The New Paleolithicism for Society | A Satire

The New Paleolithicism for Society: A Satire
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Our long history of urban experiences has climaxed in an unbearable state of being for humanity. Today, one out of every two people in the world live in a city; by 2030, six out of every ten people will do so; and, by 2050, seven out of every ten (Source: World Health Organization). Why do we relentlessly pursue the destruction of our own species with this rapid urbanization? The time has come for widespread changes about the way – and where – we live. We must be quick to take measures now to deurbanize the world before we fall into an irrevocable vortex of endless crime, casual murder, and widespread drug use. Why has the urban experience failed? Television, news, and the Internet provide the answer. After all, everything we see and read on television, news and Internet is the verified truth. Simply out, the city is unsafe. Being safe – the state of not ever being exposed to the threat of physical, mental or emotional loss, injury or distress – is, as we all know, the ultimate goal of human existence. Safety is more valuable than faith, love or hope, except for faith in one’s safety, love of one’s safety, and hope for one’s safety. Theft, drugs, and murder are unfortunate facts of everyday life in the city. And the litter of our Victorian attitudes falters in the face of our particular urbane prostitutions. We must suppress these carnal desires, willingly fed by the city.

There is a story told in every city about a murder occurring in a public space as dozens of witnesses watched, willfully ignoring the horrible act and all failing to assist the victim. What is the solution to this problem? Avoiding large crowds might provide a temporary salve. Crowds are only found in the city. Some suggest a personal bodyguard for every man, woman and child, which would not only reduce the crime rate but also bring the benefit of returning restless populations to full employment after the horror of the Great Recession. But who would guard the guards? You see the logistical dilemma. Others argue the solution – intimately tied to the proliferation of personal protection services – is the right to bear arms. Indeed, the use of firearms from the cradle to the tomb would greatly contribute to decreasing incidences of crime in our urban centers.

But a plethora of bodyguards and firearms can only produce new problems for our urban centers, increasing demand over available supply for people and guns, and crippling our substandard pubic transportation systems (you see, two now travel where before there was only one). The problematic nature of public transportation first became fully realized with the appearance of mass-produced automobiles during the early 20th century. Highways are always too small, cars are never big enough, public rail is grossly unsanitary, and buses are forever late. A new approach to transportation is needed. A formidable suggestion lies in eliminating all forms of mechanical transport from the planet. In its place, a new human species would emerge, walking its way to physical fitness, excellent health and, no doubt, unquestioned beauty. The elimination of the automobile will also contribute to a dramatic decrease in teenage pregnancy (think about it). With the passing of the automobile, its supporting apparatus – the factory – would also disappear into the mists of the distant past. Since the Industrial Revolution first darkened our blue skies into a shadowy black, pollution has been of paramount importance for survival of the species. With the demise of all mechanical transports, the formidable pro-pollution lobby will, at last, fall to ruin. Unused factories shall collapse as humanity fully embraces a new multi-nomadic modal transportation. At last, we will have achieved a real solution to the dark veil of global warming/climate change descending over us since the medieval days of 1988. However, these are only partial solutions.

A more permanent solution is needed. In fact, so intransigent are the problems we face that it can only be concluded the solution lies in the construct of the city itself, or more accurately its destruction. A radical alternative is needed. We must begin with completely dismantling the major urban centers of the world. Suburban sprawl can only exist in the presence of an urban center. If we eliminate urban centers, then sprawl becomes effective dispersal in realizing a new innovative land management policy, which can be described as the New Paleolithicism.

What is the vision for New Paleolithicism, you ask? Our slogan shall be: 160 Acres, four guns, and three Domestic Partners for Every Household! Of course, we shall have to revise the definition of household since the word ‘tribe’ might cause some people to ignore the beauty of this solution. In this sense, a household means approximately 15 people occupying their own 160 acres on the planet. This ratio of 160 acres for every 15 people is based on the current density of human population to land mass. Every heterosexual male would be provided with two heterosexual females in order to perpetuate reproduction of the species. However, heterosexual male-to-female ratio in gross terms will not support such a system. This is where our LGBT brethren become a vitally important component in the equation. Some households must be headed and composed of domestic LGBT partnerships in order to make the ratio of heterosexual males and females work for this new society. Some households might even be LBGT/heterosexual hybrids (“Polysexual Households”). Naturally, since these commusexual and polysexual households will not need to support as many offspring as their heterosexual brethren, they shall be allotted the least desirable locations on the planet. Our LGBT brethren must climb this ‘mountain’ and cross this ‘desert’ on behalf of humanity. They will understand the necessity. The dismantling of the urban centers and the elimination of all mechanical transports shall facilitate clear air and healthy bodies, perhaps even leading to the end of Death itself. There can be no greater goal than being safe from the cold embrace of Death.

In the grand scale of human history, it is in the cumulative effect of these measures where true success may be discovered. The New Paleolithicism is the final solution. We must accept deurbanization of the world has to take place. Eventually, we must retreat to the trees. Trees should be easy to re-adapt for human habitation. Instead of scarring the land with dwellings, we will once again become part of Nature, return to the trees, and only eat healthy foods; namely, nuts.

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The City’s Essential DNA | Mark David Major

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

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

Email:               [email protected]
Twitter:           @OutlawUrbanist

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

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

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

Andres Duany and Emily Talen’s The Urban Transect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Based on excerpts from forthcoming The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids by Mark David Major.

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On Space | The Urban Trinity

On Space | The Urban Trinity
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

The spatial averts everything from a congruent state of existence, a simultaneous state of being, in a single place. The syntactic averts everything from bearing the same significance, a paradox of identical meanings denoting nothing. The functioning of the urban object embeds and bears its spatial logic. The spatial logic of the urban object has an explicit and expressive function. It is one and the same, in which we join with space and function in forming a Trinity of the Urbane. It is not holy nor unholy, neither sanctified not glorified; it merely is… However, its beingness can be soiled, colored scarlet, in the guises of human arrogance, hiding behind a mask of intellectual wisdom that bears no fruit, only thorns for the human condition. In our pursuit to grasp the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, too often we forget to bask in the masonry garden surrounding us. In failing to observe and acknowledge the state of being in the here and now, we betray the elemental beingness of the city, the place, of the street, and the hearth. The urban object is made of parts and a whole; the parts amalgamate to compose and configure, to convey and reflect meaning, in the body of the whole. We cannot understand one without knowing the other. To attempt to do so is a fool’s errand.

Humanity has never lacked for an insufficient sum of jesters, offering cruel jokes in place of genuine wit, embodied within a wisdom that is nurtured and earned well. We are fools but we must arise above our nature. We are angels but we must inevitably fall to Earth. We exist in a linear state from birth to death. We move in a linear state from here to there and back again. We construct the world in our image and find that it, too, is linear, from where we have been to where we are going, from the needs of the present to the desires for tomorrow, better than it was, yet always lacking in what is to come. The stage is set and three actors stroll onto the stage, spouting dichotomies to an unsuspecting audience, seeking acceptance and, perhaps, even forgiveness. One proclaims, “The space of the city is neutral, without meaning nor consequence!” Another steps forward and shouts loudly, “The spatial experience of the city is only ever reflective of ourselves, so look within for real answers!” The last holds back and merely whispers, “The city is a machine for seeing, going, and being; knowable, understandable, and capable of qualification and quantification. Remember who you are, imagine what you might become, and quality shall emerge from the quantity of the thing itself.” The operation of the city has a spatial reasoning. The spatial reasoning of the city has a purpose. It is one and the same. We must pursue it. We must achieve it. We must nurture it. It is our city.

On Space is a regular series of philosophical posts from The Outlaw Urbanist. These short articles (usually about 500 words) are in draft form so ideas, suggestions, thoughts and constructive criticism are welcome.

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FROM THE VAULT | Archetypes of Urbanism | Thomas Thiis-Evensen

FROM THE VAULT |  Archetypes of Urbanism: a method for the esthetic design of cities by Thomas Thiis-Evensen
by Mark David Major, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Thomas Thiis-Evensen’s Archetypes of Urbanism: a method for the esthetic design of cities (1996) describes general principles for the design of streets and squares. These principles are derived by developing a typology based on the composition of the facade and pavement surfaces in traditional – mainly European – cities. In taking this approach, the book has much in common with Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City (1960) and Rob Krier’s Urban Space (1979), both of which are frequently referenced. Interestingly, a less explicit attempt is made to incorporate the phenomenological concerns of theorists such as Christian Norberg-Schulz about ‘the sense of place’ in discussing the usefulness of ‘types’ to designers. At its best, the book sketches out examples of how the composition of facades, detailing of pavements, and varying street widths can be deployed to either accentuate or retard the ‘directionality’ of movement in street spaces. In discussing the design of urban squares, the argument is less convincing and the author merely repeats the call for ‘good enclosure’. It seems likely the author is aware of this as only one chapter is devoted to the design of squares whereas the rest of the book focuses on the urban space of street networks, about which the author’s ideas seem to be more developed. Sadly, Thiis-Evensen’s argument is often undermined by diagrams appearing six or seven pages after they have been referred to in the text; the blame for which clearly resides with the publishers. Archetypes of Urbanism: a method for the esthetic design of cities is most valuable to students in helping them to develop their own ideas about the design of our cities.

Archetypes of Urbanism: a method for the esthetic design of cities
by Thomas Thiis-Evensen
228 pages
Oslo, Norway: Universitetsforlaget

You can purchase Archetypes of Urbanism: a method for the esthetic design of cities from Amazon here.

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

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On Space | The Synthetic City

On Space | The Synthetic City
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

The city is not mere reflection but indefinite inflection and precise infection, where we are cancer and panacea, the never-ending path to its restoration. Its genesis resides in synthesis, its understanding lives in an analysis, and meaning colonizes momentary paralysis into timeless actions and reactions, both great and small, high and low, within and outside of ourselves. The city expands and we grow. The city extends and we go. The city deforms and we change with it. The urban object is a linear extension of ourselves where we might, at last, arrive. The urban object is a horizontal expansion of ourselves, where we might become aware of the infinite possibilities of this life and the next. The elements of the urban object exponentially multiply, two times two equals four, four times four equals sixteen, sixteen times sixteen… and the equation is translated into an answer, which always spells infinity. The urban object offsets and we are inflected within its new, seemingly discordant note, which nonetheless strikes into an innovative harmony that is, at once, frightening in its beauty and comfortable in its unfamiliarity. In that moment, we by default privilege the centrality of a place over the oppressive beingness discovered, always renewed in the linearity of the thing itself. We draw an edge where none has a right to exist and, in the process, achieve an unknown quality and quantity of placeness, of definitively being here and not there, of arriving and joining (seemingly) irrevocably with our neighbors. As a result, we unintentionally but – with hopeful care – consolidate the core of its being, adding mass to the heart, fiber to the muscle, which propels stronger and gives new life to the city.

However, with arrogant presumption, we detract from it, and weaker still grows that instrument without which we cannot long endure, robbing the object and its populace of strength. We compensate with a superordinate construct born of artificial assumptions and (sometimes) mistaken imaginations. We impose a hierarchy rather than allow for a structure to naturally emerge, synthesized from the harmony found in the song. False hierarchies arise and confound us, mock us, and dare us with impunity to tear them down. The urban object becomes lost in material things of little substance, of subversive meanings, and we become lost in the process. Where is the Hippocrates of our dreams? Where is the Hippodamus of our desires? Misplaced in time, disoriented in space… and significance. The mistaken dichotomy of our subversive dreaming lacks shape, escapes notice until it is too late, and everyday whispers fetching lies in our ears, offering us comfort where none is ever to be found. The city becomes lost and us with it. We are lost. We vanish into our own reflection, gazing upon the empty space opposite of the mirrored face and wonder, what happened? But the answer to this question is so simple, so elemental: we forgot who we were, who we are and who we could be. We are ashamed and it is insufficient. We must demand more of the urban object and ourselves.

On Space is a regular series of philosophical posts from The Outlaw Urbanist. These short articles (usually about 500 words) are in draft form so ideas, suggestions, thoughts and constructive criticism are welcome.

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