Tag Archives: Urban Growth

Urban Patterns | Kansas City, Missouri-Kansas USA

“We’ll be standin’ on the corner of 12th in line
With our Kansas City baby and our bottle of Kansas City wine.”
Kansas City, Little Richard

Urban Patterns | Kansas City, Missouri-Kansas USA
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Kansas City, Missouri is the largest city in the state and the sixth largest city in the American Midwest. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city had an estimated population of 481,420 in 2016, making it the 37th largest city by population in the United States. It is the anchor city of the Kansas City metropolitan area, which straddles the Kansas–Missouri border. Kansas City was founded in the 1830s as a Missouri River port at its confluence with the Kansas River. On June 1, 1850, the town of Kansas was incorporated; shortly after came the establishment of the Kansas Territory. Confusion between the two ensued and the name Kansas City was assigned to distinguish them soon thereafter. Kansas City, Kansas is the third-largest city in that state and the third-largest city (after Kansas City, Missouri and Overland Park, Kansas) of the Kansas City metropolitan area. The Kansas City metropolitan area is a 15-county metropolitan area that straddles the border between Missouri and Kansas. With a population of about 2,340,000, it ranks as the second largest metropolitan area in Missouri (after Greater St. Louis). Kansas City, Kansas is abbreviated as KCK to differentiate it from Kansas City, Missouri. As of the 2010 census, Kansas City, Kansas had a population of 145,786 residents. (Source: Wikipedia).

Satellite view from 15 km of Kansas City Missouri-Kansas USA (Source: Google Earth).

There are two distinctive characteristics to the urban pattern of Kansas City at different scales of the city. The first is the series of large building footprints and urban blocks composing a series of small-scale (in relative terms) offset grids adjacent to the Missouri and Kansas Rivers. This is most apparent in the close-up satellite view from 15 km of Kansas City (see above). This is a direct result of its historical origins in water transportation, which remains important to this day for the city; namely, the laying out of street networks to ensure a rectangular shape to the plots on the most valuable land immediately adjacent to the rivers.

Satellite view from 30 km of Kansas City Missouri-Kansas USA (Source: Google Earth).

When examining the Kansas City urban pattern at the large-scale (see satellite view from 30 km above), the second distinctive characteristic becomes much more apparent; namely, a strong north-south and east-west structure in the street network of Kansas City. Initially, some people might think this occurred due to the stereotypical view about the ‘flatness’ of the American prairie. However, the topography in and around Kansas City is composed of gentle, rolling hills and river bluffs. Instead, this is evidence of the emergent pattern of the Jeffersonian grid in the 1785 Land Ordinance.

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.

Share the knowledge!
Share

Urban Patterns | Doha, Qatar

“Ya’ know that, this town’s like a painted desert
Dead heat, movin’ in the city, I’m lost in a painted desert.”
— Painted Desert, Pat Benatar

Urban Patterns | Doha, Qatar
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Doha (Arabic: الدوحة‎‎, ad-Dawḥa or ad-Dōḥa) literally meaning “the big tree” but, locally, “rounded bays” is the capital city and most populous city in the State of Qatar. Doha has a population of 1,351,000 in the city proper with a metropolitan population close to 1.5 million. The city is located on the coast of the Persian Gulf in the east of the country. It is Qatar’s fastest growing city with over 50% of the nation’s population living in Doha or its surrounding suburbs. It is the economic center of the country. Doha was founded in the 1820s as an offshoot of Al Bidda. It was officially declared as the country’s capital in 1971 when Qatar gained independence from being a British Protectorate. As the commercial capital of Qatar and one of the emergent financial centers in the Middle East, Doha is considered a world city by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network. The city of Doha was formed after seceding from another local settlement known as Al Bidda. The earliest documented mention of Al Bidda was made in 1681 by the Carmelite Convent in an account, which chronicles several settlements in Qatar. In the record, the ruler and a fort in the confines of Al Bidda are alluded to. Carsten Niebuhr, a European explorer who visited the Arabian Peninsula, created one of the first maps to depict the settlement in 1765 in which he labeled it as ‘Guttur’ (Source: Wikipedia).

1947 Aerial photograph of Doha, Qatar (Source: UCL Qatar).

Recently, UCL Qatar created a new interactive map to explore the history of Doha from the late 1940s to the present day here. The Origins of Doha is a UCL Qatar research project, supported by the Qatar National Research Fund, which aims to explore the foundation and historic growth of Doha, its transformation to a modern city, and the lives and experiences of its people through a combination of archaeological investigation, historical research, and oral testimony (Source: UCL Qatar).

What we see in this 1947 aerial photograph (see above) is a very compact settlement gathered along the shoreline of the Doha Port on the Persian Gulf. The settlement is so compact that it is difficult to discern its spatial structure. However, if you focus on the center of the image, then look slightly southwards and eastwards, you can see a clear ring of circulation around a large block possessing an intricate street network. From this ring of circulation, we can discern at least four (4) diagonal streets radiating outwards in all directions. Given the rapid growth in Doha over the last 30 years, it is extremely difficult to assign modern day names to these places but it appears, more or less, consistent with the modern ‘downtown’ area. The older town of Al Bidda appears to be eastward of this area.

Satellite view from 15 km of Doha, Qatar (Source: Google Earth).

If we examine the urban pattern of Doha at the large scale (see the satellite view from 15 km above), then there is a distinctive ‘deformed wheel’ structure of diagonal streets radiating outward in most directions from the port. This network is connected together by a series of orbital roads, which encircle the city based on an increasing radii, as measured from the shoreline of the port. At this scale, the Doha urban pattern appears to be composed of massive ‘super blocks.’ However, this is misleading. The network of publicly-accessible space is more intricate than this, indicating an attempt to somewhat separate large-scale vehicular traffic from more localized types of traffic in these ‘super blocks.’

Satellite view from 2 km of a ‘super block’ neighborhood in Doha, Qatar (Source: Google Earth).

This is more apparent if we zoom on one of these ‘super blocks’ (see the satellite view from 2 km above). We can discern the prototypical pattern you might in some older Middle Eastern settlements with narrower streets and a marginal offsetting of blocks, designed to subtly deter through traffic in the area. Functionally, this is more akin to Olmsted’s efforts to do the same in the Riverside suburb of Chicago, though representing a much different geometrical strategy. In fact, this is more practical than the modern suburbia model of massive blocks of nebulous shape and minimal street connections, which you will find in many post-war suburbs of the United States, especially those constructed over the last 40 years. It seems likely these attempts to retain a traditional type of urban pattern while still accommodating the requirements of a modern vehicular traffic system has resulted in a tension in the urban street network, especially due to the rapid growth during the early 21st century.

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.

Share the knowledge!
Share

Planning Naked | March 2017

Planning Naked | March 2017
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Your (hopefully hilarious… but not so much this month) guide to most everything about the latest issue of APA’s Planning Magazine

NOTE: The United States of America inaugurated Donald J. Trump as its 45th President on January 20, 2017, and, in response, Planning Magazine turns the crazy up to eleven.

Making Joseph Goebbels Proud. “Placemaking as Storytelling” by James M. Drinan, JD (From the Desk of APA’s Chief Executive Officer, pp. 3) contains some disturbing language. Drinan points out, “Research shows that coupling stories with data produces a significant increase in the retention rate of that data.” Basically, he is correct. However, it is important to clarify Drinan is not precise. FYI: Never expect precision from a lawyer because you will always be disappointed. It is more accurate to say that using data to better tell a story about an objective truth is an excellent means of increasing retention about both that story, the data, and the truth. It reinforces the objectiveness of both observer and the observed. Using data loosely to reinforce a lie is propaganda. This is a nuanced but important distinction. This is because Drinan goes on to state, “it is crucial to control (our emphasis) the narrative-the story.” This is a defensible position for a propagandist but not a scientist. Drinan (perhaps unintentionally) reveals he is discussing politics and propaganda, not scientific truth when you consider what he manifestly fails to say in a subsequent sentence. The key is the citation of planners as storytellers, authors, illustrators, and editors. What is missing? The answer is scientists. This ‘frontpage editorial’ is one of the most disturbing things I have read in Planning Magazine in years because it advocates for the very thing it pretends to be against. This is the insidious nature of the status quo reasserting itself against change. Forewarned is forearmed. NOTE: Having now read this, I am angry with myself for leaving this March 2017 issue of Planning Magazine sitting unread on my desk for two months. The previous months’ issues lulled me into a false sense of security. My mistake…

OMG! And I am only on page eight. “Federal Tax Credit Uncertainty Puts Affordable Housing at Risk” (News Section, pp. 8-9) by Dean Mosiman – a Madison city government reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. RED FLAG, RED FLAG: Scott Walker is evil incarnate – contains some really bad reporting as Planning Magazine embarks on Drinan’s explicit promise to attempt to ‘control’ the story. First, it assumes a reality that is non-existent. “For 30 years, federal affordable housing tax credits have been the nation’s most potent tool to create housing for the homeless and low-income households.” Really? Have you been to Los Angeles lately? This bastion city in a bastion state of the Democratic Party has one of the worst, most despicable, and most shameful homeless problems I have ever seen in the Western world over the last three decades. It makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about what I saw and smelled in L.A. Everyday, there is another article in the mass media about an overwhelming lack of affordable housing in cities around the world including the USA. The tax credit is not a potent tool but a failed one. According to the article, the tax credit “had a major impact on the nation’s housing stock, helping create 2.8 million affordable units nationwide.” The use of ‘major’ here is shameless hyperbole and the ‘helping create’ means there might be an indirect benefit but not direct causation. Of course, these 2.8 million units were most likely woefully insufficient to replace the smaller (in square footage), more affordable historic housing stock demolished by public and private agencies during the same period. This news article is about one thing: fear that the pigs might not be able to eat at the government trough in the near future. Then, at the end of the article, the author implicitly concedes this is fear-mongering by stating the tax credit “is likely to survive.” Nothing to see here, folks, move on home! This is ‘fake news.’

People Matter. Planning Magazine ‘buries the lead’ with the “Miami Street Experiment Prioritizes People” by Susan Nesmith (News Section, pp. 9-10) by discombobulating the story across two pages, which is bad editing and bad graphic design. It makes you wonder what APA has against putting “people over cars” and “slowing traffic (with) no big gridlock.” The experiment is over but the “fancy crosswalks” remain: really, fancy crosswalks? Fancy? It is a good thing I have plenty of hair to pull out. This experiment and the subsequent attempts for a more humanistic redesign of this Miami boulevard is something that Planning Magazine needs to herald and promote, not deride as some quaint idea. Is this a failure of Ms. Nesmith’s writing or the editors of Planning Magazine? Perhaps both. I am not sure.

In ‘Do No Harm’ News. “Remaking Vacant Lots to Cut Crime” by Martha T. Moore (News Section, pp. 10) is an interesting story about a low-cost, temporary solution for vacant properties in urban conditions; as long as people and agencies understand it is not a long-term solution. All in all, however, I like the concept.

Beware of Florida Lawyers Bearing Gifts. This months’ Legal Lessons section (“Staff Reports: A Lawyer’s Take by Mark P. Barnebey, pp. 11) is one of those standard-type of articles Planning Magazine re-runs every 3-5 years due to new, young professionals entering the workforce. I remember reading the last two iterations of this article about staff reports (respond the young people, “He must be really old”). Barnebey’s article is fine for this purpose though he undersells just how influential of a role the staff report can play in quasi-judicial decisions by elected officials, if carefully constructed.

Strike that. Reverse It. Welcome, Florida Lawyers Bearing Gifts. However, having said that, the more advanced state of staff reports in Florida – due to their quasi-judicial nature associated with the 1985 Growth Management Act and subsequently, Mr. Barnebey’s greater experience with the best of such staff reports – starkly contrasts with the next article, “The Better STAFF REPORT” by Bonnie J. Johnson (pp. 20-24). Allow me to state more simply the point that I believe Dr. Johnson is attempting to convey: the best staff reports combine: 1) well-written content with 2) well-designed visuals and 3) promptly get to the point. Like most planners, Dr. Johnson’s article manages to fail on all these counts. Johnson does not even seem to know her audience for this article (i.e. there are lots of different types of planners and staff reports) so she makes the mistake of trying to address ALL possible audiences. The result is inadequate for everyone. The graphic design of this article makes the content even more confusing. I mean it is really, really bad but hardly surprising. In my experience, most planners are woefully under-trained in the art of graphic design. I do not know if this is the fault of Dr. Johnson or Planning Magazine but, seriously, reading this article gave me a fucking headache.

Meanwhile. “Here comes the Sun” by Charles W. Thurston (pp. 25-29) is the type of article you get from professional organizations nearly four decades after a nation abandons nuclear power.

The Blood Boils Over. But what really gets the blood boiling is Planning Magazine: 1) makes the preceding article the subject of this month’s cover (see above) instead of this article ‘buried’ at the end of the feature articles, “Life and Death Every Quarter Hour” by Jeffrey Brubaker (pp. 30-33); and, 2) seems blissfully unaware of the contrasting traffic fatalities data in this article (35,092 death in 2015) compared to the article about wildlife crossings, i.e. 200 fatalities associated with collisions with wildlife. That is right. This month’s Planning Magazine dedicates twice as many pages to an issue involving 6/1000th the number of traffic deaths. Worst still, the subtitle of this article claims “mixed results” for what is a complete failure. Finally, at the end, Planning Magazine adds a “The opinions expressed in the article are his own” (meaning Mr. Brubaker) disclaimer. God forbid that anyone might think APA and Planning Magazine are anti-automobile. And the thing is, Mr. Brubaker’s article is mild. It does not go nearly far enough in pointing the profession’s hypocrisy on this issue. Here is the gist: in 60 years, nothing has changed. There is still a death caused by vehicular traffic every quarter hour in the United States.

That is it. I cannot take any more of this month’s issue. I may have to stop reading Planning Magazine in the best interests of my health because you would not believe the migraine headache I have right now. Shame on you, Planning Magazine. The best article this month was written by a Florida attorney.

Planning Naked is an article with observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.

Share the knowledge!
Share

FROM THE VAULT | The Ideal Communist City

ideal-communist-city-v2“The physical planning of the new city reflects the harmony and integrated nature of its social structure. A unified planning approach assigns to each element a role in the formation of human environments.”
– The Ideal Communist City

FROM THE VAULT
The Ideal Communist City by Alexei Gutnov, A. Baburov, G. Djumenton, S. Kharitonova, I. Lezava, and S. Sadovskij (Moscow University), Translated by Renee Neu Watkins, Preface by Giancarlo de Carlo

First written during the 1950s and translated from Italian to English in 1968, The Ideal Communist City (1968) is very much a product of its time. This does not only mean the ideological struggles of the Cold War (Capitalism vs. Communism… SPOILER ALERT! Capitalism won). It also means the symbolic height of propagating and implementing the principles of Modernist architecture and planning around the world. The principles discussed in The Ideal Communist City are merely a reformulation, repackaging and, yes, redistribution of these same ideas found in the new towns model (referred to here as the “New Unit of Settlement or NUS”) of Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities of To-morrow, housing models of Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne (CIAM), and Harris and Ullman’s multi-nuclei theory in collusion with Euclidean zoning/modern transportation planning, which conveniently tells us almost any urban function can be randomly inserted almost anywhere in the city as long as ‘incompatible’ land uses are segregated.

New Unit of Settlement (NUS) diagram from The Ideal Communist City
New Unit of Settlement (NUS) diagram from The Ideal Communist City

Of course, the key difference is the authors’ explicitly state the failure of these ideas to “reach their full potential” in Western societies is due to the corrupting influence of capitalism as a political and economic system. This is a conceit that has been badly exposed with time. If anything, capitalism more ruthlessly exploited the economic potentials of Modern ideas by taking them to their logical and, ultimately, extreme conclusion; probably more so than even most devoted CIAM architect ever imagined. The real danger about The Ideal Communist City is that younger readers (Millennials and generations thereafter) without any first-hand experience of the Cold War might make the mistake of thinking they are reading something original and entirely different because it’s wearing Soviet-era clothing. However, it is the same, tired planning paradigm we have been hearing about and (unfortunately) living with over the last 80+ years. To be fair, another key difference in this book is the desire of Soviet-era planners to adopt a model that segregates land uses from one another while still actively promoting manufacturing, mass production, and industrialization. Younger readers might also think this represents a somewhat unique perspective from the point of view of architecture and planning. However, it is really only evidence of Soviet preoccupation – even obsession – with Western societies’ manufacturing prowess at the time. In this sense, Soviet failure to compete with the success of Western capitalistic societies contradicted the ‘means of production’ arguments underpinning Karl Marx and Frederick Engel’s The Communist Manifesto and Marx’s Das Capital; that is, direct evidence that communism was a flawed political and economic system based on totalitarianism masquerading as a false ideology

Having said all that, The Ideal Communist City is an important historical document that anyone interested in town planning should probably be exposed at some point, as long as the book is placed within its proper context for readers, especially post-Cold War ones. There are, in fact, relatively few flights of fancy in this book; the most amusing one being the common idea in science fiction that cities will eventually be covered by climate-controlled plastic domes (see Featured Image of this post at the top). The authors’ statistical projections of urban populations are way off, hilariously so. Early in the book, the authors project that 75% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by the year 2000 when it fact we only passed the 50% threshold in the last decade (due to the corrupting influence of capitalism, no doubt). The model of the NUS stretches believability despite the authors’ best – though somewhat halfhearted – efforts to address accommodating population growth during the transition period between one NUS being occupied and the next one being constructed. This is because these Soviet-era planners ultimately have a static view of the city. In hindsight, one might fairly argue the communist NUS model has already been better implemented and realized in cities such as Milton Keynes in England, the Pilot Plan of Brasilia in Brazil, or perhaps even some areas of America Suburbia, despite the problematic nature of such places as extensively discussed elsewhere in the literature. In the end, the Ideal Communist City is perhaps best at asking some interesting questions about cities but the answers provided are all too familiar and depressing to seriously contemplate. As Christopher Alexander famously said, “a city is not a tree.” It seems the same is as true for communist cities as it ever was for capitalistic ones. In the end, human nature is always more pervasive than any political ideology.

ideal-communist-cityThe Ideal Communist City by Alexei Gutnov, A. Baburov, G. Djumenton, S. Kharitonova, I. Lezava, and S. Sadovskij (Moscow University), Translated by Renee Neu Watkins, Preface by Giancarlo de Carlo
Hardback, 166 pages
1968, Boston: George Braziller, Inc.

You can download a PDF of the full book for free here.

From the Vault is a series from the Outlaw Urbanist in which we review art, architectural and urban design texts, with an emphasis on the obscure and forgotten, found in second-hand bookstores.

Share the knowledge!
Share

Life, Liberty, Happiness: the need for heroic planning | Blab

CURJCoWWIAAi_Lo.jpg_largeThe Outlaw Urbanist, Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, will participate in online broadcast with Don Kostelec of Kostelec Planning this Monday, November 23, 2015 at 8:00 pm EST titled, “Life, Liberty, Happiness: the need for heroic planning,” hosted by Andy Boreau of Urbanism Speakeasy.

The content is pretty wide open though it will tend to focus on what is wrong with our current development practices. We will be able to answer your questions and, hopefully, have a pretty good debate.

You can subscribe to the broadcast on Blab here.

Share the knowledge!
Share