The City of Bits
Mitchell discusses the reinvention of architecture and urban design in cyberspace in this reading. I believe there is a vast difference between the urban environment in cyberspace and the reality of it. Most notably is the lack of anonymity in cyberspace. It’s as if everyone is walking around with billboards attached to them. People capitalize on the ability to distinguish themselves as something they’re not. We affiliate people with labels and judge them by their profile picture and “status updates.” With social networking sites, “match-finding” sites, and the convenience of search engines, we can find information on almost everyone without ever meeting them. The evolution of virtual cities has brought with it this fear and reluctance towards real life engagement. We have created virtual environments in replace of physical environments. If this doesn’t help influence urban sprawl I don’t know what does.
On the other hand, it is tempting to see the growth of virtual cities to be a new type of planning. They help to ground, quite literally, the extremely complex atmosphere of relationships and place into one integrated city. They also help to experiment ideas at low cost and are easy to reconfigure. Virtual cities can be used to test scenarios and provide applications for new learning techniques, urban solutions, and help test prototypes. So in many ways, virtual cities could potentially be helpful to urban designers.
Concrete and Clay
It is interesting to the note the effect the Cross Bronx Expressway made on the East Tremont district. It decreased the value of the land, split the city in two, and eventually the district became a slum. I am interested in learning more about the assets/liabilities of highway proposals. It seems that different types of people looks at highways differently; in the case of New York in the 1930s and 40s, Robert Moses was a prominent figure, but over the years, the community became more involved and it seemed as if decisions were much harder to make. What is the deciding factor in the case of a modern highway initiate?
I believe that if you are trying to make a city for people, you should not run highway systems through it. As Jacobs makes very clear, New York would become a city for vehicles and not people in the case of Westway. The highway does too much to a city for it to be a benefit in the urban atmosphere. It will divide a city, cause pollution, contamination, noise and segregation. Highways should run along the perimeter of a city core rather than through a city. All cities should be able to maintain a center without it being interrupted by a highway.
Infrastructural City: LA
The river in LA is not a river as we know it, it is a drainage ditch. As a result of overdeveloping and engineering, natural and cultural applications have become integrated with the urban infrastructure rather than unique in its own way. A river should be natural and free-flowing and attain its own status. With the application of concrete the river became a manmade form and lost its identity. It seems very clear in all three readings the effect that development has on cities; effects that are often ignored.
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.
The City Image and its Elements
I admire the clarity and organization of this book by Kevin Lynch. The path, which Lynch recognizes as “channels along which the observer customarily, occasionally, or potentially moves,” can be misleading from the image of the city. Particularly, the freeway, which divides and cuts through the city, separating the elements into districts and zones. The freeway makes the subject oblivious to their surrounding; camouflaging the image of the city in place of road signs and traffic. Take for example, the shoreway in Cleveland, which runs from Lakewood through downtown Cleveland. The shoreway portrays this role as a divider. The numerous exits and turns distract the driver from recognizing the city around them. Coming off an exit ramp is “typically a moment of severe disorientation.” As Lynch notes, even familiar drivers show a surprising’ lack of knowledge of the freeway system and its connections in the case with Los Angeles. Another good example is Pittsburgh. I find myself paying close attention to the complex transportation routes and interchanges rather than taking in the image of the city.
My first comment leads to another observation I’ve made in the case of the image of the city. I have noticed, through my experience so far in Cleveland, that the junction, or the place of a break in transportation, has a compelling significance for the city observer. Lynch notes these areas as being nodes into which the observer can enter. As Lynch quotes, “because decisions must be made at junctions, people heighten their attention at such places and perceive nearby elements with more than normal clarity.” I can agree with this statement up to a certain point. I believe that people heighten their attention at these places, but I don’t necessarily believe that they pay closer attention to the nearby elements of the city. A good example is Euclid corridor. As I was observing people walking across Euclid Corridor I noticed that most of their attention was directed toward the traffic and the traffic signals rather than what I would consider the “elements” of the city: the architecture, the buildings, the landscape, the streetscape, and the people. Euclid corridor seems to serve its purpose: it interrupts the thoughts in your brain if only for a moment and portrays that junction point that Lynch notes as a structural unit dividing the city.
Camillo Sitte and “The Art of Building Cities”
Sitte notes the importance of the public square in ancient times and how modern planners and designers lack the ability to maintain that same degree of importance with cities today. Cities no longer have distinct character. Merging ideas and motifs from various cities creates cities that are mingled in character. It would be interesting to compare Colin Rowe and “Collage Cities” with Camillo Sitte. According to Sitte, as a result of “Collage Cities,” local characteristics are gradually disappearing. In comparison, Rowe proposes a city which can accommodate a whole range of utopias in miniature.
The Soaring Twenties
This excerpt recognizes a theme, whether or not the author intended to or not, that I have studied most recently and that is the theme of “individualism vs. collectivism,” not in politics but within a man’s soul. This theme is most portrayed in the field of architecture because, as Bascomb mentions, “man wanted to make his mark on the world, and the structures he built became a statement of self.” During the time that this book was written, America was going through a dramatic change in Architecture, among many other things. The switch from a classical style of architecture to a more modern style received much criticism. A classical representation was considered a collective motif; one that reflected the conservative values of society. The modern style portrayed individuality in the sense that it only conformed to the needs of a select few architects. Individualism can be attributed to tall buildings, like Bascomb makes clear in his book. “The Woolworth Building was going to be like a giant signboard to advertise around the world [my] spreading chain of five-and-ten cent-stores.” But lets face it, we find satisfaction in the idea that our buildings are a reflection of ourselves and so why should we be anything but autonomous thinkers; not molded playthings of “social conditioning.”
New York, New York: How the Apartment House Transformed the Life of the City
As little as I know about New York City, this reading helped me recognize the impact it had on the rest of the America. Although the apartment house was an old European way of life, many Americans saw it as a vision of the future, and there lies the difference. The apartment house helped reconnect the city that was once a series of separate households, as most suburban areas are today. A new community of interests was established, promising a new sociality. Planners began designing residential blocks rather than individual buildings; complexes rather than units. It was this type of change that made people evolve from European to an American way: we are innovators to our own success, we learn from our own mistakes and other countries will learn from us.
Epstein, Brasilia Plan
1.) The city is not, cannot, and must not be organized like a tree. I agree with Christopher Alexander in his position of the city plan. Costa’s plan is irrational because it addresses hierarchy over connection. A city is a complex series of connections, and if you limit these connections then you decrease efficiency. “If we make cities which are trees, they will cut our life to pieces.” The first flaw in the plan was to create a monumental axis and a residential axis. Immediately, this requires the citizen to travel long distances and ignores any sort of foot traffic.
Broadacre City: A New Community Plan
2.) Broadacre City was a response to the emerging congestive cities. Wright’s proposal could potential decrease congestion by implementing decentralization in general but it lacks efficiency. What bothers me is the idea of one acre per individual. In Wright’s model, there was a close-knit relationship between home, work and recreation; the spatial order emphasized “economies of scope” rather than “economies of scale.” Like Costa’s plan, Wright fails to address the dynamic complexity of life. The plan is also inefficient in that the numerous single-house developments give rise to an inefficient use of energy.
3.) It seems as if Wright did not, in fact, invent any new approach to urban planning but rather he repackaged the American order of things. During the time that Wright was writing this book, decentralization was already taking place in the form of sprawl due to improvements in communication, electricity, and transportation systems. Wright obviously recognized these trends and implemented an extreme plan that promoted these changes far beyond the way they are even today. The promotion of individuality leads to alienation which defies any movement toward reintegration. In order to have a more influential plan, Wright should have highlighted a need for both city life in some ways and a need for suburban life in other ways.
The City of Towers
4.) Corbusier should stick to what he does best, and that is architecture. The planning of Chandigarh was more of an architectural style than a planning style. Corbusier ignored the basic problems of the human population and rather, focused on the visual form, symbolism, imagery, and aesthetics. The city was heavily segregated by income and civil service rank. Clearly, segregation is not the key to an orderly city. A city planner must first address integration and then focus on monumentality rather than the other way around.
5.) This reading made me agree with Jane Jacobs even more in terms of city planning. Pruitt-Igoe was designed on the basis of a superblock and could be freely positioned in the landscape. The designed failed because it lacked quality and instead strove for quantity. It was ideal for the middle-class, not the poor. The plan didn’t address the site in any way; the buildings could’ve been duplicated anywhere- and that is the fault of the design. When designing for the welfare family, you must first address the physical environment.
Arthur F. Wright
“The Cosmology of the Chinese City,” in Skinner, ed., The City in Late Imperial China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1977.
1.) The Ancient Chinese City as a Cosmo-magical Symbol
Wright notes the significance of the ancient Chinese emperor as a leading power towards the conversion of a profane (hostile) space into sacred (propitious, habitual) space. When we think of sacred space today, we think of spaces affected by tragedy, political, social or cultural events that transform the space from what was once profane and insignificant. An example is the World Trade Center in New York City which was once an icon of world trade and was transformed into a sacred place as a result of a tragedy. Can sacred space be designed in a modern city and still achieve the same affect it had on the ancient Chinese citizens? Or have we lost the power to evoke scariness artificially (without any natural occurrence) in modern times?
2.) In ancient Chinese cities the walls were the first architectural features to be built. They held a fine prominence in the city as they were built to be the tallest structure in the city, higher than the royal palace. This observation means that the frame and internal ordering of the ancient Chinese city tended to be fixed. It is hard to draw a boundary around the cities today (like Cleveland) unless you look on a map. City boundaries are not as significant as they used to be. In fact, when you are driving long distances very rarely do you recognize what city you are driving through. We have lost the ability to differentiate cities. Aspects that define a certain city are mimicked in other cities. As a result, they seem to merge into one another rather than establish their own identity.
3.) The New Downtown
It is obvious from this reading that the shift from downtown to the strip was a result of personal mobility. Spatial order was redefined and shopping centers began appearing in suburban communities. Rybozynski notes the effect that shopping centers had on the community: they became urban places, accommodating more than just retailers; they now functioned like a city. The question immediately becomes quite clear: Rather than relocate the city, in a sense, to new areas of suburban influence, why not redefine the existing city? The answer lies in the fact that people want to feel the benefits of an urban setting without going through the hassle of driving to the city and engaging it entirely. What does this image of the shopping center tell us about the way we should design cities to satisfy the needs of the people?
4.) There is a fine line between an established “downtown” area and a shopping center developed as a “new downtown.” Shopping centers are catered towards the middle-class. They are managed places- strictly policed, regularly cleaned, properly maintained and kept vacant-free- as well as convenient places- they provide you with all your needs in one place- washrooms, food, entertainment and amusement can all be satisfied. Cities, on the other hand, are harder to mage- buildings are left vacant, streets and sidewalks are left dirty, crime is higher and parking is harder to find and usually expensive, and the list goes on. It is no wonder why shopping centers are more attractive. Must cities become more catered towards the middle class in order to achieve the success that shopping centers have been able to maintain?
5.) A Theory of Good City Form
In the case of Boston, transformation from the city to the suburbs is motivated by a variety of factors including the notion of “the control of space in order to control the productive process and its participants.” Cul de sacs, gated communities, walls, gates and the like are aimed at allowing residents to control their space and protect it from outsiders. Again this issue of security comes up in the public realm. We all want to feel the protection of containment- bounded by the walls of our house and the distance from our neighbors. How can we design public spaces while still maintaining some degree of control to satisfy this feeling of containment and thus satisfy the needs of the individuals?
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