Monday, July 8, 2013

I've recently come across the idea of Regenerative Cities in my Coursera.org Climate Literacy class. An idea to take sustainability to the next level and possibly the only way to ensure a vibrant future. This method of building considers that sustainability might not be enough and that positively contributing to the ecosystem might be necessary. Buildings contribute around 80% of the CO2 humans produce so they are appropriately the main concentration when looking for ways to reduce energy consumption. This is a brand new idea to me and I know I will have fun exploring it! First stop Futurepolicy.org

Any knowledge on the subject is most welcome!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Take Care of What is Already There

As I am just finishing Genius Loci by Christian Norberg-Schulz, I came across an amazing bit of knowledge. "Regimes come and go, the place persists, and with it a particular kind of human identity. When we have realized this fact, we should start to improve the world by taking care of our places, rather than by abstract planning and anonymous building." This passage was taken from Karl Popper from his work The Powerty of Historicism.

I want to focus on "taking care of our places, rather than by abstract planning and anonymous building" because this spoke to me the strongest. As a fan of Jane Jacobs, this makes total sense to me and reading it in this context opened my eyes to  an even broader benefit of taking care of what we already have. As Jacobs would tell us, caring for the buildings and neighborhoods that are already there offer a means to create vibrant and meaningful cities that are used passionately by its citizens. Norberg-Schulz shows us that this same philosophy can be applied at a wider scale to keep cities and regions vibrant throughout the ages, thus allowing the citizens to stay "Roman" or "Russian" or "German" as it is said in the book.

It seems to me that this is what being an urbanist truly is and when applied creates a genuine Genius Loci.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

THE Mass Migration: China's Move to the City

 

Some of you may have heard of this new plan coming out of China to move 250 million rural citizens into the urban cities within 12 to 15 years (article above).The quick math shows that is 20.8 to 16.6 million people every year; essentially creating a new New York City every year. They want to do in 15 years what NYC has taken a little over 200 years to do (the grid layout was adopted in 1811) and as we know, NYC nor any other city is by any means perfect.

One of the most disheartening things about this plan is that it doesn't seem to take into account the environment, and more importantly what the Earth can actually handle in terms of resource extraction, urban density, etc. If you take a quick look at the slideshow provided in the article you can see a haze in the sky in just about every picture, which I feel safe to assume is air pollution from China's many coal fired power plants.

What might be the scariest of all is that this is all seen through the goggles of the western consumer economy. The government wants a bigger consumer and tax base through urbanization, but doesn't seem to be taking into consideration already known problems with growth oriented and a consumer economy. Ironically they want to emulate the United States of America's way of life, yet fail to see that consumerism and growth are already starting to falter.

It will be interesting to see what the Chinese government plans to do in the coming weeks and  months. Hopefully they will see fit to acknowledge the importance of the environment and the organic city; one can only hope.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Genius Loci

I've recently started reading 'Genius Loci' by Christian Norberg-Schulz and it is immediately amazing. I wanted to share two things that have interested me already. First is the poem A Winter Evening by Georg Trakl:

Window with falling snow is arrayed,
Long tolls the vesper bell,
The house is provided well,
The table is for many laid,

Wandering ones, more than a few,
Come to the door on darksome courses,
Golden blooms the tree of graces
Drawing up the earth's cool dew,

Wandering quietly steps within;
Pain has turned the threshold to stone,
There lie, in limpid brightness shown,
Upon the table bread and wine.

The poem itself is very beautiful, but the analysis given by Heidegger, who Norberg-Shulz takes his philosophy from, is even more remarkable. This analysis, which I will not reiterate here, makes the first 23 pages of the book impossible to put down.

The second thing is the idea of Orientation and Identification. A quick synopsis being orientation is where you are and identification being how you are a certain place. I found this very interesting because it is saying that it is one thing to know and be comfortable with a place (orientation) and fully feeling a part of where you are (identification). This is very important for us  to realize so that we can be fully alive in where and how we are. I find this to be an absolute fundamental building block of how people interact with and relate to where they live and with those around them. Essential in an urban age.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Bicycling and Detroit

I came across this very interesting article, Biking in the Motor City, from Meg Mulhall (originally posted on GlobalSitePlans.com, but I came across it on CNU.org) about Detroit grassroots resurgence. I am aware of the work being done in downtown and some of the politics behind it, but was completely unaware of the investment being put into green infrastructure. At the same time that it is stunning to see The Motor City become much friendlier to other modes of transportation, it isn't. Simply because Detroit's population and consequently tax revenue has dropped so drastically that they are essentially starting from scratch and that means finding inexpensive solutions their problems. Bike infrastructure is cheap, much cheaper than highways and parking garages, which offers a poorer population to continue to have access to jobs and the cities resources and opportunities.

To answer the question at the end of the article; Infrastructure. People, no matter their place in life, will be much more inclined to ride a bike if the paths are there. The paths have to be direct, accessible from key points in the city, well maintained, safe, and user friendly if they are to succeed. I know I would be very inclined to take my bike to work if it were a 10-20 minute safe ride and so would a lot of other people. With the infrastructure in place the growth and use will follow. Personal financial savings from bike use will rise, health of the population will increase, small business will grow and the city will become much more engaged.

Personally, I think only good can come from a solid bicycle infrastructure and am very excited to see what the city does with this enormous opportunity to be a national archetype in restructuring our older, ailing cities.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

First Step Out

I wanted to start my blog with a great article by Lamar Anderson, Micro Apartments, and how it sparked an idea on the subject of happy housing. The article from The Atlantic Cities, which is linked above, and the idea, which is the title of this post, First Step Out.

I can remember reading this article and instantly being struck at how unique this idea for new and appealing housing was. First Step Out, FSO, which is the name I am putting to this little idea of mine, embodies what it feels like to take the first step out of your front door. It may be a step out into an enclosed space like a mall such as in the article, it could be out into a busy city street, or it could be out into the ten acres you own.  What a great way to start your day, walking out after the morning coffee and realizing you love where you live. Now of course there are many reasons to love where you live, but, to be frank, what struck me about this historic arcade was simply how cool the building looked from the inside. You were given the feeling of being at an outside cafe, while having the creature comforts of being at home and for me, that would put a smile on my face. 

The idea of FSO can come from many views and stages of housing. It could be the center idea and starting point for an architect, a city planner could keep this view in mind when considering new public housing, or an individual or group of individuals can do any number of things to make a street or simply an apartment building hallway become more appealing. This view point becomes very strong when talking about unhappy residents and city blight, which both have had an uptick since the recession started. 

That is it for this post. My blog will be mostly short and sweet posts that will hopefully garner brainstorming and conversation from those interested in Urbanism. 

Always looking toward the future,
Mike