A Brief History of Skyscrapers

A while ago I was reading this post about optimal building height by Elliott Ruzicka, and I thought I’d riff on it a little bit.



Fake, or So Real it’s Blowing Your Mind? | PlaceMakers

The commercial corridor at Rosemary Beach. From oldurbanist.blogspot.com.

Scott Doyon shares this post on criticisms of New Urbanism. He points out how strange it is that people, principally architects, criticize New Urbanism for being fake, while they don’t even discuss the horribleness of strip retail centers or other junk that isn’t even trying. He dismisses common criticisms—that it is built too fast and that it is historicist—and says that we are asking the wrong questions. He uses Rosemary Beach in Florida as an example, saying that its apparent historicism is drawn from lessons learned over the history of building in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. He says that, yes, it was built in 15 years, but that was less time than the Upper West Side, and who calls that inauthentic? Both were laid out in a master plan and filled in by individual builders. These developments should not be immune to criticism, but they should get over the focus on modern forms and look at the urban function (Doyon cites a critique from the Old Urbanist where he criticises Rosemary Beach’s walkway/alley system and overly wide, still car-oriented streets; and I would like to add that, as with many of these developments, there is little true mixing of uses in the form of smaller corner stores). I’ve been looking for an article like this and hope it comes up every time New Urbanism is critiqued as “fake.”

Link and Place « isthmusblog

Streets on a link/place matrix. From blogisthmus.wordpress.com.

This post from Isthmus discusses streets in a way I haven’t heard of before that I think is very innovative and useful. The writer discusses how, during the Modernist era, engineers and planners thought that the way to make roads the most “efficient” was to maximize flow. This is only one dimension of what streets are. Another dimension is that they are the major public spaces in most cities, and a simple measure of flow neglects this quality. What Isthmus discusses is instead a matrix measurement, with the idea of flow represented on the Link scale, and the place quality of a street on the Place scale, as applied to streets in Auckland above. In the post, they show how a street can maintain its same link value while improving its place value, or making improvements on both scores. It is very interesting and I think it would be a good thing to apply elsewhere.

More eerie ‘ghost cities’ popping up

Chinese-built ghost city in Angola. From wnd.com.

Chelsea Schilling writes this post about ghost cities built by the Chinese both at home and abroad. Apparently the way things are set up in China, there is an incentive to build regardless of whether or not people will move into these buildings, so entire ghost cities are going up in the middle of nowhere, to the tune of 64 million vacant units. What I think is interesting is not just that these places are being built, but the model they are being built upon. These places are Modernist urban design dreamscapes. Why are they building cities with no shade and huge amounts of space devoted to cars in a country as hot and as poor as Angola? Check out these crazy pictures:

From wnd.com.

From wnd.com.

From wnd.com.

From wnd.com.

Weapons of Mass Urban Destruction – By Peter Calthorpe | Foreign Policy


Calthorpe criticizes China’s growth. From foreignpolicy.com.

I’ve had a number of people tell me that my posts have a habit of running a bit long, and that means I can’t always post often, or even regularly. I want to fix that. Starting now, posts will be shorter, and hopefully, more regular, with occasional long-format posts mixed in. We’ll start with this article from Peter Calthorpe, one of the founding fathers of New Urbanism.

China is a fast-growing nation with an ever-expanding economy, which allows it’s people access to new services, including cars. Calthorpe argues that China is on the path to repeating the mistakes of the United States in designing cities for cars rather than for people. The US spent years making Le Corbusier’s modernist dream of towers in the park connected by highways a reality. Only in recent decades have many Americans decided that this was the wrong direction to go, and cities are beginning to return to walkable, mixed-use centers where people are put before cars. China, on the other hand, is not learning from our mistakes, and is putting the car before people. This has already lead to massive congestion and environmental degradation, as Calthorpe points out the measures Beijing went to to try and make itself presentable for the Olympics four years ago, despite the constant smog. It certainly isn’t too late, but if China doesn’t change course now, it could lead to disaster for them and the world at large.

%d bloggers like this: