Posts Tagged ‘cities’

Generic Urbanism: Creating Cities without Qualities OR Quality

The term generic urbanism rose to prominence with the book S M L XL by Rem Koolhaus, Bruce Mau, Jennifer Sigler, and Hans Werlemann. The book contained an essay by Koolhaas, a Dutch architect and urbanist, titled “The Generic City.” This essay declares that progress, identity, architecture, the city and the street are things of the past. Koolhaas writes: “Relief … it’s over. That is the story of the city. The city is no longer. We can leave the theatre now…”

Generic urbanism describes a non-specific, identity-lacking urban landscape. The generic city has no specific reference points, either to its history or its residents. Rather it responds to urban stereotypes. In doing so, it turns cities into yet another commodity, interchangeable from one another. We can see the result before us as city after city converge in a pastiche of undifferentiated cityscapes.

Generic urbanism appears to have started in the American suburbs when developers creating interchangeable developments. Over the past half century it has crept into our urban cores, where the truest expression of civic identity were once found. This is, in part, a result of the effort by city governments to attract suburbanites (and their tax dollars) downtown—not by offering then something unique or different—but rather safe and familiar.

The concept is an oxymoron. A generic city resists urbanism and its inherent qualities of diversity and culture. All the qualities normally associated with a great city: iconic architecture, vibrant but messy streetscapes, unique neighborhoods, etc. become subsumed by global trends. Public space becomes formulaic; there’s nothing to notice to except stoplights. According to Richard Pouly, in the generic city “the paradigmatic urbanite will no longer be a latte-sipping hipster but the weary sales rep who never completely unpacks his suitcase” forgetting if he is in New York or New Dehli.

Koolhaas declared the generic city to be “a city without qualities,” I would add “A city without quality”

 

 

Check out the full ABC’s of Urbanism in this handy e-book!

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Fine-Grained Urbanism: Opportunities for Discovery

Urban fabric is the physical form of towns and cities. Like textiles, urban fabric comes in many different types and weaves.  For simplicity’s sake the multitude of urban fabrics are divided into two typologies: coarse grain and fine grain. Fine-grained urban fabric produced what is can be refereed to as fine grained urbanism.

Fine-grained urbanism promotes small blocks in close proximity, each with numerous buildings with narrow frontages, frequent storefronts, and minimal setbacks from the street.  Also, as there are more intersections, traffic is slower and safer. There are virtual no vacant lots or surface parking. This fine grained approach to cities offers many opportunities for discovery and exploration.  Like high count egyptian cotton; fine grain urbanism feels luxurious and makes people want linger in or around it.

Street patterns must be easily navigable and lattice like, with blocks that are not too big and intersections that are not too far apart. —Roger Lewis

Fine-grained urbanism is not imposed on a community like it’s coarser cousins. Rather, it evolves over time in a piecemeal way, responding to what came before it, and adapting to what comes next. This evolutionary process creates places that are not frozen in the era when they were built. Instead, they are dynamic and reflective of a neighborhood’s changing needs.

The resulting urban fabric seamlessly evolves over time from lightly developed residential areas to mixed used retail to dense urban core—if that’s what the community desires. In this way, fine-grained urbanism is far more resilient than mega-projects that, when they lose a single tenant, often fail.  Just as the tiny gestures of everyday urbanism can makes a huge difference in the vibrancy of a community, so can the multitudes of options offered by fine grained urbanism.

Check out the full ABC’s of Urbanism in this handy e-book!

Everyday Urbanism: Celebrating Ordinary Life in the City

Everyday urbanism celebrates and builds on the ordinary life and reality in a city. It doesn’t envision an ideal urban environment. Rather it explores ways to improve what already exists in incremental ways. The term first gained prominence with the book, Everyday Urbanism by Margaret Crawford, John Chase and John Kaliski in 1999. The book notes that the city (and its planners) ongoing quest to incorporate “the elements that remain elusive: ephemerality, cacophony, multiplicity and simultaneity.”

Every day urbanism builds on the concept of adaptive urbanism and looks at urban planning as a process of perpetual engagement and reiteration. It views cities as a conversation between and among its residents. This leads to a dynamic urban form that evolves not from outside pressures or plans dropped from above, but from activities that occur within a neighborhood.

If you have spent anytime in a city, you no doubt have witnessed small, understated, often ratty spaces that are teaming with life and vibrancy next door to large master planned developments that look like ghost towns. This is the impact of everyday urbanism. Vibrancy can not be planned in a board room, it needs to evolve on the street level trough regular ‘everyday’ interactions.

But unlike DIY urbanism, everyday urbanism isn’t simply a bottom up, grass roots approach. Rather, it is a mixture of the residents’ bottom-up expression of their economic, political and social preferences and the top-down decision-making process of developers and city governments. Vibrancy may no be able to be planned, but it certainly can be encouraged. Developers and city governments can help everyday urbanism survive and thrive by ending their quest for the ‘big urbanist’ mega projects and understanding that often times tiny gestures make the biggest different a difference.”

Check out the full ABC’s of Urbanism in this handy e-book!

DIY Urbansim: City Building from the Bottom-Up

‘Do it Yourself’ (DIY) Urbanism provides a counterweight to traditional top-down urban planning processes. Even before the the “great recession” in 2008 many cities struggled with reduced public resources. This has left various urbanists, artists, and public space advocates to fill many of the voids left by the cutbacks.

In addition to participating in official processes, such as writing letters to the city or attending public meetings, DIY urbanists take public outreach one step further. Rather than simply seeking public input, DIY urbanism empowers residents to make the changes they seek and are create their own positive urban interventions. It is the DIY ethic on the community scale.
The result has been innovative do-it-yourself projects ranging from activating stalled construction sites, to constructing temporary public plazas and parks at street intersections, to designing pop-up storefronts. They can even include more bizarre ideas including guerilla painting, urban campgrounds and street pianos.

The possibilities are limitless. Although many DIY initiatives may often be temporary, the impact is often substantial. In some cases DIY interventions have acted as pilot projects that improve the chances of city government officials eventually buying in and supporting the changes in an official way.

Regardless of the type initiative, or their permanence, DIY efforts should not be viewed as disruptive violations, or frivolous novelties, but as signs of true urban vitality. With a can-do attitude and a bit of playful mischievousness, these urban pioneers are illustrating that another type of city is possible.

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    Check out the full ABC’s of Urbanism in this handy e-book!

    Adaptive Urbanism: A Process of Perpetual Engagement

    For many urban observers, and especially urban planners, the design of the city as an ‘end state—a vision to be first created and then fulfilled.

    Adaptive urbanism takes a contrary position. It looks at urban design as a process of perpetual engagement and reiteration. In an adaptive approach, cities are dynamic ecologies that take immersion and collaboration to re-shape, not from outside or above, but from within. The concept of adaptive urbanism is often attributed to New York urbanist Brian McGrath.

    McGrath’s approach is a significant shift from how we current plan and manage cities. It is important to consider though, especially in our current economic and social upheaval. If cities develop the flexibility and capacity to respond to shifting demands and external pressures, they will be better able to deal with future economic, environmental or political crises.

     

    Check out the full ABC’s of Urbanism in this handy e-book!