Monday, February 21, 2011
Is Landscape Urbanism the new New Urbanism? The RPA continues the debate.
The winning design for Horticultural City in Xi'an China, from the AALU website
THE LATEST E-LETTER FROM THE RPA (New York's Regional Plan Association) has an interesting contribution from the RPA's Vice President for Environmental Programs called When a Park Is More Than A Park, and a Building more than a Building. He looks at Landscape Urbanism, and seems to agree that it's "the next big thing."
"Academics at the Harvard Graduate School of Design are attempting to capture these [environmental] practices under the label 'Landscape Urbanism,'" the VP writes, "and are saying it's the new 'New Urbanism' or 'Smart Growth.' As theory, it's an appreciation of city form that relies less on traditional notions of mass and density and aesthetics as it does on process." But if you study Landscape Urbanism, you discover that it was actually an aesthetic long before it found what could be called its marketing theory. The process the VP refers to is only a secondary or tertiary part of the theory, and it grows naturally from the philosophy of the aesthetic.
A little background helps explain why. New Urbanism advocates the preservation and creation of a strong public realm (in America, that usually means "streets" and "parks"). The form of NU is an update of the time-tested city, town and neighborhood, indistinguishable from what the RPA advocates in our region. That's antithetical to the philosophy of Harvard's GSD, which is ideologically (one might even say "rabidly") Modernist, and therefore opposed to the traditional form of the city. As the sustainable, walkable model of New Urbanism gained ground across the country, Harvard needed to fight back. Professors in the school came up with the theory of Landscape Urbanism to support their aesthetic, which was essentially the straight-out-of-the-box 20th century Modernism taught at Harvard since Gropius arrived there in 1937, heightened by the latest CAD drawing fashion. It favored auto-based planning over the more sustainable walkable planning of NU, preferring the model of Atlanta or Houston to New York's.
Modernism was a materialistic philosophy that substituted ideas like Form Follows Function for traditional concepts of design, which balanced function, construction and beauty. Ancient Romans called those Utilitas, Firmitas and Venustas, and they were considered the three legs of all architectural and urban design until Modernism banished history and said that function equals beauty. The RPA VP seems to be at least partially agreeing when he explicitly endorses LU's sound environmental ideas and process and implicitly endorses their aesthetic. But there are three problems with that: LU's sound environmentalism is everyone's sound environmentalism; much of it has been used for centuries without determing or being mistaken for being beauty; and the LU process has little to do with making places that people enjoy. (An academic friend who slogged through the entire reader-hostile Landscape Urbanism Reader points out that people are not shown or discussed in the book.)
The details of New Urbanism come from observation of what works and what doesn't work, including the details and dimensions that produce spaces where people want to be. The details of Landscape Urbanism often come from more intellectual parts of the design process. In a famous example (because there is a limited amount of LU built so far), a leading Landscape Urbanist designing a park used the location of dead tree trunks to determine some of the fundamental geometry of the park's plan. Someday those trunks will all be gone, and the conceptual meaning of the geometry will be gone. But that is typical of the way that LU designers favor intellectual concepts over the experiential placemaking New Urbanists use, and it is consistent with the Modernist desire to generate design details from the process rather than from verboten concepts of beauty.
Looking at the history of Modernism, we can see that form rarely follows function.* And the form of auto-dependent Modernism is simultaneously environmentally unsound and bad for the making of walkable places. Add to that that before Modern engineers told us they could rebuild the world, we often had to build environmentally soundly, because our cities had poor stormwater systems, for example, or we didn't have modern fertilizers and biogenetics to sustain unsoundly planted trees or crops. Of course we had many unhealthy practices, many of them introduced by the Industrial Revolution and agribusiness, but before Modernism gave us the means to re-engineer the world, we often had to live more closely with the consequences of our actions.
One result of our actions is that we can all agree on the need to be more environmentally responsible to preserve future life on Earth. The first built New Urban works were Seaside, Florida and Manhattan's Battery Park City, both started in 1981 and both proposed community and walkability as a way of reducing our carbon footprint. But it's a little known fact that Seaside was also one of the first planned xeriscape developments. The term was actually coined in the same year, although not well known outside very small circles of Western environmentalists.
Full disclosure: I was a Town Architect of Seaside in 1986, and I am currently the Chair of CNU New York, the local chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism.
* I use iconic Modern chairs as an example in Good, Better, Best. The function of a chair is to presumably provide a comfortable place to sit, but in many iconic Modern chairs, the form came from the manufacturing process or pure geometry, rather than from the dimensions that had been known for centuries to be necessary for a comfortable chair.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
"If you could do that, you would. That’s what you would do."
THE BOSS, JERRY AND JON STEWART WALKED INTO A BENEFIT ... Springsteen went on stage and got down and dirty. "Nearby, Jon Stewart, the evening’s host, was pounding the air drums alongside a wary Jerry Seinfeld, who stood with his arms crossed. When Springsteen hopped onto the Steinway to play a few licks, the crowd went crazy, and Stewart leaned toward Seinfeld and said, 'If you could do that, you would. That’s what you would do.' After a moment, Seinfeld nodded." (from the New Yorker)
More Valerie videos below and after the jump.
Apologies - as quickly as people put up videos of the senior choir Young At Heart at YouTube singing this Coldplay song, Fox Searchlight has embedding or the sound disabled. This video had sound yesterday, but no longer does. Rupert Murdoch should read Kevin Kelly's New Rules for the New Economy.
Original Valerie Post:
It's easy being cool if they think you can sing like Amy Winehouse (unless you are Amy Winehouse)
In Mark Ronson's video of his own performance of Valerie, he has women "from the audience" singing when Amy Winehouse "goes missing." (Ronson gets 10 points for his arrangement of a bad song, and -5 points for acting like Rupert Murdoch and making us watch an ad before letting us see the video.)
Next, Amy Winehouse herself shows life isn't necessarily that simple.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
"Three Classicists" on YouTube
Saturday, February 05, 2011
Live from Charlotte: Comments from two Californian vice-mayors at the New Partners for Smart Growth
“Wow. Listening to Andres Duany at Smart Growth conference. He's talking about how we should change Smart Growth and New Urbanism standards in the new economy. My beliefs are being turned upside down. I will digest my notes... and share with you all when I'm at a better keyboard. Stay tuned.”
“Andres Duany is knocking over various articles of faith in his 'Slow Development' talk. Public process is broken: Takes way too long. Chartered as a quasijudicial hearing not a political campaign.”