UPDATE: 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.
REVIEW: Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Soinit by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor
When I first heard about Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Soinit, I was really excited to read it. While Soinit certainly deserves some credit for daring to tackle a subject that is a fundamental reality of human existence while also extremely difficult to discuss, the result is profoundly disappointing. Simply put, this is a very uneven book with not enough high points (e.g. socio-cultural implications of automobile-dependent suburban sprawl in America, walking as described in 18th and 19th European literature, concepts of artists incorporating walking into their contemporary work) to compensate for the many low points. These include regular regurgitation of common misconceptions about walking and associated (often tangential) subjects, a brief swim in the treacherous waters of ‘rape culture’ with its troubling connotations of Orwellian thought crime, and even outright historical revisions. It is a type of historical revisionism (or post-rationalization by way of apologia) that occurs all too often in popular culture today, preying on historical ignorance in the hopes that if a lie is told frequently enough it will eventually become the truth. Herein lies the fatal flaw of the book. Soinit chooses to focus her history of walking on extraordinary events rather than ordinary, everyday occurrences (and their observation): this where the real richness about walking as a subject truly lies. It is unfortunate because, while Soinit’s focus is not always objective, she does, on occasion, provide keen observations about some subjects (a brief section on gyms near the end of the book is particular interesting). This unevenness makes Wanderlust: A History of Walking a real endurance test for the reader. There are some gems buried within the text but it is hard work along the path to find them. It will try and defeat most readers’ patience. I endured but I am unsure it was worth the effort.
Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Soinit
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books (June 1, 2001)
Planning Naked | June 2015
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A
Observations on the June 2015 issue of Planning Magazine.
Cover: An indication arrow on the cover? Seriously? How can APA be trusted to design our communities when they don’t even know how to design a magazine cover?
Having said that, this is really one of the best Planning Magazine issues in a long time, for the most part.
1. “Walking in Jacob’s Footsteps” (page 4): I wholeheartedly approve of the concept behind the Jane’s Walk organization (www.JanesWalk.org) and I’m pleased to see Planning Magazine feature a prominent news piece about it.
2. “AARP Tool Quantifies Livability” (page 5): The goals of AARP’s Livability Index appear commendable (the devil is, of course, in the details of the data input) but the reliance on census blocks indicates an inherently insensitivity to urban block-to-block and street segment-to-segment variations commonplace in traditional urbanism. I’m also tied of this faux affordability debate (“At 2.5 times the U.S. median cost, the housing is not very affordable, but you can’t have it all”). At its core, this is a simple supply and demand question. After 60 years of suburban sprawl in the USA, there is an insufficient supply of walkable, traditional neighborhoods so demand is high, hence it costs more. And the U.S. median housing cost figure does not factor in associated costs of living in one particular type of area compared to others (owning multiple cars, gas and insurance costs, cost of time cost to commute, HOA costs, etc.).
3. “Michigan Ups Investment with Crowdfunding” (page 6): “This investment strategy allows businesses to publicly recruit all investors, not just the several million or so defined as accredited investors by the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission.” Think about that sentence for a moment. If people are developing innovative investment solutions to get around Federal regulators, then there is something fundamentally wrong with those regulations as written and/or enforced. The potential of crowdfunding is exciting as long as our political leaders don’t poison the well.
4. “Great Park Audit Exposes Problems” (page 7): So this is what a planning quagmire looks like! “The master plan was killed… by its own hubris.” That should be on the planning profession’s epithet. It seems like the design and financing concept was flawed from the beginning; corruption thrives under such circumstances. I suspects there’s more to this story.
5. Interesting series of articles on beach access/erosion issues (“A Line in the Sand” by Heather Boerner, page 8-15 including related articles). Highlights: “This fictional line (mean high- and low-tide lines) has only created trouble between private land owners and the public” (Jennifer Sullivan, FSU College of Law, now Florida House of Representatives member for the 31st District, perhaps someone to watch in the futre?). “The city, along with the stakeholders, will need to work to preserve the beach forever” (Linda Tucker, Isle of Palms, SC City Administrator)…. compared that impossible, static view of the world to a dynamic, realistic one… “or they retreat from the coastline” (i.e. the standard human solution to ecological changes for thousands of years)… “erosion can’t be avoided.”
6. Excellent article by Rebecca Leonard of Design Workshop about Green Infrastructure and Tactical Urbanism (“Green Infrastructure Grows Up”, page 16-21). However, I am quickly getting tired of the practice of acronym listings in these Planning Magazine articles for public and non-profit agencies, organizations, and programs. Poor Richard: It isn’t the quantity of the acronyms that matter but the quality of their (letter) characters.
7. Interesting how Chuck Ware of Design Workshop inserts a (admittedly striking) graphic on worldwide energy depletion into an article principally about affordable housing in Saudi Arabia to make the link between ecological challenges and development patterns (“Saudi Arabia’s Quest for Affordable Housing, page 22-27).
8. Another excellent article on modeling the long-term costs of alternative planning strategies in Belize (“A ‘Blue Economy’ for Belize by Ilima Loomis, page 28-32). That these modeling techniques with a “robust scientific basis” emerge from a consortium of environmental groups and academic departments – and not the planning profession or its academic departments – speaks volumes.
9. “Out of the Box, into the Scenario” (page 33-35): Article on voodoo science (“decreasing ability of traditional modeling techniques to forecast future traffic accurately”). Maybe that’s because it never did accurately forecast to begin with? Just spit-balling here.
10. “Senior-Friendly Transportation Options (page 36-37) kinda misses the larger point (“There’s also a focus on how to keep older drivers in their cars longer.”). We need to get everyone – regardless of age – out of their cars more frequently.
11. “Simplify That Code!” by Randall Arendt (page 38-41) on pared-down Form-Based Codes is another excellent article, adapted from Rural by Design (2015) by the same author.
I’m going to cut off this article here because this is a really good issue of Planning Magazine with a dense amount of useful material. I could easily list another 10 observations. As always, read with a critical eye to understand the underlying assumptions of the author(s) but this month’s issue somewhat helps to make up for disaster of the Special Issue on Transportation last month. Do we dare hope this represents progress?
Planning Naked is a regular feature with observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.
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