Great Streets by Allan Jacobs
This reading recognizes how city patterns change over time. It gives the example of downtown Boston, a particular example of a city whose scale and complexity changed in reflection of a compulsion to be up to date, “to achieve a kind of modernity.” Highway and public redevelopment initiates cause downtown to lose its character and become more like others. The complexity is lost, and the blocks become larger. Take for instance, Central Market, which used to be in Cleveland up until the middle of the 20th century, lay at the junction of 6 or so prominent streets in Cleveland: Ontario, Woodland, Eagle, Broadway, Sheriff, and Factory Street. The atmosphere was once lively and energetic. After a great fire that character was never redefined and was lost. A highway interchange now takes its place and the city pattern is completely changed. The white areas on the Cleveland map are now more bold and defined. Contemporary city planning does just this to a city: it loses its image in place of organization and order.
The Uses of Sidewalks: Safety in "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" by Jane Jacobs
This excerpt addresses the issue of safety on city streets. I believe that the most important asset to a safe and secure city is to fill the city with people. However, you must also provide for those people efficient and healthy environments to live and work. A challenge that many designers face is how to make the “in-between” spaces safe: the alleyways, the parking lots, the streets, and the plazas. Coming to Cleveland, I envisioned the most unsecure place to be dark, shallow, narrow, bounded, deserted, and isolated from people. For the most part, my vision still holds. However, most recently my car was stolen from a parking lot right down the street from where I work. It was stolen in the middle of the day in broad daylight! While reading this, I couldn’t help but compare this parking lot to what Jacobs defines as safe and unsafe places. If occupied buildings and streets fronted this parking lot, then security would have never been an issue. The presence of people is in fact a security measure, and that would have made all the difference.
Prerequisites for Planning
This reading distinguishes between public and private spaces in a clear and logical way. When designing for residents in a complex building, the design for the 20 square foot balcony almost becomes as important as the 2000 square foot communal space. The private spaces are more personal and have a direct relationship with the inhabitants. Having multiple private spaces adjacent to one another is a strong representation of an effort to establish relationships between neighbors. Having this condition in adjacency to a public space such as a walkway, street or plaza is just as important. Being able to create transparent boundaries seems to be the task at hand, and doing so almost encourages this relationship that is ever so desirable. The question becomes how do we create these boundaries that serve two different, contradictory functions: provide a sense of enclosure for privacy and also encourage interaction between neighbors?
In order to design a successful city, one must think like a marketer, among many other things. When this reading discusses the vertical limits in the field of vision and the strategies that supermarkets take to get the most money from the buyer, it sparked an interesting topic that I believe could be applied to the design of cities. It mentions the shelving strategy; in which the regular goods are placed below the eye level and unique goods are placed at eye level; encouraging the consumer to buy impulsively. It fails to mention another important strategy that supermarkets are famous for. Perhaps the best example is Walmart, which practically redefined the store layout we are familiar with today. The basic techniques for store layouts that seek to capitalize on the amount of time a consumer spends in the store is this: place convenient goods in the back of the store, endcap displays and finally, placing impulsive goods such as magazines and batteries in the check out lane. Milk jugs are always placed at the back of the store for a reason. Have you ever gone to the grocery store and bought everything on your list and nothing more? Can this strategy be applied to cities? I believe so. Instead of placing a baseball stadium in proximity to highway exit, why not place it down the commercial street on the other side of the city. The occasional city-dweller now must pass a strip of retail stores, restaurants, hotels, and public plazas before they can finally get to their destination. It almost forces the person to engage the city more, even if it’s simply the observation we seek.
This reading distinguishes between “warm” spaces and “cold” spaces when comparing the different dimensions and intensities in various contact situations. It takes into account the human scale in different situations. The intense, narrow, and modest dimensions that define the warm spaces are crucial in the public spaces. The vision of the city can often be changed by how people perceive these intimate spaces: the architectural details, the street-side context, and the “off the beaten path” experience. As designers, we must know where these places should be and we must be able to distinguish these from the “cold” places: the large spaces, wide streets and tall buildings that create an impersonal relationship. I believe too much of one type of space results in negative results; there must be a balance between both types for a city to be successful.
1.) When we think about cities today-- composed of a lack of infrastructure, submerged in violent social conflict, bullied by organized crime and sacrificed in the use of high walls, billboards, wide streets parking garages-- the issues discussed in this book seem very far from modern problems. I was skeptical upon reading the book for the first time. However, I can attain that it is our task to give a new meaning to our cities, a meaning which might transcend the conventional aim of fulfilling our everyday duties. The rituals analyzed by Rykwert seem to have this recurring issue of harmonization between the cosmos and the earth, the sacrificed and the mundane, the city and the environment, citizens and institutions, and most importantly, citizens themselves. Harmonization seems to be the key in reestablishing our cities in unity with civilized human experience, as an essential part of our culture.
2.) If harmonization seems to be the key to reestablishing our cities, then how are we as urban designers supposed to A.) address the issues and B.) propose a solution? If the cause of this transformation from harmony to isolation seems to be the age of reason, the Enlightenment, and scientific progress, then is Rykwert suggesting that harmonization is a thing of the past or we must transcend to a new era of social reform?
The Neutral City
3.) I agree with Sennett in that the modern urbanist is in the grip of a protestant ethic of space. The square that once served as a center is no longer a reference point for generating new space. The grid seems to be ideal because it allows for pre-determined units of space to be the measurements of our environment. No longer do modern urbanist resort to the land to dictate their design. The grid forms a natural environment of endless, mindless geometric division. People living within the grid become oblivious to the environment around them and disoriented in their ability to see and evaluate relationships. The grid that we use today is a prototype for urban development because it is a safe and practical solution to an unrecognized problem. Modern urbanists must be able to recognize this problem in the first place before we can begin to address more appropriate solutions.
The Economy of Cities
4.) I believe agriculture is the most primitive form of land development. Industrialization, in most cases, increases agricultural production and provides technology and machinery to rural communities. However, industrialization can also hurt agriculture. Goods that were once produced in farms can now be produced in factories. New machinery and technology makes the work of two men the work of one. Where Jacobs sees the advantages of cities on rural communities, I see the disadvantages. As a result of industry, unskilled laborers move to the city in search for a job with little or no experience in industry and manufacturing and find themselves jobless and worse than before.
5.) The city, as we have mentioned last week, relies on industry and technology to develop new solutions to address population growth and to improve culture. We have noted examples of underdeveloped, over-populated cities that suffer from the lack of industry and technology to advance the economic and social standing of the city. We have also noted how agriculture in Japan, for example, has greatly benefited from industrialization in the city. Can we rely solely on industry and technology to maintain urbanization and an efficient economy within the city? From what Jacobs points out, it seems as if industry is the primary factor in recognizing urbanization within the city.
Brandon E. Young