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Planning Naked | August & September 2016

Planning-2016-08Planning Naked | August & September 2016
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Hopefully, your hilarious guide to most everything about the latest issue of APA’s Planning Magazine

The August/September issue of Planning Magazine is a Special Issue about the Local Impacts of Federal Environment Policy. It is sure to induce a headache. Hold on tight, it’s going to be a bumpy post.

Congratulations, APA Executive Director! James M. Drinan finally wrote an editorial, “Share the Street” in the From the Desk of APA’s Executive Director section (pp. 3), to hit the right notes… mostly. I did chuckle about Mr. Drinan’s comment that shared space “may appear startling at first to the average citizen.” I think what he meant was the ‘average planner.’ “The everyday experience of navigating our streets is an opportunity for planners to apply lessons – from Chicago and elsewhere – to provide leadership in shaping our evolving culture.” I never thought I would read those words in an official capacity in Planning Magazine. Amen, brother! What is that I’m feeling? Could it be … hope? Nah.

A plague o’ both your houses! “Disaster by Design in Houston?” by Ryan Holeywell (pp. 10) in the News section briefly covers the arguments (pro and con) about the role of private development in contributing to the recent spate of flooding in the Houston, Texas area. Unfortunately, the agenda-driven, black and white perspective of both sides of the issue (regulatory-driven planners vs. profit-earning developers) is the only clear thing that comes across in the article. Perhaps this is a topic requiring more room in Planning Magazine in order to more thoroughly review the issue? I came away only disgusted.

Celebrate bureaucracy, not results. “NPS, 100 Years and Counting” by Jake Blumgart (pp. 11) in the News section summarizes some of the activities celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS) established in 1916. However, the first national park, Yellowstone, was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. Is the creation of a government bureaucracy really something to celebrate, I wonder? The answer is no, which is why half of this news brief is really about money, e.g. NPS doesn’t get enough money, NPS needs more money, how can NPS get more money, etc. It is a tiresome, old school type of Planning Magazine article.

Be afraid, be very afraid. In the News Briefs section (pp. 11), there’s this little tidbit of information. Home prices in seven U.S. cities climbed to record highs in April 2016 according to Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller’s National Home Price Index (as if S&P can be believed about anything); only 9.6 percent below the peak a decade ago. Fortunately, none of the cities listed were in Nevada or Florida. Should you be comforted or frightened? Not sure. Plan for the worse, hope for the best, I guess.

Last stand of Communism in the world. “Welcome to Cuba” by Katie Halloran (pp. 12) discusses some of the issues surrounding historical preservation and the rapid return of overseas/American tourism to Havana, Cuba. It is an interesting update but mostly lacking in specifics. There seems little doubt this is due to the opaque nature of Cuba’s communist government, which seems to be following the Chinese model of ‘opening its economy’ from 20 years ago. We hope the Cubans do not make the same mistakes as the Chinese when it comes to rapid urbanization. The differing demographic scenarios indicate Cuba has an unique opportunity to do better, given the right leadership.

Come ride my yo-yo, please. It is disconcerting when the first line of an article is blatantly false such as in “Reading Between the Lines” by Stephen D. Villavaso, JD, FAICP of the Legal Lesson section (pp. 13), which begins, “Since the 1920s, courts have regularly given clear signals to professional planners on how to plan better and, maybe more easily.” The offending words of this opening sentence are ‘clear’ and ‘better.’ The post-war disaster of American suburban sprawl and downtown decline tells a different story. It is even more disconcerting when the next sentence completely contradicts the first one so both sentences are rendered meaningless. Yeah, the author is an attorney. Having said that, Mr. Vilavaso’s review of the constitutional issues discussed in the dissent to the Baton Rouge case is enlightening. This includes Euclidean zoning restrictions of building use based on the definition of “family.” This issue sits at the crux of the problem arising because of AirBnB, i.e. unfettered expansion of land tenure rights under suburbanization (which Euclidean zoning is manifestly based and promulgated) and the property rights of homeowners to use their property at they see fit when there is little or no evidence of negative impact to neighboring properties. The final three paragraphs of this article is only a historical fluff recap (e.g. Kelo, Dolan). Ignore the nonsense at the beginning and the fluff at the end but definitely read the “Beyond the final ruling” section in the middle.

When government doesn’t work. “Before It’s Too Late” by Brian Barth (pp. 14-20) is planning masturbation at its worse. There is a well-established response to dramatic climate change in human history, which is thousands upon thousands of years old: people move. What this article makes clear is the massive amount of time, money and effort being wasted on unnecessarily studying the ‘climate refugee’ problem to death:

  1. Let’s do a study to see who is vulnerable;
  2. Let’s do a study to see where they might move;
  3. Let’s do a study to assess the environmental impact of a relocation;
  4. Let’s do a study of the flaws in the initial study;
  5. Let’s do a study of project costs;
  6. Let’s do a study about cultural loss;
  7. Let’s do a study about so on and so on…

All humans are ‘climate refugees.’ Otherwise, we would all be living in Africa right now (and not so many of us). Here’s the real kicker: “…the inherent challenge of navigating the dozens of local, state and federal agencies implicated in establishing a new community from scratch have kept the pace of relocation efforts at a slow slog.” This is a cause célèbre about how government is the problem, not the solution™ (1980, Ronald Reagan). The people who live in these villages will eventually solve this problem themselves because they will have no choice. Government bureaucrats and planners will continue to squeeze as much cash as they can out of the process until the solution happens on its own. The accompanying article “The Resettlement of Isle de Jean Charles” by Craig Guillot (pp. 21) about a relocation in Louisiana due to soil erosion even admits most models of relocation planning ‘have not done very well.”

When government works. “Good Habitats Pay Off” by Madeline Bolin (pp. 22-27) is a stark contrast to the previous article. Bolin’s article actually discusses alternative tools to full implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) such as habitat mapping, Habitat Conservation Plans (HCP) and variations thereof. There is not a single mention about money. In fact, Bolin’s article effectively demonstrates how local, state and federal government can effectively work  together with the private sector to implement environmental protection measures. It is informative, interesting and useful. The insert “Federal Environment Laws and Land Use” by Ms. Bolin (pp. 26) is a brief, useful checklist of relevant legislation.

I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. “The ‘If’ Game” by Allen Best (pp. 28-35) is when I lost my patience with this special issue of Planning Magazine, began to stop diligently reading and went into browse mode. However, the real kicker is in the next article “Is Nuclear Clean Power?” by Susannah Nesmith (pp. 36-39). Here is a short summary: 1) nuclear power is bad for habitats; 2) a potential problem disrupting local habitat is identified with an intake pipe at a nuclear power plant; 3) a solution is identified (e.g. installing a grate); 4) it takes the Federal government 8 YEARS to approve the grate installation: 5) ergo the problem with nuclear power is it destroys habitats. Does anyone else not notice the Federal bureaucracy prevented the installation of a solution for years that, at worst, would take a few weeks to implement, therefore the problem is not nuclear power but the Federal government?!?!

Save yourselves! It’s too late for me! Sorry readers, my sanity couldn’t take any more of the drivel in this special issue about the Local Impacts of Federal Environment Policy in Planning Magazine.

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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FROM THE VAULT | The Ideal Communist City

ideal-communist-city-v2“The physical planning of the new city reflects the harmony and integrated nature of its social structure. A unified planning approach assigns to each element a role in the formation of human environments.”
– The Ideal Communist City

FROM THE VAULT
The Ideal Communist City by Alexei Gutnov, A. Baburov, G. Djumenton, S. Kharitonova, I. Lezava, and S. Sadovskij (Moscow University), Translated by Renee Neu Watkins, Preface by Giancarlo de Carlo

First written during the 1950s and translated from Italian to English in 1968, The Ideal Communist City (1968) is very much a product of its time. This does not only mean the ideological struggles of the Cold War (Capitalism vs. Communism… SPOILER ALERT! Capitalism won). It also means the symbolic height of propagating and implementing the principles of Modernist architecture and planning around the world. The principles discussed in The Ideal Communist City are merely a reformulation, repackaging and, yes, redistribution of these same ideas found in the new towns model (referred to here as the “New Unit of Settlement or NUS”) of Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities of To-morrow, housing models of Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne (CIAM), and Harris and Ullman’s multi-nuclei theory in collusion with Euclidean zoning/modern transportation planning, which conveniently tells us almost any urban function can be randomly inserted almost anywhere in the city as long as ‘incompatible’ land uses are segregated.

New Unit of Settlement (NUS) diagram from The Ideal Communist City
New Unit of Settlement (NUS) diagram from The Ideal Communist City

Of course, the key difference is the authors’ explicitly state the failure of these ideas to “reach their full potential” in Western societies is due to the corrupting influence of capitalism as a political and economic system. This is a conceit that has been badly exposed with time. If anything, capitalism more ruthlessly exploited the economic potentials of Modern ideas by taking them to their logical and, ultimately, extreme conclusion; probably more so than even most devoted CIAM architect ever imagined. The real danger about The Ideal Communist City is that younger readers (Millennials and generations thereafter) without any first-hand experience of the Cold War might make the mistake of thinking they are reading something original and entirely different because it’s wearing Soviet-era clothing. However, it is the same, tired planning paradigm we have been hearing about and (unfortunately) living with over the last 80+ years. To be fair, another key difference in this book is the desire of Soviet-era planners to adopt a model that segregates land uses from one another while still actively promoting manufacturing, mass production, and industrialization. Younger readers might also think this represents a somewhat unique perspective from the point of view of architecture and planning. However, it is really only evidence of Soviet preoccupation – even obsession – with Western societies’ manufacturing prowess at the time. In this sense, Soviet failure to compete with the success of Western capitalistic societies contradicted the ‘means of production’ arguments underpinning Karl Marx and Frederick Engel’s The Communist Manifesto and Marx’s Das Capital; that is, direct evidence that communism was a flawed political and economic system based on totalitarianism masquerading as a false ideology

Having said all that, The Ideal Communist City is an important historical document that anyone interested in town planning should probably be exposed at some point, as long as the book is placed within its proper context for readers, especially post-Cold War ones. There are, in fact, relatively few flights of fancy in this book; the most amusing one being the common idea in science fiction that cities will eventually be covered by climate-controlled plastic domes (see Featured Image of this post at the top). The authors’ statistical projections of urban populations are way off, hilariously so. Early in the book, the authors project that 75% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by the year 2000 when it fact we only passed the 50% threshold in the last decade (due to the corrupting influence of capitalism, no doubt). The model of the NUS stretches believability despite the authors’ best – though somewhat halfhearted – efforts to address accommodating population growth during the transition period between one NUS being occupied and the next one being constructed. This is because these Soviet-era planners ultimately have a static view of the city. In hindsight, one might fairly argue the communist NUS model has already been better implemented and realized in cities such as Milton Keynes in England, the Pilot Plan of Brasilia in Brazil, or perhaps even some areas of America Suburbia, despite the problematic nature of such places as extensively discussed elsewhere in the literature. In the end, the Ideal Communist City is perhaps best at asking some interesting questions about cities but the answers provided are all too familiar and depressing to seriously contemplate. As Christopher Alexander famously said, “a city is not a tree.” It seems the same is as true for communist cities as it ever was for capitalistic ones. In the end, human nature is always more pervasive than any political ideology.

ideal-communist-cityThe Ideal Communist City by Alexei Gutnov, A. Baburov, G. Djumenton, S. Kharitonova, I. Lezava, and S. Sadovskij (Moscow University), Translated by Renee Neu Watkins, Preface by Giancarlo de Carlo
Hardback, 166 pages
1968, Boston: George Braziller, Inc.

You can download a PDF of the full book for free here.

From the Vault is a series from the Outlaw Urbanist in which we review art, architectural and urban design texts, with an emphasis on the obscure and forgotten, found in second-hand bookstores.

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Planning Naked | April 2016

Planning-2016-04-image33Planning Naked | April 2016
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

1. What is this? An actual plan on the cover of Planning Magazine! Well, that is promising. However, it would be wise to not hold our breath. Some things in this issue should illicit anger.

2. The first 12 pages are advertisements. I guess it could be worse, see Cosmopolitan or GQ Magazine.

3. “Granny Flats Gaining Ground” by Brian Barth (pp. 16-17) is an important article. You can tell because the editors of Planning Magazine barely contain their disgust by using lukewarm, halting language, especially in comparison to the urgent, positive word choices in the “U.S. Broadband Lags Behind” article on pp. 17. The title of this article should probably be “Granny Flats Recover Stolen Ground.”

4. “‘CEQA in Reverse’ Curtailed” by Ron Bass in the Legal Lessons section (pp. 19) tries to downplay what could prove to be a truly monumental court ruling for future land development in California.

5. “Welcome to Black Rock City” by Dr. Thomas Sullivan (pp. 20-27) tries to conflate the annual Burning Man Festival in Nevada into something it is not by tying the festival layout to Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities of Tomorrow plan model (see images below). It doesn’t have anything to do with Howard’s Utopian ideals. The festival layout is based on an Ancient Greek amphitheater, which crystallizes what the Burning Man festival is really all about: theater. It doesn’t undercut what is interesting about people participating in the festival, how they conduct themselves or they are managed (they are, it’s buried in Sullivan’s text and reeks of the kind of authoritarianism associated with the political left, see political correctness, safe space, muting opposition, etc.). However, the reality of layout does ably illustrate the fallacy of Sullivan’s argument. Get real, man.

Planning-2016-04-image32

Planning-2016-04-image27

6. “Future Plans” by William Atkinson (pp. 28-31) is a disturbing. There is nothing wrong with the aspirations of the content, e.g. involving young people in the planning process. It is the utter condescension on display in the article. There is not one high school student quoted in the article. As far as I can tell, there is not one Millennial quoted in the article. This is Baby Boomers/GenXers talking about how they are involving youth in the planning process. How magnanimous of you! However, the article does not allow any young person to be heard. Any young person who happens to read the article should be angry. It made me angry. The message could not be clearer: young people are to be involved (check that off the list) but not actually listened to or allowed to be heard.

7. “Flipping the Strip” by Randall Arendt for the Planning Practice section (pp. 32-35) is, by far, the most important article in this month’s issue. Naturally, it is an editorial/layout nightmare as the editors of Planning Magazine almost seem to be going out of their way to undercut the content, which transforms a relatively straightforward, clear, and concise argument into a confusing presentation for the readers to follow. Mr. Arendt should be upset about how his content was butchered by the editors.

8. 2016 National Planning Awards section (pp. 37-48)… Well, let’s see: an award for a comprehensive plan, which is not shown; the most interesting thing shown about Resilient New Orleans is on the cover; photo for Grand Rapids Downtown Market appears to be architecture, not planning; an urban design award for a Landscape Urbanism project in Chicago; and a JAPA award for a climate change article. This entire section only raises a lot of questions about what is the American Planning Association really hiding from us? Then, depression set in…

9. “Use Story Mapping for Better Reports” by Emily Pasi in The Commissioner section (pp. 49-50) was published 20 years too late. “Infrastructure Planning” in Carolyn Thomas in the same section (pp. 51-52) was published 60 years too late.

10. “The ‘Gayborhood’ Solution?” by Cade Hobbick in the Viewpoint section (pp.  60) is a perfect example about how identity politics almost inevitably leads to the wrong conclusion, especially in urban planning. Read the article once as is, then read the article again but generalize the identity politics terminology (so “LGBTQ community” becomes ‘community’, “gayborhood” becomes ‘neighborhood’, “homeless LGBTQ youth” becomes ‘homeless youth’, etc.). This is pretty easy to do for the entire article except for the 7th paragraph, which is specifically about the AIDS crisis during the 1980s/1990s. When you do this, you’ll see Hobbick’s proposed solution (we need to build more community centers, i.e. a public, architectural solution) is not only wrong but he discounts the actual solution. If you generalize the language, then it comes down to this: we do need to build better neighborhoods; identity politics is irrelevant because common problems demand common solutions for everyone (see “Universal Design” in last month’s issue of Planning Magazine).

Note: this month’s cover photo honors the title of this running series, i.e. Planning Naked.

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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Map shows age of buildings in Paris | Geoawesomeness

This post is for those of us who love maps from Geoawesomeness.

Excerpt:

“Paris is an amazing city. It represents a unique combination of magnificent architecture, beautiful scenery, culture and people. It is the city where the history, present and the future meet together in a single place. The new map called BatiParis is a great tool to understand how the city evolved over time. It shows age of buildings footprints in the city with each building colored according to its year of construction. You can turn on and off each period of time to visualize the major stages of the Paris development.”

Read  full article here: Map shows age of buildings in Paris | Geoawesomeness

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Planning Naked | March 2016

Planning-2016-03-14Planning Naked | March 2016
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

  1. “Partnering for Success”, this month’s From the Desk of the APA’s Executive Director article by James M. Drinan (pp. 3), is (unintentionally) a perfect illustration of what has gone wrong in this country: it’s not what you know but who you know that matters and accomplishment is measured in terms of knowing who to know in order to profit instead of knowing what to do in order to solve decades of problems in our towns and cities. In the grudge match of ‘Insiders vs. Outsiders’ in today’s America, APA thinks firmly planting their flag in the Insiders camp is a virtue. It’s not: it’s a symptom.
  1. “Coming Soon: Lake Erie Wind Power” by Daniel McGraw (pp. 10) in the News section is interesting but leaves some questions unanswered or unmentioned such as the impact on shipping through the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway. Are northern, industrial cities along the Great Lakes completely abandoning any hopes of recovering industry associated with shipping? If so, why? If the project is viable without a Federal DOE grant, then the grant is irrelevant (i.e. it is corporate welfare for a Norwegian company). It seems like there are larger strategic issues underlying this story than a nominal press release for LEEDCo and Fred.Olsen Renewables.
  1. “Sagebrush Rebellion Redux” by Allen Best (pp. 12) brings up an interesting topic: Federal ownership of lands in the West. I don’t know enough about the particular issues in the Western United States to comment with any authority but I do think there is a more general, legitimate question at the center of the controversy: do we have the right model for ownership, management, and regulation of vast areas of public land for the 21st century? I don’t know the answer to that question but it seems important to better understand an answer and why. This seems further warranted by the Legal Lessons article, “Don’t Mess with Due Process” by Ilima Loomis (pp. 13) since it is beyond ridiculous that it should take 7+ years and counting to decide about permitting and constructing a scientific telescope (surely the design is close to technologically obsolete by this point).
  1. The articles composing this month’s cover (Substance, Role, Form) about comprehensive plans (pp. 14-31) are an editorial disaster. It reads as if the Planning Magazine editors wedged together more than a dozen articles by different authors by synthesizing them together under an awkward thematic umbrella that, in the end, was credited to half-a-dozen principal authors. That’s not to say there aren’t good, interesting items in here (there are) but it’s a chore to sort through the mess and the constant “take (insert ‘community name/plan’ here)” asides are irritating in the extreme. It’s like someone composed a checklist, which can be re-constructed based on these paragraph ‘take this example’ asides. Let me try to help the readers: pp. 14-19 is ‘buzzword’ fluff that reads like a committee of marketing agencies wrote it (ignore it unless you find yourself in need of action verbs); pp. 20-24 (to the first 2 paragraphs) is outstanding because it demonstrates the re-emergence of design (e.g. form-based codes, etc.) as the real driver of new approaches to comprehensive plans and, in typical APA fashion, the awkward structure is designed to subvert the real story in order to re-assert (or, perhaps, soften the blow to) traditional planning approaches in the post-war period; the rest of the content (pp. 24-31) is mostly more planning fluff and buzzwords except for isolated excerpts here and there about PlanLafayette.
  1. This month’s Planning Practice article “Design for Everybody” by Steve Wright and Heidi Johnson-Wright (pp. 32-39) is an insidiously great article that promotes humanistic design principles (i.e. not for the automobile) while cloaking the argument in the language of the left (and, by implication, APA) about addressing urban issues for special interest groups and socially vulnerable populations (e.g. universal design and accessibility for everyone “using simple approaches and thinking holistic”). This article speaks volumes more in 4 pages than the 9 pages (excluding the 2-page title spreads of each) devoted to the cover story.
  1. “Density is Land” by John H. Tibbets (pp. 40-43) is neither about land or density (not really) but yet another article about NIMBYism (“Not in My Backyard”) run amok. The fact is we’re going to be paying for the sins of the last 80 years for a very LONG time, especially in the Southeast.
  1. “Planning for Cities of Awe” by Timothy Bentley ((p. 46-47) is proof-positive that phenomenology (for good or ill) is not dead.
  1. The Planning Library reviews of five books this month are depressing.
  1. This month’s Viewpoint article, “The Displacement Factor” by Daniel Kay Hertz (pp. 52) does the unthinkable to the more-devout disciples of David Harvey and social justice by applying a common sense perspective to the issue of gentrification in cities. Finally, a voice of reason in the wilderness.

Planning Naked is a new series of observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.

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