Tag Archives: New York

Planning Naked | July 2016

July2016Planning Naked | July 2016
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Your (hopefully) hilarious guide to everything about the latest issue of APA’s Planning Magazine

 

Note: In all likelihood,  one of the better issues of Planning Magazine in the last 15 years from the point of view of objective reporting and displays of good old-fashioned, common sense… or, at least, the first half of the issue. Things start to spectacularly fall apart beginning on page 27.

In the words of Marvin Gaye, what’s going on? Is there a new editor at Planning Magazine? Has Planning Magazine adopted new editorial guidelines? There’s little objectionable content about the first 12 pages of the July 2016 issue (From the Desk of APA’s Executive Director and News sections). It’s almost reading bliss.

I come not to bury Planning Magazine but to (in part) praise it. “It’s Time to Rethink Temporary Use” by David S. Silverman in the Legal Lessons section (pp. 13) is praiseworthy. “Traditional zoning is often a clumsy tool to address the regulatory land-use issues raised by” alternative, often temporary uses. If this sanity continues, I may have to retire the “Planning Naked” column on The Outlaw Urbanist.

Leave it to Rio. “Rio Gets Ready by Michael Kavalar (pp. 14-18) reports on Brazil’s preparations for the 2016 Olympics next month and pacification; “an official government policy of structured military occupation of informal communities with the intent of fully incorporating them into the formal city.” This is a well-written, informative piece that balances the positives of legacy projects associated due to the Olympics with local tensions arising from a pacification policy that predates these legacy projects. The article successfully touches on these topics, giving them some context, without losing sight of their complexities (for good and ill) in terms of politics and planning.

Taking the long view. “Winning at Their Own Games” by Kristen Pope (pp. 19) takes a brief look at adaptive reuse of facilities in Lake Placid, New York and Park City, Utah after the Olympics left town. “London’s Olympic Legacy” by Ben Plowden (pp. 20-21) follows the same story in a little more detail after the London Olympics with particular focus on London Transport. Both are interesting, informative pieces lacking the soapbox of Planning Magazine’s usually hidden agenda in the past. Again, what’s going on?

To Shop or Not to Shop, that is the Question. “From Bricks to Clicks” by Daniel G. Haake, Jeffrey M. Wojtowicz, and Johanna Amaya” (pp. 22-24) provides the ‘meat’ of this issue about the effects of e-commerce on neighborhoods, which was touched on by James Drinan in the From the Desk of APA’s Executive Director section. The piece is a thoughtful consideration of the issues surrounding increased freight deliveries of e-commerce without resorting to the standard ‘default’ answer of larger road widths and bigger floor plates in the post-war period. The creeping evidence of planning sanity is a blessed relief to this long-time victim. This article is well worth the read for planners.

It’s the business model, business model, business model. “Big Box Bust?” by Andrew Starr covers Wal-Mart’s announced closure of 154 locations nationwide, 102 of which are Wal-Mart Express stores experimenting with smaller floor plates and pared down merchandising serving a smaller (usually poorer) customer base. Starr correctly points out that ‘mindless’ application of Wal-Mart’s long-term business model for its big box stores (‘but that’s the way we’ve always done it’) on the site selection process was a likely culprit for the retailing giant incorrectly siting its Express stores; not that a ‘big box’ floor plate is necessary to survive and thrive in retail in today’s world. He points to the success of the Dollar General and Dollar Tree brands in fighting off competition from Wal-Mart Express stores as a counter example. Again, another good article; concise, objective, and spot-on.

Sigh, and there it is… mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money. The highlight box for “The Road to Quito” by Greg Scruggs (pp. 27-33) states “Habitat III is a ‘clarion call for planning’ that planners will pay more dividends for the profession” (our emphasis), which sounds so self-serving as to be repulsive. I don’t even want to read this article but, for anyone who might enjoy reading Planning Naked, I will. “In 1976, a bunch of Hippies…” Oh. My. God. Not a good start. Now the name-dropping, legitimacy by association. Sheesh. Now a list of pleasant sounding, meaningless bullet points using ‘synergy words.’ I can’t… go… on. This article has everything that is wrong with planning masturb… excuse me, the planning profession. The July 2016 issue of Planning Magazine was going so well until this stink bomb was dropped into the middle of the issue. Guess I don’t have to worry about retiring this column yet.

Hard core issues through a soft core lens. “One Size Does Not Fit All” by Katy Tomasulo (pp. 32-36) does have some interesting information about the housing recovery and statistical trends in the housing market. However, the author is too lackadaisical about filtering through the developer/homebuilder ‘post-war’ paradigm (e.g. suburbanization) to get at the real core of the issue. For example, NHB states they know Millennials want to become homeowners eventually (true) but that does not necessarily translate into big suburban homes (implied but false). The ‘smaller’ lot sizes discussed are still too big and don’t capitalize on the small house movement to increase affordability, etc. There’s some informative stuff in this article but the reader needs deploy critical thought to really dig for the takeaways. Good intentions but soft focus… and we all know the preferred pavement material for the road to hell.

With apologies. “Whatever Happened to HAMP and HARP?” by Jake Blumgart (pp. 36-37) is informative about the failure of the Federal programs, HAMP and HARP, established in the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis to assist homeowners, but blatant in excusing the Obama Administration, Democratic Congress, and the banks for the failure of these programs by laying the blame at the feet of those very same homeowners (“If a financial institution was promising you something too good to be true, most families—after having been through what they had been through—said, ‘I’m not touching this…”). Right about the symptoms, wrong about the cause, so the conclusions are counter-productive.

More softer core. “Ever Green: Connecting to Nature in a Digital Age” by Tim Beatley (pp. 38-39) is interesting but harmless news fluff. Of course, most extinctions these days are due to the unprecedented growth of the world’s population in the post-war period. Extraterrestrial colonization and/or a massive, human depopulation event are the only substantive answers to the problem. It’s very scary that the second seems far more likely than the first.

In defense of fast food. I’m not sure about the purpose of Bobby Boone’s Viewpoint article “Fast Food’s Bad Rap” (pp. 44). Is ‘persecution of fast food’ even a thing? Sounds like a ‘first-world’ problem.

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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Preserving the city of tomorrow | The New Criterion

Excellent article about
 the push to “reinvent Paris” by Steven W. Semes in The New Criterion.

Excerpt:

So what is driving this push for tall towers in a low-rise city that is universally admired as the outstanding model of what a city can be? Why this “explicit repudiation of previously successful typologies,” as the CEU report describes it? The answer lies in contemporary architectural philosophy and its demand that buildings and cities be “of their time”—that is, conform to the aesthetic fashions of the moment—whatever the consequences for the character of the place or the quality of life of the citizens. This claim presupposes that “our time” is determined by historical forces—the Zeitgeist—that cannot be denied or reversed except at the risk of being bypassed by “history.”

Reading the full article below.

Preserving the city of tomorrow by Steven W. Semes | The New Criterion

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The City’s Essential DNA | Mark David Major

BS_figure_03Form and process in the urban pattern: (left to right) grid expansion, block size manipulation, deformation, street extension, and discrete separation.

The City’s Essential DNA
by Mark David Major, AICP, BA, BA, MSc
Founder, The Outlaw Urbanist

Email:               mark@outlaw-urbanist.com
Web:                 www.outlaw-urbanist.com
Twitter:           @OutlawUrbanist

NOTE: This is a shorter, punchier, reference-free version of “The City’s Essential DNA: Formal design and spatial processes in the urban patterns”, which appears in Volume 4, Issue 1 of The Journal of Space Syntax, 2013, pp 160-164, ISSN: 2044-7507. It was prepared at the request of a Planning Department for their academic publication but they decided to pass on the article because it was “too technical”.

Our descriptions of cities are often based on their physical form. In urban theory, the description of ‘organic’ and ‘regular’ cities is one of the most persistent and useful. The first stresses process over time in terms of unplanned growth whereas the second on conscious design. This ‘shorthand’ provides a basic understanding of cities across different times, cultures, and geographical regions, which is useful precisely because they are theory-loaded terms. They seemingly convey a lot of information in an easy-to-grasp manner. Regular explicitly describes physical form and the design process that gave rise to it. Organic explicitly describes process over time in terms of urban growth, tacitly understood such cities tend to be characterized by deformed grids. The explicit and implicit description of urban form and process is the basis of their descriptive value since most cities are easily classified as having common or different attributes when characterized as organic or regular. There have been frequent attempts to develop better terminology. Utilitarian, deformed, surface order, neutral, offset, gridiron, radial, uniform, homogeneous, undifferentiated matrix, sprawl, geomorphic… the amount of jargon is enough to give anyone a headache. However, describing urban form as deformed or regular is also theory-loaded since cities are characterized in geometrical terms. The key is the incidence or deficiency of a readily apparent geometry in the physical composition of streets and blocks in plan. American cities tend to possess such geometries so they are regular grids. European or Middle Eastern ‘organic’ cities appear to lack such geometries so they are deformed grids. Others have defined this as the difference between composition and configuration to better distinguish between how we view the city (static form) and how it works (dynamic process). Composition is an easy-to-grasp, understand-all-at-once description and configuration is a more complex view of relations amongst elements that potentially affect urban functions. This distinction is often confused or misunderstood, inevitably leading us to a theoretical dead-end.

At a detailed scale, the Urban Transect specifies this distinction between form and process in the design of the street itself for those transitioning from Euclidean zoning to form-based codes. Several formal elements (street width, road sections, building footprints, landscaping) are tied to functional uses (density and intensity). If cities are interfaces between scales of movement, as suggested by John Peponis at Georgia Tech, then the Urban Transect creates an idealized model of this essential urban dynamic of form and process for the design of streets to better classify it for application in form-based zoning regulations and streetscape design. Duany and Talen’s explanatory diagram of transect planning specifies a geometric logic (all urban streets connect at right angles) but the applicability of transect planning for types of cities seems readily apparent. What varies from one city to another is geometry and scale as realized in the layout. The true brilliance of transect planning is, the more it is applied in real world conditions, then the less tenable becomes the roadway classifications of modern transportation planning. Those beholden to the dominant 20th century planning paradigm should beware of New Urbanists bearing gifts.

BS_figure_02Andres Duany and Emily Talen’s The Urban Transect

Transect planning is largely silent about generating an urban pattern above the level of the street, leaving this to the design sensibilities of the professionals. This appears to leave a gulf of understanding between the urban whole and the street itself. However, this is precisely where the essential dynamics of form and process as it impacts on urban functions are realized in cities. Hiller and Hanson argue in The Social Logic of Space the physical arrangement of space “has a direct relation – rather than a merely symbolic one – to social life, since it provides the material preconditions for patterns of movement, encounter and avoidance which are the material realization – sometimes the generator – of social relations.” New Urbanists have been basically arguing the same for thirty years. In everyday practice, this becomes complicated because we tend to view and design space in discrete terms, independent of a larger geographical, topographical, and/or urban context. In doing so, the importance of design in establishing the material preconditions for our everyday use of urban space is often minimized, misunderstood, or even ignored.

Our design decisions in generating the urban pattern are important. For example, it is in this realm that an important (and little discussed) distinction arises between intra-connectivity (street connections within the bounds of a site) and inter-connectivity (street connections between bounds of different sites). Historically, intra-connectivity has been strongly realized in New Urbanism developments but inter-connectivity weakly so. We cannot simply leave design of the urban pattern to the (varied) abilities of professionals and hope for the best. We must identify and understand it so we can intervene better and smarter. If we focus on the static and dynamic relationship between form and process, composition and configuration, in the design of the urban grid, a basic set of design decisions having formal and process implications for urban space can be identified.

We could describe this as the essential DNA for all types of cities. There is grid expansion and deformation, whereby the urban pattern expands in a consistent manner or else deforms in relation to some external factor, usually topography or land ownership patterns. In regular cities, deformation usually occurs whilst still adhering in some manner to the basic conceptual order of the existing urban pattern but in different cardinal directions. In organic cities, deformation tends to occur during up-scaling of the urban pattern to relation to its ever-growing edges by introducing more geometrical order in the layout. There is street extension, whereby an existing street is extended in one of both directions. In regular cities, this tends to occur as a straight-on continuation in adherence to the conceptual order of the regular grid. In organic cities, this tends to occur as an open-angled continuation, which generates its distinctive deformed grid pattern. Street extension is also the primary tool for strip development in the growth of linear and crossroad settlements, especially during the early stages of community growth, of which Las Vegas is probably the most famous example. The most easily recognizable form of the essential urban dynamic is block size manipulation.

PrintPhiladelphia, Yesterday and Today: Philadelphia urban pattern in 1682 (left) and today (right) within bounds of William Penn’s original 1682 plan.

The dynamic nature of block size manipulation in our cities can be easily seen in a side-by-side figure ground representation (blocks in white, space in black) of Philadelphia yesterday and today. There are two remarkable yet seemingly contradictory things about this comparison. First, is the degree to which the original block scheme of Penn’s plan has changed, principally through a process of block subdivision and, second, is the degree to which the integrity of Penn’s original plan concept has endured despite hundreds, perhaps thousands, of small- and large-scale interventions over 330 years. Finally, there is discrete separation by linear segregation of streets. Street connections are either broken (as in American suburban sprawl through interruptus in extremis) or complicated (as in Middle Eastern cities by narrowing street widths to generate labyrinthine-like but still well-connected layouts) to isolate (usually residential) areas in the urban pattern.

These design methods can be found in the urban pattern of all cities. The spatial processes associated with formal design tend to converge on the ortho-radial grid model. This is a prime example of what Carvalho and Penn mean, saying “the impact of local controls on growth… is, at most, spatially localized… at a macro level, cities display a surprising degree of universality.” In fact, the essential variation across different types of cities appears the scale of street lengths and connections tied to their degree of geometrical articulation; longer, more connected and expansive in regular cities primarily using right angles whereas shorter, less connected, and more compact in organic cities using open and right angles. In the end, cities are not so complicated; rather, it is our theories that tend to complicate our understanding of them.

figure_7.8The Urban Pattern: Istanbul, Turkey (left), Paris, France (center), and New York in the United States (right) (Note: not to scale)

Based on excerpts from forthcoming Relentless Magnificence: The American Regular Grid by Mark David Major.

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Urban Patterns | New York, New York USA

“Even old New York was once New Amsterdam,
Why they changed it, I can’t say,
People just liked it better that way.”
Istanbul (Not Constantinople), They Might Be Giants (BTW, now in San Francisco)

Maybe you were expecting this…

“These vagabond shoes are longing to stray,
Right through the very heart of it: New York, New York.”
New York, New York, Frank Sinatra

Urban Patterns | New York, New York USA
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

New York is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2016 population of 8,537,673 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York City is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, one of the most populous urban agglomerations in the world. New York City exerts a significant impact upon commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and entertainment around the world; its fast pace defining the term “a New York minute.” Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy and has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world. Dutch merchants and settlers originally founded New York (originally named New Amsterdam) – along with three other Dutch forts in present-day New York State – on Manhattan Island at the conflux of the Hudson and East Rivers into a natural harbor at Upper New York Bay in 1625. As evidenced in the Castello Plan (see below), the early settlement was composed of small-scale offset regular-ish grids oriented to the shoreline of the Hudson and East Rivers at the southern tip of Manhattan Island (Source: Wikipedia).

Redraft of the Castello Plan of New Amsterdam in 1660, redrawn in 1916 by John Wolcott Adams and Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes (Source: Wikipedia).

Over the first 100 years of the settlement, this geometric layout (in the modern Wall Street area) evolved into a classic, European deformed grid pattern. In planning terms, Manhattan is probably best known for the 1811 Commissioners Plan (see here for more information), which imposed a gridiron over most of the island north of the Wall Street area.

1789 Plan of New York, New York USA (Source: University of Texas).

However, as evidenced by historic plans of New York such as the 1789 plan of southern Manhattan (see above), this gridiron was really an extension of an already-existing regular grid immediately north of that area, predating the Commissioners Plan by two decades.

Satellite view from 20 km of New York, New York USA (Source: Google Earth).

The overall linear (more or less, south to north) shape of the island was well-suited for regular grid extension, especially in the middle portion of the island around Central Park. At 843 acres, Central Park (designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and the English architect Calvert Vaux) is still one of the largest urban parks in the world and the most visited park in the United States. Architects and planners often discuss the planning of Manhattan to the exclusion of its larger urban context (especially in discussing the 1811 Commissioners Plan). However, the island is well-embedded within its larger urban context, possessing some 19 bridge and tunnel connections to the surrounding area, especially to the north of the island where 12 (63%) of these connections are available.

(Updated: August 14, 2017)

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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Form Arranged in Light | The City in Art

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Radiator Building – Night, New York (1927), oil on canvas, 48” x 30”, The Alfred Stieglitz Collection, Fisk University.

Form Arranged in Light | The City in Art
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Many descriptions of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Radiator Building – Night, New York (1927) unduly focus on the expressed title and the (presumed) subject of the artwork itself. For example, “Towering above the viewer’s eyesight, the Radiator Building extends almost to the top of the work, illuminated in silhouette by its own lights and several spotlights that shoot into the black sky, giving it a slight red hue. Most of O’Keeffe’s paintings of New York City feature various skyscrapers of the city of the time, such as the Ritz Tower” (Source: Cultural Mechanism). Such descriptions are limited because they appear to be missing the point of O’Keeffe’s cityscape paintings. It seems likely this is not helped by O’Keeffe’s own vagueness on the subject of this painting (or her many others), saying she had “walked across 42nd Street many times at night when the black Radiator Building was new so that had to be painted, too” (Source: Georgia O’Keeffe, Georgia O’Keeffe, New York: Penguin Books, 1976).

O’Keeffe is not painting a building. She is painting light and the form of the Radiator Building and surrounding cityscape emerges solely from the arrangement of light. We can say this with some confidence because if you were to remove all of the ‘painted light’ from this painting, only a black canvas would remain. It is this ‘painted light’ that provides a subtle richness and contextual depth to the best of O’Keeffe’s cityscape paintings. Later, we will see more explicit examples in her other paintings, for example in The Shelton with Sunspots (1926). In this sense, the subject is the artifice of form emerging from the arrangement of light. The fact the words ‘Radiator Building’ and ‘New York’ are in the title of the painting is completely inconsequential and accidental to the subject of the piece. It is also misleading on O’Keeffe’s part by naming the painting in this manner. However, this is completely consistent with her tendency to be opaque when it comes to the subject matter of her own paintings. As architects and planners, O’Keeffe’s painting shows us how we can expand our perception of the city beyond the conventional (form) to see its richness in other, more subtle – and, perhaps, richer – ways (light).

Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz.

About Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) was born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. She studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League in New York. She revolutionized modern art during her time and, in the present, she was the first female artist to have a retrospective show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Her paintings vividly portrayed the power and emotion of objects in nature. Her charcoal drawings of silhouetted bud-like forms exhibited in 1916 first brought her fame. During the 1920s, she explored this theme in magnified paintings of flowers, which to this day enchant people amorously, although her purpose was to convey that nature in all its beauty was as powerful as the widespread industrialization of the period. After spending a summer in New Mexico, enthralled by the barren landscape and expansive skies of the desert, she would explore the subject of animal bones in her paintings during the 1930s and 1940s. Just as with the flowers, she painted the bones magnified to capture the stillness and remoteness of them, while at the same time expressing a sense of beauty within the desert. O’Keeffe was married to the pioneer photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) in 1924. It was at his famed New York art gallery “291” that her charcoal drawings were first exhibited in 1916. The union lasted 22 years until Stieglitz’s death. O’Keeffe was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, awarded the Gold Medal of Painting by the National Institute of Arts and Letters and Medal of Freedom (the United States’ highest civilian honor). In 1985, President Reagan presented to her the National Medal of Arts. She died March 6, 1986, at the age of 98 in Sante Fe, New Mexico (Source: Women in History).

The City in Art is a series by The Outlaw Urbanist. The purpose is to present and discuss artistic depictions of the city that can help us, as professionals, learn to better see the city in ways that are invisible to others. Before the 20th century, most artistic representations of the city broadly fell into, more or less, three categories: literalism, pastoral romanticism, and impressionism, or some variation thereof. Generally, these artistic representations of the city lack a certain amount of substantive interest for the modern world. The City in Art series places particular emphasis on art and photography from the dawn of the 20th century to the present day.

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