Category Archives: Science

NOW AVAILABLE | The American City Track | Planetizen Courses

“The American City” Track (3.25 credits)
Many 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 completely unique. Why did the regular grid come to pervasively characterize American urbanism? Are American cities really different? “The American City” answers these questions and much more by exploring their urban morphology. In some ways, American cities are unique including a strong historical preference for geometric regularity in town planning, which endures to this day. However, in more important ways, American cities are still subject to the same processes linking street networks and human use found in all cities of the world.

Part 1: A Brief History of the Regular Grid
Part 2: The Invention of a New Scale
Part 3: Learning from the Grid
Part 4: Complexity and Pattern in the City

Featuring Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A. Click here to purchase this Planetizen Courses track.

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RE-POST | 20 Must-Read Texts for Urban Planners (#11-20)

RE-POST | 20 Must-Read Texts for Urban Planners (#11-20)
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A
(Originally posted January 22, 2013)

Lists are often a handy tool to spark a discussion, debate, or even an argument. The purpose of this list is pretty straightforward, i.e. what should you have read. Of course, in limiting the list to a mere 20 texts (books and articles), there is no possible way it can be exhaustive. There are a lot of interesting texts out there from a lot of different perspectives (some better than others). It is also true that compiling such a list will inevitably reveal the particular biases of the person preparing the compilation (like revealing your iTunes playlist). In the end, it is only their opinion. There’s no way around it. This list demonstrates a clear bias towards texts about the relationship between the physical fabric of cities and their spatio-functional nature with a particular emphasis on first-hand observation of how things really work. Because of this, perhaps the most surprising thing about this list is how few texts there are by people who identify themselves as planners (or perhaps not, depending on your perspective). Finally, as with most lists, it is wise to reserve the right to amend/update said list in order to allow for any unfortunate oversights. Having said that, the list is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its margins lies suburban sprawl. Let the making of lists begin…

20. Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form (1972) by Robert Venturi, Steven Izenour and Denise Scott Brown
Venturi et al expand the arguments first outlined in Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture in 1966 to the urban level with their seminal study of Las Vegas. Only on these terms, it is an interesting read. However, dig a little deeper beneath the surface and into their wonderful series of figure-ground representations of spatial functioning on, along and adjacent to the Las Vegas Strip. You will discover Venturi et al concede – almost casually – the functional dynamics of how the strip operates to the realm of urban space and pattern in order to quickly focus on their arguments on what really interests them, i.e. the semantic nature of architectural form. A surface reading of only what Venturi et al writes misses a lot of the richness found within since there is a whole other book hidden based on what they are not saying but merely showing you. Click here to purchase on Amazon.

concept_dwelling19. The Concept of Dwelling: on the way to figurative architecture (1985) by Christian Norberg-Schulz
One always has to be careful with phenomenology because, by definition, almost everything written is subjective and open to vast differences in interpretation. However, much like the previous entry on this list, if a reader is willing to dig beneath of the surface and give thoughtful consideration about what, at first, appears to be purposefully opaque writing, then often there are rich rewards to be discovered. Norberg-Schulz’s The Concept of Dwelling is one of the best examples. Click here to purchase on Amazon.

18. Ladders, Architecture at Rice 34 (1996) by Albert Pope
It is something of a mystery why this book seems to be sorely under-appreciated and underrated outside of Houston, Texas. Pope’s study about the physical pattern of the American urban fabric is a fascinating read. Urban planners – especially American ones – could do a lot worse than read an entire book examining the physical pattern of the urban fabric in cities they are suppose to be planning; in fact, they have and do so regularly. Click here to purchase on Amazon.

17. Dreaming the Rational City: The Myth of American City Planning (1983) by M. Christine Boyer
Boyer’s The City of Collective Memory seems to overshadow her earlier book, which is a shame. Her history of the planning profession in the United States is a devastating and powerful critique that is as relevant today as when it was first published. It is also a much better book than The City of Collective Memory. Click here to purchase on Amazon.

16. America (1988) by Jean Baudrillard
The best planners are good sociologists and the best sociologists are great observers. Baudrillard was one of the best and keenest observers of human society and its meaning. Baudrillard wraps his observations within a flamboyant, often elegant, and occasionally beautiful use of language. It is not always clear whether the flurries of linguistic gymnastics are really his or is the result of translating from French into English. However, the results often amount to genius. In America, Baudrillard’s compare and contrast of Paris, New York, and Los Angeles yields rich rewards to any planner who dares to pay attention. Click here to purchase on Amazon.

15. Streets and Patterns (2005) by Stephen Marshall
The first half of Marshall’s book is a brilliant review and analysis of where we are and how we got here. The second half – focusing on possible solutions – descends into being only interesting. Click here to purchase on Amazon.

14. City: Rediscovering the Center (1989) by William H. Whyte
Whyte’s study of informal, social interaction in public spaces is a case study in urban observation that any planner should seek to take into account and emulate. Yes, sometimes Whyte’s conclusions are too localized about the attributes of the space itself than how it fits into the pattern of a larger urban context. However, at other times, his findings are remarkable for their common sense. For example, people in public spaces will move chairs for the purpose of promoting interaction rather than locate their interactions where chairs are located or tend to locate social interaction in areas of high movement like street corners. Anyone who has ever tried to move their way through to party – mumbling to themselves “why do people have to stop here to talk” – will understand many of Whyte’s observations about human nature and informal interaction are rock solid. Whyte’s City can almost be read as a companion piece to Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Click here to purchase on Amazon.

13. “The Architecture of Community: Some New Proposals on the Social Consequences of Architectural and Planning Decisions” (1987) by Julienne Hanson and Bill Hillier, Architecture and Comportement, Architecture and Behaviour, 3(3): 251-273.
There are many texts by a lot of people about why space syntax is important. However, few have driven home the point more powerfully and succinctly than this early article by Hanson and Hillier about the social consequences of design decisions for Modern housing estates (projects) in the UK. In doing so, Hanson and Hillier add considerable intellectual and quantitative heft to Jane Jacobs’ arguments about urban safety and “eyes on the street” in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. This article will probably be obscure to most planners, especially in the USA. The real crime is it’s rarely read outside of the space syntax community itself. Download the article here.

12. Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream (2000) by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck
A purist will probably argue when it comes to New Urbanism, start with The New Urbanism by Peter Katz. If you’re not really keen on appetizers, then go straight to the main meal. Suburban Nation is not only about what is the New Urbanism but also delves into the argument about why we need the New Urbanism today. New Urbanism does not always get it right. Does anybody? However, there shouldn’t be any doubt that it is heading in the right direction and that is a huge achievement in itself. Click here to purchase on Amazon.

11. “Transect Planning” (2002) by Andres Duany and Emily E. Talen. APA Journal, 68(3): 245-266.
Duany and Talen elegantly translate a fundamental aspect about the spatio-functioning of streets tailored to urban form into understandable terms for public officials, urban designers and planners who are still trapped in – or refuse to leave – the box of the Euclidean zoning model and the arbitrary roadway classifications almost universally associated with it over the last half-century. In terms of the prevailing planning paradigm afflicting our cities, transect planning is the metaphorical equivalent of Duany and Talen pushing a Trojan horse inside the city gates. The more applied, the less tenable becomes the roadway classifications associated with the Euclidean zoning model. Beware of New Urbanists bearing gifts (i.e. methodology). You can read the abstract here.

Read Top 20 ‘Must-Read’ Texts for Urban Planners (#1-10) here!

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Top Ten ‘Must Read’ Non-fiction Books

Need ideas for gifts this holiday season? The Outlaw Urbanist is here to help you!

The Sovereignty used to be the author’s blog for promoting my science fiction novel Mars Rising (available for purchase on Amazon here). I retired the site a couple of years ago for a new author’s website (www.markdmajor.com) since my published books quickly spread beyond the genre of science fiction to include theatre, poetry, and children’s books as well as the Poor Richard series of almanacs about architecture and urbanism (available for purchase on the menu to your right).

By far and away, the most popular articles on the old blog were the “Top Ten ‘Must Read’ Non-fiction Books” and “Top Ten ‘Must Read’ Fiction Books” posts. Given their popularity, I want to make these articles newly available on The Outlaw Urbanist blog even though they are not strictly about architecture and urbanism. I originally wrote the “Top Ten ‘Must Read’ Fiction Books” on August 11, 2013. Below is the second article, “Top Ten ‘Must Read’ Non-fiction Books”, which I originally wrote on September 22, 2013. Without further ado and only a few revisions: here is…

Top Ten ‘Must Read’ Non-fiction Books
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A
(Originally appeared on The Sovereignty blog, September 22, 2013)

Previously, I posted an article on this blog about what I believed were the Top Ten fiction books everyone should have read. In that article was a promise to later produce a second Top Ten list of non-fiction books based on the same criteria. I should be clear that this selection is not solely based on historical importance; otherwise, people like Charles Darwin might populate the list with some extremely dry, hard sloughs such as On the Origin of Species. Accessibility is certainly an important criterion in the selection of the books for this list. These are books that everyone can and should enjoy reading, not just specialists in particular fields. Once again, I am also avoiding controversial choices such as religious or political texts. For example, the Holy Bible and the Koran are certainly important religious and historical documents, which many people have read. However, I do not want to start a flame war on my blog simply because I ranked one above the other. The same is true for controversial political texts such as Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler or The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx, both of which have in common being hard sloughs of incoherent garbage; again, important historical documents, no doubt, but not exactly must-read material. I am also blatantly cheating by pairing some books together and some selections are multi-volume works. I make no apologies for cheating in this manner because there are too many good non-fiction books that everyone should read. With that, let the making of lists begin…

HONORABLE MENTION:

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
Machiavelli’s The Prince is still the essential handbook for leadership, albeit in a democratic society, dictatorship or the high school council, see Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) in the film, Election. Its lessons are still relevant today across the entire political spectrum. It is this, which truly speaks to its greatness as a written work of non-fiction. It is not just political leadership. There are all sorts of leadership lessons in The Prince, be it of a business or personal nature, which tends to come down to the maxim it is better to be respected than loved and, sometimes, it is better to be feared than respected. Purchase on Amazon here.

Portrait of a Marriage: Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson by Nigel Nicolson
This might seem like an esoteric and obscure choice for many people but this book about the marriage of Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West  and her romantic affairs with women  is a fascinating read. It demands your attention. It also serves as a peek into the early twentieth century Bloomsbury Group of literary writers and artists in London (such as Virginia Woolf, with whom Sackville-West had an affair), which Sackville-West was associated in a peripheral manner. You would not think it would be a compelling subject but, in fact, it is very much so. Nicolson draws the story about his parents’ marriage together from letters and interviews; it is well worth your time. Purchase on Amazon here.

10. 1776/John Adams by David G. McCullough
These two works are companion pieces in many ways since they are, for the most part, telling the same story but with a different emphasis. John Adams, of course, focuses on the entire career of the Founding Father and Second President of the United States. In this, it provides a grounded and broad sweep of the first 50 years of American history as well as the 10 years preceding the American Revolution. McCullough’s portrait of Abigail Adams is especially vibrant, which proves that behind every great man is often a great woman. 1776 focuses on a single year of the American Revolution though McCullough does fill-in before and after this date within the narrative. In 1776, you get much more of the story of George Washington and the struggles of the Continental Army. McCullough also fleshes out the different perspectives of Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin in drafting the Declaration of Independence to the one already sketched in John Adams. John Adams is denser, covering a lot of material and years (including the correspondence between Adams and Jefferson after both had left public life, which is fascinating). John Adams digs deep into the details. 1776 is a faster and easier read, painting the broad strokes of this quintessentially American story. Purchase on Amazon here and here.

9. A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan/Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest by Stephen E. Ambrose
Yes, Ryan’s book gives short shrift to the American role in Operation Market Garden. Yes, he tells the story very much from the British point-of-view. It elevates examples of British heroism (of which there were plenty examples requiring no such embellishment) and makes apologies for British failings (specifically, Montgomery’s errors) in planning Operation Market Garden. Eisenhower more or less sidelined Montgomery from Allied war planning after Market Garden, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about where to lay the blame (see #1 on this list below). Nonetheless, the story about this risky offensive strategy is a fascinating read. After reading A Bridge Too Far, you will wonder how the Allies ever won the war in the face of such incompetence and possess greater respect for the treacherous political waters that Eisenhower had to navigate as Supreme Allied Commander. For some balance, you can read Ambrose’s Band of Brothers, which devotes an entire chapter to the 101st Airborne’s role in Operation Market Garden. However, the real highlight of Ambrose’s book is the story about the unbelievable conditions and American acts of heroism at Bastogne in the Ardennes Forest during The Battle of the Bulge. Purchase on Amazon here and here.

8. The Double Helix by James D. Watson
You would immediately think a first-hand account about the search for the discovery of DNA would qualify as a snooze fest of scientific mumbo-gumbo. You could not be more wrong. Instead of producing a dry, academic book about the scientific process of trial, error, observation, and refutation, Watson writes an exciting detective novel and invites you along for the twists and turns of the wild ride. Who knew science could be so exciting? The Double Helix is a rare breed, a non-fiction book about science that is a page-turner. I dare you to put it down once you start reading. Purchase on Amazon here.

7. Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger
The definitive book about the Apollo space program is, paradoxically, about its greatest failure and triumph. As Commander of Apollo 13, Lovell takes you right onto the ship with him, and fellow astronauts Fred Haise and Jack Swigert, to give you the first-hand account of what they went through on that eventful voyage and how close they really were to dying. Lovell and Kluger also do their research and tell the equally fascinating story of the NASA people on the ground trying to save the astronauts. After reading this book, you will be even more amazed that Apollo 13 survived to make it home. If anything, the film version of this book does not adequately convey enough just how really miraculous was the flight of Apollo 13. I am not sure any film could do so, but Ron Howard’s film certainly gave it a great shot. Purchase on Amazon here.

6. The Death and Life of Great American Cities: The Failure of Modern Town Planning by Jane Jacobs
This is a bit of a specialist book since it is about the failure of town planning. However, Jacobs’ book is so important that everyone should read it. You actually do not have to be a planning expert (Jacobs wasn’t, she was an economist) to take away valuable information about our cities. I am not usually one for litmus tests. However, any architect, planner, engineer, geographer, or policy maker who questions or soft-pedals the validity of Jacobs’ arguments in this book should immediately be suspected of not knowing what the hell they are talking about. Purchase on Amazon here.

5. Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant
This is still the gold standard for presidential memoirs. Grant wisely avoids the problems and scandals of his presidency to focus on his early life, military training, and his role in the U.S. Civil War. You probably do not realize it but much of what you know about Grant, Lincoln, Sherman, and even Robert E. Lee comes from Grant’s crucial first-hand account of the bloodiest period in American history. Purchase on Amazon here.

4. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
The story of the American West as told from the perspective of the American Indian. It is a heart-wrenching read and some sections (especially about the brutality of the Sand Creek Massacre) will make you want to vomit and cry at the same time. This is a lot of material covered and the book itself is dense but easy to read. Oddly, this book is also a cautionary tale for anyone naïve enough to think the Federal government is incapable of tyranny. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee proves any government, even one founded on the purest of ideals, can descend into tyranny. You would think slavery and the U.S. Civil War would have already ably demonstrated this point but here is another example occurring mostly in the years after the Civil War. Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. Purchase on Amazon here.

3. All the President’s Men/The Final Days by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
The story of the Nixon Administration and Watergate will always be intimately tied to these two Woodward and Bernstein books. Like Watson’s The Double Helix, you would not think investigative journalism would be an especially interesting subject. However, such is the level of the stakes (the Presidency itself) and the story-telling capability of Woodward and Bernstein that the books (especially All the President’s Men) read like page-turning, spy thrillers. Unfortunately, in hindsight, Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting also marks the beginning of the long decline (‘jumped the shark’, perhaps?) of the Fourth Estate. Purchase on Amazon here and here.

2. The Civil War: A Narrative (Three Volumes) by Shelby Foote/Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson
These two works really offer the definitive historical accounts of the U.S. Civil War. Foote’s three-volume narrative essentially offers an objective Southern perspective about ‘The War of Northern Aggression’ whereas McPherson’s provides more of a Northern perspective. Foote’s three volumes are a dense and long account of the war, about 1,000 pages per volume and weighing nearly 10 pounds in total! However, it is a surprisingly easy read given how dense is the material. McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom is a one-volume historical account of the war. It is also a fascinating and easy read, which is a viable alternative if you do not really want to delve into Foote’s more dense narrative. Purchase on Amazon here and here.

1. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
This book should be required reading for every human being in every country on the planet, period. Anne is just an ordinary girl growing into a vibrant, young woman during one of the most perverted moments in human history. She was a Jew in hiding in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation of Holland. She could be your neighbor or even your daughter. By the end of this book, she becomes everyone’s daughter. The Nazis find and arrest her and her family a mere two weeks before the liberation of Amsterdam, sending them to a concentration camp where Anne dies. Note: The liberation of Holland was delayed for six weeks because of the failure of Operation Market Garden, see # 9 above. You do the math. Her father survives to come back to the house where they were hiding to find the diary Anne hid there and tell her story to the world. The anger you will feel is genuine because the world was robbed of her vibrant presence and, then, the full horror hits you. Anne’s story is just one story among millions of stories that were never told nor even written. It is impossible for me to think about Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl without crying. The only consolation is God truly had a plan for Anne, which was to produce one of the most poignant and important testimonies in human history. Purchase on Amazon here.

Read the list of “Top Ten ‘Must Read’ Fiction Books.”

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AVAILABLE | The American City | Complexity & Pattern in the City | Planetizen

The American City, Part 4: Complexity and Pattern in the City course featuring Dr. Mark David Major is now available from Planetizen Courses. The course is approved for 0.75 professional development credits with the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and Congress for New Urbanism (CNU).

Watch an extended preview here.

The American City, Part 4: Complexity and Pattern in the City
The course discusses the design of the urban pattern in several American cities (Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas, Seattle, St. Louis, Orlando, and Phoenix). The course examines: 1) the synergy between different scales of movement patterned into the urban grid, which contributes to the “urban buzz” of distinctive neighborhoods and places; 2) the large role that local topography plays in allowing, limiting, or denying certain possibilities for urban growth, due to the massive horizontal scale of American cities and the practical necessity of overcoming topographical conditions; and 3) the consequences of government regulations, Euclidean zoning, modern transportation planning, and suburbanization during the post-war period in generating a hierarchal grid logic to the American regular grid planning tradition. The implications of development patterns and land consumption unseen during the history of city building over the previous 10,000 years are discussed.

Click here to purchase the course by subscribing to Planetizen Courses.

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NOW AVAILABLE | Do Architects Dream of Celluloid Buildings? | Architecture & Film, Part 1

Part 1 of the Architecture and Film course series, “Do Architects Dream of Celluloid Buildings?” (2.0 hour) reviews the seductive correspondence between cinema and architecture. Over the last four decades, the film-architecture analogy and startling technological advances, mostly deriving from computer science, have blurred the distinction between cinema and architecture. Collectively, this tends to obscure the most important aspect, which is architecture’s impact on the dual aims of cinema, e.g. narrative and technology. Part I reviews the conceptual, historical and technological relation between cinema and architecture. The “Architecture and Film” course series more closely examines the frequent role of the built environment in creatively reinforcing or subverting expectations of the audience about cinematic narratives. Click here to purchase this course ($14.99).

Key concepts:  analogy, cinema, language, narrative, representation, technology.

Includes a two-hour video presentation and PDFs of the course supplementary material and slide handout.

Part 1 Film and Television Topics
The Wizard of Oz, A Trip to the Moon, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, The Hunger Games, Friends, New Girl, Planet of the Apes, Alice in Wonderland, Star Trek, To Kill a Mockingbird, Back to the Future, Westworld, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, Jurassic Park, The Wedding Singer, The Terminator, Babylon 5, Captain America, Avatar, Battlestar Galactica, It’s a Wonderful Life, Zelig, Forrest Gump, Jupiter Rising, Toy Story, Tron, Resident Evil, Total Recall, The Matrix, A Scanner Darkly, Contagion, American Psycho, Metropolis, Blade Runner

Please note there may be a delay for a couple of hours before you are able to access the course because we have to confirm receipt of payment for each order before completing the purchase.

About the Instructor

mark_v3Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A is an architect and planner with extensive experience in urban planning and design, business management and real estate development, and academia. He is a Professor of Urban Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Mark has been a visiting lecturer at the University of Florida, Georgia Tech, Architectural Association in London, the University of São Paulo in Brazil, and Politecnico di Milano in Italy.

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