Category Archives: Mark David Major

Publications by The Outlaw Urbanist blogger, Mark David Major.

MORESO | Fire Walk with Me | David Lynch’s Twin Peaks Finale

MORESO | Fire Walk with Me | David Lynch’s Twin Peaks Finale
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

This Moreso article is a follow-up to an earlier one, “Generational Shame in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (28 June 2017), available here.

Judging from the immediate response on Twitter and subsequent mainstream media recaps (with the exception of Dan Martin at The Guardian and a few others), many people seem perplexed about the open-ended finale of Twin Peaks: The Return. I am not. As with all things David Lynch, you have to appreciate the (weird) window-dressing but, nonetheless, ignore such affectations when it comes to explanations by focusing on the essential. When you do so, there is a lot of narrative meat to chew in the final two episodes, which seems to confirm our prior hypothesis that Twin Peaks is about Baby Boomer shame. We will not recap that argument now; you can read it here.

WARNING, SOME SPOILERS AHEAD IF YOU ARE NOT FAMILIAR AT ALL WITH TWIN PEAKS

Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992).

What are the key points? Where do we keep our focus to interpret this bizarre, frightening, and even nihilist (i.e. spiritually bleak) ending? After all, it cannot be a coincidence that both episode 17 and 18 ended with Sheryl Lee’s blood-curdling scream, putting aside the end credit sequences: one musical and the other a super slow-motion replay of Laura Palmer whispering something disturbing in Agent Cooper’s ear in the Red Room of the Black Lodge during the first episode. Sidenote: Sheryl Lee (to the upper right as Laura Palmer) has to go down in cinematic history as one of the all-time great screamers, worthy of the leading ladies in the best Alfred Hitchcock films.

Let’s start here:

“The past dictates the future.” – Agent Cooper in Episode 17 of Twin Peaks: The Return

This is a truism reiterated by Twin Peaks. Let’s be honest: what would a ‘happy resolution’ for most viewers of any generation look like for the central storyline (e.g. the murder of a prom queen) in Twin Peaks? FBI Agent Cooper solves the murder? That already happened 25 years ago during Season 2. Laura’s Baby Boomer father Leland possessed by the evil spirit BOB raped and murdered her. The destruction of the evil spirit BOB? Lynch and Mark Frost provided this closure in the penultimate episode when BOB was defeated by a Millennial, no less, wearing a green garden glove that gave him supernatural strength… yeah, Twin Peaks is unconventional like much of the Millennial Generation itself in some ways. It is appropriate, if you ask me. No, for most viewers, the ‘happy resolution’ would be preventing the murder of Laura Palmer and subsequent emotional and social damage to the small Washington town of Twin Peaks in the first place. However, this is not possible. If Laura Palmer was never murdered, then there would not be any Twin Peaks for viewer to invest in the first place. The pain of the past dictates the consequences of the future.

Nonetheless, Lynch and Frost offer viewers this exact prospect. Somehow, Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) goes back in time and leads Laura away from her eventual murder. Laura’s dead body ‘disappears’ from where it was found on a shoreline next to a massive downed tree in the opening scenes of the original series (see the header image at the top). The results simmer throughout the final episode until the disturbing climax when a (perhaps changed) Cooper finds ‘Laura’ (who says her name is Carrie Page) in Odessa, Texas and tries to lead her home to her mother Sarah in Twin Peaks, Washington. The closing moments are characterized by confusion on the part of Agent Cooper and that last blood-curdling scream of Sheryl Lee as ‘Laura’ hears the echoes of her (now-remembered?) troubled past. To be sure, it is a bleak ending. This is reinforced by a replay of the scene of Laura in the Black Lodge whispering something horrifying to Agent Cooper, except this time Lynch allows the camera to linger on the disturbed expressions on MacLachlan’s face using super slow motion. Cooper cannot change the past any more than we can change our own pasts. Nonetheless, this is a tantalizing feature of several narratives in fiction (Peggy Sue Got Married, Back to the Future, Doctor Who, and so forth). Too many to recount here.

Interestingly, the name of Odessa is the feminine form of ‘odyssey,’ which suggests a key aspect of the story of Twin Peaks is the journey of its female characters. Mainly, I would argue this means Laura Palmer, Donna Hayward, and Audrey Horne. Shelly as a character, played with panache by the beautiful Madchen Amick, always seemed more about the soap opera aspects of David Lynch’s original concept for Twin Peaks than a key to its main story.

Sherilyn Fenn as Audrey Horne during the first season of Twin Peaks.

Many viewers seemed especially upset about the brief appearance and utter lack of resolution to the nonetheless emotionally draining story if only for its obtuse nature involving Audrey played by the wonderful and IMO still beautiful Sherilyn Fenn. Is Audrey in a coma? Is she in an insane asylum? Is she the ‘dreamer’ to which Gordon Cole (played by David Lynch) refers? The last seems unlikely, except perhaps in a very narrow sense related to her own story in Twin Peaks: The Return. The lack of a resolution is the point. Much of the story about Generation X is similarly unresolved though our past will dictate the consequences of our future.

I would argue there is a ‘holy trinity’ of Generation X females at the heart of Twin Peaks, each representing different aspects of my often-forgotten generation. The mainstream media is almost always all about the big demographic waves represented by the Baby Boomer and Millennial generations. There is the wasted potential of Laura Palmer: the bright, eager-to-help, beautiful prom queen, who was a victim of incest and murdered by a salacious Baby Boomer father unable to control himself or the evil spirit BOB.

Lara Flynn Boyle as Donna Hayward in the pilot episode of Twin Peaks.

There was Donna Hayward (famously played during the original Twin Peaks series by Lara Flynn Boyle). Much like the ‘lost’ nature of Generation X, Donna is missing from Twin Peaks: The Return. She represents our ‘lost generation’ by her absence. Then, there is Audrey Horne, who’s story is unresolved, still waiting to be written in history.

All of this is wrapped within the distinct but skewed perspective of a Baby Boomer filmmaker (David Lynch), who symbolically replicates much of the generational shame previously seen in Episode Eight, “Gotta Light?” The young-end-of-the-range-for-a-Baby Boomer Agent Cooper fails to fix the past. The disturbing abortion imagery reappears during the scene at the beginning of episode 17 when the evil spirit BOB emerges from the doppelgänger body of Mr. C to, in effect, become an evil fetus attacking the real Agent Cooper and our nondescript Millennial hero Freddie, who finally rids us of the evil once and for all. Baby Boomers just can’t get past their guilt about their unwanted ‘latchkey’ kids and excessive-to-extreme abortion culture. In any case, Freddie’s destruction of BOB symbolically points to Baby Boomers coming to believe what Generation X had always believe and intended for their children; namely, to save the world from the excesses of the ‘Me’ Generation represented by their grandparents.

I thought it was the most appropriate, even a perfect ending for Twin Peaks. The Baby Boomers cannot ever fix their past mistakes. They have to live with the shame of their many mistakes. The story of the much-abused, much-depleted Generation X is still being written, and the Millennials carry our collective hopes into the future. Let’s hope we haven’t managed to screw them up too much. They need to save the world. Get on with it.

Moreso is a new series of short ruminations or thoughts of the moment, usually of less than 500 words, from The Outlaw Urbanist.

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PRE-ORDER NOW | The Syntax of City Space

The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids by Mark David Major with Foreword by Ruth Conroy Dalton (co-editor of Take One Building) is now available for pre-order from Routledge, Amazon, and other online retailers. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group will release The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids in November 2017.

Cover, The Syntax of City Space, American Urban Grids, Mark David Major, Ruth Conroy DaltonMany people see American cities as a radical departure in the history of town planning because of their planned nature based on the geometrical division of the land. However, other cities of the world also began as planned towns with geometric layouts so American cities are not unique. Why did the regular grid come to so pervasively characterize American urbanism? Are American cities really so different?

The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids by Mark David Major with Foreword by Ruth Conroy Dalton (co-editor of Take One Building) answers these questions and much more by exploring the urban morphology of American cities. It argues American cities do represent a radical departure in the history of town planning while, simultaneously, still being subject to the same processes linking the urban network and function found in other types of cities around the world. A historical preference for regularity in town planning had a profound influence on American urbanism, which endures to this day.

Download the Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group European promotional flyer here.

The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids is available for pre-order purchase with Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, Amazon, Waterstones, and Foyles in the UK as well as other online retailers around the world.

Visit our Books for Sale page here.

About the Author
Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A is a Professor of Urban Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He is a graduate of Clemson University, University College London, and the University of London.

The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids
by Mark David Major with Foreword by Ruth Conroy Dalton
Hardcover, English, 260 pages
Routledge, First Edition (November 2017)
ISBN-10: 1138301566
ISBN-13: 978-1138301566

Purchase from Routledge/Taylor & Francis here.
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MORESO | A Tyranny of Criminals

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” – Thomas Jefferson

When there are so many laws that everyone is a criminal, then we are living in a tyranny. Have you gone seven miles per hour over the speed limit? You are a criminal. Have you watched copyrighted material without paying its owner? You are a criminal. When you were 18, did you had sex with someone who was 16 or 17? Congratulations, you are a sexual offender. Have you jaywalked? You are a criminal. The insidious genius of a tyranny is convincing the people that their status as criminals is in their own best interests.

About the image
Liberty Leading the People (La Liberté guidant le peuple in French) is a painting by Eugène Delacroix commemorating the July Revolution of 1830, which toppled King Charles X of France. A woman personifying the concept and the Goddess of Liberty leads the people forward over a barricade and the bodies of the fallen, holding the tricolor flag of the French Revolution in one hand and brandishing a bayonetted musket with the other.

Moreso is a new series of short ruminations or thoughts of the moment, usually of less than 500 words, from The Outlaw Urbanist.

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PHOTO ESSAY | Country Club Plaza | Kansas City MO

PHOTO ESSAY | Country Club Plaza | Kansas City MO
Photographs by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Opened in 1923, Country Club Plaza is a privately owned American shopping center in the Country Club District of Kansas City, Missouri. The center consists of 18 separate buildings representing 804,000 square feet of retail space and 468,000 square feet of office space. The standalone buildings are built in a distinctive Seville Spain theme and are on different blocks mostly west of Main Street and north of Brush Creek, which blends into the Country Club neighborhood around it. The area as a whole is often simply called the “The Plaza” (Source: Wikipedia).

It is all-too-easy to examine the figure ground of building footprints (top, above) and conclude that Country Club Plaza is defined by ‘strong edges,’ especially to the south (Brush Creek) and east (Mill Creek Park). However, this is misleading and less important than the relationship of ‘edge streets’ to the larger context of Kansas City in all directions. In fact, the spatial logic of the Plaza area (and Country Club Plaza, in particular) is simple, yet quite sophisticated. A central cross-axis (cardo and decumanus) defines the local catchment area (in black, see below).

Central cross-axis defining the local area relationship and the layered ‘edge streets’ defining the larger contextual relationship to Kansas City in all directions.

A series of sequential ‘edge streets’ defined the relationship to the larger Kansas City context with the one closest to Country Club Plaza tending to split along the southern, eastern and western edges (in blue) for the purposes of traffic management. This includes Ward Parkway running parallel along both sides of Brush Creek (see below).

View along Brush Creek looking westward (Photograph: Mark David Major).

A series of major streets (in red, see above) farther afield – West 43rd Street to the north, State Line Road to the west, Gillman Road to the west, and West 55th Street to the south – define another edge to the Plaza area. It is this second edge that is the more important one for Country Club Plaza to access a regional catchment area since the cross-axis of the local catchment area reaches to each of these edge streets, helping to structure of the relationship of Country Club Plaza within a much larger area. The Plaza neighborhood itself then uses a series of streets of low/moderate length and connectivity within the interstitial areas formed by this classical morphology to generate its distinctiveness at different scales of movement (automobile, walking/biking) within Kansas City.

Looking north along Broadway at the corner of Nichols Road (Photograph: Mark David Major).

Plentiful on-street, short-term parking (2 hours or less) helps to slow down the traffic on the streets within Country Club Plaza itself though some road section improvements (central landscape medians instead of continuous left turn lanes) might prove more beneficial for the area over the long term.

Looking west along 47th Street at the corner of Wornall Road in the small public space associated with the Neptune Fountain (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Looking southwest along Broadway towards Brush Creek from the small square associated with what is called the Mermaid Fountain (technically, the fountain depicts sirens, as indicated by the ancient megaphones they are holding) (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Looking west through the small public square at the southwest corner of Pennslyvania Avenue and Nichols Road. I call this “Penguin Square” because of the three bronze statues of penguins at its center (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Looking west across the outdoor patio for the Gram & Dunn restaurant at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Ward Parkway across the street from Brush Creek (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Looking south down Jefferson Street through the outdoor eating plaza of Kaldi’s Coffee at the corner with Nichols Road (Photograph: Mark David Major).

Country Club Plaza makes very clever use of public squares and plazas (often in conjunction with fountains, for which the area is renowned) by turning over some of its most valuable parcels (street corners or “100% location”, according to William Whyte) for public uses. Some of these street corner spaces also operate as outdoor patio seating for restaurants and coffee shops. Most are quite successful, which emphasizes the greater importance of ‘people watching’ than the enclosure of space for a successful public square.

Streetside entry to interior parking building on Nichols Road near the corner of Broadway (Photograph: Mark David Major).

As pointed out by numerous New Urbanists over the years, Country Club Plaza provides for a generous allocation of off-street parking by ‘burying’ parking structures within the center of urban blocks. This is necessary due to the lack of an extensive rail transit system in Kansas City. The KC Streetcar, opened in 2016, has a limited route in downtown Kansas City. However, once that rail transit system expands, then Country Club Plaza would be an ideal candidate for a station; preferably in the central block, which is mostly composed of off-street parking and smallish, single-story retail space along the street frontage at this time (right of the photo below).

Looking west along Nichols Road at the corner of Central Street outside of Starbuck’s Coffee (Photograph: Mark David Major).
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Planning Naked | May 2017

Planning Naked | May 2017
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Your (hopefully hilarious) guide to most everything about the latest issue of APA’s Planning Magazine. It is a tale of two issues for May 2017. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” Strange, that seems familiar.

“Oops, did I say too much? Something to think about…” James M. Drinan, JD seems to reveal way more about the professional organization’s underlying, flawed assumptions than he probably intended for the From the Desk of APA’s Chief Executive Officer article (pp. 5) of this issue. In fact, it is all there in the title, “How Do We Shape the New Normal?” Think about that for a moment. APA’s goal is not any sort of objective knowledge or the scientific truth about cities, which would have universal application regardless of whichever political party held power. Instead, by virtue of what is left unsaid, it represents something that is subjective, open to change and manipulation for the circumstances. It is an agenda that has to be ‘shaped’ to the political philosophy of the party in power; albeit, apparently only at the Federal level. This confirms APA is not a ‘neutral’ entity but a partisan one (big surprise, right). Other professional organizations have been supplanted by competitors for similar reasons in the past. Did I say too much?

Planners who forget to, you know, plan ahead. “Lessons Learned from the Oroville Spillway” (pp. 11-12 in the News Section) tries to turn lemons into lemonade. Short summary: some planners and engineers forgot to plan ahead and anticipate alternative scenarios associated with the damn and its spillway, which, if anything, shows a lack of imagination. It appears to be an example of government planning at its finest. Yes, that last comment is sarcastic.

Where’s all of the affordable housing? “Shipping-Container Homes Pose Zoning Challenges for Municipalities” (pp. 12 in the News Section) demonstrates why affordable housing is a nationwide problem as local governments impose regulatory controls on (potentially affordable) alternative housing solutions in order to artificially inflate local property values (tax revenues and sales profits in real estate for fun). Here is a little mental exercise: remove the issue of zoning out of the equation and the name of this article becomes only “Shipping-Container Homes for Municipalities.” That sounds promising…

Wait, Bourbon Street isn’t car-free already? Which was my biggest shock about the “New Orleans Ponders a Car-Free Bourbon Street” (pp. 13 in the News Section) article. Nice of APA to advertise just how far behind the United States really is when it comes to catering for pedestrians. People say cynicism is not a solution but it is hard to read a news item like this one without becoming a cynic.

Our devious plan to regulate Airbnb and its like out of existence. Here is the not-so-secret plan of APA, government regulators, and real estate industry members – representing the ‘suburban model’ perpetuation of the status quo over the last 70 years – in “Regulating Short-Term Rentals” by Edward Sullivan (Legal Lessons on pp. 14). Resist! The longer Airbnb and other share services prevail (even to the point of permanency), then the more hope there is for the future of our cities. Fight the power! Be a short-term rental outlaw! That statement is probably enough for me to be charged with inciting illegal activities in some jurisdictions.

A breath of fresh air. Finally, some solid reporting and writing in the three feature articles, “Immersive Technologies” by Emily Schlickman and Anya Domlesky (pp. 16-21), “Mapping for the Masses” by Jonathan Lerner (pp. 22-27), and “Dark Skies, Bright Future” by Allen Best (pp. 28-33). All of these articles (generalizing here) discuss the potential of their particular subject, their strengths and weaknesses, and even the possible shortcomings in the future. In 15 years as a member of APA, these three articles represent one of the best sequences in Planning Magazine during that time. 18 pages of pure bliss; more like this, please.

Then, we come to the low point for the May 2017 issue of Planning Magazine: National Planning Awards. News Flash APA! I strongly believe Daniel Burnham and Pierre L’Enfant would be deeply embarrassed to have their names associated with APA’s National Planning Awards in general and with these ‘winners’ in particular. Let’s skip over the irony that Burnham was an architect and L’Enfant was an engineer. I mean, what is APA going to do; name an award after Robert Moses. How embarrassing would that be? Moses sucked and everyone knows it now. Also, have you noticed APA does not (apparently) have a national planning award named after Jane Jacobs. APA’s Standing Committee for the Refutation of Jane Jacobs (see below) must be still hard at work.

Anyway, I do not want to spend too much time on these so-called awards. Judging by the full-page insert on pp. 48-49 practically begging for more entrants as well as the low quality of recent winners, it seems relatively clear that APA’s National Planning Awards are experiencing some problems staying afloat just like APA’s Planners Press. Or wait, should I have not said something about the failure and announced closure of Planners Press? Next time, maybe publish better books (just a suggestion).

Have you ever noticed when APA is embarrassed, Planning Magazine does not show any plans or satellite views of particular projects? I mean, it is almost like they do not want you to know that they are writing hosannas and/or handing out awards for suburban sprawl. Let us take one example, the 2017 National Planning Excellence Award for a Planning Landmark winner: Montgomery County, Maryland. Where is Montgomery County, you ask? It is to the immediate north/west of Washington, D.C. and to the near-immediate south/west of Baltimore, Maryland. Looks like an obvious location for high-density, urbanized in-fill between two growing metropolitan regions. You know, planning and design with foresight.

Google Maps view of Montgomery County, Maryland showing its intermediate, suburban location between Washington, D.C. to the south and Baltimore to the north. (Source: Google Maps).
Satellite view of Montgomery County, Maryland from 15 km (Source: Google Earth).

But wait, what is this? Gee, that looks like extensive physical evidence of suburban sprawl development patterns. The configuration of the ‘protected’ agricultural land is conversely that of the direction of the development patterns for Washington, D.C. from the southeast (the nearest urban center) to the northwest. Wait, it is possible this is part of a green belt for Washington, D.C.? Strange, I don’t recall the project description mentioning that information. Didn’t the Centre for Transport Studies at University College London demonstrate in the late 1990s that the effect of green belts was to increase auto-commuting travel miles, levels of carbon emissions, and suburban sprawl patterns (see The London Society’s refutation of green sprawl here). That is embarrassing. Not only is APA over two decades behind on this issue but they are actually still giving out awards for flawed policies perpetuating suburban sprawl.

But that’s OK. By implementing policies such as transfer of development rights (TDR) to protect agricultural lands, maybe Montgomery County dramatically increased density in its buildable areas. What is the average population density in Montgomery County, Maryland today? 3.2 people per acre. Mm, average population density for New York City (the ‘unicorn’ of American planning, I think it is far to say) is 43.8 people per acre. New York Ctiy is neary 14 times denser than Montgomery County, Maryland.

To paraphrase Britney Spears: oops, they did it again.

Planning Naked is an article with observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.

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