Tag Archives: America

Urban Patterns | St Louis, Missouri USA

“I will be your tootsie wootsie,
If you will meet in St. Louis, Louis,
Meet me at the fair.”
— Meet Me in St. Louis, Judy Garland

Urban Patterns | St. Louis, Missouri USA
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

St. Louis is an independent city (meaning it is not part of St. Louis County) and major American port in the state of Missouri, built along the western bank of the Mississippi River, on the border with Illinois. The city had an estimated population of 311,404 in 2016. It is the cultural and economic center of the Greater St. Louis area (metropolitan population of 2.9 million people), making it the largest metropolitan area in Missouri and the 19th-largest in the United States (Source: Wikipedia).

map, St. Louis, 1780, archives, Wikipedia
A map of St. Louis in 1780. From the archives in Seville, Spain (Source: Wikipedia).

Prior to European settlement, the area was a major regional center of Native American Mississippian culture. The city of St. Louis was founded in 1764 by French fur traders Pierre Laclède and Auguste Chouteau, and named after Louis IX of France. In 1764, following France’s defeat in the Seven Years’ War, the area was ceded to Spain and retroceded back to France in 1800. Nominally, the city operated as an independent city after 1764 until 1803, when the United States acquired the territory as part of the Louisiana Purchase. During the 19th century, St. Louis developed as a major port on the Mississippi River. In the 1870 Census, St. Louis was ranked as the 4th-largest city in the United States. It separated from St. Louis County in 1877, becoming an independent city and thus, limiting its own political boundaries. In 1904, it hosted the World’s Fair/Louisiana Purchase Exposition and the Summer Olympics (Source: Wikipedia).

Satellite view, 15 km, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, Google Earth
Satellite view from 15 km of St. Louis, Missouri in the USA (Source: Google Earth).

The St. Louis urban pattern is composed of a series of small-scale regular grids of varying size, which are offset in relation to each other. This originally occurred due to adapting the regular grid layout to the topography of the Mississippi River adjacent to the riverfront at this location to ensure that most valuable lots were rectangular in shape for the purposes of buildability. Like other cities in the world composed of offset, regular grids (such as Athens, Greece and New Orleans, Louisiana), this – in combination with the distribution of land from afar by the French/Spanish crowns during the Colonial period – had a ‘cascade effect’ in shaping the layout and orientation of future parcels of small-scale regular grids in the city. Later, railroad lines running east-west introduced a very strong north-south divide in the city, which persists to this day. Oddly, this divide (historically reflecting a post-war racial divide in the city, e.g. whites in south St. Louis and blacks in north St. Louis) has been reinforced by Federal, state, and city planning efforts such as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (i.e. Gateway Arch) grounds on the riverfront in downtown St. Louis.

St Louis, Warehouse District, New Orleans, French Quarter, 1930s, Gateway Arch
St. Louis’ Warehouse District – same size as two New Orleans’ French Quarters – demolished during the 1930s to (eventually) make way for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial grounds and Gateway Arch though this riverfront land remained vacant for over two decades.

Urban Patterns is a series of posts from The Outlaw Urbanist presenting interesting examples of terrestrial patterns shaped by human intervention in the urban landscape over time.

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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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REVIEW | Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism

dead_end_Benjamin_RossREVIEW | Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism | Benjamin Ross
Review by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

The first half of Benjamin Ross’ Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism (2014, Oxford University Press) is a majestic masterpiece of objective, clear, and concise diagnosis about the political, economic, and social origins of suburban sprawl in the United States with particular emphasis on the legal and regulatory pillars (restrictive covenants and exclusionary zoning ) perpetuating  suburban sprawl to this day. It is required reading for anyone interested in the seemingly intractable problems of suburban sprawl we face today in building a more sustainable future for our cities. Chapters 1-10 (first 138 pages) of Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism warrants a five-star plus rating alone.

However, Ross’ book becomes more problematic with the transition from diagnosis to prescription, beginning with an abrupt change in tone in Chapter 11. This chapter titled “Backlash from the Right” is, in particular, so politically strident that it reads as if the staff of Harry Reid’s Senate office wrote the text (the political left’s favorite boogeymen, the Koch Brothers, are even mentioned); or perhaps, the text of this chapter sprouted wholesale like Athena from the “vast right wing conspiracy” imaginings of Hillary Clinton’s head. This is unfortunate. In the second half of the book, Ross starts to squander most – if not all – of the trust he earned with readers during the exemplary first half of the book. It is doubly unfortunate because: first, it is done solely in the service of political dogma as Ross unconvincingly attempts to co-opt Smart Growth as a wedge issue for the political left in the United States; and second, it unnecessarily alienates ‘natural’ allies on the conservative and libertarian right sympathetic to Ross’ arguments for strong cities and good urbanism.

In the process, Ross tends to ignore or paper over blatant contradictions littering the philosophy of the political left in the United States when it comes to cities. Of course, this is a common Baby Boomer leftist tactic of absolving their generation for the collective disaster they’ve helped to create over the last half-century by confusing ideology for argument (and hoping no one will notice there’s a difference). For example, if you want to see what the policies of the political left look like after three-quarters of a century of dominance, then look no further than East St. Louis, Illinois. What has happened to that once vibrant city is absolutely criminal; literally so since several state and city Democratic officials and staffers have been sent to jail for corruption for decades.

EastStL
Downtown Today in East St. Louis, Illinois.

During the second half of Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism, Ross also promotes the classic Smart Growth fallacy that public rail transit is the ‘magic bullet’ for reviving our cities. Indeed, public rail transit is important but too often Ross – like many others – comes across as unconsciously applying Harris and Ullman’s multi-nuclei model of city growth, which conveniently holds almost any function (in this case, rail stations/lines) can be randomly inserted almost anywhere in the fabric of a city without repercussions as long as land uses are ‘compatible.’ Of course, this is the ex post facto theoretical underpinning for the very ideas of Euclidean zoning and the common umbrella providing regulatory cover for all sorts of disastrous decisions in the name of “economic development.”

This is a potentially dangerous self-delusion shared by many in the Smart Growth movement. For example, what Ross attributes as the cause for the failure of some rail stations (lack of walkable, urban development around these stations due to the over-provision of space for ‘park and ride’ lots in catering to the automobile) is often really a symptom. The real disease is these stations were put in the wrong location in the first place due to local opposition, regulatory convenience, and/or political cowardice (i.e. that’s where the land was available). There is an inherent danger in approaching pubic rail transit as a cure-all panacea for the city’s problems. If our leaders, planners, and engineers take shortcuts in the planning, design, and locating of rail lines/stations, then we leave the fate of our cities to happenstance. It is far too important of an issue to approach in such a cavalier manner, as some Smart Growth advocates appear so inclined.

In a general sense, this is not really different from the arguments made in Dead End but, specifically, it is an important distinction that is glossed over or not properly understood when drilling down into the crucial details of Ross’ prescriptions. That being said, there are some interesting tidbits and ideas in the ‘prescription phase’ of Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism. However, the reader has to be extremely careful about filtering out Ross’ political agenda from the more important morsels. For example, Ross correctly points out Americans’ disdain for buses is rooted in social status. However, he fails to point out – or perhaps even realize – that this peculiar American attitude is indoctrinated from childhood due to the expansive busing of kids to school in the United States (e.g.. only the poor and unpopular kids take the bus). In order to change this attitude, you have to radically change public education policies, something contrary to the invested interests of the political left. In fact, Ross has very little to say about schools, which seems like an odd oversight.

Too often, Ross’s prescription for building coalitions comes across as the same, old political activism of the counter-culture Baby Boomers that doesn’t really rise above the level of gathering everyone around the campfire and singing “Kumbaya, My Lord” (absent the “My Lord” part in the interests of political correctness). In the end, this suggests Ross has a well-grounded understanding about the historical, political and social impact of legal and regulatory instruments at work in our cities (exemplified by the first half of this book) but only a superficial idea about the design and function of cities and movement networks (including streets and rail) as witnessed by the lackluster second half, which is barely worth a two-star rating. Because of these strengths and weaknesses, Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism is a four-star book in its entirety but you might be better served by reading the first half of the book, ignoring the second half, and having the courage to chart your own path in the fight for better cities.

four-stars-clear-background

dead_end_Benjamin_RossDead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism
by Benjamin Ross
Hardcover, English, 256 pages
New York: Oxford University Press (May 2, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0199360146
ISBN-13: 978-0199360147

Available for purchase from Amazon here.

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Life, Liberty, Happiness: the need for heroic planning | Blab

CURJCoWWIAAi_Lo.jpg_largeThe Outlaw Urbanist, Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, will participate in online broadcast with Don Kostelec of Kostelec Planning this Monday, November 23, 2015 at 8:00 pm EST titled, “Life, Liberty, Happiness: the need for heroic planning,” hosted by Andy Boreau of Urbanism Speakeasy.

The content is pretty wide open though it will tend to focus on what is wrong with our current development practices. We will be able to answer your questions and, hopefully, have a pretty good debate.

You can subscribe to the broadcast on Blab here.

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Dispatches from Dawn in the USA | via the Original Green

Dispatches from Dawn in the USA | via the Original Green
by Steve Mouzon, AIA, December 8, 2014

Steve Mouzon, AIA discusses the influence of Benjamin Franklin within the context of the release of Poor Richard, Another Almanac for Architects and Planners by Mark David Major.

Excerpt:

“Ben Franklin was a Twitter master a quarter-millennium before the medium, as I wrote in the Foreword to Mark Major’s excellent new book Poor Richard, ANOTHER Almanac for Architects and Planners, but Franklin was also more skilled at describing true Original Green sustainability than anyone alive today. What follows are some of my favorite nuggets of Poor Richard wisdom.”

Read the full article here: Dispatches from Dawn in the USA | the Original Green | Steve Mouzon

Download the full article here: Dispatches from Dawn in the USA | the Original Green | Steve Mouzon

PoorRichardv2_FrCoverPoor Richard, Another Almanac for Architects and Planners (Volume 2)
by Mark David Major, Foreword by Steve Mouzon
140 pages with black and white illustrations.

Available in print from Amazon, CreateSpace, and other online retailers.

Available on iBooks from the Apple iTunes Store.

Available on Kindle in the Kindle Store.

For the best digital eBook experience, the author recommends purchasing the iBook version of the book.

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