Tag Archives: Transportation Planning

REVIEW | Paradigm lost, Industrial and post-industrial Detroit | Urban Design International

Featured Image: Choice network analysis at radius 10,000 meters of Detroit in 1952 with industry superimposed from Paradigm lost, Industrial and post-industrial Detroit (Psarra et al, 2013).

REVIEW: Paradigm lost, Industrial and post-industrial Detroit by Sophia Psarra, Conrad Kickert, and Amanda Pluviano, Urban Design International, Advanced Online Publication, March 27, 2013
by Mark David Major, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

There is a simple question at the heart of the Psarra et al paper, “Paradigm lost: Industrial and post-industrial Detroit – An analysis of the street network and its social and economic dimensions from 1796 to the present,” available as an advanced online publication from Urban Design International. This question is: can spatial pattern be implicated in the remarkable urban decline of Detroit over the last half-century? It is an important question precisely because so many architecture, urban design and planning professionals – as well as politicians and policy makers  – never bother to ask it, especially in the United States. The answer provided by Psarra et al is an academically careful and qualified ‘yes’.

Their basic argument is the locating of large-scale industrial uses at the northern periphery of the urban grid (along and near to Davison St./Grand Ave.) beginning around 1900-1910 – in combination with interstate highway system construction and decline of the streetcar system a few decades later – served to disrupt the integrated functioning of the urban street network, commercial, industrial and residential land uses, and the transportation infrastructure serving them (railroads, streetcars) in the city. This facilitated radical decentralization of Detroit to the suburbs, where developers and industry could find ever larger and cheaper land parcels. Their argument is a little more nuanced than this but that is the gist. In doing so, they conclude (though don’t say so bluntly) the automobile both made and destroyed Detroit.

They acknowledge more complex factors were, no doubt, at work in the decline of Detroit but argue understanding the pattern of urban space and how it relates to land uses and transportation infrastructure is crucial for diagnosing the problem. In its diagnosis, the paper excels though it is very light on offering solutions (beyond a vague call for “radical solutions”). For example, they generally discuss what they describe as “Landscape Urbanism” without much detail. They are far too kind to reveal what, I suspect, is probably an outright disdain for this approach to serious urban problems. Landscape Urbanism only exists because it is politically expedient and offers policy makers/politicians the appearance of doing something (and feeds the financial coffers of consultants) when, in fact, it is usually a useless solution that avoids the real problem all together. What is really interesting about their historical analysis is where industrial land uses were not located; namely, along the riverfront at the edge of the Woodward plan. This suggests the seeds of Detroit’s urban decline might be traced back to the early 19th century. Large-scale industrial land uses may not have been allowed to develop along the riverfront of the Woodward plan. If the industrial land uses along Davison/Grand had come to be located along the riverfront instead of the northern periphery, Detroit may have been better positioned to manage its transition from an industrial to a post-industrial city, as other cities have accomplished to varying degrees of success.

By necessity, academic articles cannot cover all of the bases. For example, I would have liked to have seen spatial analysis of contemporary Detroit with its interstate highway system ‘peeled off’ to better reveal its disruptive effect on the underlying street grid pattern. I’m not even sure if current space syntax software allows for this kind of ‘alternative’ analysis. I would have also liked to have seen a spatial model of Detroit embedded within its larger urban context to the south in Canada (Windsor/LaSalle), where the railroad lines do terminate along the riverfront of the Detroit River. There is also the political factor. Detroit has been subject to one-party rule (Democratic) for the last half-century and it’s hard to believe this is only coincidental with its decline as an urban center. To excuse the Democratic Party from Detroit’s decline, one almost has to concede that all government policies are essentially useless (a very Libertarian position). However, there is only so much anyone can cover in an article. “Paradigm lost, Industrial and post-industrial Detroit” is well worth the read. At the very least, it will get you questioning the “conventional wisdom” in the field about Detroit and other cities experiencing similar problems.

You read the full article online or download a PDF via the link below:

URBAN DESIGN International – Paradigm lost: Industrial and post-industrial Detroit – An analysis of the street network and its social and economic dimensions from 1796 to the present.

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20 Must-Read Texts for Urban Planners (#1-10)

by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributorreps_covers

10. “The Origin and Spread of the Grid-Pattern Town” (1946) by Dan Stanislawski

An old text, perhaps obscure to many and only familiar to a few, “The Origin and Spread of the Grid-Pattern Town” is one of the earliest and most thorough reviews of the evolution of regular grid town planning in the world. Yes, Stanislawski subscribes the spread of regular grid town planning to a process of historical diffusion, which Spiro Kostoff (see below) correctly points out nobody believes in any more. Despite this flaw, Stanislawski’s review is surprisingly comprehensive, for the most part. Stanislawski does seem to gloss over medieval town platting, see Maurice Beresford’s 1967 New Towns of the Middle Ages: Town Plantation in England, Wales and Gascony. However, some later writers ignore all together clear examples of regular grid planning in certain regions of the world (the Orient, for example). Stanislawski’s article is still a valuable resource today for any reader interested in the regular grid as long as they are careful about filtering out some of his misplaced – discredited today – ideas (for example, historical diffusion or the importance of Hippodamus).

The article is available here

9. “Savannah and the Issue of Precedent: City Plan as Resource” (1993) by Stanford Anderson

John Reps in his historical narrative of American town planning (see below) is enchanted with the historical ward plan of Savannah, as are many architects, urban designers, and planners. Reps is equally mystified (and a little despondent) about why the Savannah plan was not more influential in the history of American town planning. In “Savannah and the Issue of Precedent: City Plan as Resource,” Anderson offers a succinct and brilliant analysis about how the ward plan of Savannah operated in terms of street alignments and dwelling entrance locations working together to structure the outside-to-inside ‘assimilation’ of strangers into the town (principally in relation to the port). In generic terms, Savannah appears to be quite typical of a lot of waterfront settlements in American planning. However, its detailed specifications for squares and constitution are rigid, making it an inflexible model for early American town development (for example, compared to the flexibility of the Philadelphia or Spanish Laws of the Indies models). Anderson’s article should be on the standard reading list for any academic program in planning.

The article is available on Google Books here

8. The Practice of Local Government Planning (2000)

It is one thing to complain about how planning works in the United States. However, it is hypocritical to complain without really understanding how planning works in the United States. The Practice of Local Government Planning offers a clear solution. For years, the various incarnations of the “green book” have been the go-to source for American planners to immerse themselves in the full scope of their profession in the United States. This Municipal Management Series book is the first one that any planner will open when seeking to pass the AICP exam. It is comprehensive and detailed. Warning: it is a very, very dry read. It is also extremely careful to remain neutral when presenting a picture about the way things work, i.e. this is what it is, not this is the right way to do things. In this sense, it is value-free and empty at its core. Nonetheless, it remains an invaluable resource for any planner, or anyone wanting to understand planners.

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7. The City Assembled: The Elements of Urban Form Through History (1992) by Spiro Kostoff

6. The City Shaped: Urban Patterns and Meanings Through History (1991) by Spiro Kostoff

5. Cities of the American West: A History of Frontier Urban Planning (1979) by John W. Reps

4. The Making of Urban America: A History of City Planning in the United States (1965) by John W. Reps

Kostoff’s The City Shaped/The City Assembled are the crucial books about the history of town planning in the world for any urban planner to have on their bookshelves. Reps’ The Making of Urban America/Cities of the American West about the history of town planning in the United States are the crucial books for any urban planner to also have on their bookshelves. If an urban planner does not have these books on their bookshelves, it is reasonable to question the quality of said planner. There are other good historical narratives out there on the subject (Sibyl Moholy-Nagy’s The Matrix of Man or Eisner and Gallion’s The Urban Pattern, for example). However, Kostoff and Reps’ books are the most comprehensive and thorough for their particular subjects. All four books incorporate hundreds of plans/plats and photographs to tell the story of town planning in the United States and world at large. They also offer detailed historical information (especially Reps) about the people and events involved in building our cities. Sometimes they are insightful and sometimes they are mistaken. For example, despite his protestations about the dichotomy so prevalent in town planning, Kostoff remains firmly entrapped within that dichotomy, i.e. ‘organic’ and ‘regular’ cities. Reps correctly points out the historical importance of William Penn’s plan of Philadelphia but misstates the reasons, assigning to Philadelphia what should have more appropriately been given to the Nine Square Plan of New Haven and the Spanish Law of the Indies, which Kostoff correctly emphasizes (though we are discussing subtle but important degrees of difference instead of a chasm in thought between both writers). When he ventures away from historical narrative and facts into the realm of opinion, Reps is often prone to undervalue the functional power of regular grid. However, these are endlessly useful texts for anyone interested in cities and the collection of plans and other historical documents (bird’s eye views) are a wonderful resource for any planner to have readily at hand.

3. Space is the Machine: A Configurational Theory of Architecture (1996) by Bill Hillier

A purist could argue that anyone interested in space syntax should start with The Social Logic of Space (1984) by Bill Hillier and Julienne Hanson. The Social Logic of Space is an important book where Hillier and Hanson spell out a lot of groundwork for the theoretical and mathematical foundations of space syntax. However, they do so to a level of detail that some readers might find off-putting. Even Hillier and Hanson admit that one of its chapters is practically unreadable because it is so dry with technical detail. If you want to learn about the space syntax approach and some of its early, important findings without getting bogged down in the detail, then you will be better served by starting with Hillier’s Space is the Machine. Besides, Hillier is always careful about repeating the ‘big picture’ items that arose from The Social Logic of Space (beady ring settlements, restricted random process, and so on), so you won’t miss too much. For planners, the most important chapters in Space is the Machine to get immersed are about cities as movement economies, whether architecture can cause social malaise, and the fundamental city. There are plenty of goodies for architects as well. Space is the Machine is a must-read for anyone serious about a scientific approach to the built environment.

Space is the Machine is available here

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2. The City: Suggestions for Investigation of Human Behavior in the Urban Environment (1925) by Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess

One of the planning profession’s biggest problems is that the Chicago School (the sociologists Park and Burgess and their colleague, Homer Hoyt, see sector model of city growth, who together were the founders of human ecology) got so much right from the very beginning that there wasn’t anywhere for planning to go from there but down. Of course, planning theory proceeded to accomplish this downhill spiral with great vigor and spectacularly bad results (see the second half of the 20th century). With the advent of the computer processor, Park and Burgess’ approach may appear somewhat quaint to modern eyes. However, the essentials  about the city are there. More importantly, Park and Burgess never divorce the socio-economic nature of the city from its physical form but view them as intimately bound together. An important book and somewhat underrated in today’s world by planners, though it’s difficult to understand why or how that should be the case.

1. The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) by Jane Jacobs

Big surprise, huh? These days it seems like anyone interested in cities is obsessed with Jane Jacobs, either in implementing and promoting her ideas or in feverishly going to ridiculous lengths trying to refute them (one might call it Jacobs Derangement Syndrome). Indeed, this obsession in itself is a testament to the power of her book. Ironically, for its time, the most novel thing Jacobs did was she dared to look out her window and observe how things were really working out there on the street. It’s a sad statement on the planning profession that this was somehow viewed as a sacrilege when the book was first published and, to a certain extent, this perception endures even today. I mean, how dare she actually suggest we evaluate (and, by implication, take responsibility for) the social and economic consequences of our planning decisions. The Death and Life of Great American Cities is the essential book for any planner.

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A unanimous Declaration of Planning Independence

IN THE OUTLAW URBANIST, January 4, 2013

A unanimous Declaration of Planning Independence

When in the Course of urban events, it becomes necessary for a people to overthrow the tired paradigm which has guided city building for too long, and to assume a new model of urban growth and renewal for our cities on this earth, the distinct and equal status to which the Laws of Common Sense and of Common Sense’s Spirit entitles them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to revolution.

We hold these truths to be proven fact, that all cities are created of space, that space is a living thing, which is endowed by human Design with certain indeniable attributes, that among these are Movement, Transaction, and the pursuit of Interaction. That to secure these attributes, Urban Designers and Planners are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the Beingness of the City, that whenever any paradigm becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new Paradigm, laying its foundation on such common sense and organizing its principles in such form, as to them shall to most likely perpetuate the vitality and sustainability of the City.

Scientific method, indeed, will dictate that a Paradigm long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience has shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Its evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by overthrowing a Paradigm to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and corruptions, pursuing invariably the same Object manifests a Design to reduce them under absolute Lunacy, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Paradigm, and to provide a new model for the future of the city.

Such has been the patient sufferance of our cities; and such is now the necessity that constrains us to overthrow our current System of City Building. The history of the current Paradigm is a history of repeated injuries and corruptions, all having in direct object the establishment of absolute Lunacy over our cities. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world:

It has refused to Assent to the wisdom of good Design, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good, found common over 10,000 years of city building.

It has passed Laws and Regulations contrary to the common wisdom of good Design over 10,000 years of city building, refused to reform or suspend such Laws and Regulations when proven fallacious, or lest utterly neglected to attend to them for the public good.

It has refused to pass other Laws and Regulations for the accommodation of good Design, unless the People relinquish the right of sound Planning, a relation inestimable to City Building and formidable to Lunacy only.

It has conspired to call together Professionals at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from Public view, for the sole purposes of corrupting and fatiguing the City into compliance with Its measures.

It has dissolved Common Sense repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness Its invasions on the vital humanism of the City.

It has conspired for a long time, after such dissolutions, to promote mediocre Professionals; whereby the Paradigm, incapable of Annihilation, have been applied to Cities at large without recourse nor correction; the City remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers from without, and convulsions within.

It has endeavored to prevent the good Design of these cities; for that purpose of obstructing the Common Sense building of the City; refusing to pass Laws and Regulations to encourage good Design, and raising the conditions for the Misappropriation of Lands and Social Isolation of Populations.

It has obstructed the Administration of Space for pedestrians, by promoting its Assent to Laws for accommodating the Automobile.

It has made the People dependent on the Automobile alone, for the movement, transaction and interaction of their everyday activities, and increased the time and cost of their livelihood in Urban conditions.

It has erected a multitude of New Laws and Regulations, and sent hither swarms of Attorneys to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

It has kept among us Allocations for Parking designed solely for a handful days of Christmas shopping without regard for times or amount of use in the rest of the Year.

It has affected to render the desires of Professionals independent of and superior to the Civic good.

It has combined with other Paradigms to subject cities to a jurisdiction foreign to their humanistic constitution, and unacknowledged by Common Sense; giving its Assent to their Acts of pretended logic.

For Quartering large bodies of automobiles on our roads: For protecting them, by idiotic regulations, from retardation for any Murders which they have commit on Pedestrians and Bicyclists in our Cities:

For isolating our urban centers from all parts of their Periphery:

For imposing Fees and Taxes on us without benefit to the Civic good:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Choice in our housing types:

For placing the transportation of Automobiles above the Humanity of living:

For abolishing diversity in Our Cities for the sake of suburban conformity, establishing therein an Arbitrary lifestyle, and enlarging its Model so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute Lunacy in our Cities:

For destroying our Street Life, abolishing its most valuable Character, and altering fundamentally the spatial Function of Our Cities:

For suspending Common Sense urbanism, and declaring itself invested with the power to Build Suburbs for us in all cases whatsoever:

It has abdicated Common Sense here, by declaring us inconsequential to City Building and waging War against traditional urbanism:

It has plundered our lands, destroyed the Social Contract between the City and its Citizens, promoted social isolation, and destroyed the fabric of our neighborhoods.

It is at this time renewing efforts to sprawl large suburban communities of suspect Value to complete the works of isolation, desolation and lunacy, already begun with circumstances of Euclidean zoning and deceits of transportation engineering and planning scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy as a model of City Building lest the Death of the City is its aim.

It has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive in a web of bureaucratic incompetence in all agencies against their Cities, to become the executioners of Urban Vitality and Sustainability, or to fail by their Hands.

It has excited domestic special interests against the City, and has endeavored to bring on the Death of our Cities at the hands of faceless suburban sprawl, whose known rule of assimilation is an undistinguished conformity of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms:

Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.

A Paradigm whose character is thus marked by every act which may define Lunacy, is unfit to be a model for Great Cities.

Nor have Urban Designers and Planners been wanting in attentions to our plight. They have been warned from time to time of attempts by their Paradigm to extend its unwarrantable reign over our Cities. Urban Designers and Planners have been reminded of the flaws of their Paradigm, and they have been conjured by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these corruptions, which, would inevitably spurn revolution. Urban Designers and Planners too have been deaf to the voice of Common Sense and Accepted Wisdom. Urban Designers and Planners must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces their Guilt, and hold them, Responsible as Accomplices in this paradigmatic injustice against Our Cities.

We, therefore, The Outlaw Urbanist, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the our Ancestral history and the wisdom of Master Builders for the righteousness of our cause, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of our Cities, solemnly publish and declare, that Our Cities are, and of Right ought to be Free of the Prevailing Paradigm; that we are Absolved from All Allegiance to the Prevailing Paradigm; and that all political and moral connection between It and City Building is and ought to be totally overthrown; and that as Free and Independent Thinkers, we have full Power to build traditional cities, foster movement, transaction and social interaction in Cities made of Space, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent Thinkers may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of Common Sense in the Human Spirit, we pledge each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

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This article appears in Major, M.D. (2012) Poor Richard, An Almanac for Architects and Planners (Volume 1 with Foreword by Julia Starr Sanford). Jacksonville, Florida: Forum Books, ISBN-10: 1482659379, ISBN-13: 978-1482659375, ASIN: B00Q1V5VLK. Available for purchase on this page.

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Poor Richard’s Almanac for Planners | Issue 6

Courteous Reader,

I am tempted to win your favor by declaring I wrote this Almanac for Planners solely for the public good. However, this is insincere and you are too wise for the deception of this pretense. The fact is I am excessively poor and, unfortunately, excessively wifeless. To address both problems, I must begin to make some profit since every potential wife always asks, “What kind of car do you drive?” I always have to reply, “I walk”, and the potential wife thinks I am a deviant.

Indeed, this motive would have been enough to write this Almanac many years ago except for the overwhelming desire of the public and professionals to only hear what they want to hear and my overwhelming desire to secure a salary. I am now of sufficient age to no longer care about telling people what they want to hear but only about what they need to know. This has freed me to write this Almanac for Planners in increments of ten cause it worked for Moses and the Almighty. Hopefully, my Almanac gains your likes and retweets as a means of demonstrating the usefulness of my efforts but also your charity to this poor Friend and Servant,

Richard

On Cities

51. We should have greater faith in the capacity of our cities to reach a state of dynamic equilibrium without the excesses of our interference.

52. Cities are not about where we are from or where we are going but how we are getting there.

53. Bad planning and road rage are directly related. Always design happy cities, not angry ones.

On Walking

54. “As the crow flies” is a useless measure of walkability because we are not crows and do not fly.

55. An apple a day may keep the doctor away but walking costs less in money and apples.

On Walls

56. When Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors,” he was being sarcastic.

57. Private walls are often about hiding what we have, public walls are often about hiding what we don’t want to know.

58. The height of walls directly relates to our level of fear when those walls are breached.

59. The fatal flaw of walls is you can usually breach any wall by going around it.

On Social Justice

60. Social justice lies in opportunity, not reward.

The Issue 7 cometh soon!

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