Tag Archives: America

Poor Richard (Volume 2) Review | Portland Book Review

Poor Richard, Another Almanac for Architects and Planners (Volume 2) by Mark David Major | Portland Book Review
by George Erdosh, April 20, 2015

The review of Poor Richard, Another Almanac for Architects and Planners by the Portland Book Review is available.

Excerpt:

“Here is a strange paperback that some readers will love and others won’t read past page three. Poor Richard, Another Almanac for Architects and Planners consists of fifty-two pages of text, one for each week of the year, and a facing black-and-white high-contrast photo illustrations, somewhat related to the subject author Mark David Major selected for that week.”

Read the full review here: Poor Richard, Another Almanac for Architects and Planners (Volume 2) by Mark David Major | Portland Book Review

Down the full review here: Poor Richard, Another Almanac for Architects and Planners (Volume 2) by Mark David Major | Portland Book Review

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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Lying Statistics | Suicide in America | Atlantic Cities | New York Times

Editorial by Mark David Major, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

“Beware of false prophets who come to you disguised as sheep but underneath are ravenous wolves.” – Matthew 7:15

The difference between statistics and damn, lying statistics is the same as between the truth and demagoguery. In his May 8, 2013 article, Richard Florida exerts gun ownership is the ‘smoking gun’ behind surging suicide rates among Baby Boomers in the United States. He cities statistical data about gun ownership and suicide rates to make this argument. However, an objective assessment of the data reveals a more mundane truth: people who want to kill themselves are more likely to succeed if they own a gun. The key phrase here is not “a gun” but “people who want to kill themselves.” This revelation should rightly be filed under “Well, duh.”

Excerpt from “The Hidden Geography of America’s Surging Suicide Rate” by Richard Florida in The Atlantic Cities:

“While the economic crisis has clearly been a contributing factor to America’s rising suicide rate, perhaps it is not the only, or even the most important factor, behind the surge. In fact, another key factor appears to be at play: guns. Guns are the leading cause of suicide by far, according to the CDC report, accounting for nearly half (48 percent) all suicides among adults ages 35 to 64 in 2010. Slightly less than a quarter of suicides of people in this age group are caused by suffocation, and another 22 percent are poisonings, mainly drug overdoses.”

Read the full article here: The Hidden Geography of America’s Surging Suicide Rate – Richard Florida – The Atlantic Cities.

Unsurprisingly, Florida’s article appeared after 24/7 national media coverage of a series of high-profile mass shootings and, subsequently, legislative attempts by some in Congress and the present Administration to curtail constitutional protections under the 2nd Amendment. However, in making this argument, Florida shamelessly misinterprets  statistical data to fuel a political agenda and, in doing so, does a great disservice to the real mental health issues contributing to the increased suicide rate. To paraphrase the old NRA mantra, “guns don’t kill people, people kill themselves.”

Fortunately, the New York Times did not succumb to this urge to demagogue the issue. What followed was a series of (should be award-winning) articles offering more thoughtful insights into surging suicide rates in the United States. This includes the May 2, 2013 New York Times article, “Suicide Rates Rise Sharply in U.S.” by Tara Parker-Pope (excerpt below):

“Suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply in the past decade, prompting concern that a generation of baby boomers who have faced years of economic worry and easy access to prescription painkillers may be particularly vulnerable to self-inflicted harm.”

Read the full article here: Suicide Rate Rises Sharply in U.S. – NYTimes.com.

And a more thorough 6/26/13 investigative report in the New York Times, “The Suicide Detective” by Kim Tingly (excerpt below):

“For reasons that have eluded people forever, many of us seem bent on our own destruction. Recently more human beings have been dying by suicide annually than by murder and warfare combined. Despite the progress made by science, medicine and mental-health care in the 20th century — the sequencing of our genome, the advent of antidepressants, the reconsidering of asylums and lobotomies — nothing has been able to drive down the suicide rate in the general population. In the United States, it has held relatively steady since 1942. Worldwide, roughly one million people kill themselves every year. Last year, more active-duty U.S. soldiers killed themselves than died in combat; their suicide rate has been rising since 2004. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the suicide rate among middle-aged Americans has climbed nearly 30 percent since 1999. In response to that widely reported increase, Thomas Frieden, the director of the C.D.C., appeared on PBS NewsHour and advised viewers to cultivate a social life, get treatment for mental-health problems, exercise and consume alcohol in moderation. In essence, he was saying, keep out of those demographic groups with high suicide rates, which include people with a mental illness like a mood disorder, social isolates and substance abusers, as well as elderly white males, young American Indians, residents of the Southwest, adults who suffered abuse as children and people who have guns handy.”

Read the full article here: The Suicide Detective – NYTimes.com.

If you want to solve a problem, it’s always best to start addressing the problem on the basis of scientific objectivity, not political subjectivity.

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Let’s Talk About Sex | Architectural Record

Concrete Blonde sent a link to the below editorial in The Architectural Record by its Editor in Chief, Cathleen McGuigan, as a follow-up from our earlier post on The Outlaw Urbanist (Comment: We need women designing buildings). Concrete Blonde thinks Ms. McGuigan made some good points and added to the discussion about women in architecture.

Excerpt:

For several months now, we’ve been reaching out to architects to talk about the status of women in the profession. Even before the Architects’ Journal published its scathing survey of how women in architecture are treated in the U.K.—and well before two students at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design launched their petition to pressure the Pritzker Prize committee to recognize architect and planner Denise Scott Brown, who was excluded from the 1991 award bestowed on her partner, Robert Venturi—we had begun to report on the inequities that persist in the field. What was striking was that many women didn’t want to talk on the record about their concerns. They just want their work acknowledged—and please, they said, we’re “architects,” not “women architects.”

Read the full article here: Let’s Talk About Sex – Architectural Record.

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Comment | We need women designing buildings | CNN.com

Opinion: We need women designing buildings – CNN.com.

We Need to Prize Talent, not Self-Promotion
by Mark David Major, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Denise Scott Brown should (have) be(en) recognized with Robert Venturi for the 1991 Pritzker Prize. However, the ongoing debate on this subject is frustrating. It is frustrating because the ideal of gender equality expounded for the architectural profession – and, by implication, other professions –  too often relies on arguments that are, at best, manifestly superficial and, at worse, reinforce the gender stereotypes underlying the problem.

This particular debate has not been helped by public comments (perhaps taken of out context) by both Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown that do not ‘hold water’ in explaining why she was not recognized with Venturi for the Pritzker Prize in the first place. For example, in the above CNN article, Scott Brown is quoted as saying””we could not afford to pass up the Pritzker Prize for the sake of our fledgling firm.” It seems far-fetched to describe Venturi Scott Brown and Associates as a “fledgling firm” in 1991. A Wikipedia listing of their selected works identifies four major projects in 1991, more than any other year listed over a 44-year period (Source: Wikipedia). Quite the opposite, in fact, since it is fair to argue the late 80s/early 90s represents the earning power highpoint for Venturi Scott Brown’s particular brand of post-modern architecture in the profession. Venturi and Scott Brown’s public comments suggest they are protecting somebody for the initial oversight, either Venturi himself or The Hyatt Foundation, which organizes and awards the Pritzker Prize.

However, this is a side issue to larger problems: namely, the promotion of talent, in general, and insidious effects of gender discrimination, in particular, in the architectural profession. Marika Shioiri-Clark and John Cary’s CNN opinion piece manages to negatively typify these problems at a gross level while still being right in some of its details. First, we do not need “women designing buildings.” This is the same superficial argument we have heard from feminists for decades; namely, if we only elected women to political leadership we would have world peace. Female political leaders have proven time and time again over the last 40 years that equality has nothing to do with their gender and everything to do with how women can be equally inspirational, vicious, divisive and (in)competent as their male counterparts. Instead, what we need are talented people (women and men) designing buildings. We should have zero interest in promoting mediocre architects, regardless of their gender.

As Shioiri-Clark and Cary correctly point out, female architectural students regularly outperform their male counterparts in school, substantially so in our experience. If the profession truly prized and promoted talent, female architects would naturally rise to the top because there lies the talent (sorry, male architects but it is true). However, the profession is still trapped within the grips of the (often self-manufactured) ‘myth of architectural genius’. This practice prizes the architect’s ability to self-promote and network that myth in the profession, popular media, and books. In doing so, the superficial is valued over the substantive in architecture (very post-modern, indeed). Unfortunately, the profession’s manifest failure to promote talent also sweeps women architects out of the limelight as a result. Once you get pass the names Zaha Hadid, Denise Scott Brown and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, it’s damn difficult to name any superstar women architects. It’s even worse for planners (Jane Jacobs was an economist, so don’t even try it). However, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves.” Our vision is my-opic (literally and metaphorically).

Shioiri-Clark and Cary also correctly call out the Architectural Registration Exam (ARE) process for institutionalizing discriminatory practices against women but then incorrectly name the reason (i.e. financial). The real discriminatory practice against women associated with the ARE lies in the limit to a 6-month reporting period for the Intern Development Program (IDP). When a woman temporarily leaves the workforce to bear a child, the typical disruption to her career is much longer than 6 months. Sure, there are some ‘super’ women out there in the profession, for whom this is not the case. They may work until 4-6 weeks before giving birth and return to work 3-4 weeks afterwards. But, more typically, the disruption to a woman’s career extends over a two-year period from the early decision-making stages of pregnancy to the early childhood-raising stages after birth. Let’s be honest, given the supreme and unchallenged role that mothers play in raising their children (especially compared to fathers), the real disruption is 18 years… or even a lifetime. In any case, the one thing the profession could do today to promote gender equality and enable more women to become registered architects is extend the reporting period for IDP to two years.

In their opinion piece, Shioiri-Clark and Cary then transition to the visibility of women architects in the profession. If we focus the question on the promotion of talent instead of valuing the promotion of self, then this is the same problem, i.e. the crème will rise to the top if we value talent. At this point, the Shioiri-Clark and Cary article takes a mind-bogglingly bizarre turn to discuss “Architect Barbie”, which manages to be both comical and hypocritical, thereby undercutting every point they are trying to make in the article. Perhaps it’s true that Shioiri-Clark and Cary only do this to spark controversy and drive visitor hits on the article. However, when it comes to the larger question of gender discrimination, it’s hard to get more inconsequential than discussing dolls within the context of a serious subject

Shioiri-Clark and Cary close the article by further expounding further on the ‘world would be a better place if it was run by women’ argument/fallacy. It would not be any different except women would more equally share in the blame for our problems as well as the praise when those problems are solved. That is true equality. So give Denise Scott Brown her share of the 1991 Pritzker Prize but women and men should not make the mistake of thinking it addresses the real problem in the profession. At this point, the Pritzker Prize controversy is a distraction from that problem, which is promoting and prizing talent, whatever the gender. If the playing field was level in this regard, there is little doubt women would rise en masse to the top of the profession… and our built environment would, indeed, be better served.

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A fanciful city | REVIEW | American Urban Form: A Representative History

AmUrFormA fanciful city | REVIEW | American Urban Form: A Representative History
By Mark David Major, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

How do you solve a problem like ‘the City’? This is the generic name Sam Bass Warner and Andrew H. Whittemore give to their “hypothetical city” in American Urban Form: A Representative History, available from MIT Press (176 pages; $20.71 on Amazon). Warner and Whittemore’s City is a narrative conglomeration of urban history, for the most part, in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia (New Philaton?) and, therein, lies several dilemmas. The book’s subtitle describes this as “a representative history.” Outside of academia, this is more commonly called historical fiction. It is uncertain the authors’ admirable honesty in admitting this fact (albeit, using academic language) is enough to transform a historical fiction into a substantive scholarly work. All good historical fiction writers conduct research into their subject but tend to not provide footnotes and bibliography (as Bass and Whittemore do). This information is incidental to the goal of telling a good story. So, do we approach American Urban Form as a well-referenced historical fiction or a scholarly work adopting an intriguing (perhaps even innovative) methodological approach to urban history? In the end, it doesn’t really matter.

American Urban Form is more curiosity than ground breaking as a scholarly work. Despite the bold, important title of the book, its publisher, and the authors’ claim “the book is about patterns, the physical patterns or urban form that we can observe in American big cities past and present” and “physical patterns shape and are themselves shaped by” political, social and economic factors, it only discusses urban form incidentally in relation to those factors. In doing so, the authors adopt an a-spatial perspective when discussing the generators of American urban form, which is revealed by their use of the word ‘reflect’ in several instances. We have to believe this word choice is intentional. In this sense, American Urban Form comfortably sits within the prevailing planning paradigm of the post-war period in the United States (see M. Christine Boyer’s Dreaming the Rational City: The Myth of American City Planning for an excellent and detailed discussion on this topic). Unfortunately, it is also consistent with a recent, unfortunate trend in planning theory to claim to discuss one thing (physical form and space) but substantively reinforce prevailing thought (an a-spatial perspective of the city). Even when American Urban Form does discuss the physical fabric of ‘the City’, it tends to become trapped in discussing architectural styles.

Boston, New York, and Philadelphia seem a stylistic choice for the narrative since they have common temporal and geographical origins, and builds on the foundation of Warner’s previous research into the real history of these cities. It also allows the authors to avoid the emergent effects of 1785 Land Ordinance in generating American urban form (based on the authors’ own timeline, their use of the phrase “Jefferson grid” refers to the regular grid in general, in which case it is more accurately described as the Renaissance grid or even the Spanish grid). In selecting these cities, American Urban Form also reinforces what many see as an ‘East Coast bias’ in urban planning. This is not exactly right. It is actually a ‘Bi-Coastal bias’, which is consistent with a larger cultural bias in the United States. In a real way, there is an ‘axis of planning’ in the United States that stretches from the cabals of MIT to the Ivy League schools to the West Coast (Cal-Berkeley/UCLA) (see “Who Teaches Planning?”, Planitzen, January 14, 2013). By merging these cities together, American Urban Form manages to both undercut and misunderstand the importance of Philadelphia. Philadelphia is more important than New York and way more so than Boston in terms of the American planning tradition. Penn’s 1682 plan for Philadelphia demonstrated the scale of the possible for city planning in the New World. Namely, American urban form has always been expansive, what Gandelsonas referred to as “the invention of a new scale”, especially in comparison to European models of urbanism. If the authors had taken different cities as their subject (such as Chicago, St. Louis, and New Orleans), then a different (and, perhaps, more common) picture might have emerged in their narrative about the physical form of the American city.

This fact reveals the subjectivity lurking at the heart of American Urban Form. The authors’ experiment in representative history fails the most basic test of scientific method because their methodology cannot be objectively repeated to produce similar results for different cities. The results are entirely determined by the subjective choices of those writing the narrative. In this regard, the methodology might be useful as the basis for a student studio project but of little use to anyone outside the classroom. Also, taking the two densest cities in the United States (Boston and New York) as the subject for two-thirds of ‘the City’ allows the authors to craft an overly romantic view (in New Urbanist and Floridian “creative class” terms) of American urban form that does not ring true for the majority of the country. A quick review of Wikipedia’s listing of America’s most dense cities reveals two-thirds are located in the New York and Boston metropolitan regions; though interestingly and importantly, not Philadelphia. It is also interesting the authors’ descriptions of urban form become considerably more assured with the onset of the 20th century, which coincides with the emergence of urban planning as a distinct discipline. Before this, the authors provide as much space to discussing free-range hogs as they do to urban form. In itself, this is revealing since roughly half of the book is devoted to the first 200 years of ‘the City’ whereas the second half covers approximately the last 115 years. This is unfortunate since important aspects of early urban form are casually mentioned and their generative effects are not explored in detail. Instead, the narrative quickly returns to surer ground. i.e. a pseudo-history of political, social, and economic factors.

Does American Urban Form work as historical fiction? Well, not really. The book cannot be given a pass on these grounds either. Disturbingly for academics, this methodology seems to provide the authors with an in-built defense mechanism against criticism and, more importantly, testing of their ideas. Hey, it’s only “a representative history”, meaning, of course, it is a fiction so we have to evaluate the book on these grounds as well. We tend to teach historical fiction (Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra, and so forth) in literature courses, not history classes, because what is important is not historical accuracy but the use of literary devices in telling a story. American Urban Form fails the most basic literary tests in this regard. There is no characterization, rising action, dramatic climax, or dénouement. It is all conflict. Most of the book reads like an urban horror story where everyone is neatly divided into oppressor (rich white male, capitalist landowners) and the oppressed (everyone else who is not, especially Black Americans, women, and unions). This provides most of the narrative with an oddly Marxist perspective on American urban history. We say ‘oddly’ because it is so unexpected. This fictional urban history of capitalist oppression in ‘the City’ would sit a little too close for comfort (for some) next to the fictional history of capitalism written by Karl Marx in Das Kapital. The authors drop this odd perspective on their imagined history with the onset of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and the leftist radicalism of the 1960s, which, in effect, conveys an apologia for the social conscience and actions of leftist baby boomers. For example, the authors state not once but twice (without explanation) the economic stagnation of the 1970s was caused by the Vietnam War. It will be a surprise to many who thought it was monetary policy, high taxation and excessive regulatory regimes during the Johnson, Nixon, and Carter Administrations as well as out-of-control government spending by a long-held Democratic U.S. Congress (the Reagan Revolution of 1980s does not seem to exist in the imagined world of ‘the City’, except incidentally or negatively).

In this sense, American Urban Form represents the worst kind of historical revisionism, indoctrinating leftist wish fulfillment (capitalism is evil, the state is good… and everything that follows on from that view) as a “representative” fact of American urban history. Because of this, it does not even qualify as good historical fiction. Much like Whittemore’s detailed and pretty bird’s eye views of ‘the City’ in the book (for the most part, vacant of meaning because they are a fiction, too; the one clear-cut exception is his wonderful aerial perspective of ‘dumbbell tenements’ on page 71), American Urban Form remains trapped in a single perspective on its subject. It either ignores, consigns to happenstance, or weaves an elaborate explanation for anything that might contradict or interrupt that perspective. Collectively, the result is a fanciful city of leftist, pseudo-Marxist fallacies. If you are already a member of the choir, you will like American Urban Form: A Representative History because you know the song and can sing along. If not, you will be better served by reading the history of a real city, examining in detail its historical plans and bird’s eye view drawings, and making your own conclusions.

American Urban Form: A Representative History by Sam Bass Warner and Andrew H. Whittemore with Illustrations by Andrew H. Whittemore, 176 pages, MIT Press, is available from MIT Press here and Amazon here in hardcover and Kindle formats. Prices may vary.

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