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URBANICITY.info

DENSITY INCREASES LAND USE EFFICIENCY AND DECREASES CARBON EMMISSIONS.

WELCOME TO URBANICITY
SENSING URBANITY
LISTENING FOR WORDS
VIEWING IMAGES OF MYSTERY
LOVING MUSIC
READING FOR LIVING
CELEBRATING THE MIND
TRAVELING TO EXPLORE
SEARCHING THE FUTURE
MAKING A DIFFERENCE

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Less than half of the world's tallest buildings are exclusively office buildings. But In recent years, 'skyscrapers' have been designed to be stacked for multiple uses. The base floors are typically used for commercial retail, the mid-section for offices, and the top floors for housing. Taken together, it makes for sky-high efficiency.

"We have to adapt to that which we can't prevent. But we've got to prevent that which we can't adapt to."
 
- Bill McKibben
 
McKibben is an author, educator, environmentalist, and the founder of 350.org

go to 350

go to Bill McGibben

                                                                  

Most Americans live on the 3 percent of land that contains our cities-- which are the culturally and economically richest, greenest, and healthiest places to be.

What's the current thinking on global urbanism? Join the conversation learn the issues.

Join the discussion on the New Urbanism.

                                                                           

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Metropolis11 at LACMA in Los Angeles, designed by Chris Burden.

Metropolis 2 is the work of scuptor and installation artist Chris Burden. His latest work, four years in the making, is a kinetic sensation modeled after a fast-paced frenetic modern city.
 
There are 18 roadways, including a 6-lane freeway and HO scale train tracks. Miniature cars speed through the city at 240-scale miles per hour, every hour. It's the equivalent of about a hundred-thousand cars circulating through the dense network of buildings.
 
The noise and continuous flow of trains and speeding cars definitely produce 'viewer stress.' As if Los Angeles itself isn't enough of a wild drive.

go to Metropolis on YouTube

go to Metropolis at LACMA

go to Metropolis in the making

go to more Chris Burden images

                                                      

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Spain takes the lead in solar thermal energy.

Sunny Spain is home to more solar thermal facilities than any other nation. 
 
In this plant, hundreds of mirrors focus on the tower containing salt which heats to extreme temperatures, in turn heating  water which createss base-load power generation. 
 
American Southwest, take note.

go to MIT Tech Review

go to Spain Solar on Wiki

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"Solar City" in Germany.

The Sonnenschiff community in Freiburg,  Germany, designed by Rolf Disch, is 'net positive.'  It's not merely self-sustaining, but produces four times the energy it consumes.

go to Inhabit Design

                                                      

Bill Moyers is disappointed.
 
"How did we become a country of such ugly, stupid politics? One party doddering and feckless, the other radical and reckless-- and downright mean, driven by unblinking ideologues with kamikaze souls?"

                                                                 

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Change the narrataive of suburban housing, redirect sprawl, and you change the dream.
 
Clusters of foreclosures have scarred neighborhoods. Cities have opted to demolish thousands of homes made unliveable because of rampant thievery. Copper goes first, then lights, kitchen and bathroom fixtures, doors, windows, and siding. Defaced wrecks can devastate a street.

But the foreclosure disaster has offered up opportunities to rethink and refigure suburbia.
 
"Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream."
 
New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is exhibiting proposals for reinventing the future of housing in the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis.
 
Teams of architects, urban planners, ecologists, engineers, and landscape designers have been working in public studios envisioning new housing, transit, and infrastructures to catalyze  urban transformation, particularly in the suburbs. 
 
They selected five "mega-regions" across the nation and speculated on forms that housing could take: physically, socially, and economically.
 
The Open Studios exercise was organized by Barry Bergdoll, MoMA's Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architectues and Design-- and Reinhold Martin, Director of Columbia University's Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture.
 
Participants were MOS, Visible Weather, Studio Gang, WORKac, and Zago Architecture. Let's hope that their inventive and intuitive solutions will hellp to reshape the suburban dream.
 
"If you change the priorities, spatial arrangements, ownership patterns, the balance between private and public interests, and the mixtures of activities and services that any city entails-- then you begin the process of redirecting urban sprawl."\
 
-- from The Buell Hypothesis.

go to MoMA

go to Architecture Daily

go to Zago

go to Visible Weather

go to Work Architecture

go to the Buell Hypothesis

                                                         

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Delight of Urban Foliage

It's wonderful to see ivy-covered building in the cityscape. But one wonders if all the foliage is causing havoc on the bricks.
 
In a 1924 English journal a buildier stated that there were two ways of destroying buildings-- both equally effective: 1, dynamite, and 2, ivy. He said "it will send its roots into every crevice of the wall, sucking the mortar to dry dust."
 
Even recently the argument against climbing vines is that they damage masonry walls. prying apart mortar and cracking bricks. Turns out that this is all malarkey.
 
New research from Oxford says that ivy rarely infiltrates masonry walls and that sticky tendrils don't damage bricks. So go ivy!
 

                                                                 

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Barack Obama is sitting on the same bus and in the same seat as did Rosa Parks. Her refusal to move to the back seat of the bus led to a successful bus boycott. The bus is now displayed in Michigan.

                                                          

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Blizzard chosed down the city in February 2011

Where the heck are the snow plows?
 
Chicago has a system that hopes to quench long-held suspicions that certain streets and neighborhoods are cleared before the rest of the city, i.e. folks with political clout get cleared first.
 
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has announced a plan to insure fairness and common sense with a new system using GPS technology on the site ChicagoShovels.org.  
 
Residents can see at a glance the location of each of Chicago's 300 plows. The city has also organized a "Snow Corps," which matches volunteers, sends alerts when snow falls, and gives info on parking bans and car tows. It's  "Adopt a Sidewalk" program allows residents to claim shoveling responsibilities on a map and also share shoveling tools.
 
The snow plow tracker is monitored in a new command center, where supervisors also track the slickness of bridges and the National Oceanic Atmosphere weather maps. Drving conditions are captured by a thousand cameras mounted aound the city. The tracker also alerts the city to the amount of road salt it needs to purchase. So let is snow!

go to Chicago Shovels

go to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

                                                    

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Dubai's Moon Towers. Click to enlarge.

The clouds aren't the limit. Cities thrive when buildings cluster together, rising high in the sky.

Densely-populated cities are the healthiest, greenest, and culturally and economically richest places to live. Big city dwellers live longer than most Americans-- and they use about 40% less energy than outlying suburbanites. Either we nurture our cities or suffer dire consequences. It's idiotic to stifle their immense potential.
 
Globalization has only made urban proximity more valuable. Tall buildings enable the human interactions that are at the heart of economnic innovation, and of progress itself. Cities are the economic engines of the world. As they change they take the whole world with them.

                                                         

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Higher and Higher
 
Densely-populated cities are the saving grace for the huge carbon footprint of mindless sprawl with monstrous waste and inefficiencies.
 
The vigor of cities lies in its residents, thriving in a built environment that is climbing ever-upward.
 
By not preventing the construction of tall buildings, Singapore works. It's tall and connected with a strong sense of place. As is Hong Kong and other up-and-comers.
 
The 160-story building in Dubai has ushered in a new wave of super slender buildings and possibilities which manage to create big square-footage on a small foot-print.
 
Tapering the shape of high building toward the top has solved the wind problem or surely minimized it's impact. Densification and compact land use is efficient and productive, as well as propitious for human interaction.
 
Edward Glaeser says that "Tall buildings enable the human interactions that are at the heart of economic innovation, and of progress itself."
 
Glaeser, professor of economics at Harvard has written "Triumph of the City,"published by Penguin, which is loaded with keen insights into what makes good cities tick. The subtitle is "How our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier." Quite an order.

There is no doubt that the human brain developed so spectacularly because of the energetic interchanges, sophisticated speech, arts and crafts, music and dance, transportation, trade, and economics that nurtured early city dwellers.

Glaeser probes evidence of ancient cities and their complex hidden workings-- and concludes that cities bring out the best in humankind.
 
He finds the negatives in outdated barriers to tall buildings in our cities– impractical zoning, environmental and historic preservation laws, tangled webs of government permit processes– as actively limiting the potential of a city's splendor.

go to "How Skyscrapers Can Save the City"

                                                            

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The inimitable Jane Jacobs

"Ideologies are blinders."
- Jane Jacobs

The Death and Life of Great American Cities
 
Living in New York City and witnessing the senseless threats to neighborhoods, massing of 'slum' highrises,crazed demolitions, and de-humanizing pave-overs, especially those instigated by the all-powerful parks commissioner Robert Moses, she was fed up and fired up. When Moses decided to plow through Washington Square Park and West Village for yet another highway-- she became the voice for outraged citizens-- and stopped him in his tracks.
 
Her practical and rational advice stressed the importance of dynamic human ecosystems. She advocated higher densities, mixed and intermingling uses, and bottom-up planning. Her writing was clear and to the point, putting a real-life take on abstractions. "Death and Life" still resonates with a verve to help build urban vitality, neighborhood pride, and joy of community.
 
 

go to Jane Jacobs speaking on urban economics

"Lively, diverse, intense cities contian the seeds of their own regeneration."
- Jane Jacobs

"Intricate minglings of different uses in cities are not a form of chaos. On the contrary, they represent a complex and highly developed form of order." - Jane Jacobs

                                                       

"Anonymity is one great reward of living in a city: You can be anyone you want to be." 
-  Ellen Freudenheim

                                                              

Now this is a park!

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The Al-Azhar Park in Cairo.

Aga Khan has won the Global Award from the Urban Land Institute for the Al-Azhar Park in Cairo-- surely one of the world's finest public places. He is the Iman of the shia Imami Ismaili Muslims and leader of the Aga Khan Development Network.

go to Aga Khan Development Network

to to Urban Land Institute

                                                       

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Occupy in all major U.S. cities.

We are the 99 percent.
Protest the inequities:
 
"The Occupy movement is powerful, not because it is fighting for the rights of a few hundred people to sleep outdoors, but because it is fighting for the right of millions of Americans to sleep indoors. Excessive responses from law enforcement not only violate the law, but take our collective eye away from the economic violence occurring daily in this country."
- Van Jones 

                                                

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Steve Jobs revealed much of himself when he spoke to the graduating class at Stanford University:
 
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. don't ber trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the voice of other people's opinions drown out your own inner voice.
 
"And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition-- they somehow already know what you truly want to become."
 
He lived an intuitively passionate life and changed the world.
 

go to Jobs in New York Times

                                                          

For the $$$ conscious:
(and who isn't?)
 
For starters, do you know what the S stands for in https? Answer: secure. So look for an https address on a site before you key in any bank or credit card numbers.)
 
A crowded field of financial help sites has been whittled down. Many  of the survivers are excellent if you're willing to spend time to categorize spending, analyze your portfolio, or compare loan and card rates.
 
Some popular sites:

go to Portfolio Monkey to analyze your investments

go to Mint to watch where your money goes

go to Billshrink to compare phone and cable service rates

go to Credit Sesame to get your credit score and shop for lower interest rates

go to Smarty Pig to set saving goals and start packing it away

go to Dealery to find the best deals around on merchandise and services

go to Using Miles to keep a current track of your airline miles benefits

Caveat: If you visit other financial sites you may see comforting logos like Trust and VeriSign. Click them to see if they are real or just JPEGs. If legit, a new page will open verifying that the site is certified by a security company.

                                               

Highways from hell.

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We've all been there. Trapped, debilitated, and infuriated. Nightmare congestion on certain stretches of highway occurs at predictable times into and out of major cities. One word: avoid.

Bottlenecks, by-products of urban sprawl, lurk in wait. The good news is that millions of drivers with GPS units and smartphone applications get real-time warnings of ghastly clogs-- and advice on moving smoothly to their destination.

In the U.S. the source of this help is usually the INRIX company-- which collects traffic data from 4 million vehicles nationwide.

The operative term is "TTT:" Travel Time Tax. It's the percentage of time it takes to navigate the area's roadways during rush hour compared to uninterrupted travel periods.

For instance, Los Angeles has a TTT of more than 35%-- the worst in the nation. But that's an average. The Riverside Freeway has a bad stretch of about 20 miles with a TTT of 183%.

Other calculations include average minutes per mile. If you're driving 65 mph you should whip through a mile in a minute. Not so on the Highways from Hell.

go to the INRIX national traffic scorecard and metropolitan ratings.

                                                  

Racing Skyward

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World's second tallest building in Taipei, capital of Taiwan.

The Chrysler Building was the tallest in the world in 1929, with a last-minute hoisting of a secretly planned stainless steel top. It held that honor for two years, until it was bested by the Empire State Building.

Competition for height was, and is, a big deal. It started in Chicago, which still has 3 of the 15 world's tallest-- and will soon have a new America's tallest, besting Sears Tower.

Calatrava's project, Fordham Tower on Chicago's lakefront, at 115 stories, at two thousand feet, will best the upcoming Freedom Tower at ground zero. And construction cranes in San Francisco, Miami, and Vegas keep soaring higher into the blue. High class is high altitude.

The All-American sky-piercing rivalry has spread worldwide.The Burj Tower in Dubai, at 2,300 feet, is now the world's tallest, surpassing the Taipei Building (pictured above), which recently bested the famous Petronas Tower in Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia.

Bragging rights reach back thousands of years, according to Carol Willis, director of the Skyscraper Museum in Manhattan. Exceeding or exalting for spiritual reasons or a demonstration of power dates back from Babylon-- wanting to take a place in history, reserve a place in the timeline. Height is a fixation that endures.

Do spires count? Ron Klemencic, chairman of the Council on Tall Buildings (which certifies the tallest structures) says the spire counts "if it is integral to the architecture of the building."

Today most of the jostling for height is in Asia. The densely populated city of Hong Kong has more skyscrapers than New York City. Shangai will soon have China's tallest. Its World Financial Center will reach 1,614 feet. And so it goes, upward.

If the wealthy and mighty want prestigious addresses and wide-angle views-- they will build. And super-structures need no purple pills for erectile disfunction.

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The Burj Tower in Dubai is now the highest and sleekest.

go to The Skyscraper Museum

                                                

Drive-Thru Buses

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Take a deep breath and drive through the bus.

The huge 'Straddling Buses' proposedin Bejing travel up to 40 mph. Powered by electricity and solar energy, they can carry 15-hundred passengers without blocking other vehicular traffic. When in operation, congestion is expected to be reduced by a third.

Track construction will begin in late 2010 in the Mentougou district. Complete cost of the system will be about 10 percent of an equivalent subway facility.

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Upper passenger level.

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Planners checking out the model.

go to Straddling Bus video

                                                          

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California Institute of Earth Art.
How can we build shelter for people in the world who have no money? Nader Khalili has an answer.
 

go to "Making of a Dream" at The California Institute of Earth Art

                                               

In 1913 the poet Ezra Pound wrote this paean to a city he loved:

"Is New York the most beutiful city in the world? It's not far from it. No urban nights are like the nights there. I have looked down across the city from high windows. It is then that the great buildings lose reality and take on magical powers. Squares and squares of flame, set and cut into the ether. Here's our poetry. For we have pulled down the stars to our will."

                                                      

California leads in seismic innovation.

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80-year old San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Replacement of the Bay Bridge has, so far, taken 20 years for infrastucture design and building and it's way behind schedule. The old bridge, still carrying 1/4 million vehicles daily, is a disaster waiting to happen because of its rigid construction.
 
The new bridge, being  built on the same footprint, has the flexibility of expansive technology to survive the next major earthquake-- if it's completed in time. The clock is ticking. The earth is moving. It's a fascinating and dramatic project.
Check it out.

go to Bay Bridge Construction

We're Rockin and Rollin
 
Our earth is always on the move. All the rumbles, shakes, and fractures are precisely measured and given "Event IDs"  by the U.S. Geological Survey of Earthquake Hazards. Find out what's trembling and jolting near you.

                                                  

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Ah, the thrill of the open road and the urge to speed into the far distance!

We can’t quit. We’re insatiable. Personal transportation demands it. And with auto  ownership increasing sharply in India, China, and South America, there’ll be lots more of us lined up at the pump.

By 2015 we’ll need about 100 million barrels a day. So we dig deeper. We drill in 7,000 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico, Brazil, and West Africa. We demand shale oil from tar sands in Canada and Venezuela. We depend on OPEC nations for relief,  as they have most of the conventional crude reserves.

So far, we humans have extracted a trillion barrels of oil and it’s estimated that we have 2 trillion barrels left in the ground. So we’ll be digging and scraping and pumping until we’ve exhausted the planet’s fossil fuel.

Most of our cars convert less than 20% of their fuel to useful energy-- but we persist in buying  these wasteful vehicles. Isn’t it time we wake up and smell the fumes?

Our alternate energy investments are puny considering the depths of our dilemma.  Be assured that our greedy oil culture will be long remembered in the history books .

Imagine yourself in 3010 and asking "What were they thinking?"

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161-mile traffic " jam-up" in China.

                                                       

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LA Freeways. Photo: Arthus Bertrand.

go to Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

go to Dept. of Energy

Driving 12,000 miles a year at 20 MPG emits about six tons of carbon dioxide.

                                               

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Outdated freeways on the way out-- for good.

Since the impetus of freeways in the 1950's their tentacles have reached out to slash through cities with surgical precision– bisecting communities, obliterating neighborhoods, slicing off waterfront access– creating all the inefficiencies of sprawl, ever greedier for more acreage, miles, lanes, ramps, and routes.

The ‘ands’ of regret go on infinitum. Libraries are crammed with freeway impact studies on American culture, land use, health, ecological systems, crime, commercial and personal transportation, public transit, etal. We shape our lives to live with the results.

Some freeways we love; others we hate, with good reason. Some are great architecture among the marvels of the modern world. Others are crummy-- having literally come to the end of the road.

"The Congress for the New Urbanism" is working to ‘make urbanism legal again.’ It has released a list of 10 freeways that would benefit from demolition. The list could be a lot longer– in fact 40 cities had hoped to make the cut.

                                                      

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Buffalo, New York. 1902 and 2011.

Two photos, from the top. Before and after.

                                                      

Focus on Children:
a serious disconnect

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Kenton Elementary in Portland

Missing Ingredient in Portland: Children.

Portland, Oregon strives for a healthy, vibrant, center, and keeps improving on a good thing as more educated, self-starting urbanites flock to the safe, pleasant neighborhoods of this mid-size city. Old sections like the Pearl District, with its sidewalk gardens, slick lofts, and cafes, are thriving.

Portland is just an example of today’s one-dimensional downtown. Seattle has more dogs than children. San Diego is complete in its deficiency. And forget L.A.

San Francisco, with a median house price of $700K, is too pricey for young families, and has the lowest percentage of people under 18 than any large city in the nation.

Boston, Honolulu, Denver, Minneapolis, Austin and Atlanta are not far behind. In Detroit and Baltimore, families long ago fled decaying neighborhoods for the hinterlands.

In Portland the loss hurts deeply. When Kenton Elementary School– which had anchored the neighborhood for 90 years– announced its closing this year, parents reacted as if there were a death in the family.

Downtowns are no longer a viable choice for families. With sinking birth rates, exploding real estate prices, and commuter rail, cities are being repopulated by wealthy singles and retirees. Few condos have enough bedrooms to accommodate children. The sterility shows.

Without cities, children lose the dynamics of activity, interaction, and enrichment of urban life. Without children, cities are crippled.

                                                      

Getting around town:

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Suite Vollard condos. Architect Bruno de Franco.

360° Housing

At Suite Vollard, in Curitiba, Brazil, residents control the speed and direction of the rotation of their 3-thousand sq.ft. homes. They can make a full rotation in 15 to 60 minutes. The core of their living quarters are stationary and contain the bathrooms and kitchens.

                                                  

                                                

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Cactus or cell tower?
What does this rare specimen on the landscape have to do with my incoming call?

more on cell towers

                                                  

Get out. Walk. Look. See.
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"Stroll or saunter. Explorative looking transforms the way you see things. Acute observation of everyday things is unexpectetly enriching.

"The built environment is a sort of palimpsest, a document in which one layer of writing has been scraped off, and another one applied.

"Discovering idiosyncratic importance in an ordinary metropolitan landscape scrapes away the deep veneer of programmed learning that overlies and smothers the self-directed learning of childhood and adolescence.

"Awareness of the bits and pieces builds into mindfulness– the enduring pleasures of noticing.

"The concatenation of fragments become a skein into which new fragments fall into place. Seeing patterns enables walkers to navigate according to landmarks and linkages and constellations wholly personal."

(Excerpts from "Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places," by John R. Stilgoe, Professor of Landscape History at Harvard University.)

go to John R. Stilgoe

                                                           

Railroads shut down unused tracks at the rate of 700 miles a year-- about two miles a day.
 

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Kansas tracks. Photo: Lorbit.
Railroad property is quickly bought up by private developers for profit ventures. Nearby communities are often out of the loop--unaware of the opportunity.
 
Tracks, once a lifeline for our cities and towns, transverse both pastoral and urban landscapes. Almost ten thousand miles of former rail corridors are waiting to be transformed into paths, trails, and linear parks.
 
The non-profit "Rails to Trails" alerts communities to land sales, advises them regarding federal gas-tax funding and "railbanking," and guides them through the process of alternate legal, design, and use possibilities.
 
So far more than 15-hundred miles of public trails are rail conversions. Success stories like Florida's Pinellas Trail, Vermont's Burlington Bike Path, and California's Bizz Johnson Trail encourage a new nation-wide path.
 
 

go to Rails to Trails Conservancy

                                                     

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Building Blog  is a terrific site for architectural and landscape conjecture and urban speculation.
 
A collection of timely posts will be published by Chronical Books in the summer. Meanwhile, check it out.

go to Building Blog

                                                   

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The wisdom of Leinberger..

Back to the future again...

Christopher Leinberger’s book "The Option of Urbanism" asks for an investment in the next American dream: walkable urbanism.

As our population has shifted toward cities, government programs continue to tilt the playing field by clinging to 60-year-old goals of driveable suburbs– to the glee of auto makers and the oil industry. Focus on suburban consumerism has paralleled the decline of community, intolerable urban decay, and zooming greenhouse gas emissions.

But this book is not the usual apocalyptic account of sprawl– and it’s free of jargon and ideology. Just a smart analysis of realigning financial, construction, and real estate markets to insure that urban living elevates the health of its people and environment. For far-sighted builders it just might re-invigorate their passion for success.

Leinberger is a professor, land-use strategist, and developer.

go to Leinberger interviews

                                                   

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NMCA architect Kazuyo Sejima
New Museum of Contemporary Art
Gem in the Bowery:
 
A series of pearl-gray volumes piled with artful carelessness. They intentionally echo the profile of the classic "wedding cake" buildings in Manhattan.

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New Museum of Contemporary Art , at 235 Bowery in lower Manhattan.

more on the New Museum of Contemporary Art

go to New Museum of Contemporary Art

                                               

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Celebrating the joy of walking. Caen, France. Photo: Urbanicity.

Is your city walkable?
 
Walk Score ranks 2500 neighborhoods in the 40 largest U.S. cities. Enter your address-- it will map your house, nearest mailbox, market, cafes, stores, services, cinemas, schools, parks, etc. and give your 'walkability rating.' Plus-- find the most walkable cities.

go to Walk Score

go to Walkable Urbanism

                                                

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Library parking renovation in Kansas City.
A real page-turner.
 
How to cover up a parking structure... cover to cover.

                                     

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Roof of Art-Design-Media school in Singapore.
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And luminous after sunset.
Jewel on the campus of NanyangTech University
 
The 5-story School of Art, Design, and Media is in a wooded valley at the heart of the Singapore campus. Three intertwining glass curtains surround a plaza. There's an auditorium, media studios, and art galleries. Lovely in the daytime; stunning at night.
 
                                                  

Children’s health and the built environment:

"If you go back 100 years, urban design and public health were integrally related: housing, sanitation, water... disease." So says Allen Dearry, associate director at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

How about being trapped in tract housing? Could soaring asthma rates have something to do with breathing ground-level ozone from increased auto traffic? Do "food opportunities" in and near schools increase the intake of junk snacks?

One of of every three children’s meal is fast food. And where are their "exercise opportunities?"

The number of kids who walk or bike to school has dropped from nearly half in 1960 to 1 in 10 today. Could this be because of lousy school siting and the lack of trail systems and walkable neighborhoods?

And what lies in store for them when they grow up? Since the mid-20th century, sprawl has resulted in a 250 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled. The average driver spends 443 hours a year behind the wheel– that amounts to 11 workweeks.

Scientists are just beginning to see how aspects of urban planning– zoning, transportation, school siting– contribute to rising rates off obesity, diabetes, asthma, and other diseases.

Focusing on the environment is returning public health to its roots.

go to National Toxicology Program

                                              

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The de Young Museum on Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park. Photo by Paul Chinn.
San Francisco's  new de Young Museum  replaces a Spanish colonial structure destroyed in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. It's the result of a competition-- and Herzog and de Meuron, of Basel,Germany, bested the rest. They did the Tate Modern in London and the Goetz museum in Munich-- but hadn't yet had a major commission in the U.S.
 
De Young has two basic sections: a long wing of horizontal galleries with garden courts, and a 140-foot twisting parallelogram tower, which holds the education and study center. It's like a cathedral and its campanile. The tower observatory overlooks Golden Gate Park and the city where you lose your heart.
 

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"Topside" of the de Young Museum

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Down to the Wire
 
The Wire is a tale of post-industrial cities not as they could be, but as they are. Baltimore stands in for our budget-strapped cities and corporatized bosses: an ecosystem of low-margin characters and frustrated lives. David Simon describes his creation as "The end of an empire. It’s about ‘This is as much of America as we’ve paid for. No more, no less.’"

In fictionalized offices of the Baltimore Sun, out-of-town owners demand profits, bureaus close, lay-offs drain institutional memory: investigations are superficial at best. "Do more with less" is the mantra.

Simon says: "This means doing less with less and cutting corners to make it look like more, sometimes with disastrous results. The lie of "more with less" is, in a way, the heart of the series.

"We didn’t pay for a New Orleans that’s protected from floods the way, say, the Netherlands is. The police department gets what it pays for, the city government gets what it pays for, the school system gets what it pays for. And in the last season, the people who are supposed to be holding the entire thing to some form of public standard– they get what they pay for."

Memorable characters try to beat the Sisyphus-like system of struggling schools, legalized drug zones, dying blue-collar unions, gangster cultures, below-subsistence wages and no wages.

The Wire explores how city hall and the media ignore murders of young black men ("wrong Zip Code, deadpans a black reporter) and how a corrupt black state senator uses the race card. Not a "water-cooler show," for sure.

"On commercial TV you can’t say ‘This is America,’ and we’re not alright anymore’" says Simon. The Wire denounces our class-stratum society but respects its individuals. It damns media but pulls for a city editor with an unkillable work ethic. It exposes urban tragedy and the vicious complicity of the ‘more with less’ culture and shows how small voices rise above it. It’s a cry for help seen and heard through the talents of a brilliant cast. Now available on DVD.

                                                   

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The first parking meter, "Black Maria."

We've been metered!

 

If the ancient Greeks had to drive cars to meet and mingle at the Agora they might have opted to stay home rather than suffer space hunting to ditch their vehicles. The very concept of a public marketplace might have lost its cultural influence.

 

Parking meters are an aggravation, and detrimental to surrounding businesses-- but they are jackpots for hungry municipal coffers.

 

We fell into the space trap as soon as Ford Model-Ts hit the road. On newly-clogged main streets, drivers struggled for curb parking but squeezed their cars into any cranny they could find.

 

Street life was transformed. People began to avoid what had formerly been vital and socially interactive. It’s like that much-repeated line regarding a New York night-spot: “No one goes there anymore because it’s too crowded.”  Town centers became anti-centers.

 

Delivery trucks double parked. Shoppers drove round and round.  Local employees parked all day in choice places. Parking standards didn’t exist. If there were streetcars, chaos ensued.

 

In Oklahoma City the chamber of commerce (more in a pioneer spirit than in hand-wringing frustration) took action. Carl Magee, the local newspaper editor, came up with the idea of a parking meter. He sponsored a $500 design competition among engineering students at the Univ. of Oklahoma. The winning entry, called "Black Maria,” was produced.

 

Magee got his patent in 1933, when he and his business partner opened the Magee-Hale Park-O-Meter Company. Their first meter was installed in 1935. Drivers, in a huff, called the thing an auto tax levied without due process. But courts allowed meters on the grounds that their primary purpose was to organize parking and manage traffic. So the question became “do you have change for a dollar?”

 

Seventy-plus years later meters remain the bźte noir for drivers in heavily congested areas. In theory they spur speedy turnover (even as meter maids tuck dreaded envelopes under wipers). But in fact the scorn directed at meters opened the way for huge off-street parking at strip malls, recreational shopping malls, big-box stores, and factory outlets-- all on private property.

 

Today, in an attempt to allay meter enmity many cities reimburse revenue to neighborhood improvement districts. Frequent parkers buy time debit cards. But as long as we crave parking space street life dissolves.

 

The closest thing is the corny, nostalgic faux-dream of Disney’s 'Main Street America' and other private ‘city walks,’ and recreational shopping parks-- which are all sidewalks, no cars, and not a parking meter in sight. And you pay big money to park in big off-street or underground lots to have those “street life experiences.”

 

                                             

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Whipping along on the new Eastern Europe tracks from Paris to Strasbourg.

Research prototype speeds in a blur at 357 miles per hour (would make L.A. to San Francisco an hour trip). It's a black and chrome double-decker with AGV technology (Automotrice Grande Vitesse), a step above TGV.
 
It's the first articulated high-speed train with distributed traction rather than power cars at each end, and is the product of the Alstrom Co. and the French National Railways: code name V150.

Cities need people. People need cities.

"What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people." - William H. Whyte

 

"For five millennia virtually all culture, art, and science came from cities.
 
"Cities are the incubators of interactions required for sacred matters, safety, and commerce."
 
from  "The City: A Global History," by Joel Kotkin.

                                            

Fakers!
 
Every year on April Fool's Day PPS publishes a special feature: "Faking Places."

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Draping the grates?

Update on "The Gates" story.

go to the "Grates" story on Faking Places

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Lunch at the Mall
Our National Mall Becomes Lunchtime Hangout for Congress.
Time again for the April Fools News from Faking Places

go to Faking Places

                                                       

Enjoy the website "View on Cities," and see the sights, scenery, and architecture of many of the world's great cities.

go to View on Cities

                                         

What cities glow in the dark? Have you seen the NASA photo?

go to "The Earth at Night"

                                                          

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City hall at Hotel deVille, Paris

Small can be wonderful.

There is always something going on in front of city hall in Paris. Skating in the winter, volleyball day and night in the summer, and lots in-between. Great example of intense use of a small area. Lesson: public spaces don’t need to be big. Often smaller is better.

In a letter from Ann Fathy, attorney at law and urban planner in San Diego:

"This illustrates something I wish San Diegans understood about urban open space. It’s not the size that matters but rather the activities that draw people to the space. Bertrand Delanoe, the mayor of Paris, understands this. He has brought wonderful activities for all Parisians to enjoy, such as the summertime beach along the Seine. Before Delanoe became mayor, the plaza in front of the city hall was just a void.

"In downtown San Diego, we have significant areas that nobody talks about when discussing parkland. The historic park in front of Horton Plaza is blessed with an Irving Gill fountain, but years ago the decision makers deliberately made it a hostile place in order to fend off the homeless. It could easily be a vibrant central plaza to sit and ‘people watch.’

"There’s an empty spot along Harbor Drive at the Embarcadero that's full of potential, yet it's just another barren, sterile area to be avoided. Then there's our city hall plaza– just a transit point. With imagination and little money it could be transformed into a people-friendly magnet. When San Diegans continue to think of open space in terms of large and extra-large, big opportunities for small-areas that invite urban enjoyment are lost."

                                       

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Kitsch
 
Gillo Dorfles says it's "a word to be used with caution, devalued as it has become as an all-purpose pejorative for bad taste.
 
"In its classic definition, kitsch identified a specific phenomenon: the appropriation of a familiar thing that is then altered in scale, made in a different material, and assigned a wholly different incongrous function, rendering the hybrid grotesque." How about a Venus de Milo figurine with a clock in its stomach or a Leaning Tower of Pisa pepper mill?

                                                      

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The Tate Modern, London, Photo: Lorbiter. Click to enlarge.
London's Tate Modern, on the south bank of the Thames, claims to be the most popular modern art museum in the world-- with a surge of more than four million visitors last year.
 
When the museum opened in 2000 less than half that number was expected. People reserve tickets for timed visits, and they're clamoring to get in.
 
Tate's director says "we have people looking at people looking at people looking at art-- not the best experience."
 
Plans are to build an 11-story ziggurat of stacked glass boxes for 10 new galleries, performance areas, and a 400-seat auditorium. The proposed annex would provide 60 percent more exhibition space.
 
They hope to complete the expansion before the London Olympics in 2010.


Proposed addition to London's Tate Modern

go to the Tate Modern

                                 

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Propane Anyone?
 
Electric cars aren't ready for prime time.
Propane-fueled cars may be.
 
Dish Network is buying a fleet of 200 propane vans. They cost more than diesel-fueled trucks but can save $50 thousand each in fuel costs over their lifetime. More importantly, their propane-fueled vans will eliminate about 12.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. Sales of propane-fueled vehicles are expected to climb about 8 percent a year. By 2019 a lot of us may be driving them.

go to Yale University 360

                                                                            

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I.M. Pei's underground addition at the Louvre.

Architecture that evokes our response.
 
Buildings We Love are chosen every Friday for a spotlight in Wired Design Profiles. Some push boundaries into a new territory of art. Some are stunning and emotionally enlivening-- enriching the world far past their neighborhoods. Many stir controversy. See for yourself.

go to Building of the Week on Wired

                                                                      

America's cities are leading the way to fix our broken politics and fragile economy. See how metropolitan areas are moving ahead. You can be a part of the progress. Join the Metro Revolution.

go to Metro Revolution

                                                                          

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Intrigue in a Paris park.

                                                            

"Where you're born is an accident. But it's your responsibility to find the place where you belong."
- Helmut Jahn, architect

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Strolling in Brussels.

"The city is our most consistent and, on the whole, successful attempt to remake the world we live in after our heart's desire.

"But if the city is the world which we created, it is a world in which we are henceforth condemned to live. In making the city we have remade ourselves."

-- Robert Park, urban sociologist

                                                             

Rubble without a cause.
 
Cities in the United States are literally falling apart. Officials give our infrastructure a grade of D-minus. We are in a constant emergency repair-maintenance mode.  Just consider one issue: water pipes.
 
Everyday about 700 water mains break-- many causing huge traffic tie-ups and serious disruption. A third of our water pipes are between 40 and 80 years old, well past a reseaonable point of replacement.
 
Meanwhile, factories lie dormant and laborers are out of work. What the hell are we waiting for?

                                                                      

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Houston's first park is a popular spot-- but now there are dozens to choose from. The city has gained the designation "America's Tree City." Surely people are planting trees there today.

                                                      

Architecture is . . .
 
" A conversation between generations, carried out across time."
- Vincent Scully, Architecture Historian
 
" The will of an epoch translated into space."
- Mies Van der Rohe, Architect

                                                                          
 

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How influential are you?
 
Don't know your Klout score?
 
You many not care. But some employers do. Top-level interviews may go nowhere if applicants don't know their number.
 
If your Twitter posts are 'liked' or re-tweeted, or if you have a slew of Linked-in followers or Facebook friends who are "influential," up goes your score.
 
Your number can affect "real" life. Hotels, airlines, restaurants, and high-end retailers may check your score-- and if it's high enough you may get special perks, discounts, and gifts. As your score rises, you may be called for consulting work or speaking engagements. No kidding.
 
You may feel invaded and uncomfortable to be a number, but that's what social networking has come to. Influence is 'in.'Much as Google ranks the relevance of a website, Klout algorithms comb through social media sites-- on a mission to rank the influence of everyone online. Scores are ranked from 1 to 100. So what's your Klout?
 
 

go to Klout

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Where's a streetcar when you need it? Twenty cities want to install new lines.

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St. Charles Avenue Streetcar in New Orleans.

A streetcar ensures a stable transit corridor and stamps an identity on a community. For many it's the most allluring of city transit modes. Buses are fine, but because they can go everywhere they belong nowhere. Streetcars 'belong.' 

Streetcars are coming. 
 
A 'must see' in New Orleans is the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line in the Garden District-- it's been moving people since 1835. If transit can be human-centric, this is... efficient, reliable, and conducive to social exchanges. What a concept.
 
Federal TIGER* grants have cities checking their 'to-do' lists and many are eager to install streetcar systems.
 
*Transport Investment Generating Economic Recovery

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Indianapolis is building a two-mile track; Kansas City, four miles. Providence is getting input from citizens to plan a route. New Orleans will complete an extension this year. It's a happy epidemic.

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go to Streetcar Revival

go to Department of Transportation

go to The Atlantic "Place Matters"

                                               

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Entry portal to the MLK Memorial

The Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, which opened in October 2011, is aligned along the axis of the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials on the D.C. Mall. Its sensitive design of sculpted monumental stone within the color and softness of a water-side garden is intended to draw visitors through a portal to spaces for quiet contemplation.

"One has a moral
responsibility to
disobey unjust laws."
Martin Luther King, Jr.

                                                   

What's your real age? Is there any correlation between your 'real age' and the city in which you live?
 
Yes, we have the power to stay as healthy as possible-- but a lot of cities don't make it easy. Real Age analyzed 28 million people and ranked cities by factors such as diet, health insurance coverage, income, and diabetes. Results showed that the residents of many American cities are aging too fast, i.e. overall health is 'older' than actual ages. We also age more rapidly when we are stressed by limited opportunities, high unemployment, and the sense of being  disenfranchised.

more on getting old too fast, with city rankings

go to U.S.Dept.Health and Human Services

                                                   

Get out. Walk.
 Look. See.
Explore.
 
"Urban exploration is a liberal art, because it is an act that liberates, that frees, that opens away from narrowness.
 
"The built environment is a sort of palimpsest, a document in which one layer of writing has been scaped off, and another one applied." See it.
 
- John R. Stilgoe, author of "Outside Lies Magic."

                                                    

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The U.K. exemplifies how the vibrant growth of cities can pull a country out of a recession.

go to Centre for Cities

go to Centre for Cities Video Channel

                                                         

The rise of cities:
a great phenomenon of the past two centuries. Here's a world tally for cities of one million+
 
Year:
1800                           3
1900                          16
1950                          74
2011                         442

The five countries with the most cities of one million + are:
China (89), India (46), U.S. (42), Brazil (21), and Mexico (12.)

                                                        

"The essence of cities is proximity."
- Edward Glaeser
 
The suburban prototype was prescribed by Ebenezer Howard in his 1898 book about idyllic "garden cities," to be built away from cities. Given the filth and slum housing in 19th century London, his idea took off, not just in Englind, but in America. Urbanization was demonized for the next century.
 
But, ironically, while  suburbs were consuming the countryside, the great global tide of urbanization was in full force. Hence, a few, um, conflicts.
 
Now, with the earth's population heading toward ten billion, dense cities are seen as the obvious curative-- offering the best hope for lifting people out of poverty without wrecking the planet.
 
Ed Glaeser, author of "Triumph of the City," says "There's no such thing as a poor urbanized country-- and there's no such thing as a rich rural country." True.
 
The absence of space between people reduces the cost of transporting goods, people, and the exchange of ideas.
 
"Successful cities increase the returns to being smarter by enabling people to learn from one another. In cities with higher average education, even the uneducated earn higher wages-- that's the "human capital spillover" generated by cities," says Glaeser.
 
No technology yet invented-- be it the telephone  or video conferencing--delivers the fertile chance encounter that cities have made possible since the Roman Forum was new.
 
Economists embrace cities as engines of prosperity. Some environmentalists are still 'on the fence" despite clear evidence that dense population is the most earth friendly.  It allows half of humanithy to live on around 4% of the arable land, leaving more space for open country.
 
David Owen, author of "Green Metropolis," explains how shorter roads, sewers, and power lines use less energy to heat, cool, and light a city's non-free-standing homes.  People in cities drive less, walk more, take public transit-- which results in per-capita energy and carbon emissions that are much lower than the national average. That, plus the big payoff of human proximity.

go to David Owen

more Ed Glaeser on city rankings

                                                      

Fountains are the spash and spectcle of cities, pulling us to great spaces and personal oases.

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Water sustains our minds and bodies. It's our most basic connection with life. Cities offer up  the water-play of fountains as human celebrarion-- up close and personal, if we are ready to let the stress melt, and enjoy.

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Water Garden in Fort Worth, Texas, designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, 1974.
Designed as wondrous dramas or quiet pleasures, their waters can move with gentle insistence or raging force; rippling low or thrust skyward.
 
They can make bubbles, sprays, and liquid cacophonies alit in the night skies. They can make us smile and giggle.
 
Fountains beckon as magnets to bring us waves of calm, inspiration, reflection, fun, and awe.

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FDR Memorial cascade in Washington, D.C., designed by Lawrence Halprin, 1991.

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The Banpo Bridge in Seoul.

Banpo Bridge in downtown Seoul spans the Han River. The Lower deck accomodates pedestrians and bikers with access to the Banp Hangang riverside park. A masterwork that integrates the river 'splash' that makes traversing the bridge a lovely experience.

                                                      

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Michael Arad, designer of the 911 memorial waterfall park.

Perhaps the most profound use of falling water is architect Michael Arad's design, along with landscape architect Peter Walker, for the 911 Memorial Plaza in New York City.
 
Called "Reflecting Absence," it has two square pools, 30 feet deep--situated where the towers of the World Trade Center once stood-- surrounded by a forest of 400 trees. Dramatic, poignant, and memorable.

go to Join Michael Arad on a tour of the memorial plaza.

go to Peter Walker, landscape architect

go to Charlie Rose interview with Michael Arad

"The park remains true to its driving force... and conducive to contemplation."
- Michael Arad.

"If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water."
 - Loren Eiseley

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Eliasson's waterfall under Brooklyn Bridge.
Manhattan's Waterfalls
 
Olafur Eliasson's massive water installations were a thrilling sight-- thanks to the New York  Public Art Fund.

                                                    

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Reichstag Dome. Photo: Raymond Choo
Berlin's National Treasure
 
Germany's parliament building, the Reichstag, is easily recognized by its iconic 77-foot high glass dome, designed by Norman Foster. The 360 mirrors in the center reflect light into the parliamend chamber below.
 
The dome replaces the 1893 cupola that was destroyed by fire and Allied bombing in World War II. When East and West Germany were reunified in 1990, Berlin became the new capital. Visitors to the capitol building can walk up the spiral ramp for a view of the city-- which is dazzling.

go to the Reichstag on Wiki

go to Berlin's Reichstag

                                           

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Dr. James A. Clapp asks the questions.
Ask Dr. Clapp:
 
Plato calculated the ideal population of a city to be around 5000: the number of people who could hear a political official at a public assembly in the agora of Athens.
 
This and hundreds of city tidbits and intriguing quizzes are collected on urbanologist James A. Clapp's "City Quotient."
 
How "city smart" are you?
Take a stab at  the quizzes on capitals, twin cities, parks, central plazas, original names, nicknames, city transport, famous avenues, and much more.

go to City Quotient

                                                

Cities for the ages:
All ages.
 
More elderly people are moving to big cities. Some are moving back; some are new to town. Some want to grow old in the place where they were once young.
 
Public transportation is the ticket when driving a car is no longer possible. Top medical centers, museums, parklands,and entertainment venues attract. More personal options are a big draw.
 
So is an energized neighborhood atmosphere that is often missing, or artificially created, in suburbs and segre-"gated" housing. For urbanites, a senior center is not a cure-all.
 
The combination of the boomer bulge, diminished fertility, and increased longevity means a spike in octogenarians in twenty years.
 
Some cities are beginning to seek ways to become more hospitable. Already, a third of the population in the U.S. are over 50, and these folks control half of the country’s discretionary spending. Cities need them if they are to thrive.
 
The World Health Organization conference of 2007 put a priority on developing 'age-friendly cities,' a term which has since become a global clarion call.
 
The New York Academy of Medicine is shaking things up with town meetings and focus groups. Older residents want clean neighborhoods, help with grocery deliveries, and places to use the bathroom or get a drink of water.
 
They want cracked sidewalks and other ‘trippers’ fixed. They want better street drainage to reduce puddle-jumping with walkers and wheelchairs.
 
Extra benches, good street lighting, menus with large type, and ‘happy hour’s are on the want list. In other words: safety, comfort, and fun.
 
The academy plans to use the ideas in two pilot "aging-improvement districts," one in East Harlem and the other on the Upper West Side. They’d be akin to business-improvement districts– and would encourage voluntary adoption of amenities for the elderly. Age-friendly businesses would put an identifying sticker in the window.
 
Gerontology talk used to center around disease. No more. Linda Gibbs, New York’s deputy mayor for health and human services  says "Now it’s much more about the strength and fidelity and energy that an older population contributes to our city."
 
In some parts of Manhattan, four seconds have been added to the time pedestrians are given to cross intersections. "Age-friendly city," is becoming more than a sound-bite or good intentions. Action is underway.

go to World Health Organization

                                               

Note on our nation's endemic antipathy to cities:

No doubt– the anti-urban strain that is deeply ingrained in American culture is undermining our country’s potential to be a major player in the new global playing field of the 21st century. To carry the thought further: the denigration of our cities is un-American.

Anti-urban opinions are usually based on misconceptions. Most people who have actually lived in large thriving cities love them, whereas most complainers are unmindful and oblivious to the countless pleasures of city life. We've been an urban country for generations-- why does self-hatred linger?

                                                                                 

The Rise of Curitiba:
 
Curitiba in southern Brazil is a 'green city' and a marvel of sustainability and livability.

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Curitiba's "skyscraper" center.

In the early 1960's Curitiba, Brazil faced seemingly intractable problems– vehicle-clogged streets, poor sanitation, inadequate housing and jobs, and air pollution.

As the capital city of the State of Paranį, it was attracting a huge surge of rural migration. In response to calamity, a new master plan was adopted in 1966 with an immediate priority on roads and transportation.

In 1971, construction of a mass transit system began during the term of newly-appointed mayor Jamie Lerner-- in the form of five major arterial corridors that would shape growth radiating from the city center.

High structures were permitted in the core but density levels declined as the corridors moved outward.

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Jaime Lerner's "Vita," model turtle.

Mayor Jaime Lerner, who is an architect, likened the transit corridors to the figuration of a turtle-- having a strong trunk-body enclosed in a strong carapace shell and legs and tail 'radiating' outward.

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Master plan of Curitiba.

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The boarding tube (above) gives large buses the attributes of subway trains. It serves as both a bus shelter and mobility accelerator. It was designed on the back of a napkin by architect and former mayor Jaime Lerner.

Curitiba’s seamless transit network, with express bus lanes, became the backbone of city expansion by dictating the direction of growth. An enveloping ring of parkland, forested areas, and botanical gardens was planned to circle the city.

It became the first South American city to ‘market’ itself ‘Green." It has one of the world’s highest recycling rates and the lowest carbon footprint per capita. Today two thousand buses carry 70 percent of commuter traffic--almost two million rides a day.

Curitiba’s innovations earned fame for good reason. But, as with all cities, reality outstrips old methods.

Self-satisfaction from past awards may now be its biggest threat. Its landfill is near over-flowing. It can no longer boast of having the most green space per person.

Deforestation abounds in the outskirts, where growth is rampant. Curitiba’s population of 1.7 million almost doubles during work hours.

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Rooftops surrounding high-rises.

But the residents of this humane and functional city are proud and vigilant. A shift is occurring from authoritarian planning to more democratic input and attention paid to private property interests. It’s still a high-performance city that’s not ready to relinquish greatness.

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One of many botanical gardens in the parklands.

go to Curitiba on Frontline

go to Curitiba on Green Planet

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Long-term mayor and city leader Jaime Lerner.

"Cities are the solution, not the problem, for human beings."
- Jaime Lerner

more on Jaime Lerner

                                              

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The Great Seal of the United States of America

E Pluribus Unum: Out of many, 'Our country is a model of diversity- in heritages, allegencies, and opinions-- yet as a nation, we are united as one.
 
Powerful and well-financed divisive forces may seek contrapositions that defile our nation's purpose through hate mail and media rants. Yet our cities remain living proof of the enlightened wisdom of the motto on the Great Seal of the United States.
 
Cities contain messy brews of civil unrest and unresolved conflicts, yet still embody the commonality of citizenship. When we uphold the 'plurality of one-ness' in our cities we truly hold our nation together. Look at a one-dollar bill and ponder.

                                               

History of the city over the past two centuries is in many ways a game of catch-up with transportation technologies that were designed without any particular relection on their likely effects on cities."
 
a thought from TERREFORM on urban infrastructure, building, planning, and art.

Fear and the city.
 
Nan Ellin's "The Architecutre of Fear," examines the frightful preoccupations that shape our urban landscapes.
Why are Americans cowering in gated communities, deserting the public streetscape of human exchange and conversation? Why has the home electronic security industry flourished-- at the expense of relaxation and repose? Why the epidemic of anxiety and personal terror? Urban planning should serve to eradicate rather than exacerbate people's insecurities. Is there any turning back from our plight of fright?

                                              

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Fuel efficiency and fun is a good combo.
Go Scoot
 
Nothing makes more sense than small vehicles in congested traffic areas-- yet most cities aren't bike-friendly-- or even bike-safe. Scooter commuting would increase if the roads were made safer, separate parking made available, and respect given to riders.

Motorcycles and scooters offer good urban transportation and have the advantage of faster and cheaper trips.

In London, cyclists are encouraged by free parking, access to bus lines, and "how to ride" training programs. Few U.S. cities match that.

Congested though it be, Manhattan may have the most oppressive policy– with no separate parking for scooters, dangerous paving defects (i.e. potholes), high-priced licenses, and months-long waits for the training classes which are a prerequisite for a license.

Case in point: Mayer Bloomberg, amidst much hand-wringing about the high court rejecting mid-town surcharges on vehicles, has warned that within a decade commuting will take up as much as half of a workday. An obvious cure would be to encourage scooter commutes and make them a priority in traffic management.

Bikes use less gas and don’t have to idle in traffic jams. Riders must have intense concentration and awareness of vulnerability in injury. If local governments encouraged bikes with simple protective measures, "smart commuters’' would be safer– and surely more "green.".

The 2011 bike models have a slightly menacing look because of their revolutionary exhaust systems. But they run smoother at low speeds and have better brakes, steering, suspension, maneuverability, instrumentation, and wind protection. They are up and ready for city traffic.

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Safety stats:

Motorcyclists are almost twice as likely to be in an accident than those in passenger cars. And the accidents are four-times more serious/fatal. They experience six-times more injuries per-mile ridden than other vehicle drivers– but consider that the average annual mileage for cars and trucks is six-times that of bikes. This stat implies that a lot or registered cycles are saved for a short weekend jaunts– or not ridden at all.

If cities were more bike-friendly there would be more riders and less traffic congestion.

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Yamaha 250

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Honda 150
Get on with it!

                                                        

Can Tysons turn a corner?

For years, Tysons Corner has been the most-studied of suburban disasters, providing a ‘worst case scenario for ‘edge cities. Now it’s an ‘infill city' wedged between the hellish traffic of bulky shopping malls and more ‘edge cities.'

Tysons is the epicenter for gridlock between Washington D.C. and Dulles airport. With only 17 thousand residents, it’s "home" to at least 110-thousand cars during working hours– for it’s the 12th largest employment center in the nation. Half of its acreage is paved with parking lots, highways, a mysterious jumble of roads, and pedestrian-hostile corridors.

Faced with the arrival of four new train stations by 2013, county officials have proposed a whopping 'fix: triple densities by adding high-rise commercial and new housing for a population of 100 thousand. Property owners are urged to increase scale and densities.

Sharon Bulova, chair of the county supervisors, says "You don’t adopt a new plan, and boom, there’s a new city. This transformation will happen over 30, 40, 50 years." Good luck.

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Tyson Corners proposed retrofit. Photo: David S. Holloway.

go to Tysons Corner redo in Time

                                                    

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Gathering of five presidents at the White House, 2009.

Obama is our first big city president. From Washington to Bush: What took us so long?

Where their hearts are:
 
For the Bushes it's the Midland, Texas oilfields and the summer resort of Kennebunkport, Maine. For Clinton it's Hope, Arkansas and small-town-ethos Little Rock. For Carter it's Plains, Georgia in peanut-farming country. For Obama it's the South Side of Chicago.
 
Where their hearts were:
 
The founders and framers of our nation had agrarian sensibilities and were rooted in the land and private property rights. The lives of 19th century presidents often began in humble rural cabins and cottages.
 
Their educations– usually law school-- came about through ambition and grit. Preoccupations were acquiring more land, dealing with new industries, and managing the chasm between north and south.

Washington, Harrison, and Grant were military strategists. Jefferson, an inventor. Madison, Monroe, Van Buren, Buchanan, Cleveland, Harrison, and Taft were what we might now call political junkies.

Jurisprudence held the hearts of Hayes, McKinley, Coolidge, and Fillmore. Hoover was an engineer. Wilson, Garfield, and Arthur were academics. Johnson was a mountaineer; Jackson a frontiersman. Most all came from the woods, plantations, working farms, and small towns.

The 20th century began with Roosevelt the naturalist, whose passion was establishing national parks. His cousin Franklin’s public works projects provided cities with fine assets, but his purpose was job creation and his heart was in Warm Springs.

Truman epitomized small town virtues and was most comfortable in Independence, Missouri. Eisenhower, the military man, was most at home on his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Kennedy had his sailboats at Hyannis. Johnson had his Texas Ranch. Ford had his desert golf courses, and Reagan was happiest astride a horse on his ranch. No president other than Obama could be called an urbanist; no other was ever so actively engaged in the life of a major city.

go to slide show of 44 U.S. presidents

go to American Presidents

go to the White House

go to President Portraits

go to Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies

                                                     

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U.S. geological survey, Google

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Model homes in stalled subdivision, Rio Vista, California.
Unfinished exurbs:
 
Financial market crashes and credit meltdowns have slowed or halted miles of housing tract developments. What’s left are abandoned lots, paved cul-de-sacs, and unfinished structures.

Reusability and structural flexibility are historic hallmarks in areas of urban density. As Manhattan’s High Line shows, even derelict train tracks can be transformed into a vibrant public park. A dump on Staten Island is morphing into a recreation magnet. But it’s not the same in tract suburbs.

Instant neighborhoods aren’t designed for flexible re-use. Thousands of acres bulldozed for housing scar the landscape. Houses sit abandoned on empty streets. Unlike San Francisco mansions partitioned into apartments and warehouses converted to lofts, offices, and retail uses– exurban residences aren’t good candidates for transformation-- but rather for tear-down.

Deconstruction is an attempt to dismantle and re-use building materials. But much new empty housing is of poor quality (drywall, glue, and staples) that doesn’t warrant salvaging.

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"Aerial 65," painting by artist Sarah McKenzie.

Swaths of subdivisions, eerily devoid of life, wait for overhauls that attract people.

But builders have left for more profitable turf, shifting from new construction to weatherizing and retrofitting existing homes.

New thinking: ‘It’s time to fix what we’ve got.’

As home resales decline and owners stay put, energy retrofits make sense. ‘Greening’ a home increases resale value and reduces gas emissions that cause global warming. The pay-back for double-paned windows and efficient furnaces outweighs the value of Viking ranges and trendy redos. Meanwhile, out in the stalled tracts, kids use their natural innovation by using empty swimming pools for skateboard tourneys.

                                                  

What is a true urban neighbothood?
 
"One typically lives at higher densities (and hence altitude) and enjoys in return-- just down the stairs and out the door-- the greater accessibility to the necessities and luxuries of the well-appointed land uses of the authentic urban neighborhood."
 
- Urbanist James A. Clapp

Search a top Site for Urbanists, Urban Planners and Designers:

go to Planetizen

                                                       

Hey, time's up!

Our notion of the infinite slowness of nature is a warped perspective, an illusion. It’s fast moving and the future has arrived (how long have we been ignoring that truism?) Now time’s up.

We stepped over the threshold of nature as we knew it– years ago. We’ve now made the final crossing toward dread.

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Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben’s ‘wake-up’ book, "The End of Nature," was published 20 years ago.

Since then we’ve moved from giving lip service to processing the dire predictions of environmental scientists to an awkward acceptance of an irreparable earth. Yet we’re still on a screwball binge– wasting and polluting, startled by the consequences.

McKibben warned of destruction of the ozone layer, acid rain, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, the greenhouse effect of global warming, and the shifting of earth’s center of gravity. It wasn’t fiction or contradiction. Much of this has been well-known for more than 30 years, yet our general response has been dismissive and impersonal.

With the evidence in– with all we know for sure, our ways of life often defy reason– stuck in time zones long past and far away. The clock ticks.

McKibben’s latest ‘wake-up’ book is "Deep Economy." This time his focus is on the hopeful and vibrant economies of human communities springing up under the long shadow of globalization. Building 'earth-wise' communities can be our salvation.

go to excerpt: The End of Nature

go to excerpt: Deep Economy

"'More' is no longer synonymous with 'better.' For many, they have become almost opposites."
- Bill McKibben

                                                    

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Researcher Julia Christensen.

Outside-the-box thinking:

Since 1962, tens of thousands of big box stores – Walmarts, Kmarts, etc., have transformed our landscape. When a big box (20,000 sq.ft.+) needs to ramp up to a bigger box, companies invariably construct a new building on another footprint-- leaving the former box an empty shell of economic debris and visual litter.

Julia Christensen’s book "Big Box Reuse," (which is sized as a big square) details how communities left with vacant behemoths manage to reincarnate the gaping emptiness into usable space.

Transformation calls for savvy activism, imagination, and  talent. Each locale differs in need. Some "boxes" are being used as indoor raceways, health centers, and charter schools.

The author urges incorporation of re-usability alternatives in the original design process. She also questions whether we really want to live with these humongous redos.

(P.S. from Lorbit: As movie theater chains deal with skinny profit margins they too consider abandoning older units– so the need for redos may soon extend to multiplex buildings which are ‘naturals’ for school lecture halls, complete with parking, commodious entrance halls, and restrooms. Any more ideas?)

go to Julia Christensen

                                                   

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10th anniversary of the Denver Airport

The airport that couldn't sort straight.

Fifteen years ago the world awaited the grandiose airport in Denver. And what a bust it was! The computerized baggage-handling system had 26 miles of track in the basement loaded with thousands of gray carts. It mangled or misplaced most everything that wandered into its path. $200 million in construction costs were compounded at a rate of $1 million a day for months in 1994, while the airport’s opening was delayed by baggage-handling failures. Tens of millions more were spent for repairs and modifications. But the verdict was obvious. The thing couldn’t sort straight.

So they turned off the computer and went back to the future. Workers with hand-held scanners, checking baggage bar codes at every juncture of transit, give managers far better information and control than could have been imagined when the automated system was designed. Today the "big-brained mainframe at a command central" seems like a cold-war-era relic.

What exactly went wrong? The main culprit was hubris. There was no room for error and inefficiency that are inevitable in a complex enterprise. Sharp corners, for example, were too much for the system to deal with. The whirring baggage carts, programmed like a perfectly coordinated ballet, tipped over and dumped their loads. The Texas company that designed the system was liquidated.

But there’s a happy ending. Denver has no trouble conforming to post-9/11 mandates that all luggage is screened. Most airports are hurting for lack of space. But not Denver. They have that huge basement.

                                                           

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LED is bedazzling the nightscape. Floods are fading away as light-emitting-diode technology takes over.
 
Hues in full--spectrum are programmed to gradate the prism and be tweaked to infinity.
 

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Rich prisms of LED lighting. Click to enlarge.

New-Tech New Year:
 
A nanosecond after midnight: Did you notice something illuminating about the New Year's ball in Times Square? The LEDs were more than twice as bright and capable of producing a huge range of color combinations.
 
                                              
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Rudy Provoost, at Philips, with the Ledino.
The Dutch company Philips leads the LED industry. It's 'Ledino' bulb produces three times the light per watt as a standard bulb and sells for $107.
 
Since markets rely on obsolescence it’s not surprising that GE is selling off its light bulb business. It’s tricky to sell a LED bulb that lasts 100 times longer than incandescents and halts repeat sales.

But LEDS won’t supplant compact fluorescents any time soon. Although they can shave 70 percent from electricity bills, and last for 20 years, the price is still unacceptable to most consumers. Aside from units like clock radios, cell phones, and DVD players, the biggest current use is traffic lights—with building night lighting installations on the rise.

 

The Empire State Building management is considering conversion to allow remote changes of colors to one of millions of variations. TV studios are switching to LEDs to save money and eliminate the ceaseless climbing to the rafters to change bulbs and filters. Like other tech-shifts, i.e. to PDAs or digital TVs, buyers will hold out till prices come down. But don’t expect a LED ‘takeover.’

 

The standard light bulb didn’t eliminate candles or kerosene lamps. And LEDs won’t be ubiquitous as long as there are incandescents with the intimacy, warmth, and soft glow that flatters the human face and skin. As LED lighting designer Paul Gregory says, “The way an incandescent bulb plays on the face on a Broadway makeup mirror—you can never duplicate that.”

the biggest current use is traffic lights-- with building night lighting installations on the rise. The  

                                        

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Dream of a world map of islands in Dubai.
What the heck is going on in Dubai?

more photos of Dubai

                                                    

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The Twin Towers Memorial.

What admission price are you willing to pay to relive 9-11?

 

The World Trade Center Museum in Memorial Plaza was designed by Craig Dykers, from Snǿhetta Architecture in Oslo, as an arcade, atrium and polygonal museum the height of a 6-story building from which you descend 70-feet below street level to see the exposed slurry wall. All is contained between the 90-foot high steel trident-shaped building columns from the North tower that survived the catastrophe. The museum was financed by the State of New York and will no doubt be a tourist magnet.

 

 

                                                

How did we lose the public square as the vital center of civic life? What became of streets?
 
New housing turns its back to the street. Private malls are the pseudo-streets of the young. Big box stores obliterate the whole notion of a street. What happened to "our" agoras? We need them.
 
 

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How's your street life?

Every Thursday night in Palm Springs for eight blocks of the main drag, cars are out and strolling is in for the delights of "Village Fest"– sometimes called "Starry Nights." It's been a ‘happening’ for 16 years.

Prep is fast as a flash. Trucks converge to unload fresh Coachella Valley produce. Musicians and artisans set up booths and lights. It’s like a movie production that appears and folds after a few transforming hours.

The sounds of violins, guitars, and harps fill the air as more musicians plug in their gear and set up to sell their CDs. Magicians begin teaching kids tricks. A rock-climbing structure is rolled in. Tortillas hit the hot oil. The hamburger guy sets up his barbecue grill. Craftsmen chat with their friends. The street comes alive with a boost of congeniality. The gyro guy unpacks his chicken, sausages, and lamb. Lots of food, music, and the unexpected...

You can get a henna tattoo or a picture of your aura. There may be a book signing. A spray painter, with dozens of cans, will make a stunning stencil overlay while you wait. Aromas from homemade soap and candles, and lots of eye candy with hand-made jewelry, ceramics, tile, wood carvings, paintings, metal sculptures, and much more. 

People arrive from all points as if pulled by a magnet. For the moment, the storied Palm Canyon Drive belongs completely to each person. The stately palms rustle in the warm breeze, and yes, there are starry skies.

Similar scenes of camaraderie beckon in many hundreds of cities and towns across the nation– in a great revival of street markets with the stimulate of mingling and human interaction that people crave– all the ingredients needed for communities of vitality.

Besides the fun, street markets foster small businesses, get fresh food into homes, help local farmers, and create lively urban spaces.

Most are temporary, setting up shop once or twice a week. Of late, permanent farmer's markets have become big-draw adjuncts to large retail centers--like the 60-thousand sq. ft. International Market in Minneapolis.

We know how Fanueil Market brought crowds on foot to the streets of downtown Boston. Now smaller farmer’s markets are popping up all over. Austin's Farmer's Market at Republic Square is open on Wednesday and Saturday. Chicago’s New Maxwell Street Market, with 500 vendors and lots of music, is the big draw on Sundays. Baltimore's action on Saturday is the Waverly Farmer’s Market on 32nd Street.

The original gathering spot is back in a big way. Check out your local street markets. The more you go the more you’ll enjoy getting good value and getting to know your neighbors in the most natural of human venues.

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go to Farmer's Market Guide

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VIVA STREET CAFES. Le Dome, in Paris after midnight.
Are we getting serious about the importance and pleasure of public spaces?
 

go to PPS Bulletin

                                            

URBANICITY  recommends
Making Places," the newsletter of the Project for Public Spaces.

go to "Making Places"

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Temporary vision by sidewalk chalk artist Julian Beever.
Is it real?
 
Well, yes-- but it's chalk, and may not survive the next rain storm. If you're lucky you'll turn a corner and come upon the astounding work of  artist Julian Beever.

go to Julian Beever

                                                           

"The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that is laughter."
- Mark Twain

                                                           

Curvacious Parasols
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Seville's Metropol Parasol will open this year
With ever more ingenious computer-design software, architecture gets wigglier by the minute. The whiplash curves from the German architect Jurgėn Mayer will replace a 150-year-old market in the old quarter of Seville. Roman ruins were found during excavations so an underground archeological showcase will embelllish an already amazing project.
 
We'll soon have to find a word to replace 'building." The six 90-foot high mushroom (or umbrella, or shade-tree) shapes will hold elevators, escalators, bars and cafes, and the canopies will be laced with walkways. The scheme is so popular that MOMA is featuring it in "On-Site: New Architecture in Spain."

                                               

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Image from Keith Meyers Twin Towers Photo Essay
Access the deep trove of photos and info on 9-11 memorial efforts.

go to 9-11 National Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center

                                             

Living LARGE
in small spaces

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Before and after. Voila!

                                

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Chicago gets its celebratory parks and cultural centers done right-- and people love them. Millennium Park is full and robust-- way more than the sum of its parts. Wouldn't it be nice if all cities placed a premium in their budgets for important public places?
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Crown Fountain designed by Jaume Plensa. Photo: Lorbiter. Click to enlarge.

more faces at Crown Fountain

The city that gave birth to American urban planning at the 1893 World's Fair-- the city of "no little plans" and "big shoulders"-- has unveiled its finest and most ambitious outdoor cultural project in over a century.

more on Millennium Park

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Chicago clock at Marshall Fields flagship store on State Street - now Macys

Not-So-Second City. The American Institute of Architects has judged Chicago's architecture to be the finest in the country. In other words, they affirmed the evident-- for Chicago doesn't have much competition. If you haven't been there, take a look at "Chicago Architecture and Design" by Jay Pridmore and George A. Larson, published by Abrams.

                                 

You can surf the sights and attractions of 25 major cities on the webiste "A View on Cities."

go to "A View on Cities"

                                                        

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Agbar is a people-magnet day or night.

Icon of modernity in Barcelona

Agbar Tower, designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel, was inaugurated officially by the King of Spain in September 2005. At 38 stories, plus four underground levels, its elliptical shape has been lauded (and derided as a giant bullet, dildo, or suppository).

Built of reinforced concrete, its glass facade has 4,400 cutout windows with temperature sensors to regulate the opening and closing of the glass blinds. Thousands of surface LED luminous devices program brilliant rainbows of night lighting.

It's headquarters for the Barcelona Water Company, hence the name Agbar: AGuas de BARcelona. Just five blocks south of Antoni Gaudi’s cathedral, the Sagrada Familia, Agbar holds its own. It borrows Gaudi’s chips of glass- brie-solei pieces- although most are translucent. Colored concrete seats in the surrounding square (Placa La Monumenta) echo the hues of Gaudi’s wavy seats in Park Güell. After sunset the show begins when pungent primary colors glimmer in a bewitching mosaic.

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Agbar Tower detail, in daylight. Click to enlarge.

                                                      

Above, blue represents office buildings, orange-- commercial buildings, and the yellow area is housing. Altogether they would require the space of 21 New York City blocks. By Comparison, the single tower embodies the entire spread but uses only 60-percent of one block. 

Imagine the complexities and intricateness of basically putting 21 city blocks of structures and parking space into one single building.
 
This is what fascinates Kate Ascher. Her book "The Works: Anatomy of a City" is an exhaustive investigation into the of aggregation of complexities in high-density cities. She thoroughly maps the detailed mazes.
 
Her latest book "The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper" digs even deeper into the infinitely complex scope of invisible wiring, plumbing, elevator, ventilation-- and much more-- that makes highly dense buildings work efficiently. She dissects every component and their interactions with 200 pages of explanations, diagrams, and stories.
 
Take a look and you'll never look at a skyscraper in the same way again.

                                                                 

From coast to toast.

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Sconset Bluff in Nantucket. Photo: George Riethof.

Broad Beach in Malibu, California and Sconset Bluff in Nantucket, Massachusetts (above), have lost their beaches. Both neighborhoods have wealthy residents who will go to any length to restore, at least temporarily, 'their' sand. What about 20 thousand truckloads of imported sand? That would postpone some agony for about four years. Desperation reigns.

Which state will we lose first?
 
Most bets are on Florida. Anyone who has strolled along its coastal waters lately has seen a dramatic narrowing of beaches. Rising sea levels, storms, and tides have greatly diminished the state's coastline. The problem looks insurmountable, for there is almost no sand left offshore for replenishment.

                                                                       

Roosevelt Island's Four Freedoms Park has been in the works for 40 years.  It is open at last.

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The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park is a long-awaited reality. It's a tribute not just to our 32nd president, but to those who had the persistence to make it happen.  Moreover it's a celebration of the work of the great architect Louis I. Kahn. And so worth the wait.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a New York native and elected as state senator and governor before becoming a three-term U.S. President. Creating a memorial to him in a special public space was long on the agenda of New York City officials.
 
In 1973 Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Mayor John Lindsay announced the construction of the current project and hired the brilliant architect Louis I. Kahn for the job. Welfare Island officially became Roosevelt Island. And then the wait began.
 
Construction began 38 years later. And in October 2012 Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg dedicated the state's newest park and greeted the crowd of first visitors on opening day.
 
The southern tip of Roosevelt island in New York's East River evokes the prow of a ship. The tree-lined triangular lawn softens the adjacent patio-like memorial stone and scultpure of the memorial. The word masterpiece comes to mind.
 
Here are the four freedoms to contemplate when at the park:
 
Freedom of speech and expression.
Freedom of worship.
Freedom from want.
Freedom from fear.
 
These freedoms were dear to Roosevelt and have resonance for all Americans.

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Bill Clinton among happy first-day park goers.

go to FDR Four Freedoms Park website

go to dedication on Octover 18, 2012

go to 'Decades Late' on HuffPost

go to Newsday review

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Roosevelt Island looking North.

                                                                        

In Uruk, one of the earliest cities on our planet, the Ziggurat was its most prominent monument.
 
Today there is little left of Uruk, with its novel arches by Mesopotamian architects.  But once it was the heart of a great urban civilization-- where Sumerians preferred the amenities of city life.

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Uraq's ancient Ziggurat.

The remains of Uruk (now in Iraq) represent the world's oldest city and capital of an early state govenment. Six thousand years ago it was a thriving city with a population of about 40,000.
 
The city was immortalized in the Sumerian epic poem "The Song of Gilgamesh," which is the earliest surviving work of literature. It tells the story of a Sumerian hero, Gilgamesh, whom many researchers believe to have been one of the early kings of Uruk.
 
Uruk and surrounding lands have been deeply researched by expeditions led by Joerg Fassbinder and Helmut Becker, geophysicists with the Bavarian State Conservation Office in Munich. (Surveys had to stop abrubtly with the advent of the U.S. war in Iraq.) They are the latest of German scientists who have explored the area for nearly a century.
 
In the1990's Fassbinder's group conducted painstaking work identifying buried Mesopotamian cities using magnetometers-- which are able to detect the presence of man-made objects beneath the soil and reveal remnants of walls, canals, and residential districts.
 
Scholars say that Uruk thrived for millennia because it was a leader among cities whose economy was sea trade, linking the Mediterranean, the gulf, and India. And it was one of the most urban cities in the ancient world-- and that's saying a lot because it's estimated that 80 percent of Sumerians lived in cities.
 
Uruk's prosperity came to an end around the third century, B.C., when the area was conquered by a Persian dynasty that deliberately sought to shift trade to inland routes instead.

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Sumerian administrative tablet with cylinder seal impression of hunters, dogs, and boars.

go to the first written scripts

go to many more objects from Uruk

go to German expedition in Uruk

go to mapping project in Uruk

                                                                      

"It has often and confidently been asserted that man's origin can never be known. But ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge. It is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."
(From "The Descent of Man," by Charles Darwin)
 
It's fun to imagine Darwin and his cohorts living in today's world and having access to the great breadth of genetic science and mitochondrial DNA. Mind blowing.
 
The world of science is so monumental that new specialities are regularly splintering off. The studies of evolutionary biology and behavioral ecology are two examples,
 
Scientists from these separate disciplines are collaborating to delve into the mysteries of our ancient ancestors:
 
*Archaeologists
*Historical Linguists
*Primatologists
*Social Anthropologists
*Evolutionary Psychologists
*Paleoanthropologists
 
Advanced genetic information is drawing these scientists together. With the help of shared data historical linguists have been able to reconstruct vanished 'tongues' such as proto-Indo-European, the ancestral tongue of many modern languages.
 
Although we may never know more than about ten percent of human history-- getting a handle on the past 50 thousand years will give us plenty to study for centuries to come.
 
The greatest story ever told-- the history of our species-- is eloquently presented by author Nicholas Wade in his book "Before the Dawn." It is an exhilarating epic of the men, women, and children from who everyone alive today descended.

                                                                       

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Real or surreal architectural fiction?

go to the Creators Project

                                                 

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The Petronas Towers. Photo:Mario Weigt

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Burjkhalifa at Night.

                                                                       

Clouds in the Sky
 
Few buildings are as spectacular as the Petronas Towers in Malasia's capital city Kuala Lumpur. Its symbolic impact is one of immediacy, innovation, and success.

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Chicago. 103rd floor. When is high too high?

                                                        

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Density Comparisons. Kate Ascher. Click to enlarge.

Most of the world's tallest buildings have been built for mixed uses: office, commercial, retail, and residential. The diagram above shows an area equivilent to 21 New York City blocks with 875,000 sq.ft. for offices (blue), 135,000 sq.ft. for retail (red), and 225,000 sq.ft. for residences (yellow).
 
The equivilent space is contained in one high-rise building which uses merely 60 percent of one block.
 
The diagram above is from Kate Ascher's book "The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper," about the energy efficiency of tall buildings in more ways than one. Her previous book "The Works: Anatomy of a City" illustrates the fascinating intracacies of city infrastructure.
 
"I love the complexity of cities and their total dependence on the invisible systems that keep them running." - Kate Ascher
 

                                                       

Parking in the clouds?

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Lolli-Ghetti. Photo: Librado Romero

When you can't count your millions you might want the option of parking your own car in our own garage attached to your 11th-floor condo. Clauco Lolli-Ghetti enjoys keeping his Range Rover at the back door where there are sweeping view of Manhattan. It's called an "en suite sky garage."
 
The garage at his Chelsea home was designed by Annabell Selldorf, and has drawn a lot of attention-- and envy from other high-rise luxury owners who have to make do with parking valets.
 
Here's how it works. The driver pulls up to the back door of the building where an electronic reader operates like an E-ZPass and opens the gate. When the driver pulls inside, a reader prompts an elevator gate to open.
 
Once inside the elevator a flat-panel wall display reminds the driver to shut off the engine. Infrared sensors monitor the car's position. Then it automaticlly goes to the owner's floor, where the driver backs the car into the garage space. Nifty?
 
An upcoming  project in Miami involves the Porsche Design Group. It's a 57- story building in which drivers will be able to park at their front doors. Definitely a one-upmanship move for the 1%.

                                                        

Buildings constitute the largest carbon footprint in American cities-- responsible for about 80 percent of greenhouse gases.

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Fifth Avenue entrance, Empire State Building. Photo: John Codenhead.
Empire State Building
Goes Green
 
The 1930's icon is joining the race against climate change. Windows will be replaced; heating-cooling and lighting redesigned. When completed, the retrofit will reduce carbon emissions by more than 100-thousand metric tons over the next dozen years. 

go to video on Empire State Building retrofit project

                                                  

Recycling has become a habit to most of us. But what can we do about over-packaging and piles of junk mail? And how can we support the U.S. Postal Service when most of the mail delivered is catalogs and unwanted ads and solicitations?

On average, we produce about 5 pounds of trash every day for every person in the U.S. According to the EPA we've jumped from recyling 6% of solid waste in 1960 to 33% today.

                                                    

"Civilization is a movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a harbor."
- Arnold Toynbee

                                                   

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Looking for city info?
 
You'll probably find out what you want to know at City Data.

go to City Data

                                               

Don't miss the National Building Museum when you're in D.C. Its mission is to educate Americans about the importance of the built environment-- and how it affects our lives.
 
Visit the Great Hall and enticing exhibits and programs. Visit its website for videos, multimedia and more.

go to National Bulding Museum

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Central Park, New York City.

Night life has returned to Central Park. More strollers are opting for walking through the park rather than on street sidewalks. It's beautiful at night, sans floodlights. A generation avoided the park at night for fear of crime. But robberies now are rare. Twenty years ago there were 730 robberies; in 2011 there were but 15. So enjoy the park 24-7!

                                                       

Why are we still over-lighting our cities and blinding out the night?

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Light pollution is an unconsionable waste of costly energy and a severe threat to public health. Europe is getting the problem under control. Why are we asleep at the switch?
 
 
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Lights! Camera! Action!
How much is too much?
 

My light pollution is bigger than yours!

Since incandescent light bulbs first lit a New York street in 1879, cities have been accelerating brightness. Satellite photos show nebular blobs over our metropolises. Law enforcement has promoted light in every alley and by-way as a crime deterrent. Darkness is disappearing.

There are a couple of problems with all this light. First off, it’s being wasted, creating light pollution. Urban sky glow is simply irresponsible. Too much artificial light shines outward and upward to the sky, where we don’t need or want it. About a third of the electricity generated for outdoor lighting is squandered by being misdirected into the sky. We don’t live in the clouds; we don’t need to light them.

Of all the various pollutions on earth, sky glow is easiest to fix.

Efforts to control it are underway around the globe. Entire countries, notably the Czech Republic, have made commitments to reduce glare– and they’ll save untold billions by doing it. Europe, the Eastern U.S., Japan, China, and India are also attempting the shift to smart light-- directed downward.

Flagstaff, Arizona has spent 50 years in a civic effort to protect the Lowell Observatory with tightened regulations. It has been declared the first International Dark Sky City– and it’s streets and building are still well lit.

Consider the costs of wasted energy.

It takes a ton of coal to produce 2100 KWh of electricity, and about two barrels of crude oil to produce 1000 KWh of electricity. Annual cost to urban America, at a minimum, are six million tons of coal or 23 million barrels of oil. Power utilities send more than a billion pounds of toxic chemicals into the air and millions of tons of sulfur dioxide are released from burning coal plants.

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Light pollution. Photo: Mark A. Johnson/Alamy.

Then there is the second serious problem of light pollution: the negative effects on our health. At the most basic level, excessive light causes us to lose sight of our very being, at the edge of our galaxy arching above us. It washes out the night and alters rhythms that we have evolved with through millennia. Darkness is essential to our internal clockwork.

Constant-shining light is a common form of torture. Now we’re doing it to ourselves. Too much light compromises the immune system and lowers the production of melatonin.

Extending the normal awake time by staring at PC monitors and TVs deep into the night messes with our 24-hour circadian cycles. As a species we require darkness.

Scientific studies show that children who sleep with the light on get improper ocular input and are likely to become myopic. Our bodies have been conditioned for millions of years to sleep in the dark.

We lived without electricity for a very long time. Now pervasive sleep deprivation is causing all manner of depressions, attention deficits, and a laundry list of behavioral abnormalities (which we seem to be 'solving' with pharmaceuticals).

Effects of artificial light is a vigorous field for health researchers. They find that too much light may damage the development of biological clocks in premature babies. A barrage of study results show that the light- tumor growth and breast and prostate cancer -connection is serious. Risks of miscarriage or stillbirths are being studied with pregnant night-shift workers. And there is solid evidence of the negative effect of light pollution on wildlife.

Finland is within the arctic circle, with 24-hour daylight in the summer and 24-hour darkness in winter. It has the highest suicide rate in the world– peaking in the summer. The first-ranking state in the U.S. is Alaska. (The amount of suicides in the U.S. is equal to one every 15 minutes).

Finally, a note about light deterring criminal activity. Proof is lacking. Some police officials now think that the light, rather then alerting witnesses, only serves to illuminate the criminal’s work area. Since light everywhere, the public becomes immune to security lighting. Ask yourself: who looks more suspicious... person 1, standing in a well-lit area, or person 2, standing n the dark with a flashlight?

When's the last time you saw a star-filled sky?

Will someone please turn off the lights?

go to Earth at Night Photos

go to International Dark Sky Association

go to New Jersey Astronomical Assoc. Links

go to Starry Night Lights

go to Campaign for Dark Skies

go to Google Earth Satellite

                                                   

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Will we grow up?
 
Most Americans live in cities and we all have to eat. Doesn't vertical farming make perfect sense?
 
Growing our own food would boost healthful nutrition, efficiency, and self-reliance-- and slash transportation costs. One vertical farm could feed 50 thousand people and fit comfortably within a city block.
 
What are we waiting for?

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Return to Basics.

We need to rethink agriculture for the 21st century. In 2050 almost 80% of the world’s population will reside in urban areas. By that time we will have had to accommodate an additional 3 million people. ‘Horizontal farms’ would need to consume new acreage about the size of Brazil.

Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University says that urban farming is vital if we are to avoid impending catastrophes of starvation, disease, crop failures due to weather, and deforestation. Umpteen studies show that traditional farming will fall short in required food production.

Full-scale sky farms could climb to 30-stories, have automatic feeders, monitoring devices, and harvesting equipment. They could grow wheat, rice, sugar beets, and leafy greens in mineral nutrient solutions or without any solid substrates at all. Crops would require continual light but proponents insist that power requirements could be met with alternative energy sources such as roof wind tunnels.

What's needed now are entrepreneurs willing and enthused about getting some great projects off the drawing board and into the sky.

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Living Tower designed by Pierre Sartoux.

go to Vertical Farms

go to Dickson's essay

go to MSNBC

                                                      

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Pucci store window, Paris. Photo: Urbanicity.
"Shopocalypse"
Danger Ahead:
 
Window shopping isn't what it used to be.
 
Retail is visibly shrinking in our cities. With a rise in e-commerce and a depressed economy, retail is adjusting, contracting... and disappearing.
 
The fashion industry is near collapse.
 
Haute couture is history. The last of the top-label designers have down-shifted to ready-to-wear, so the 7th Avenue crowd has less to "knock off."
 
Seasonal spectacles like "Fashion Week" have ebbed to fashion weak-- with fewer parties and shorter lines.  Metaphorically, the runways are shorter.
 
Independent designers and boutique owners rearrange displays and dip into savings to pay rent. Top models are sidelined.
 
Bloomingdales struggles in desparation and Saks grows its blue jean and T-shirt departments to stay alive. Fashion seems out of place and time.
 
An anemic fashion industry foreshadows a sapping of urban strength, diversity, and vivacity. If the 'rag trade' is in trouble, who will populate the street-front retail spaces and multi-use structures? Is there a vacuum to fill? And with what?
 
                                           
 
 
"I am very concerned that the business of fashion is undervaluing the most important asset our industry requires: creative visionaries."
- Anna Wintaur, Editor of Vogue
 
 
                                                     
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The flight path is now toward cities.
 
Green living is close to the urban core-- which is more energy-efficient. Post-WW2 dreams of a home in the 'burbs' has gone bust-- or at least lost its allure. Walkable city alternatives are 'in.' and small-lot McMansions are like gas-guzzling SUVs with plummeting values.
 
 
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Empty homes on Promise Road in southern California's "Inland Empire."

At Windy Ridge, a new development seven miles from Charlotte, North Carolina, 81 of the community's 132 houses were in foreclosure as 2008 began.
 
Vandals have kicked in doors and stripped copper wire from vacant houses. Drug users and homeless people have furtively moved in. South of Sacramento, in Elk Grove, ten thousand homes were built in just four years. Now many are empty and a fear factor has moved in, along with graffiti, broken windows and other signs of decay and dismay. Erosion in these and hundreds of other fringe suburbs exposes serious fault lines in the 1950's "American Dream."
 
Christopher B. Leinberger wrote an insightful piece on this phenomenon in The Atlantic (March 2008). He's a Professor of Urban Planning at the Univ. of Michigan and his latest book is "The Option of Urbanism," published by Island Press in 2007.
 
He says "The subprime crisis is just the tip of the iceberg. Fundamental changes in American life may turn today's McMansions into tomorrow's tenements."

go to Leinberger on Walkable Urbanism

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Future tenement?

Large-lot housing is hard to "unbuild." The infrastructure can't suppport added density. The fate of many "obese" houses will be resale to lower-income families and eventual conversion to small apartments. In all, the future isn't rosy at the fringes. With higher gasoline and heating costs, it won't be much of a bargain. The coup de grace may be the relocation of better schools to central cities.

On the other hand . . .
 
Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You.
The eco-minded are trying to make suburbs work-- with wind turbines, solar heating, clothes lines, bike paths, more fuel-efficient vehicles, recycled building materials, and near-by transit hubs. "Green pioneers" are figuring it out as they go along. One family found that the only lot near transit they could afford was tiny-- so they built up five narrow stories. They inhabit a microscale model of the futuristic, post-automobile suburb.
 
                                             

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Last child in the woods.
 
"Healing the broken bond between our young and nature is in our self-interest, not only because aesthetics or justice demand it, but also because our mental, physical, and spiritual health depend upon it."
- Richard Louv

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Richard Louv, columnist and child advocate, is the author of "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder." 

He founded the national movement "No Child Left Inside."

"Children have come to think of nature as more of an abstraction than a reality." - Richard Louv

From his book:

"I like to play indoors because that's where the electrical outlets are,"  says a 4th grader. She’s plugged in but out of touch with the natural world around her.

Her memory contains no experience of running in the woods or riding horses-- or the knowledge of growing and harvesting food. Her world is well wired and paved. Her parents fear traffic, strangers, Lyme disease, and West Nile virus.

Schools give out more homework assignments. Her life is structured with thick schedules, and ‘free’ time is spent with video games, television, and computers.

Access to natural areas are limited. There are ever more regulatory constraints on entry to ‘wild spaces," sometimes making natural play a crime. " This de-naturing of childhood is a frightening portent for the future of our species.

Louv fears that this first generation of cell-phone children won’t understand the urgency of becoming the next stewards of our spectacular and endangered Earth.

more on children and nature

go to Richard Louv

go to Children and Nature

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Remembrances of a nature-filled childhood

more on John Henry Greene

"When I see birches bend to left and right... I like to think some boy’s been swinging them." - Robert Frost

"I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more." - John Burroughs

                                                           

"Architecture is too important to be left to architects." 
- Philip Johnson

                                         

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Architect Richard Rogers.

Pritzker Prize winner Richard Rogers focuses on the space around his building. He says "You’ve got to get the vitality used– the pavement used." In his Pompidou design in Paris half of the space is an outdoor public piazza.

Rogers understands that when he starts a project he has two responsibilities– to his clients, and to the passers-by.

 

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Rome Congress Center, model. Richard Rogers.

go to Richard Rogers slideshow

                                         

Autos vs Pedestrians

Obviously the big obstacle to street markets is traffic. For 80 years cities have been refigured to continuously accommodate growing volumes of vehicular traffic. They’ve become puzzle game boards with one-way streets and no-U-turn signs. Even the oldest cities have "upgraded" for traffic. Such a predicament. The challenge is to carve out pieces of the maze for lively areas for walking and the enjoyment of human interactivity.

"If we can develop and design streets so that they are wonderful, fulfilling places to be– community-building places, attractive for all people, then we will have successfully designed about one-third of the city directly and will have had an immense impact on the rest." - Allan Jacobs

                               

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Light Show at Ground Zero

more on Ground Zero

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All tied up. Calatrava's El Alamillo bridge in Seville,1992.

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Former site of the World Trade Center

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Twin Towers from Liberty Island, October, 2000. Photo: Urbanicity.

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The latest and final design for the World Trade Center site is set for completion in 2010.

                                                     

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New Blade Runner DVD in a darker city.

Ridley Scott's Blade runner cast a bleak future for urbanites. Although a critical and commercial dud in 1982, its post-modern images influenced the sci-fi genre and over time became a classic. Los Angeles, circa 2019, was filthy and threatening with flying autos, pan-cultural dystopia; corporatizing gone amok, toxic fumes for air, and human-like androids called 'replicants.' It was as antii-urban as a nightmare can be that offers no pleasure in survival.
 
A "director's cut" was released with much ballyho in 1992-- and, no surprise, L.A. was in even worse shape. Now, 15 years later, comes the "real," i.e. second, director's cut. This one goes so dark it makes you want to run to wait in line for the perils of off-world colonization. And Scott hints that the retired cop, played by Harrison Ford, is not as he seems. So we go deeper into the murk of urban slime where the protagonist may himself be a replicant. Ohmygod.

                                                                   

Hotter than hot.

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California wildfires: planned development.

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One of the thousands of structures consumed by firestorms in San Diego.

Dateline: San Diego

Recent years have been the driest since rainfall was first recorded in 1801. Wildfires occur most every year in late summer when the Santa Ana winds blow. They are predictable disasters.

San Diego council government has always pushed for more development. By the 1960's just about all the developable land was built upon. Since then construction has sprawled into wildlands, making wildlife the major victims (foxes, possums, squirrels, skunks, coyotes, bobcats, and native birds are the permanent evacuees). Some native species will never recover.

The city’s planning department was shut down years ago-- its trace was folded into the "Development Services Department." The DSD is an enterprise fund. The more development the more money it brings to city coffers. Its aim is to "cut red tape" to pave the way for builders. It doesn't stop.

Besides its mesas there is little that is flat in San Diego. Unlike L.A. it has serious topography. Today, once-beautiful finger canyons are defiled and homes cram into every nook and streambed, stretching into wildlife habitats and deep brush.

Rain brings predictable mudslides and the destruction of homes built on land well known to be seriously geologically unstable. Permits go to outlying canyons, sheer ocean-front cliffs, flood plains-- even to the middle of the river-- where shopping center parking lotss flood every winter.

Most structures destroyed by firestorms probably shouldn't have been built in the first place. It’s a rip off to buyers whose homes burn to the ground, and it’s a rip off to homeowners who live outside of trouble zones whose insurance premiums nevertheless zoom after every wildfire.

Everyone ends up paying for the mess. Fire fighters die, wildlife dies, and fire victims lose treasured mementos and personal property. The newly homeless' stays with friends or at shelters are usually short-lived and landlords prepare for business from fire victims by boosting prices on rental properties.

Developers leave town with pockets full. Local journalist Don Bauder calls the place Scam Diego. The city is constantly sued for damages by people who've lost property because of the council's numbskull decisions- so taxes go up, the bankrupt city goes deeper in debt, and mismanagement continues. Future water supplies remain iffy and power grids are overloaded. And yet road building continues.

But after major fires reconstruction begins, contractors line up at the DSD, and the economic comeback for the building industry is celebrated as San Diego’s hope for financial recovery. Sounds like fiction, but it's true.

                                         

Urban Tourism:

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Glitzy plan for the Tate Modern.

Tourists want cities as theme parks. Will our urban centers become the ultimate unreality shows?
 
The publishing phenomenon "The DaVinci Code" by Dan Brown is an explosive force for the European tourist industry.  Eurostar promotes DaVinci Code tours. The Louvre remodeled to corral mobs eager to explore the mysteries of the inverted pyramid.
 
Dan Brown Tourism
 
Brown's book "Angels and Demons" triggered similar forays in Rome. Hey, these books are fiction! Tourists want spoon-fed escapist entertainment. They can't get enough. And they want to feel the same zing in every museum-- every city.

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Buy the audio book and walk in the path of Robert Langdon. The Louvre, Paris. Photo: Lorbiter

Less history. More Seduction.

With younger audiences indifferent to history, museum curators bet on high-tech effects to entertain crowds.

BRC Imagination Arts is one of many companies who transform museums into info-tainment centers. The company created Disney-like features for the largest presidential library– the Lincoln Museum in Springfield.

Lots of videos and talking holograms are drawing long lines and saving the Springfield tourism market. Other savvy history museums are raising funds for dazzling make-overs with the aim ‘to preserve the future of history.’ They don’t want to dumb down history, but rather to give audiences what they want– sub rosa, and what they need.

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"THEME LINCOLM" shines in huge Springfield museum.

go to Lincoln Presidential Library

go to designing the Lincoln Library (9 min.)

Washington's Mount Vernon, transformed by high-tech, is a hit with kids. They get to ‘know’ George the boy and man– not as just the face on a dollar bill.

Films show a tall, redheaded war hero, a great dancer, and skilled horseman. There are three life-size models of the first president at ages 19, 45, and 57, created by forensic specialists.

There’s a CSI-like lab with spare body parts from the models and a film about how the models were made, along with the back-stories of major displays.

All this excitement–- while most history museums are collecting dust. It’s not that Americans lack information– we have access to books and Google. But we'd rather have it served up with some sizzle. So museums are forced to compete for guests' leisure time by ratcheting up the measure of entertainment value that's been set by theme parks, film, and television.

"As a result of shorter attention spans, the 21st Century will need even better storytellers in cultural attractions. We must capture the public's imagination in less time and hold it longer-- and be worthy of the subject entrusted to our care."  -Jeff Rosen, BRC Director

go tour Mount Vernon

go to Museum at Mount Vernon

go tour the White House

go to BRC museum designers

                               

Doing the town in the USA

The phenomena of urban tourism began in the mid-1800's. Instinctively mobile Americans wanted entertaining sightseeing. Ever since, that desire has shaped our cities and national ideologies.

Today, tourism is an indispensable income source for major cities– and competition for tourist dollars is fierce.

With demand for 'places to go and things to see,' leisure enticements are catalysts for huge  investments in restorations and grand scale 'Disneyfied' projects.

The scramble to be ‘destination magnets’ accelerates year by year. Cities trump one another with innovative and spirited ways to entice visitors.

And they have to compete with America’s high-tech, flashy nuggets of media commercialism. Nowadays "doing the town" means special effects and ‘spacial performance.’

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Washington D.C. - tourist magnet
D.C. touts "The American Experience" and "Symbols of Patriotism." It's glamming up with 'capital cinematics.' The FBI building is presented as a movie site in "Along Came a Spider, Clear and Present Danger, Hannibal, The Jackal, No Way Out, True Lies, and Silence of the Lambs.

go to Washington D.C.

Universal Studios concocted "City Walk" in 'Universal City' for tourists to 'Enjoy the Complete L.A. Experience," faux though it is. No need to actually see L.A.Just bring your credit cards and stroll a movie-themed high-end strip mall.

go to "City Walk"

                               

Tourism tidbits...
 
International tourism spurs huge shopping centers, spectacle venues, and major sports events.

go to MAYORS on worldwide urban tourism

Las Vegas, a city built on tourism, had 6 million visitors in 1970. Last year it had 40 million and 25 thousand conventions.
 
New York City, America's most visited city, has more than 40 million tourists a year. This brings in $220 million in hotel taxes and $15 billion in direct spending. Forty percent is international tourism.
 
For congested tourist areas, academics are working with game theory models to thin out crowds.
 
In the U.S., each state conducts it's own tourism lures. In the Golden State, Arnold and Maria offer "20 reasons to love California," flash tours, driver's guides, soundtrack CDs, and discount travel cards.
 
 

                                 

More links to Jane Jacobs:

go to Jacobs at Making Places

go to Jacobs in ArtVoice

go to Jacobs in Reason Magazine

go to Jacobs in World Bank Urban Forum

go to Jacobs in New Colonist

go to Jacobs in Ideas That Matter

Jacobs in Toronto Urban Panel

                       

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Pritzker Prize architect Thom Mayne.

Dynamic Thom Mayne designs hybrid architecture that 'works.' He started his career in the late 1960's with counterculture roots and has spent the years since tenaciously reinventing the ordinary. His often startling buildings are "unexpected. " Now this self-proclaimed 'problem-solver' has won the architecture professions' highest honor.

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Mayne's winning entry for the Alaska state capitol building in Juneau

                                              

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Saffron watch souvenir.

"All our work is about freedom."
- Christo

more on Christo's Gates

go to Christo and Jeanne-Claude's page

                                                

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Razing the New Frontier.

There goes the neighborhood!
 
The old Vegas strip has finally been stripped bare.
 
                                       

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IMTS vehicle at Expo in Aichi, Japan

more on the Aichi Expo

                                                      

We have no affiliation with 'urbanicity.com,' a site for governments and urban development planners. But if that's your thing, take a look.

go to urbanicity.org

                                                 

Here are some good "Green" sites:

go to Global Green USA

go to the Green Guide

go to Green America

go to Health and the Environment

go to the Good Guide

                                                    

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Rise above it.

                                                            

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Sundial Bridge near Redding, California

Architecture, like Hollywood, needs a "superstar," and for now it’s Santiago Calatrava, who'll put a theme anywhere.

"Calatrava's confidernt and awe-inspiring public works tap into a deep-seated desire for a future quite different from the one we are facing, a yearning that does much to explain his extraordinary success." 

from Martin Filler, "The Bird Man," New York Review of Books

Santiago Calatrava was born in Valencia in 1951. He earned a doctorate in technical science and engineering in Zurich, where he keeps his office. Dramatic bridges with exaggerated or distorted parabolic arches are his logotypes.

His debut in the U.S. was a pedestrian bridge in an ecological preserve at Turtle Bay near Redding, California. Now, after his fabulous "Turning Torso" residential high rise in Malmö, Sweden, he’s doing a skyscraper in Chicago.

There’s little ambiguity in his work– his swooping lines are obvious and recognizable at first glance. When developers hire him they know what they’re getting (unlike his polar opposite, the mercurial Rem Koolhass, whose clients just take a leap of faith).

He has two fixations: birds and machine-powered building parts (to make birds fly?). But getting his buildings to "move" is costly and creates massive overruns on his projects. He left the folks at his bravura Milwaukee Art Museum so broke that they were forced to make drastic cutbacks on art exhibits.

Now he’s tackling Ground Zero. His two-billion-dollar World Trade Center Transportation Hub is under construction and will be finished in 2009, well before the "replacement" towers-- which are lagging in most respects. Again, his design reflects his avian obsession.

At an event at ground zero, his young daughter released a dove from her hands– and that was the inspiration he needed. The hub will be a dazzling white steel and glass train station with a motorized roof that opens in the main concourse to the sky– the symbolic uplift of a dove. At an early press conference for the hub, Mayor Bloomberg said "Wow."

Critic Martin Filler calls his work "futuristic in a way that went out of style in the 1960's." Yet Calatrava consistently appeals to the pop audience. His flashy contours and flamboyant engineering effects fit in well with the marketing of mass entertainment. Large architectural commissions are going for thrills and cultural institutions around the world are reinventing themselves as touristy icons.

Calatrava got the commission for the Tenerife Concert Hall (on an island not far from Bilbao, Spain). Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao opened about the same time as Calatrava’s project. The British critic Deyan Sudjik called the Tenerife "the kitsch dark side to Gehry’s playful, free invention."

This year Calatrava received the AIA gold medal. Giddy with the adulation and prestige, he hired a New York PR firm to arrange a media junket to "re-brand" him as an artist-architect. He’s riding high, but critical esteem eludes him.

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World Trade Center Transportation Hub, scheduled to open in 2012

more Calatrava

                                                

Design like you
give a damn!

go to Architecture for Humanity

                             

Bling in L.A.

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Disney Concert Hall at sunset, Los Angeles. Photo: LORBIT. Click to enlarge.

As for downtown L.A.,
as Gertrude Stein said, (about Oakland)
"There's no there there."

more on downtown L.A.

                                                       

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Chiat/Day/Mojo Advertising Agency offers the binocular pretense of a wink and a smile, but comes off as narcissistic post-modern oppression. At least it's not a "box office," and it does liven up Main Street in Venice, California. It's a bit "fun" but not funny. For really funny predecessors see:

                                   

Superb links

Photos:
Top: Roosevelt Fouor Freedom Park, with United Nations at upper right. Paul Warchol.
St. Charles Avenue streeetcar line in the Garden District, New Orleans.
Art Spout at the Science and Industry Museum in Paris, France.
"Sky Farm," concept design by Gordon Graff for downtown Toronto, is a 58-angled floor tower with 8 million square feet of growing space. Photographer: Dickson Despommier.
The Marcus Center in Milwaukee with LED lighting inspired by a Georgia O'Keeffe painting. Photographer:  J.R. Krauza.

Remain curious.