Tag Archives: finances

PAPER | A Failure of Modernism: ‘Excavating’ Pruitt-Igoe

“The present contribution is a nice and proper scientific excursion through the fits and misfits of an emblematic “failure” of modern urbanism – Pruitt-Igoe, overcoming superficial critiques and less interesting commentaries on the case. I recommend it to be accepted for presentation at the conference and published (in) its proceedings.” (Referee Comment about M.D. Major research on Pruitt-Igoe for SSS11)

Click to download a PDF of the paper “A Failure of Modernism: ‘Excavating’ Pruitt-Igoe” here.

During the closing reception of Space Syntax 10 at University College London in 2015, Dr. Mário Krüger asked me to “promise” to attend Space Syntax 11 in Lisbon, Portugal in 2017 after attending my first Space Syntax Symposium since 1999. I politely promised to “try” to attend. Two years is a long time and I hate to make promises without knowing beforehand whether it will be possible to fulfill them. Mário noticed my equivocation, so he again asked me to promise to attend. He asked again… and again… and again… and again. Upon Mário’s fifth request, I finally offered the unequivocal promise to attend SSS11 that he was seeking from me. This created two problems for me: one short-term and the other long-term. I could delay answering the long-term problem until the last minute; namely, would I have the personal and/or professional resources (i.e. time, money, etc.) to visit Lisbon, Portugal in two years time? The short-term problem required an answer much sooner since the SSS11 call for abstracts was only five months away; namely, what suitable research could I possibly write about for the blind referee process of Space Syntax Symposia? I did not know.

However, finding an answer was one of many issues I was dealing during the latter part of 2015, including the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) hiring me as a part-time, adjunct Professor of Urban Design in November, my subsequent relocation to that city in December, and preparing the syllabus/materials for the URBA 739: Economics of Urban and Regional Planning course at SCAD, which I would begin teaching in January 2016. I decided one of the lectures for URBA 739 had to be about social housing. I had conducted some social housing research in Europe during the 90s and I had also read a great deal about the most infamous public housing project of them all, Pruitt-Igoe, because I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. That was when the ‘lightbulb went off over my head’ (always an Edison bulb in my imagination). Space syntax is famous for its research into European social housing and crime patterns (see the “Back to the Street” article in The Economist). However, as far as I knew, no one had ever researched Pruitt-Igoe using space syntax. It was easy to understand why. Pruitt-Igoe was demolished in 1972-76 and, as I state in the paper, “any researcher is willingly wading into a distinctive American cesspool of racism and ideology sufficient to scare most people away” (Major, 2017; pp. 5).

Figure-ground (space in black, blocks in white) of north St. Louis showing the Pruitt-Igoe site (highlighted in gray) in 1933 (left) and circa 1958 (right).

The paper you can now download for free (see above and below) represents about a year of research and only 5,000 words about this particular subject. My first full, unedited draft of the paper was about 15,000 words. Quite frankly, this was also insufficient for the scope and multitude of issues raised by the design, management, and history of Pruitt-Igoe. For example, there is some delicate nuance preferable for many of the issues crudely summarized in the paper as well as additional material by other researchers, which deserve to be more fully described than I have time for even in the 2.5-hour course about Pruitt-Igoe, now available on The Outlaw Urbanist course website. I fully intend to expand this research into a book at some point in the future. This because Pruitt-Igoe remains an important lesson for us; one that many people still misconstrue or fail to understand altogether, where the consequences of future mistakes can be just as costly as our past ones if we are not careful. We consign Pruitt-Igoe as something solely belonging to the past at our peril. As Albert Einstein pointed out, “only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”

In the end, researching Pruitt-Igoe was an often frustrating but hugely rewarding experience for me as an architect, urban planner, and native St. Louisian. However, as fate would have it, I could not answer the long-term problem to keep my promise to Dr. Krüger about attending SSS11 in Lisbon, Portugal. I simply do not have the resources at my disposal that so many other people casually take for granted to attend conferences worldwide. For failing to keep my promise, I feel bad and I apologize to Dr. Krüger. Nonetheless, the end-product of this journey is far more important for our profession than a broken promise so I am making my paper “A Failure of Modernism: ‘Excavating’ Prutt-Igoe” freely available online for anyone to read. I welcome any comments or suggestions about the ideas discussed in the paper and, once again, I strongly recommend you watch the 2012 documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, especially after reading my paper if you have not before seen the documentary.

Click to download a PDF of the paper “A Failure of Modernism: ‘Excavating’ Pruitt-Igoe” here.

NOTE: This research was paid for and supported by me. There was no grant to pay for this research. I have not had any classes assigned to me to teach for over a year (due to “declining enrolment”) so the Savannah College of Art & Design did not financially support this research, either directly or indirectly, in any way. This research was not born of any privilege except the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Enjoy!

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NOW AVAILABLE | The Hidden Corruption of Regular Grids

The Hidden Corruption of Regular Grids discusses the remarkable progress space syntax has made in research and practice around the world over the last 40 years. However, this is not the case in the United States. Space syntax remains on the fringes of American planning and development. This is odd since there seems to be several inherent advantages for widespread application of space syntax in an American context, i.e. ongoing large-scale urban growth, an established research program at one of the country’s leading universities, and seemingly ‘natural’ allies in professional practice. The course covers the financial, institutional, and legal hurdles/pitfalls confronting space syntax in the American market, especially in the private sector. Using a series of ‘back-of-the-napkin’ financial calculations common to the American development process, the course demonstrates how these challenges can transform into a distinct advantage for advocating the cause of the space syntax in the United States. The course concludes by discussing the enormous challenges and opportunities for space syntax in America today (1.0 hour course).

Key concepts: finances, land use law, professional practice, planning, development, and space syntax.

Instructor: Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Click here to purchase this course ($9.99), which includes an one-hour video presentation and PDFs of the published article and slide handout.

NOTE: This course is geared towards the space syntax community and people interested in its application in the United States. However, there is actually very little space syntax in the course since it primarily discusses the legal and financial hurdles in the American real estate development process for space syntax and similar scientific approaches. Even if you are not familiar with space syntax, then the subject matter should not be considered a deterrent.

Note: We are beta-testing with these initial course offerings so if you have any issues accessing the course material, please do not hesitate to contact us at courses@outlaw-urbanist.com. Thank you!

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REVIEW | How to Speak Money by John Lanchester

How to Speak Money: What the money people say… and what they really mean
by John Lanchester

John Lanchester’s How to Speak Money: What the money people say… and what they really mean is a worthwhile read though the whole adds up to somewhat of a mixed bag. The first chapter, “The Language of Money” is a fabulous, broad-based read, mostly focused on telling the story of economics as a field and topic of study. The middle definition section, “The Lexicon of Money” is mostly thorough and informative but a lot of readers (for example, architects, urban designers, urban planners) will find some definitions more useful than others based on their own interests and life experience. This really isn’t Lanchester’s fault; it’s just the ‘nature of the beast,’ as some might say. The “Afterword” is really problematic as Lanchester tries to pull it all together into a more widespread, sweeping view of where we have been and where we are going after the Great Recession. In doing so, he strains to debunk what he describes as the Neo-liberalism economic policies of the last 30 years (what most people know as supply-side economics or Reaganomics) on the basis of inequality (i.e. gap between rich and poor). At the same time, Lanchester heralds the remarkable progress of developing and emerging markets over the same time period, especially in improving child mortality and education rates, lifting people out of poverty, etc. (i.e. reducing inequality). However, to accept Lanchester’s argument, the reader has to assume that these simultaneous events over the last 30 years are utterly disconnected, occurring in a vacuum independently of each other. It seems far more plausible that Reagan and Margaret Thatcher’s promises to the middle/lower classes of a ‘trickle down effect’ that lifts all boats has not been realized in the developed Western societies such as the United States and United Kingdom but, through the mechanism of globalization, manifested on a worldwide scale in these emergent markets. This means Lanchester’s proposed solution, a return to the democratic socialist policies of the 60s/70s that is inevitably the default position of most Baby Boomers, is incorrect (and very old news). As I recall, Reagan/Thatcher never supported the concept of near-monopolies as part of their broader economic strategy, which has, in fact,  emerged in modern corporatism of the Western societies over the last 2-3 decades. This suggests that economic model we should be looking towards for a correction in the obvious abuses of the Neo-Liberal economic model (see bank fraud/credit crunch of the Great Recession) lies in the early 20th century ‘trust-busting’ model of Teddy Roosevelt. In this sense, the “Afterwood” serves its purpose by forcing anyone with a basic understanding of history and economics to draw to their own, more rational conclusions in order to reconcile the inherent contradictions of Lanchester’s argument. How to Speak Money: What the money people say… and what they really mean is worth the read but it should be read thoughtfully, not blindly. Grade: 3 1/2 stars

3-5-starshow_to_speak_moneyHow to Speak Money: What the money people say… and what they really mean
by John Lanchester
W. W. Norton & Company (October 6, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0393243370
ISBN-13: 978-0393243376

You can purchase How to Speak Money: What the money people say… and what they really mean on Amazon here.

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