Hi and welcome back to Sunday Reading. Here is a collection of stories I found interesting over the week. Please add your links in the comments below.
UN Habitat III in Quito came to a close a couple weeks ago. Here Michael Kimmelman describes the urban flavour and urgency of the conference that sits in stark contrast to Habitat I which largely focused on conventional environmentalism and improving the rural habitat- “The Kind of Thinking Cities Need“, The New York Times.
What I sense is a worldwide sea change, a generational shift, rejecting the glum defeatist view towards cities and urban like that prevailed when Habitat first convened 40 years ago in Vancouver, Canada.
Today, progressive thinking, reinforced by the undeniability of climate change, has overturned those ideas. Cities are being recognized increasingly as opportunities for economic and social progress, density as a response to environmental threats; the automobile as a big problem; slums as not just a blight but a potential template for organic urbanism. Young generations around the world, entering the tech economy and bound by the internet, are embracing urban ideals, including the common ground of public spaces. mass transit, streets and sidewalks.
Australian architectural critic and scholar Kim Dovey and Elef Pafka describe the conditions that generate the buzz that makes some cities interesting, “What makes a city tick? Designing the ‘urban DMA’, The Conversation.
The concept of urban DMA can be traced to the work of the late Jane Jacobs, whose book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” was written in the mid-20th century, when many great cities were being surrendered to cars and poor urban design.
Jacobs wrote of the need for “concentration”, “mixed primary uses”, “old buildings” and “short blocks”. We recognise this as urban DMA – “concentration” is density; “mixed use” and “old buildings” are the conditions for a formal, functional and social mix; and “short blocks” means “walkability” at a neighbourhood scale.
Jacobs’ key contribution was to focus on the city as a set of interconnections and synergies rather than things in themselves – a focus on the city as an assemblage, rather than a set of parts. While the language has evolved, our understanding of these vital synergies needs to be taken much further.
Related, here is Sandy Ikeda with “The Great Mind And Vision Of Jane Jacobs“, Market Urbanism.
Jacobs was not opposed to all government planning at the local level. She thought that zoning could be used to prevent too many large single uses in a given neighborhood, for example, several car dealerships or office buildings that would dominate and stultify the life of a street. For the same reason she argued that official municipal buildings, courthouses, and such should be strategically placed around the city, rather than collected into a single civic mall.
But to the end she remained skeptical of urban planners, even those such as the so-called New Urbanists, who have adopted some of her design principles but not her sensitivity to how the healthiest communities are those that arise spontaneously over time. Large-scale visions of the ideal city, modernist and postmodernist alike, that seek to impose a visual order or a unified aesthetic principle on seemingly chaotic social orders ignore what Jacobs called the “locality knowledge” of unwritten rules and unseen interpersonal relations possessed by the people who live, work, and play in a neighborhood. Actually implementing those visions, as for example Lincoln Center in New York or Brazil’s capital city of Brasilia, undermines or leaves no room for the foundations of the underlying social networks that generate safety, trust, and, ultimately, creativity in commerce and art in an unplanned but coordinated way.
A prediction: As the Auckland City Centre becomes busier and more residential focused there will be increasing tensions between residents, student, office workers, and the outliers that drive to and through the city. Here Lance Wiggs describes a series of encounters that demonstrate that both social norms and the physical environment could use a lot of improvement- “Let’s make downtown Auckland safe“, Lance Wiggs.
First – let’s keep installing infrastructure that separates vehicles and humans, and that encourages slower traffic. The shared spaces in Auckland are working extraordinarily well, and the physically separated bike lanes are encouraging a broad mix of people to add cycling to their mix of transport.
Secondly – let’s get serious about the magnitude of offences that are likely to cause fatalities and enforce them. Distracted driving in a downtown area feels, as a pedestrian or cyclist, a lot more dangerous than speeding, so why not elevate it to the level of dangerous driving?
Why not introduce the NSW rule about touching phones? Shouldn’t running red lights downtown with hundreds of pedestrians around be classified dangerous driving as well? Shouldn’t we place the burden of guilt for injury of a person walking or cycling on the person driving the motor vehicle?
Thirdly – let’s use existing and new tools to change behaviour. Auckland is covered in connected cameras, and it should be relatively simply to turn on functionality that allows red light runners to be automatically caught, to review footage to follow up on egg tossers and dangerous drivers, and to provide that information to the Police.
Let’s also put in place processes where transport police are actively capturing evidence provided by members of the public over the internet – whether through a website or picked up from social media.
Finally let’s put in place processes to make sure that every incident results in an action, triaged by severity based on the level of hazard created. If this needs dedicated police then sobeit – but it will be a far more effective use of time than random driving.
We can do this. I was living in Melbourne when the introduction of speed cameras dropped the average speeds on major roads by 20-30 kph overnight. Nobody liked it, but less people died.
When you argue that “cyclists” don’t deserve cycling infrastructure pic.twitter.com/9ACyBin0EW
— Mark Treasure (@AsEasyAsRiding) November 4, 2016
Density and Trump. This is an interesting story about how voting patterns (and political strategies) line up with bigger cities. It can be traced back to white flight and the suburban experiment aided by highway construction. Emily Badger, and Quoctrung Bui, “Why Republicans Don’t Even Try to Win Cities Anymore“, The New York Times
In the early years of white flight, two federal policies- the construction of the interstate highway system and mortgage guarantees for the new suburbs – pulled whites out of cities even as they were getting pushed by racial tension, desegregations and school busing.
“The people who go to the suburbs are not a random selection,” said Jessica Trounstine, a political scientist at the University of California, Merced. They were the upper and middle class. They became homeowners. The prized neighborhoods of single-family houses. Those charactersitics today all correlate with leaning Republican. “These population shifts happen for reasons that are external to politics,” Ms. Trounstine said, “but politics is embedded in who goes.”
Metropolitan areas with more highway construction became more polarized over time between Democratic cities and Republican suburbs, according to research by Clayton Nall, a Stanford political scientist. Where highways were built, they helped sort people. Where they led, suburbs became more reliably Republican. They created entirely new places, Mr. Nall argues, with new politics.
I love the highway tear out stories. No city that has removed an urban motorway has regretted the choice. This one in Rochester has a bit of a twist. Instead of an elevated structure this one is a sunken highway that also was movement barrier that limited city growth. Two years along at it appears to be a wild success. The Keith Schneider, “Taking Out a Highway That Hemmed Rochester In“, The New York Times.
Today, Rochester is completing a $23.6 million project that fills in almost a third of the 2.7-mile sunken highway and replaces it with an at-grade boulevard and nearly six acres of prime land for development.
Though cities like Boston, San Francisco, and New York have removed elevated and surface highways, decisions that cleared the way for housing and office construction, leaders here say Rochester may be the first to fill in a section. The project fits into the city’s effort to focus on pedestrians and establish vital neighborhoods for housing, expanding businesses and producing jobs.