Tag Archives: Press

The city’s essential DNA | Mark David Major | The Journal of Space Syntax

cover_issue_7_en_US“The city’s essential DNA: Formal design and spatial processes in the urban patterns” by Mark David Major is now available in Vol 4, No 1 (2013) of The Journal of Space Syntax. Read an excerpt below:

Our descriptions of cities are often based on their physical form. In urban theory, these descriptions are usually expressed in terms of a dichotomy whereby meaning emerges from contrasting cities as organic or regular, unplanned or planned, natural or artificial, generated or imposed, and so on (Gallion and Eisner, 1963; Alexander, 1965; Moholy-Nagy, 1968; Batty and Longley, 1984). Kostoff (1991) suggests this dichotomy is ‘the most persistent, and crudest, analysis of urban form’. Hillier et al. (2012) even argue that ‘we should abandon the long-standing distinction between geometric and organic cities’ because it does not adequately address the deliberate use of geometry at different scales of the city (p.187). Notably, the first stresses process over time in terms of ‘unplanned evolution’ or ‘instinctive growth’, whereas the second stresses the conscious act of design in a ‘centrally planned scheme’ (Kostoff, 1991, p.43). This ‘shorthand’ provides a basic understanding of cities across different times, cultures, and geographical regions. The usefulness of descriptions such as ‘organic’ or ‘regular’ lies precisely in the fact they are theory-loaded terms. They seemingly convey a lot of information in an easy-to-grasp manner. We say ‘seemingly’ because these terms are so theory-loaded they can often lead to confusion, which can make their descriptive value ‘more a hindrance than an aid’ (Kostoff, 1991, p.43). For example, ‘regular’ seems to be an explicit description of both the physical form and design process that gave rise to that composition. However, the term ‘organic’ seems to only pertain to process. According to Batty and Longley (1994), organic cities ‘grow naturally from a myriad of individual decisions at a much smaller scale than those which lead to planned growth. Planned cities or their parts are usually more monumental, more focused, and more regular’ (p.8). The term ‘deformed’ is sometimes used to describe the physical form of organic cities, but more often than not, is tacitly understood to be a given about such cities. This explicit and implicit description of urban form and process forms the basis of their descriptive value, since most cities are easily classified as having common or different attributes when characterised as organic or regular.

Download a PDF of the full article here: The city’s essential DNA: Formal design and spatial processes in the urban patterns | Major | The Journal of Space Syntax.

UPDATE: The Journal of Space Syntax has now included the images in the article available at the link above. However,  they are also below for your reference.

DNA_figure_01The Urban Transect

DNA_figure_02Form and process in the urban pattern (left to right) grid expansion, block size manipulation, deformation, street extension, and discrete separation.

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

DNA_figure_04The Urban Pattern: Istanbul, Turkey (left), Paris, France (center), and New York in the United States (right) (Note: not to scale)

(Comment from Steve Mouzon) I’ve always found the classical-vernacular/refined-organic useful when considering urbanism. A couple quirks to consider: A highly talented planner can do a competent job with an organic plan, but a vernacular process will never produce a rigid grid. With that having been said, the best might do a bit better than competent, like Leon Krier at Poundbury, but Poundbury isn’t as good as dozens of Cotswold towns built by the townspeople. Most planners are not nearly so good as Krier, so each pole of the spectrum is obviously really good at what they do. FWIW, I regard Krier as the personification of classical planning, and Christopher Alexander as the personification of the vernacular process. We need them both, although neither of them realize that. I had a good conversation with Krier about that one night in South Bend. I’ve heard about Space Syntax for years, but have no meaningful knowledge of it. Someone (you, I hope) should blog a description that’s clear and descriptive to the rest of us.

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The Weight of Debt | LaHood: ‘America is one big pothole’ | The Hill’s Transportation Report

LaHood: ‘America is one big pothole’ – The Hill’s Transportation Report.

Outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says “America is one, big pothole” and we need to “think outside the box” to find the additional $15 billion a year to support transportation infrastructure.

Mmm, let’s see… in fiscal year 2012, the United States paid $359 billion to service the national debt or, more, precisely, $359,796,008,919.49 (Source: U.S. Department of Treasury).

It’s not that difficult to out-think a box after all.

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Pigs at the Trough| Florida & Obama build a lasting urban legacy | NY Daily News

Editorial by Mark David Major, The Outlaw Urbanist Blog

Obama, build a lasting urban legacy by Richard Florida – NY Daily News.

Richard Florida’s advocacy for President Obama to establish a U.S. Federal Department of Cities is an interesting idea. However, if implemented as outlined by Florida, it is also an inherently flawed one that would inevitably spell danger for our cities. The fatal flaw lies in a tepidness to truly reinvent our development processes. Instead of offering a radical vision to remake city building, Florida’s proposal actually represents more of the same. It would create a new Federal bureaucracy in “dysfunctional Washington” dedicated to the proposition that all special interests are created equal; more ‘Great Society’ than Great Cities. The fact is the majority of our citizens should have long ago grown tired of thinking that the default solution to every problem is a Cabinet-level Federal Department. Coming to CSPAN! The circus of Senate confirmation hearings for the Secretary of Cities, brought to you by National Ready Mixed Concrete Association and Community Organizations International, just as soon as the Senator from Montana releases his hold on the nomination! Stay tuned! More pigs feeding at the Federal trough would inevitably populate Florida’s Department of Cities. That is fine for the pigs but what about the rest of us?

Upon his election in 2006, Florida Governor Rick Scott had a similar opportunity to implement a new vision for building and growth in the State of Florida. His initial thinking was right: streamline the mess of State agencies to break down the ‘silos’ that had emerged between bureaucrats of different departments, reducing the size of State government so it works for its citizens rather than the other way around. Unfortunately, Scott’s implementation of this idea did not really change anything. Scott was unwilling to go far enough (or just paying lip service) to remaking State government. Instead of merging and streamlining the State Departments of Community Affairs, Environmental Protection, and Transportation into one organization dedicated to placing Smart Growth principles at the forefront of the agenda (and, by implication, subordinating road building and moderating environment protection under the umbrella of urban planning and development), Scott subverted urban planning to economic development under the banner of the Department of Economic Opportunity. In the process, Scott managed to make it look like he was doing something while actually protecting the special interests (ah, a real politician!) that made the Florida housing market the ‘birthplace of the Second Great Depression.’

Florida’s Department of Cities idea is not without merit but the implementation of that idea must warrant the importance Florida places on our “cities and metros (as) the engines of our economy,” which, of course, is their very nature as built environments designed for movement, interaction, and transaction. Otherwise, implementing Florida’s idea would be a waste of time, effort and money; what many believe is referred to as “governing” in Washington, D.C.

The only way a Federal Department of Cities could alter the prevailing development paradigm in this country for the last century is if we are willing to place Smart Growth for our cities at the top of the agenda by subsuming the Department of Transportation, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Environmental Protection Agency, and other disparate Federal agencies and offices (Office of Urban Affairs, and so on) under one roof. Incidentally, this is probably the only way a new Department of Cities could generate bipartisan support by allowing the left and the right to explicitly address their key constituencies (urban interests on one hand, reducing and streamlining government on the other). It would also require both parties adopting an united front to take on other special interests threatened by such reform (most obviously, radical environmentalists). In the absence of such radical thinking, our cities are safer as “laboratories for pragmatic bipartisan policy innovation, pioneering new approaches on everything from schools, crime and gun control to economic development” at the local and State level.

The problem is not that our cities have failed to live up to our ideals. The real problem is everybody associated with city building (architects, developers, urban designers and planners and so on) have not not lived up to the opportunities presented by our cities for the last century. Why would we expect our citizens (and their representatives) to ever trust us and put us in charge when we have demonstratively failed our cities time and time again during their lifetime, their parents’ lifetime, and their grandparents’ lifetime? Instead of searching for magic bullets (like Florida’s idea), let us dedicate ourselves to leading for our cities. The irony is, if we truly did this, we would probably find the perceived need for Florida’s proposal and others like them would disappear. Unless, of course, the point is to become one of the fattest pigs at the trough. If this is the case, then never mind…

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Space Syntax | 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremonies | London

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 13: Aerial view shows the construction starting for the Olympic opening stage designed by Danny Boyle at the Olympic Stadium on June 13, 2012 in London, England. PHOTOGRAPH BY Jason Hawkes / Barcroft Media UK Office, London. T +44 845 370 2233 W www.barcroftmedia.com USA Office, New York City. T +1 212 796 2458 W www.barcroftusa.com Indian Office, Delhi. T +91 11 4053 2429 W www.barcroftindia.com
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – JUNE 13: Aerial view shows the construction starting for the Olympic opening stage designed by Danny Boyle at the Olympic Stadium on June 13, 2012 in London, England. PHOTOGRAPH BY Jason Hawkes / Barcroft Media UK Office, London. T +44 845 370 2233 W www.barcroftmedia.com USA Office, New York City. T +1 212 796 2458 W www.barcroftusa.com Indian Office, Delhi. T +91 11 4053 2429 W www.barcroftindia.com

A lot of people did not notice it at the time. Heck, even I did not notice it in the moment. But what was that on the stadium floor during the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremonies in London… after they took up the turf masquerading as a ‘green and pleasant land’? Why is was none other than the space syntax model of London itself! Pretty cool, if you ask me. See a beautiful aerial photograph of the space syntax model on the stadium floor during rehearsals below, courtesy of The Sun.

More information here from University College London.

Read more about it here at The Daily Mail.

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Florida Hometown Democracy | Why I’m Supporting Amendment 4

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the extended version of an article that originally appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of Florida Planning, the quarterly newsletter of the Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association, the March-April 2010 issue of First Coast Planner, the bi-monthly newsletter of the First Coast Chapter of APA Florida, and the May 25-31 Backpage Editorial of Folio Weekly in Jacksonville, Florida.

Florida Hometown Democracy | Why I’m Supporting Amendment 4
by Mark David Major, AICP

I will be supporting Amendment 4 this November. I have arrived at this decision after much contemplation about what it might mean for this state and my profession, after hearing from and reading what others have to say, and after debating and discussing with friends and colleagues what it might mean for them and their families, their neighborhoods and cities, their businesses and employers, and their careers. Literally, this decision was years in the making. I have decided to support Amendment 4 despite my reservations. What are they? First, I am a strong believer in the republican principles of government established by our Founding Fathers; that is, republican with a small ‘r’. Popular referenda are tools of popular democracy, what Thomas Jefferson considered little better than mob rule. And as John Adams said, “Mobs will never do to govern states or command armies.” Second, spending mandates approved by popular referenda in the State of California have clearly been a disaster, bringing that state to the brink of bankruptcy. Increased use of popular referenda in Florida carries the same risk. So, it is my position popular referenda should not be used to establish public policy. By definition, this should lead me to be against Amendment 4 on principle alone. But I will be supporting Amendment 4 this November.

Why? When it comes to politics and public policy, I am a firm believer in the Law of Unintended Consequences.

1. Florida Hometown Democracy will impose “de facto” Urban Growth Boundaries

Approval of Amendment 4 will essentially ‘freeze’ the Future Land Use Map in our local comprehensive plans (absent the periodic evaluation, appraisal and review process). Only landowners/developers will very deep pockets will pursue a voter-approved FLUM Amendment process, and they will only do so for large projects where the benefits are self-evident even to the most fickle of voters. This will impose “de facto” urban growth boundaries on our settlements. Since I moved to Florida in 2002, I have advocated the adoption of urban growth boundaries as a powerful tool to better manage growth in the state. The typical response from elected officials and public sector planners has been a raised eyebrow. Once, an elected official even reacted of my advocacy of urban growth boundaries as “communistic”, which is ironic since I was once accused of being a “fascist” planner in Europe during the 1990s. Urban growth boundaries can be used to direct growth away from typical post-WII suburban sprawl, greenfield developments to instead promote: brownfield development, historic rehabilitation, urban redevelopment, adaptive re-use of building stock and traditional neighborhood development; increased densities to support mixed-use communities and consolidate vehicular trips; the viability of alternative modes of transport (walking, biking, street cars, bus, rail, etc.); and, the preservation of rural lands. Voting YES on Amendment 4 with serendipitously thrust one of the most powerful tools for growth management into the laps of our public planning agencies (thank you very much). The fact is most of our elected leaders do not have the political courage to adopt this tool. Consequently, many of our public planners fail to advocate when it counts the benefits of urban growth boundaries as a growth management tool. Voting YES on Amendment 4 will make urban growth boundaries a fact.

2. Growth will not be stopped. It will only evolve… for the better

The anti-growth, leftist origins of Florida Hometown Democracy as NIMBYism writ large cannot be doubted. The initiative emerged out of Sierra Club radical environmentalism and a leftist billionaire bankrolled its ballot petition drive. Florida Hometown Democracy is a creature of the left. This drives an almost irrational fear in this state, which historically has leaned to the political center-right (especially in central/north Florida). But I am not afraid. Much like Dr. Frankenstein, this creature will not do what its creators hope. It will not stop growth. The drawn-out, half-decade process to get the initiative on the ballot and begin electioneering (with an additional year after approval before implementation, pending legal challenges) provided ample time to redress flaws in local comprehensive plans. Given these circumstances, voting YES on Amendment 4 will only serve to redirect growth away from greenfields (requiring a FLUM Amendment) to lands already entitled under the comprehensive plan. This will promote the more sustainable models of development previously mentioned. If a local municipality has not adequately prepared their comprehensive plan, then they might expect a negative impact on economic development sooner rather than later (absent going back to the voters) but they will have only themselves to blame. There was ample warning. Voting YES on Amendment 4 will promote Smart Growth planning principles since it will redirect development (with higher densities to maximize profits) to areas where utilities/public services are already available. The end result will be more cost- and energy-efficient settlement forms, and reallocation of resources from ever-outward expansion of utilities/services to instead maintenance/upgrading of established systems. Over the long-term, in real terms, it should lead to lower utility and property tax bills in the State of Florida.

3. The Real Estate Industry will adapt… or perish

After the Great Recession, few seem aware of the delicious irony surrounding the debate over Amendment 4. Its proponents are trying to stop growth already stopped while its opponents want to protect growth already dead (and, for which many of them are culpable). However, growth will return. The question is: what kind of growth will it be? Evidence is abundant the necessary lessons of the Great Recession have not been learnt, namely “big risk, over leveraged, easy money” business models are fatally flawed. Even more troubling, our business and political leaders (and those in Washington and on Wall Street) seemed poised, even eager, to make the same mistakes all over again (see Einstein’s definition of insanity). However, Florida can no longer sustain the personal or public cost of energy-inefficient, suburban sprawl developments so characteristic of post-WWII America (and especially here). The business and planning models of our real estate industry are dinosaurs and need to evolve lest they become extinct. Voting YES on Amendment 4 will force the real estate industry to think outside of the “easy money, lazy thinking” box it has been trapped for the last 30 years. Americans are incredibly clever and creative innovators when they decide to be (especially when it comes to business and profit). Voting YES on Amendment 4 will firmly set the brightest minds of our business and political leadership to the task of innovating the real estate industry for a more sustainable future. Personally, I find this to be a very exciting challenge. The alternative is founded on fear of the unknown and the conceit we are forever trapped in the bubble cycle of ‘boom and bust’. I don’t believe it.

4. Greater demand for physical planning and design expertise

The conventional wisdom is approval of Amendment 4 will devastate the planning profession (especially public planning agencies). In my experience, the most predictable thing about conventional wisdom is how often it is wrong. I believe approval of Amendment 4 will lead to increased demand for planning expertise from top-to-bottom throughout the real estate industry (including our public planning agencies). The nature of this demand will change from regulatory planning of the “meet the minimum requirements” variety to expertise on physical planning and design in order to maximize profit in the horizontal and vertical dimension of developments. Approval of Amendment 4 will increase use of Planned Unit Developments as developers seek to tailor zoning/design requirements to maximize profit margins on entitled urban land. The focus of public planning agencies will shift away from processing paper to physical planning, especially since land development regulations/review will have to be more robust, flexible and nuanced. This will expedite the shift over the last 30 years in the planning profession from a social science focus to its proper place as the art and science of physical design. Few landowners will pursue a comprehensive plan amendment process that is subject to voter approval. When they rarely do, they will be forced to go BIG (think Development of Regional Impact on steroids) so the multitude of benefits is an obvious ‘slam-dunk’ for the voters. The normal EAR process will be invigorated as land owners/developers invest more in planning services to justify expansion of the de facto ‘growth boundary’ established by Florida Hometown Democracy. The political and professional debate over future growth of communities will be similarly invigorated. The Rural Land Stewardship program will have to be revisited, innovated and expanded. Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs) will become a more effective means to short-term profit for landowners of large, greenfield lands to realize the value of their property. And, most importantly, draconian environmental protection requirements that perversely promote suburban sprawl in Florida will have to be revisited, refined and relaxed by our political leadership to become more nuanced. Voting YES on Amendment 4 will be a boom to the planning profession. Instead of fearing Florida Hometown Democracy, planners should embrace the tremendous opportunities for innovation and creativity it will unleash in our profession.

5. Property values will rise for the greatest number of people

There are several studies demonstrating urban growth boundaries lead to increases in urban property values. Most recently, I am aware of such a study with similar findings produced by Florida State University. With Florida Hometown Democracy operating as a “de facto” urban growth boundary, a sustainable climb in urban property values will result. For rural, greenfield lands not entitled under local comprehensive plans, the land value should remain stable. The collapse of the residential/commercial real estate market in Florida during the Great Recession has already deflated land values so they have – more or less – bottomed out. This does mean property taxes on rural lands will remain low for their owners. And since Florida has a history of large, rural land ownership under the auspices of a single family or entity, any discernable deflation in rural land values will affect only a few rather than the many. Voting YES on Amendment 4 will be a boost for urban property owners, who represent the overwhelming majority of people in the state. Higher property values will also lead to increased tax revenues (without mileage hikes) for our local governments; stabilize and reignite the existing residential housing market in the state; and, reinvigorate access to credit as people’s home value rises.


There are even more reasons to support Amendment 4 than I can articulate in this brief article. And I could easily go into greater detail about the reasons I have cited in this article to support Amendment 4. Also, I freely admit, I’m very fond of playing the role of the rebel in my profession and going against the grain to support Amendment 4 fulfills that inclination. But, ultimately, my decision to support Amendment 4 comes down to one fundamental truth. What we have done in post-WWII America has not worked and it will not work in the future. It has led us into an unsustainable suburban sprawl nightmare. It has led to a devastated residential and commercial real estate market. It has led to massive deflation of property values. It has led to rampant foreclosures and unemployment. It has led us into a seemingly bottomless pool of unimaginable debt. And it will lead us there again. The Great Recession has demonstrated beyond doubt our urban, more traditional neighborhoods are better suited to withstand market fluctuations in land values. The Great Recession has demonstrated beyond doubt how really worthless are the expanses of devalued suburban sprawl properties across this state. It’s time to chart a new course. Voting YES on Amendment 4 will set Florida down a new path, full of exciting opportunities and challenges, to creatively innovate our business models, our developments, our industry and our profession. I urge you to vote YES on Amendment 4. It will be a vote for the future rather than the past.

Mark David Major is Immediate Past Chair of the First Coast APA, serving as Chair from 2005-2008. During this time, he also served on the APA Florida Executive Committee. He participated in adopting the Chapter’s position against Florida Hometown Democracy and support of Floridians for Smarter Growth; a coalition of public and private organizations advocating defeat of Amendment 4. Mark has lived in Florida for 8 years and worked as an urban planner in private consulting, local government and a Fortune 500 homebuilder.

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