
  3. As defined by Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyeraben (1962)


Human cognitive mapping abilities are well documented. The addition of GPS devices to this research yield maps of everything that moves in the urban world among the stuff that doesn’t move. Adding urban spatial knowledge from multiple sources to private or individual navigations demands the anticipation of synchronicities that will lead to the design of higher quality urban densities.

Networks are Organic & Non-Linear

The members of 21st c. communities gain a unique spatial knowledge of the earth. Until recently, they were a long-term minority but today share an enormous responsibility. Why? New, high-quality urban densities will connect to a variety of larger urban systems. Urban dwellers carry sophisticated cognitive mapping abilities and recognize the importance of connecting to larger urban systems using various mobility services.

Learning the patterns of our solar system, or knowing the feel of heightened winds or the sight of darkening clouds, allows us to grasp ideas about a possible weather future. The human brain makes sense of the world with increased sophistication. Still, in evolutionary terms, space/time pattern recognition and the creation of new patterns combine as perceptive elements that yield unending knowledge.

With prediction comes a sense of hope and security, comfort, and ultimately, the idea that we cannot only design worlds where everything works together, but the inclusion of unexpected, surprising events also offers a promise of imminent insight. This is the joyful, frightening novelty of human space knowledge, leading to human changes’ main issues. Following is a rock-solid, case in point example:

Union Square – The “L” Train Williamsburg

Williamsburg’s new apartment towers developed in the late 90s along the East River. The towers provide enough density to support a waterborne transit across the East River. However, the “L” Train provides transit for thousands of commuters with access to a vast network of urban places through a tunnel below the river to a huge transit hub at Union Square. In Williamsburg, the Bedford Avenue Station trip is 10 minutes, and from the Greenpoint Station, seven minutes. With these headways, thousands of people can arrive at these destinations per hour. Over 200,000 use it daily, and it has the potential to double that volume.

As the tunnel reaches its 100th year, the call for an 18 month shut down to prevent the possibility of catastrophic failure brought chaos and eventual capitulation to that possibility.  The neighborhood’s housing rents and prices dropped, some businesses moved to more stable locations during months of public hearings, and MTA stimulated anxiety.

The public mandate is to run the subway system based on commuter fares of about $6.2 billion.  In fat round numbers, it costs 15 billion to run NYC 24/7/365 transit system. The gap is made up in a complex arrangement of dedicated taxes, drawn from a 12 county metro-region fund, and relatively small combinations of gas, mortgage recording, and payroll mobility taxes, along with a portion of the fees paid in tolls, taxi fares, and vehicle registrations. A growing list of revenue opportunities is constantly explored. The details (here) expose the recognition of a far broader responsibility for this system’s health among all people moving through the region to access its many advantages.

When an engineering alternative to an 18-month repair shutdown was developed by Columbia and Cornell’s engineering departments, two issues were shown. Aside from revealing a wealth of urban university brainpower, the first reaction was a sigh of relief with trepidation followed by vast criticism of the MTA’s inept rollout of the issue for public review.  There many reasons for major capital development planning to occur as if agencies were in a “running from the bulls” contest.  In 2018, the MTA:

  1. …operates at a deficit larger than manly nations — $32 billion projected to climb indefinitely. 
  2. …has a century-old system, with a “fix when broken” $350 million track/signal repair plan and a long term need for $6 billion in major repairs.
  3. …its strategy to upgrade all 468 stations only has 51 left, but line failures continue to threaten passenger’s sense of well-being. (Twitter search #fucktheMTA for proof)
  4. …has many masters with controls over a revenue stream embedded in a quagmire of bureaucratic decision making.

Finally, there are many more reasons for community development and transit planners to dissect for system improvements. Still, the central reason for this chaos rests squarely on the lack of vision about what America is today at the Federal level. The United States is a metropolitan nation. It is not well-defined by the 50 states. Its power comprises over 380 multi-state regions that represent most of its economic capacity.

The United States has developed complex urban systems that must be looked at in the same way scientists examine the heavens, discover the earth. Science continues to move on to measure to study the dynamics of the earth’s atmosphere to predict its weather. The dense urban regions of the earth deserve a similar level of knowledge, but this time it is about human dynamics. I have questions that need answers:

  1. How do we acquire specific kinds of spatial knowledge as individuals in communities and use these abilities to make creative, but undamaging spaces?

The spatial knowledge expressed by the skills of an athlete is a good example.  If these abilities are specialized in a community of athletes, a team is created. In this context, high levels of spatial control will occur in a prescribed space such as a “field of play” with a boundary of some kind and rules for interaction

  1. What happens when urban designers, planners, and architects face the task of rebuilding and restoring a place for a community?

The set of skills acquired and deployed in connecting design professionals to this ‘field of play” require many specialized abilities and a wide range of teams. Surely, something more than laying out the dimensions of the field of play is needed.

To begin a brief exploration of these two questions, an idea expressed by William Wordsworth (1770–1850) in “The Prelude — Book Seventh” is useful.  In this long poem, he reflects on his residence in London and midway comes to the following extraordinary observation of urban life.

How often in the overflowing streets,
Have I gone forward with the crowd, and said
Unto myself, ‘The face of every one
That passes by me is a mystery!
Thus have I looked, nor ceased to look, oppressed
By thoughts of what and whither, when and how,
Until the shapes before my eyes became
A second-sight procession, such as glides
Over still mountains, or appears in dreams;

It is about vision.

Just over a century after William Wordsworth wrote of London, Arthur C. Clark’s first novel described human potential and the city as inseparable in The City and the Stars (1956).  After a billion years the earth had two cities, one of Nature (Lys) and the other of technology (Diaspar). At about the same time J.G. Ballard’s Billennium (1962) saw “…ninety-five percent of the population trapped in vast urban conurbations. The countryside, and such, no longer existed. Every single square foot of ground sprouted a crop of one type or another. The one-time fields and meadows of the world were in effect, factory floors.”

In the center of the century bracketed by Wordsworth and Clark, we find Huxley’s Brave New World (1931) and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Their popularity rests on an American ideal wherein the preeminence of the individual spirit may be in need of a collective vision. Yet, in the process of trying to accomplish this, the individual is weakened, even destroyed. We are reminded by many at the end of this century to remember that the earth cannot “know” of such desolation but if it did, it could smell regeneration in the moist breath of decay as its source of renewal.

The city is a historical exaggeration made contemporary. The old image is a complex of high buildings surrounded by a broad white apron of single-family, tree-filled towns. The smell of carelessness spills out of day-to-day business affairs, and workers grow more downtrodden and ever more desperate in their daily travels. The city, defined by vast lunatic growth, managed by torrents of savagery, disguises a flimsy gentility, the criminalities of wealth, and the wastefulness of a cancer budding from a few wild cells. It is not the cancer cell’s fault. It is the nature of the beast.

A more contemporary view of the urban world is to see stop, take stock of itself and end its spillage of waste and poisons into land, sea, and air. Once encapsulated, teams of powerful individuals will build, restore and develop the city. They will not be part of the massive social collective much feared in the past, but they will share a common goal, to create a way for the wild to be forever wild, one that glides over still mountains and appears in dreams.

The idea of creating a Lys, Diaspar, or something else, cannot be accomplished by an organization or groups of them. A network is better at defining the complex layers of urban life. A network can discover and establish the framework of values essential to successful change. Networks are better at improving access to basic resources, essentially people with information, ideas, advice, and connections. Networks influence decision-makers on policy questions in time with sophisticated combinations of analysis and advocacy. Finally, networks are a lasting, self-renewing driver of their own theory of change.

The network I am a part of seeks a larger system focused on one issue and one word. The core of it is the catastrophe of urbanization as it stands today, and the one word forward is “density.”

Being in the Network on Density

Networks have multiple scopes of work and thinking that produce new “linked-scopes” with considerable ease. The overall rapidity of these actions creates the capacity for evaluations that advance the goals of dimension leaders. The linked-scope form of structure yields a direct measure of energy. Each connection represents a flow of information that had an enabling property through the exhibit of a real-world example as the desired effect in the moment or in the creation of a specific component.

Standing alone objects such as the tunnel from Brooklyn to Manhattan for the “L-Train” become digital objects of the urban core.  As objects, they can be added to as “tags and categories” of a network. Each tag becomes part of an exponential encouragement for similar levels of change. The connections made from one to many align to form pathways built on community adaptations that respect cultural differences and sensitivities. 

Whether a change is in a language or a material thing, a law or a professional practice, networks respond to social change agents as capable of shaping active social systems. A booklet from a nonprofit network group included in a presentation entitled Net Gains is available here:

Have a look if you want to have your team (or just you) become part of a network on the question of urbanization and Density, leave a reply to suggest a role.


Limited Expansiveness

Sirius, 2006, by Lita Albuquerque, photo by Jean de Pomereu (Domus)

From 1800 to 2000, planning, engineering, and architecture, served to create a vast expansion of the urban world. It was not until the beginning of the 21st century that this work’s consequences turned elusively unpleasant.

Rex L. Curry

In 2010, over eighty-five percent of Americans and half the world lived in the midst of the urban world, yet it remains a vague notion. Despite the super-usefulness of dense urban living, the word “city” stays threatening. From low-density suburbs to the towers of Manhattan’s Eastside, the city has to work, it is all we have, and they don’t work very well.

All settlements have finite political boundaries that yield the average number of people (or workforce) per square mile, kilometer, hectare, or acre per year or decade by day and night.  Density is a ratio of a building’s size to the lot area.  It can include a percentage of total floor area expressed as green space, parking lot, setback, even balcony.  Determining the potential of density in these places starts with mass measures. The test will be if the services essential to well-being. The integration of self-awareness with community awareness in this way demands the urban world to stand before Nature and an essential, untouchable Wilderness, bow and ask forgiveness.

Medically, the term “critical” means ‘short term.’  Its frequent use in the 21st century is telling on many fronts. The epidemiological characteristics of urban settlements present a series of disasters.  I see novelty and opportunity here because only a third of the earth’s landscape is urbanized, and each part of it is instructive of an adaptation to restraint.  The densest regions are near a natural resource and an ocean.  They range from heartbreaking failures to soaring enclosures of fully actualized human potential. This duality is now squarely before the change-makers.

Without a stable boundary, the densities of metro areas such as New York or Los Angeles remain abstract.  The articles tagged “density” look for ways to make that boundary. Draw a line around “the city” and stop it in its tracks. Everything inside that line will become super urban with unlimited potential. All found outside will become less and less so.  A win/win for all is implied.

AIA for Mayor

The American Institute of Architect’s New York Chapter (AIANY) released a mayoral platform to help them set the 2014 agenda: See: PDF

  1. buildings, what is built, how it gets where, for who, when
  2. neighborhoods planning and community development issues
  3. city systemic change in building and zoning codes
  4. world state, federal and international policy on cities.

Some of the details in NYC

  • 100,000 new units of affordable housing units built over next ten years building on the 150,000 produced since 2000
  • Complete the green code, passed in 2010 to support energy-efficient and sustainable buildings.  Only 29 of the 111 proposals from the draft code have been passed,
  • Build “active design” programs to make existing buildings healthy, safe and efficient.
  • Add open space throughout the city
  • Establish a position: Deputy Mayor for Design and Planning and make the Office for Long-Term Planning and Sustainability a commissioner-level position

Zoning GHG

New York City’s newest set of proposed zoning changes will re-write rules to remove impediments to the construction and retrofitting of buildings in every land use.  

The objective: reduce urban energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) production. The bottom line is the $15 billion/year spent to heat and power buildings that represent 80 percent of the city’s carbon emissions.

Reduction in consumption improves well being.

Can zoning regulations reduce the urban carbon footprint and lower energy costs? Assuring buildings have a good air-barrier and insulation on the exterior will yield energy performance. Why is encouraging a good air/insulation barrier (four to eight inches) a zoning issue?

The added bulk to get energy efficiency is counted under existing regulations.  This reduces the usable space within the building and ends up in a cost/income trade-off, and it tends to build in a substandard “triple net” energy cost transfer from the developer to the leaseholder or owner. The new regulations will exempt the added bulk concerning floor area limits (FAR) and open space regulations (OSR).

Will this reduce the TDC/ROI energy trade off? (total development cost to return on investment ratio)

Solar panels, rooftop greenhouses will also be exempt from FAR and height limits in some cases, as long as the greenhouse is on top of a building that does not include house residences. The result of these changes will be slightly bulkier, somewhat taller buildings that are more energy-efficient.

A number regarding the discount from $15 billion in today’s energy cost and the reduction of GHGs also requires an estimate. The cost of confirming compliance is yet another public responsibility. This requires a factor that is sufficiently offset by penalties that are equal to the obvious incentives.

The City Planning Commission process began December 19, 2011, with the new regulations’ submission to the five borough presidents and the city’s 59 community boards. The goal is to formalize the new regulations by Spring 2012.

One Bryant Park

In thoughtful research reporting, the requirement, to sum up, should become a higher priority. In Skyscrapers and the World of Tomorrow posted to Planetizen on September 1, 2011, by editors Jeff Jamawat, Kris Fortin, Tim Halbur, and Victor Negrete, the questions sought to define the place for massive buildings, but the article ends by suggesting the problem lies in a lack of a clear, agreed-upon vision for the future. Lots of luck with that one, but they give it a try.

The vision’s content requires data that confirms the efficacy of the following steps.

  1. add full life cycle analysis (e.g. embodied energy) to LEED certification (McEeaney, Toberian)
  2. advance smart building technologies (Black, Leung, Appel)
  3. remove barriers to high (even ultra) density in the right places (Glaeser)
  4. prevent bottom-feeding architecture and beware the onset of tower blight (Kunstler)
  5. remove political gridlock (everybody)

Top of the line sellers provides the data needed for the first two steps thanks to high-end technology buyers (see video below).  Much of the data from these systems are proprietary and slows the change rate, but it is a pay-it-forward change. These investment institutions are strong and global.

The remaining three define the lack of clear vision problem less optimistically.  All of our democratic institutions face demands for NASA-style investment goals amidst fix-it-first philosophies.  How do we dissolve the contradictions of these two different approaches?

In our recent national history, we attacked a similar problem from the top-down and the grass-roots-up with top-end ideas such as the Great Society and things like Headstart in a local precinct. Part of it included an investment in demonstration cities, later renamed Model Cities, while another part vociferously disagreed with an America entering a permanent state of war.  All of this began a process that forever changed the vision of the urban world.

Today, envisioning the city and our future is inseparable, but this begs the question.  The vision will remove the barriers, release unlimited wealth for growth, and break the gridlock cities left in a wilderness known as The Republic of States. Urbanized areas need to be separate and inviolate for a vast new set of powers. That is what is missing. That is what we need.

Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park from Cook+Fox Architects on Vimeo.

Lincoln Institute

This history of human settlements is a story of continuous growth and increasing urban densities that reduce per capita resource consumption among the successfully urbanizing countries and decreasing net densities among those who do not have an urban agenda.  

The summary omits Africa in this context. It is a glaring omission of the summary, but it is covered well elsewhere.

The new Lincoln Institute report Making Room for a Planet of Cities should have “With informal cities everywhere else” as the tag line.  (Read Decline of Density Chap.2) The rapidly urbanizing world needs a better analysis, so four data sets are offered to help:

  1. A global sample of 120 cities with 100,000 people via satellite;
  2. Population density data for 20 U. S. cities, 1910-2000, based on census tracts;
  3. Built-up sample of 30 cities, 1800-2000, from 120 cities using historical city maps;
  4. Urban land cover (3,646 cities of 100,000 or more in 2000, based on satellite


  • Densities in developing countries are double Europe and Japan.  Densities in Europe and Japan are double those of the United States, Canada, and Australia.  The growth rate of urban land cover was twice that of the urban population in 1990 and 2000.
  • The urban population of the developing countries is expected to double between 2000 and 2030. The nations of the world are largely ignorant of the impacts or cannot act on the implications.
  • The data, images, metrics, and methodology from Making Room for a Planet of Cities are available in an accompanying sub-center, the Atlas of Urban Expansion, in the Databases section of Resources & Tools at the Lincoln Institute Web site.

We know a scientist can calculate mass and energy to claim the stars and galaxies of the cosmos formed matter from an energy source named the “big bang.” The aboriginals of Australia describe the stars as “sparks from the fire.” Both are instructive observations.

They also indicate the paralysis caused by the abundance of observations that stretch between them. Nevertheless, too many choices regarding too many problems have well-known urban solutions. The cities that limit lateral size but offer unlimited potential for growth in every respect provide the proof.

A visualization of sprawl using data from the Atlas of Urban Expansion, created by New York University and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, illustrates a reduction in cities’ density across the world. Vivid Maps brought the image of this data here. LA is below. Given the opportunity that resilience offers, only a few coastal cities will prepare successfully.

In urban areas, such as the LA regions’ low-density environments illustrate a high per capita infrastructure cost and excessive “save them” expense when disaster strikes.1 Climate events, like social change, are predictable enough to put people between “ark-like” preemptive solutions and catastrophic resolution (floods, firestorms, and surging seas) that displace everyone else.  As this becomes clear to all, a clear, but politically impossible prioritization of resource allocation should fall to higher densities.  

The cities that increase population density will do it with policies that do not prevent lateral expansion but promote dense development at every opportunity.  Policies that separate the state’s dense urban area will acquire exponential growth in political power.  In cities such as New York and Los Angeles, the principle of containment with resilience relies on the foundation of energy and identity. The psychology of resilience in society manages change with a sense of accomplishment taken “in stride.” Self-awareness is advanced, and this experience builds community-held skills capable of implementing multiple tasks with consensus. Ultimately, they confirm the legitimacy of trial and error methods that keep people interested in managing change. The proof of human resilience occurs in the face of natural or human-made disasters when biological survival requires new levels of 21st-century psychological reckoning.

The community “bounce back” mindset is a growing threat to effective disaster planning and needs major modification. This occurs through a series of public, community design practices that define 1) consistency, 2) control, and 3) linkage.

The challenge to planners is to document how a community responds to threat events with precision and ties this analysis to these three components. How consistent are the threats? What are the controls to manage change? What are the linkages of the community to help it secure a lasting and effective response?

Whether social or geographic in a region, such as physical attacks, floods, or fires, consistent threats have control systems. Threat responses also directly link to resources tied to interventions and techniques associated with prevention, mitigation, and first-response. Consistent social threats such as bodily assaults or “hate crimes” are subject to the same techniques. Both public officials and private investors in real estate or social capital will yield informed decisions, especially when they blend. Given this idea of consent, there is a great similarity in the decisions people make to move into a tinder-dry forest or a high-crime neighborhood. We agree to recognize a long list of good and bad things that can happen, but only if methods for disclosing relevant facts are available.

The contained city increases power efficiency and reduces consumption for a long list of reasons. The big dirty city steps toward clean because the resource grid “in use now” pollutes less per person and improves. The physics of it does not make the overall amount less, only the containment needed to make it possible.

Moving closer to electricity production reduces power cost and the disadvantage of distance-sensitive charges and power line losses. Shared heat, cooling via co-generation facilities make financial sense, solar gain, the Trombe-wall[i] effect, low auto use, even the concept of extrapolated embodied energy make the dense urban world the bottom line winner. The demand to reduce the total energy use of cities remains central. Without boundaries for measurement and the technology to capture waste, the city does not make sense, and it must.

Detailed descriptions are available for all the “mega-regions” using a Google Earth program that proved problematic for the Regional Planning Association (RPA). Still, this approach continues to provide an archived version (here). The downloads provide the definitive size and shape of urbanization as of 2010 and 2020 for analysis. It presents ten (potentially sixteen) mega-regions in the United States. America 2050 offered a rough outline of a distinct urbanized land area. It encompasses dense areas that are quietly shaping the United States. No one is asking if it is a good thing, just that it is what it is going to be so help us all.

Investors find density’s demography has a wealth and power component of unusual complexity. America’s “boomers” turned 55 and, in 2001, reached their peak earning levels. As this group turns 65 to 68 and retires, the total income earned and taxes paid decline, leading to a known economic consequence. The reform debate remains in a can for kicking. How to avoid the problems and obtain the benefits of a rapid drop in consumption will be unanswered questions.  The main argument will be to spend though this time with thoughts of how to best invest in an unborn generation.

Mark Pisano, the Senior Fellow at the Price School of Public Policy and Co-Chair of America 2050, presents “age” as a long-term benefit of the 20th century. In “Demography as Economic Destiny” (pdf), he explains how long-term penalties and will become a main unrecognized cost.

The RPA map and graphics instruct the need for limits. As colorful blobs projected on the national landscape, the mega-regions are a good place imagine urban limits, such as where elderly live now or need to live or how the growth of these regions may continue laterally until our vast national parks are no more Manhattan’s Central Park, surrounded by mega-structures? America 2050 produced a clear, baseline mega-region “footprint”. It is the starting point for addressing a national urban density policy. Density exposed existing feeder rail systems and possible high-speed links and region to region rail plans. In 2014, getting a handle on the Demography of Density shows where the costs will occur. Combined, the regions outlined in RPA’s Google Earth illustration represent 77% of the nation’s GDP and almost 76% of the population, leaving just 5% in “other urban” areas. (See Map Below)

The map above illustrates the population distribution by county per square mile. Note places with over 2,000 are rare. Regardless of the desert, forest or grassland, the momentum of these regions below the 2,000 cutoffs, signifies a voracious consumption of far more than the American landscape. Within each of these regions, the codification of land use has produced confusing relationship among thousands of municipal, state and county regulations with the power to govern the density of development. In brief, they do not and can’t.

The technology for supporting substantial population growth in small areas has developed. Under the stewardship of low-density communities outside these dense areas open space preservation and conservation provides new ways to sustain the wilderness. Dense residential villages with farmland or small core-to-core professional centers (e.g. hospitals, universities) improve efficiencies. Low density could be isolated 5,000 sq. ft. homes on 500+ acre plots.

High density could be 5,000 people on a five-acre lot. The important thing to note is the growth of density is region by region and not spread over the entire national landscape. Without the formation of core areas, the need for high speed transit across a region becomes nil and the so-called “fly-over” states remain just that – ignored, jobless and angry.

Proportional Transformations

Density is regional

Professor Danny Dorling, University of Sheffield added new set of urban population maps to his collection. Worldmapper has thirty-two subjects using 700 variables to capture proportional relationships such as where people live by the city in comparison to all others. The result is a graphic ratio image of cities.2 The proportional image begins as a grid of equal squares altered by data. For example, if the population map above were to include per capita carbon output per person, the image would be the reverse of the population map above.

In a high standard of living areas, the contributions to urban population is a migration of people from rural to urban plus international immigration. Lower standard of living areas has a birth rate that exceeds the death rate plus immigration and migration. The data enables the visualization of Dorling’s global and local comparisons using a correctly proportional, least distorting, population cartogram. Dorling tells of looking 15 years for a technical way illustrate this, but it was not until he met Mark Newman a physicist and one of his Ph.D. students, Michael Gastner who made the software work.3

Worldmapper illustrates two territories with 100% of the population in urban areas, Singapore and Hong Kong, in contrast, 82% of Brazil’s 145 million people live in towns and cities, and they are predominately on the coast. It is an image similar to the United States, yet Brazil moved its capital to the interior. It is also instructive to see Bhutan’s population of about 700,000 where just 8% of the population lives in urban areas, but the net density is similar given the terraced farming solution demanded by the topography. These maps illustrate places where the urban density experiment is in full development. The presumption is density is extremely important, and it will be a good idea to discover where and how it is most successful.

Transformative Communication

Regional Persuasions

Natural resources no longer drive local development. Today it is more about the mobility of people by place and bytes. The many densities of these places facilitate profitable trade and the efficient provision of services. Within the main urban mega-regions of the United States, large dense centers provide quality education, communication, and transit systems to move resources along from buyer to seller, learner to teacher. They call the world market to have a thing brought to the consumer. The world outside of dense centers requires greater distances to acquire goods and services. This difference is transformative.

  • Rail transit serves consumption for a mix of land uses. These systems deliver thousands of people or tons of processed goods per hour to multiple destinations simultaneously.
  • Multi-use capability produces more investment choices at lower risk.
  • Movement is communication and communication are persuasions. Dense urban centers provide this with a unique purpose.

The Worldmapper image (right) shows states in proportion to 72,000 newswire stories from November 1994 to April 1998 using the “Dateline” heading for location.  The state sizes represent the fraction of stories concerning that state over that time interval. Communication and movement are related.4

Customer driven measures of density are “bytes per second per location of persons per hour”. The main measure of communication is persuasion that a purchase represents. However, many others abound. New indicators for mass-transit oriented development (TOD) include new vehicle types. Vehicle types will define density by re-imagining destinations based on their range and purpose. These systems complete a mobility duality – planes, trains and all other vehicles attach to places. Communications systems produce reasons to occupy a destination.

Dan Hill was doing IT for Arup when he wrote on the subject of urban digital density. His extraordinary essay, “The Street as Platform” examines his sense of the connective tissue that social network communications give urban life. Cities increase the probability of people establishing levels of trust that lead to exchanging everything from ideas that improve life to actions that stop a virus with a pandemic encoded in its genes. Dan put it this way:

“…the entire street itself can now be thought of as having an API, conveying its overall behaviour to the world, each aspect of it increasingly beginning to generate and recombine data.” (API is Application Program Interface)

The ability to communicate rapidly is a measure of density. Tom Friedman documents how data streams flatten the earth. The density of data is equal in importance to the data itself because it offers a reliable mathematical basis for defining the cost of running a sustainable urban world. The information that is available now only hints at what might emerge tomorrow.

The dense setting offers a balanced treatment of highway, transit, power assist and non-motorized forms of movement. A 2008 Brookings Report on British transportation policy describes this concept as modality neutrality. It provides a basis for reducing funding silos that tend to develop for a particular mode. (See: Eddington Transport Study – Executive Summary pdf). (Google Search)

Transit neutrality is new urban development policies. In Masdar, the transit system could only serve about 27,000 passengers per hour.5 It was an expensive toy leading to long lines because city’s mobility needs required it to be part of a much larger system. A lesson Detroit learned years before, but then rockets used to be toys as well.

Unlike the social impact of autos, multiple transit options reduce social and spatial disadvantages while adding ecological advantages. There is much to learn from Masdar’s quick step into the future in its failure to look to the past.

Multiple destination choices to acquire goods or services create competition between destinations. These locations learn to generate a social-gravity built on marketing, time intervals, and vehicle choices. Competitive destinations demand density and speed, that is have a “to” or “from” yields the pleasure of speed itself.

Given these conditions, urban travel expresses the expenditure of capital moving through the dense urban environment like a pulse. The pulse is important and little else. Destinations throughout the city occur predictably, even though based on hundreds of variables such as age cohorts, family composition, median income, cultural sensitivity, and business creativity.

Source: Making High-Speed Rail Work in the Northeast Mega-Region

A Spring 2010 studio of the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, Department of City Planning created the image above and link. Instructors are Marilyn Jordan Taylog, Dean and Paley Professor, Bob Yaro, Professor of Practice.

The comparison between the U.S. Northeast Corridor and the United Kingdom is useful because they have a similar population and GDP. Examining how one is moving forward while the other is hopelessly stalled becomes a story of multiple jurisdictions, freight line conflicts, and other issues leading to sustained levels of poor performance, increasing capacity constraints, and high maintenance costs.

The Northeast Corridor, needs new ways to engage people. A project like this faces a bureaucratic approval system across multiple states.  Each state is subject to rapid turnover of its political representatives in a chaotic multiple jurisdiction election process.

Regional outfits with planning authority can engage citizen to citizen (C2C) entrepreneurial model established over the last few years.  The cooperation exhibited in the creation of Wikipedia, Uber, Airbnb, Google Guides, and a growing number of crowdsourced, skill swapping, and service-trading opportunities facilitated by a free and open internet is an encouraging set of examples for getting consensus on issues with specific outcomes. Technology is helping people to re-invent democracy. Its agencies, on the other hand, need to get on board. If they want to get done, learning to follow would be a good start.

  1. Named for Félix Trombe in 1985 – a French designer, the first known use was in 1978. The design absorbs solar heat for release into the interior of a building and serves to cool in reverse.
  2. One of the creators of this resource is Mark Newman.  His paper “Diffusion-based method for producing density equalizing maps” illustrates the details
  3. See: Michael T. Gastner and M. E. J. Newman (2004) Diffusion-based method for producing density equalizing maps Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101, 7499-7504.
  4. Image taken from “Diffusion-based method for producing density equalizing maps” by Michael T. Gastner and M. E. J. Newman Center for the Study of Complex Systems and Department of Physics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48101
  5. [v] According to Mattar Al Tayer, Chairman of the Board and Executive Director of Roads & Transport Authority (RTA)

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Form-Base Miami

Density is a central factor in creating the experience of urban intensity, but it is not the element that makes it pleasurable. Density offers access to many choices, but the ease of use is what makes it enjoyable. Many factors may point to a place of interest. Still, numeric measures are written alone to regulate height and mass with the floor area, and open space ratios are without the elements needed. To describe or judge success or failure is established in part by Mami21. Given the change in global conditions, this is a place to watch.

Jobs and population per acre are common measures of density. Simultaneously, design components such as the ratio of building mass to open space only frame the possibility of a quality experience.  Places from low- to high-density tie to individual place finding or marketing algorithms that provide a sense of position that reflects a personal value within a community such as Miami.

The images in patchwork nation illustrate the U.S. in 12 community types by using demographic, political, and socioeconomic data.  What is not shown is how a census block group of any major urban center will easily replicate the nation’s image by county.  That the nation has these social densities as similarly as a city is encouraging. What the nation is missing is the intensity of the city as an intentionally diverse place.

Density and community land use formulas tend to see a house always being a house or an office complex limited to business. In an intensely used urban environment, these initial functions yield many new, often unexpected uses.  Density provides the opportunity for a critical mass of interaction. Still, it works best when combined with an open-ended set of form elements to produce the desire for development intensity that, in turn, leads to a sense of confidence about dynamically changing sets of land uses.

A region with 100 jobs and 200 residents per acre may identify a comparatively dense area and signify a transit-oriented mixed-use center. Using this measure, the development intensity tier includes the number of time intervals that link to other transit-oriented centers. These areas might have lower residential/job densities jobs per acre or higher.  Each signifies an edge where the intensity accelerates or declines.  The density itself only remains significant as an intensifying agent within a traditional street grid, height and scale ratios. Areas operating without this constraint tend to yield grey zones, lost landscapes, and forgotten trends. Growth without constraint is what kills them.  The death is rapid, and it shames the residential community into which it was injected.

Form-Based Growth

Before heading off to the University of Utah, Arthur “Chris” Nelson was in the Urban Affairs and Planning program at Virginia Tech’s Washington-Alexandria Center.  His research indicated a doubling of the Greater Washington, D.C. region’s entire built environment could occur by 2030.  The concept of exponential growth is intoxicating in mega-regions such as the northeast. Still, the Greenfield development rate is by all accounts unsustainable, and that policy measures to focus (if not force) this energy into the existing built environment require implementation.  Without new restraints, most job growth will occur outside of the urban core areas, resulting in nothing more than a vast enlargement of the current inner-city design process over a much larger section of the metropolitan region.  Conclusions from this analysis demand a new regime of land use and building controls authored on a regional basis and of necessity across state lines. One mega-region is contained with the Florida, whose development concerns turned to a form basis.

The purpose of a “form-based code” is to yield to human creative purposes with a greater trust in performance measures and regulations affecting access to natural light, clean air, lack of noise, and other events or qualities that affect the quality of life.  When Miami 21 was passed in October 2009, the introduction of the “transect” idea may change everything in land use management.  It is a boundary line around a land area for ecological measurements.  Injecting this idea into land use and development decisions is protective of life and contribute to contextual development events and conversion.  Although the code was involved in the transition of the West Side Highway in Manhattan into a street near waterfront parkland speaks to this purpose.  Today it is not exactly the Camps-Elysee, but there are aspirations. This potential is now far greater than that offered by former existence as limited access, elevated super-highway.

The principles of form-based code limit building heights based on the street grids.  Yet as a constraint, it recognizes and supports traditional neighborhood resilience.  These communities offer a vibrant series of mixed-use centers that accommodate growth and increased urban intensity. With multiple forms of public mass transit, this intensity also contributes to the growth of other mixed-use urban centers or edge cities and employment centers throughout the region

Interested in comments from Raleigh, Cabarrus County, Charlotte and Denver

Link for exploration fun: Flamingo Park, Miami Beach, FL  Towers on a barrier beach – what could go wrong or be better? I’m looking to cite a study of falling RE and condo prices.