Tag Archives: United States

A Reckoning is Upon Us | The Populist Movement in America

A Reckoning is Upon Us | The Populist Movement in America
An Op-Ed by The Outlaw Urbanist

Something is happening in America…

Many people do not understand it. Some people fear it. Other people recognize it as something long overdue.

Populism has washed ashore in America with a terrible thunder…

The Establishment brought this upon themselves. By ‘the establishment’, we generally mean the media, political, and moneyed-interest class principally, but not exclusively, located in New York, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. This is the real us vs. them dynamic in play in this election since political affiliation, race, gender, age or any other way ‘them’ attempt to divide (and conquer) ‘us’ is irrelevant.

The Establishment has faced a successive wave of ‘change’ elections: Republicans lost control of the U.S. Congress in 2006; Republicans lost control of the White House in 2008; Democrats lost control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010; President Obama was re-elected in 2012 even as Republicans dramatically increased control of the U.S. Congress and states governorships/legislatures from 2010-2014; and, Democrats lost control of the U.S. Senate in 2014.

The American people are speaking loud and clear: the medium is the message.

And yet, the Establishment still refuses to listen. Yes, the American people are angry. I understand the anger. Too often, I have watched people – lacking in common sense but blessed with an abundance of money, influence, and willful ignorance – change the rules in their own petty self-interests at the expense of others who worked hard and deserved to rise in a functional meritocracy.

It is true there have always been ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ in the capitalism of the American republic. This is accepted as a given. However, the bailouts of the 2008 Financial Crisis lay bare to the American people just how far  incomes and opportunities (or even their simple consideration) have fallen behind the coastal oligarchs. The ‘opium drip’ of Qualitative Easing and zero interest rates to prop up the banks and real estate/financial markets over the last seven years has not allowed the pulling back of the curtain in 2008 to recede into a forgotten past. They have enriched themselves beyond all measure while we continue to struggle day-to-day to find jobs, feed ourselves, and pay our bills (the proverbial “income inequality”). In particular, Black Americans (especially urban youth) have paid a terrible, unfair price for this status quo, which should be viewed as a complete disgrace by any citizen possessing the tiniest measure of decency. The solution is not found in a barely disguised democratic socialism. Nor it is found in an unmasked laissez-faire capitalism. It can be found in a common sense republicanism; the historic source of American meritocracy when functioning properly.

This anger is feeding populist movements on the extreme left of the Democratic Party (“feel the Bern”) and the muddled right of the Republican Party (“win again”). The origins of both movements are tapped from the same vein whether expressed in the Occupy Wall Street or Tea Party protests of the not-so-distant past. These movements are natural allies, both sides of the same coin, and supporters of each should avoid the all-too-obvious efforts of the Establishment (for example, George Soros and MoveOn.org) to pit either side against each other in a cage match designed to create a conflagration of mutual-consumption. It is an insidious effort to re-assert the bought privileges of a select few by ensuring the election of Hillary Clinton, who could not be a more potent symbol of the Establishment if she tried.

Common cause is what really scares the Establishment. They are coming to realize that many (not all) of Bernie Sanders’ supporters will cross over and vote for Donald J. Trump in the November election to defeat their ‘potent symbol’ as the youth vote in President Obama’s coalition sits this election out because their preferred messenger never had a realistic chance in the rigged Democratic primaries (all pay homage to the Super Delegates and biased media). They are coming to realize the ‘conventional wisdom’ of the electoral map will be utterly destroyed and re-drawn anew in the process. The silent majority of Americans – including many people such as myself who, out of frustration, now refuse to participate at all – watch in delighted glee as the Establishment (especially the media, be it of the FOX News, CNN or MSNBC variety) squirms in desperate discomfort to ignore, desperate attempt to blunt, and desperate wish to avoid the inevitable.

A reckoning is upon us and you better start listening or else the Establishment is “gonna wonder how (they) ever thought (they) could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

And if this isn’t the time? If not today, then tomorrow.

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The Outlaw Urbanist at SSS10 |13-17 July 2015 | London

mark_v3UPDATE: Dr. Mark David Major is scheduled to speak at SSS10 on Tuesday, July 14th at 12 Noon during the “Urban Morphology” session in the Leolin Price Lecture Theatre.

Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, founder of The Outlaw Urbanist and author of the Poor Richard Almanac series for architects and planners, will be speaking at the 10th Space Syntax Symposium (SSS10) held in London from 13 to 17 July 2015 at University College London, Bloomsbury. Major was the Symposium Organizer for the inaugural 1997 conference in London and generally regarded as the founder of Space Syntax Symposia, which is now approaching its twentieth year.

Major will be speaking about “The Hidden Corruption of American Regular Grids: why space syntax doesn’t work in the United States, when it looks like it should”. Read the abstract below for a sneak preview:

Space syntax has made remarkable progress in practice and research around the world over the last 40 years. However, this is not the case in the United States. Space syntax remains on the fringes of the American planning and development process. This is odd since there appear to be several inherent advantages for the widespread application of space syntax in an American context, i.e. continuing large-scale urban growth, an established research programme at one of the country’s leading universities, and seemingly ‘natural’ allies in professional practice.

The paper outlines the financial, institutional, and legal hurdles and pitfalls confronting space syntax in the American market, especially in the private sector. Using a series of ‘back-of-the-napkin’ financial calculations common to the American planning and development process, the paper demonstrates how these challenges can transform into a distinct advantage for advocating the cause of the space syntax in the United States. Given this, the paper concludes by discussing the enormous challenges and opportunities for space syntax in America today.

More information about SSS10 is available here.

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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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A Dark Curtain Falls Across the Middle East

A Dark Curtain Falls Across the Middle East
by Dr. Mark David Major,  AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

NOTE: We are momentarily stepping away from urban subjects to discuss bigger issues However, the anti-government protests in Turkey did originate in the realm of urban development.

Incrementally, inch-by-inch, from the shores of Tripoli to the Bosporus Straits to the Khyber Pass, there is a dark curtain falling across the Middle East. It was the late writer, Christopher Hitchens, who coined the phrase “Islamo-Fascism” after 9/11. He did so to accurately characterize this latest threat to the principles of liberty and justice. This is the “inheritance” Winston Churchill traced in his famous Iron Curtain speech “through Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Habeas Corpus, trial by jury, and the English common law find(ing) their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence” Over the last decade, we have abbreviated Hitchens’ term into the shorthand term of “Jihadist”. However, Hitchens original formulation remains precise because it recognizes the very long history of totalitarianism (too long to recount here) and 20th century flirtation with the fascism of Nazi Germany in the Middle East. In the post-war period, this history of tyranny and flirtation with genocide metastasized around an expressed goal: the destruction of Israel.

Like Libya before it, Jihadists have infiltrated the pro-democracy rebellion in Syria while Hezbollah fighters enter the country in support of the tyrannical government of Bashar al-Assad. In essence, this rebellion now pits one model of tyranny against another with the democratic elements poised to be sidelined/eliminated once their immediate usefulness against the Assad government is over. Jihadists used the grassroots, pro-democracy protests of the Arab Spring as a springboard to political power in Egypt. Now Islamic-rooted Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s riot police used tear gas and pressurized water hoses in a dawn raid on Friday against a peaceful sit-in to prevent the uprooting of trees at a local park. The initial protest has expanded beyond urban renewal issues to demonstrations against new laws recently enacted that restrict the sale and advertising of alcohol and public displays of affection (i.e. kissing). The implications for the West of ‘losing Turkey’ (which already has a Jihadist-tainted government) are profound.

What is American and Western policy towards the Middle East? Does anybody know? It appears to wildly fluctuate from situation to situation and moment to moment. Our policy circles around the strategic signpost “to keep the oil flowing” while veering back and forth between (often mistaken) tactical assessments about what is easy (i.e. Libya, intervene; Afghanistan, surge) or what is hard (i.e. Syria, stay out of it; Iraq; get out), which is to say there is no coherent policy at all. This is no way for a “great” county and civilization (which we aspire to and often claim on behalf of the United States and Western Europe) to conduct its affairs. Given these conditions, it should not be a surprise to anyone the “huddle masses yearning to breathe free” on the Arab streets are befuddled and frustrated by the incoherent policies of the United States and Western Europe. After 9/11, the United States and Western Europe made a mistake. It was an honest mistake because it was born of anger but a mistake nonetheless. We thought Al-Qaeda’s attack was about us. It was not, it was about power. Subsequent events in the Middle East have demonstrated the agenda of the Jihadists is to achieve political power, oppress liberal-minded citizens and thought (such as Christianity), and accumulate power for its own sake. In his second augural address, George W. Bush attempted to frame the current threat on more solid footing as a struggle against tyranny, liberty versus oppression, and the dreams of freedom for the many in opposition to the pursuit of power by a few.

Many in the West ridiculed this reframing by the American President into the “Freedom Agenda” as hopelessly naïve. You cannot fight and defeat an idea. Of course, they are correct. However, ideas take on recognizable forms. In democratic societies, these forms include free markets, freedom of movement, and tolerance of the Other. In oppressive regimes, they take the form of financial corruption, the elevation of state power over individual liberty, and intolerance of the Other. You fight and defeat the forms that tyranny takes in the world. It is time for the United States and the West to revisit its Cold War model and adapt the mechanism for this new threat. This includes the expansion of domestic oil production in North America in order to wean our societies (and, increasingly, China) off the teat of Middle Eastern oil. For the first time in decades, the United States is exporting oil. We need to rapidly expand this capacity. North American should be the principal supplier of oil to China lest we lose a (potentially) powerful ally in the coming struggle to the same dependency, which caused us to indirectly finance the current threat. In the process, we need to get our fiscal house in order. A new policy should include containment. We must develop a strategy for the Middle East to halt the expansion of Islamo-Fascism, which includes modernizing (perhaps even expanding) our nuclear deterrent and reconstituting the doctrine of having the military capacity to fight two wars simultaneously. As part of this containment strategy, we will have to recognize and accept we may lose some countries (like Egypt) along the way but, in the modern era of globalization, mass communications, and the internet, these are more likely to be temporary situations. A similar transition as witnessed during the Cold War is likely to occur at a much more rapid rate (taking years instead of decades). Finally, we must actively engage in destabilizing these tyrannical regimes by any means necessary, including clandestine activities, expanded intelligence gathering ‘on the ground’, Wi-Fi American Free (a modern adaption of the Radio Free Europe concept) and filtering financial support to grassroots democratic movements. Our view should be on the end game, not the distractions of the moment. And our end game should always be to grow the “tree of liberty” for all, lest we condemn more than 300 million people to the darkness.

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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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