Poor Richard, AN Almanac for Architects and Planners offered anew commentary, proverbs, and witticisms about the architecture, urban design and planning of our cities, which was hailed as a “worthwhile”, “hilariously righteous epitome” for its “genius, extraordinary wit, passion for good design, and mastery of the history of planning” in “following both Benjamin Franklin and Ambrose Bierce.”
In a similar vein, Poor Richard, ANOTHER Almanac for Architects and Planners brings together more common sense proverbs, astute observations, and general rules of thumb for anyone interested in the future of our cities. In doing so, author MARK DAVID MAJOR again draws from a dizzyingly array of sources for inspiration, including artistic movements of Modernism, obscure African, European and Oriental proverbs, and even the Torah and New Testament. These witticisms are often eloquent, sometimes biting, always insightful, and occasionally bizarre in the absence of deeper thought. They offer a valuable resource for the entire year, daily reminders for everyone involved in the building of our cities about their better angels and warning against the worse demons of human nature. The clear message of Poor Richard, ANOTHER Almanac for Architects and Planners, with foreword by STEVE MOUZON (author of The Original Green), is we can do better for our cities and we must do better for our cities.
“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.”
Tommy Lee Jones, Men in Black
Everyone should watch Ben Hamilton-Baillie’s fantastic one-hour presentation below about shared space at CNU22. It’s a wonderful reminder that urban planners too often design for ‘dumb, panicky animals’ instead of the smart person. At the end of the video, someone in the audience asks a question that perfectly summarizes all that is wrong with urban planning and design in the United States, i.e. what if we get sued? As Poor Richard said, “There is more to life than trying to avoid being sued or going out of your way to sue somebody.” At the bottom is a 15-minute video “Poynton Regenerated”, which provides a shorter summary of Hamilton-Baillie’s arguments in the CNU22 presentation. Watch and learn…
My ‘Secret’ Life as an Anonymous Source by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor
Sorry, this post is quirky and not nearly as salacious as the title might suggest otherwise. However, enough time has passed (15 years) that I can now reveal one of the more interesting episodes in my professional career. This is my ‘secret’ life as an anonymous source for the free-wheeling British press involving a story about London Transport, the Metropolitan Police and, ultimately, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his still-young-at-the-time Labour government.
On November 23, 1998, London’s Evening Standard printed a front-page article by Martin Delgado with the screaming headline “SHUT THE TUBE FOR MILLENNIUM.” The story was about London Transport’s public claims that they would operate between 70% and 80% of the London Underground services for the Millennium New Year’s Eve celebration on December 31, 1999. However, as part of the crowds study group, London Transport was privately reporting they would be lucky to run services at 50% capacity on the night. At the time, there was a three-year crowds study group tasked with preparing Central London for the large number of people expected to attend the celebrations consisting of the Metropolitan Police, London Transport, Department of Culture, Media and Sport, City of Westminster, and their consultants Risk Management Consultants and Space Syntax Ltd.
The London Metropolitan Police was extremely concerned about London Transport’s plans to operate at only 50% capacity on the night and leaked the story to the Evening Standard. Delgado’s story quoted an anonymous source in Space Syntax Ltd. to support the position of the Metropolitan Police.
I was the anonymous source.
As I recall, a crowds study group member of the Metropolitan Police referred Mr. Delgado to me to support their position by providing some background information about the study. It was only years later that learned my mistake was asking for an “off the record” conversation ; not realizing this meant I could still be quoted as an anonymous source. In hindsight, I should have asked for a conversation “on background.” Oh well, live and learn. Initially, I took some grief inside Space Syntax for my role in this story but less than you might think because what I said was accurate and correct. The reaction inside Space Syntax about my role later evolved into bewildered amusement because of what next happened.
The story briefly caused a firestorm, which required Tony Blair to respond to Ministers of Parliament during Prime Minister’s Question Time. The story eventually led to the Labour government making wholesale changes to government preparations by refocusing the Millennium celebrations on the River Thames. This was not our idea but it was a darn good one in hindsight because it helped to spread the expected crowds over a much larger area of central London. A change that also required London Underground to operate nearer to full capacity on the night since people would be arriving and leaving via more underground stations. At the time, the concern of crowds study group about this change was our crowd observations were focused around Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, and Piccadilly Circus on New Year’s Eve in 1996, 1997 and 1998.
We worried about missing something since we could not observe crowd movement and space use under the same circumstances before the actual night. However, the Millennium celebrations were a great success, going off without a hitch other than some minor incidents involving stupidity and chance, with no serious injuries due to overcrowding on the streets of central London. I like to think Space Syntax’s role as a consultant on the crowds study – and mine, in particular, as the Space Syntax project manager and anonymous source to this Evening Standard story – helped to ensure public safety on December 31, 1999.
If you are interested in more details about our crowds study, you can read about it here:
Major MD, A. Penn , G. Spiliopoulou, N. Spende, M. Doxa, and P. Fong, 2000, ‘Following the Crowd: Spatial Layout and Crowd Behaviour’, arq Architectural Research Quarterly, Volume 4, Number 3, Cambridge University Press, pp. 257-264, ISBN 0-521-79412-9.
Steve Jobs on the Social Potential of Built Space by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor
While reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of the co-founder of Apple and former majority shareholder of Pixar Animations Studios, Steve Jobs (review available here on The Outlaw Urbanist), I came across a fascinating passage. I wanted to share it because the point is so powerful, it bears repetition and celebration. The most important passages are in bold.
Pixar Animation Studios was reaping the creative and financial benefits of a $485 million worldwide gross for Toy Story 2 so…
(Excerpt) …it was time to start building a showcase headquarters. Jobs and the Pixar facilities team found an abandoned Del Monte fruit cannery in Emeryville, an industrial neighborhood between Berkeley and Oakalnd, just across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco. They tore it down and Jobs commissioned Peter Bohlin, the architect of the Apple Stores, to design a new building for the sixteen-acre plot. Jobs obsessed over every aspect of the new building, from the overall concept to the tiniest detail regarding materials and construction. “Steve had the firm belief that the right kind of building can do great things for a culture,” said Pixar’s president Ed Catmull… (John) Lasseter had originally wanted a traditional Hollywood studio, with separate buildings for various projects and bungalows for development teams. But the Disney folks said they didn’t like their new campus because the teams felt isolated, and Jobs agreed. In fact he decided they should go to the other extreme: one huge building around a central atrium designed to encourage random encounters. Despite being a denizen of the digital world, or maybe because he knew all too well its isolating potential, Jobs was a strong believer in face-to-face meetings.
“There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat,” he said. “That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow.” and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.” So he had the Pixar building designed to promote encounters and unplanned collaborations. “If a building doesn’t encourage that, you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity,” he said. “So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see…” “Steve’s theory worked from day one,” Lasseter recalled. “I kept running into people I hadn’t seen in months. I’ve never seen a building that promoted collaboration and creativity as well as this one.”
For those who don’t believe architects such as New Urbanist Andres Duany or Space Syntax people such as Alan Penn, Tim Stonor and Kerstin Sailer about the social potential of built space, then believe the words of a genius like Steve Jobs. Design matters, space matters, and architecture matters to innovation.
Urbanists Branded as Outlaws for Bluntly Speaking Truth | Urbanism Speakeasy
Mark David Major recently made an appearance on the podcast, Urbanism Speakeasy.
“We are outlaws. So says a passionate group of bloggers who have been challenging status quo infrastructure planners and designers. Mark David Major joins the Urbanism Speakeasy this week. He is the principal blogger and co-founder of The Outlaw Urbanist.”