Glaeser, Pendall or Fulton

The names in the title are scholars. Put their names into the Google Search Engine to bring up the list of their papers and something you don’t see often without asking for “images”, a list of documents available for academic consumption.

Scrolling yields more ideas than the entire class of graduate students from every urban study, anthropology, architecture and urban planning program on the planet can read and understand in a term. An enormous body of work for consumption at very little cost other than the megawatts required for delivery

William Fulton, Rolf Pendall, and Edward Glaeser are among a legion of urban observers aligned with an even larger multitude of undergraduate students and colleagues on a band of words circling the planet. It seems to me, across the top of each image above, a story of their work explodes. Very quickly, the search reveals a random grab of key-words for a planet of cities that is unready to be a planet of cities.

“territorial governance, measuring sprawl, smart growth, urban sprawl, urban areas, cities, planning, density, geography, Brookings, metropolitan.”

All of our scholars will agree these are the issues, yet remain gleeful in naming the exceptions that has got to stop. The movement for cities will begin as one of those moments when these words are spoken quietly but routinely:

“You are in, and you (yes, you – so very sorry) are out.”

The time for neat, exploratory examinations of the trouble brewing will end when these individuals are hired for refugee analysis. The synergism here will be determined by the ability of social and physical environment designers to produce shelter, food, clothing and most importantly, strong opportunities for people and whole families to escape from the causes of environmental threat, including one another. Based on my reading they are not ready. My brothers are ready, they are not.

The Urban Planet

“The social contract for authority is at the center of money, politic, and religion. No surprise there. The center’s loci have confirming elements such as high priest’s temple or another form of agreed upon supreme power represented by the elite and their agents.


Throughout human history, from the origination of “coin” to “subprime lending” realms for the acquisition of wealth are carefully designed. The purpose is to create wealth at predictable rates and periods, often leading to the crisis of currency. Expected failures also predict products such as intractable political confrontation accompanied by punishments for specific kinds of resistance to reform. What are the modern types of deterrence?”

Rex L. Curry

Photographs of the earth from the moon made it an island in space ruled by the sun. Still, of the billions of people on the earth, only a small percentage realize the location of earth in a solar system of a galaxy among many. The “Earth Rise” and “Blue Marble” photographs taken a half century ago from orbit and the surface of the moon through all of the Apollo Missions (1968 – 1972) takes us back a mere five hundred years ago when Galileo began to figure out the earth’s place in our solar system (1600). First contact with the vast nature of the universe must have yielded a compelling sense of vast spatial abundance. Galileo would be surprised by how severely limited we view it today.

Mountain ranges and vast oceans compare to a sea of galaxies in the opposite sense, the earth’s density is close and personal. It begins with roughly 100 people per square mile and climbs to a nearly 150,000 people in dense clusters. How do these two experiences “of the earth” and “the city” fit together? It is oddly similar to the earth in the galaxy.

New York City’s Manhattan island has a residential density surrounding Central Park of around 67,000 people per square mile (2000). Should Yellowstone National Park experience the same fate in another few centuries? After all, the argument for the investment in a “central park” was the increase in adjacent property values. The United States is less than 85 people per square mile on average. Methods to evaluate this range became of interest following the 2000 Census with specific definitions of density in the Census Bureau’s Glossary.

The designation “urban” has long been in the bureau’s lexicon but the term “urban area” is new Census 2000 terminology. It is a way to include everything from small urban clusters (less than 50,000 but at least 1,000 people per square mile) down to “at least 500 people” per square. mi. in areas immediately adjacent for the cut off to not urban, but something else like exurban. Establishing the urbanized area (UA) category and the “urban growth area” (UGA) is helping policymakers to identify areas where urban development regulations predict/prevent growth. Maryland and Oregon are closely monitored examples.

A main benefit of the UA is how it reveals “low density” settlement patterns (less than 100 people per square mile). The presumption that these areas do not alter ecological systems comes from the lack of understanding either system, yet they shape the nation’s mega-regions as we know them today. Low-density areas can be hotbeds of hidden environmental degradation without boundary. Could such places be given a boundary? Where would the challenge to draw a line fall? Would it be at the <100 threshold or at edges of a <50,000 or within a community that is >100,000 population per square mile? It comes down to perceived value and the primacy of private ownership in confrontation with public interests. (Bundy)

The change in the urban definition of places and census designated places led to a mild refinement that splits a population in a UA between urban and not-urban components based on 500 people per square mile. The Census Bureau estimates this change may classify an added 5 million urban people in 7 percent less area (about 6,600 square miles. How much “less area” will continue to be a central question in each new census of the population and it may be too late if a policy of urban unification and the defragmentation of the wilderness becomes a recognized priority.

These refinements, in the Bureau’s decennial cycle, contribute to the poor timing of local and national policy changes. The American Community Survey may offer a resolution of this problem with an equally accurate predictor of annual population characteristics and vital statistics. Growing trust in its sampling technology could help sustain the ecological balance between urban and the remaining landscape. Being able to establish a strategic difference will be crucial.

Fire illustrates the importance of understanding an urban area strategy best.  It is possible to let a forest wilderness fire burn, but less so when the wild is also urban using the 2000 definition. The Paradise Fire in California, 2018 is a clear example of needing a strategic difference policy. Extending this sense of difference to when a river breaks its traditional banks and expands into a flood plain, but far less so when the river upland of a river basin still requires, dikes and channelization as seen across the entire Los Angeles basin or bayous of Louisiana.

I do not believe that our sense of a fragile earth in a vast galaxy and the sense of ongoing calamity in the world is going unnoticed. Trillions in costs driven by environmental changes to which humans are making a substantial contribution are closely monitored. The “Man versus Mother Nature” series by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Finance and Development im March 2014, Vol. 51, No. 1 by Nicole Laframboise and Sebastian Acevedo make the case quite clearly.


This photo of “Earth Rise” over the lunar horizon was taken by the Apollo 8 crew in December 1968, showing Earth for the first time as it appears from deep space

Catastrophic Resolution (CR)

Good for the City in Small Pieces

“Some years ago, and a year or so after the 9/11 disaster, I was standing near a conversation at a town hall session, when a constituent decried failing systems in service to the simple act of voting – long lines, ill-trained, confused poll workers, broken machines, deplorable participation rates, falling registrations, and so on.  The Senator, politely nodding said, “Little will happen on any of these issues until voting breaks down completely. Only if that happens can action with money be taken, in the meantime…” when the constituent interrupted and said, “But Senator, all the dots are in a row here,” it was like being slapped.”

Rex L. Curry

Photo © iStockphoto.com/Alvinge (Source Link)

The policy of catastrophic resolution is supported as a congressional decision-making model, and while reasonable in one sense, it has become a disease of denial regarding the value of prevention. Today, a variety of life-denying systems within the western economies are held by self-styled anthropophagus-like altruists whose logic would destroy the village to save it and who govern at an “arm’s length” with the help of psychopaths they put into public offices. They are not the oligarchs of old that hold the spoils of war. In their worlds, surrounded by the obsequious kindness of others, I believe many of them do not know what they do or have done to damage the future. The clutch of sycophants in their spheres quietly whisper in a gaggle of insistence, saying there is no need for decisive action on the unprovable loss of a single species, or global breakdowns in seasonal patterns that bring fire, drought, and thunderous waves from a rising global ocean or the searing heat across ever-widening dry plains. The policy of “no need without undeniable insistence,” must not occur.  There is a need for revolution and I think I have a sense where it might begin.

The synergy of dense urban living appears to create or at least support the rise of conditions that prevent damage to future generations as it defines and solves problems squarely ahead. It can be sloppy, however, most of the cycles of sloppiness are short, cover small geographic areas, because only parts of the systems that glue the city together fail at any one time. A city in constates of repair is a city with powerful expertise. When ancient, wood water main breaks, a sewer fails, a gas line leaks and an electric power loss occurs only a few people are affected and only for short periods because of compacity. A word that describes a lot of people nearby that know exactly what to do or how to get it done.

ConEdisons Outage Map shows the number of customers affected by location.
New York City’s “Outage Map” by Consolidated Edison
illustrates outages for 3.5 million customers by location.

If you in a dense area experience compacity by taking a walk for fifteen, twenty minutes in a reasonably straight line, make four right turns to get back where you started and you have probably walked a square mile. On average you have enclosed 30,000 to 80,000 people, miles of road, and thousands of homes. You will have come across multiple subway stations, several hundred, commercial retail, institutional service and public facilities such as schools, police and fire stations. All in a little over a one hour walk. Amazing.

The central and overriding responsibility of political leaders, as well as, public and private service agencies is to assist in the readiness of people to respond to problems of any kind or sign of trouble of any sort. They must know and understand this capacity as it represents the beating heart of NYC’s future. In every one of these enclosures whether it is a random square mile or any one of hundreds of neighborhoods the capacity for positive change is undeniable but it needs to be taught as a practical matter of citizenship, of what to do, or not do when the need for help is immediate or anticipated.

If or when a city’s potential for positive change or the need for occasionally rapid change is denied or obstructed it is readily recognized as a conflict against the humanity in the place where it occurs. The origins of the forces behind these life-defining conflicts may begin as “person-against -person,-nature, -self, -society, -technology or the raw unknown. These are not the elements of fictional narratives, they represent the day-to-day experiences of regular people. They produce these occurrences of conflict with relish in all things, from the simple exchange over the price of bread for currency to a course in high-school algebra for a grade. They are all things wrought by the compacity of urban life that are continuous and in many ways unrelenting.

In many places throughout the city, your walk would have included the observation of a highly diverse population, you would have heard many voices speaking combinations of familiar and unfamiliar words, your opportunity within this environment to purchase and consume your requirement for protein or clothing, a laugh or a smile is easily acquired. A twenty to thirty- minute train ride will take you to some of the world’s finest hospitals and universities, or to airports and trains to see far off places.

 

 

 

Cities are Different

“One number above all other metrics suggests a housing affordability and infrastructure emergency is pending. It is around 40,000 people living in NYC shelters with a growing percentage of emotionally distressed and mentally ill people in the population. The number alone is less telling than realizing how and why it is lasting at this number for decades.Homelessness has become a production function of cities.

In NYC, an additional 35,000 people by official estimates are homeless as transient or invisible. There are no rules or initiatives to stop these numbers from exponential growth.”

Rex L. Curry from “Compacity”

Pushed Out”  illustrates displacement and its impacts.  Produced by: UC Berkeley Urban Displacement Project, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and The Great Communities Collaborative, an initiative of The San Francisco Foundation

The history of cities is about how problems are defined and solved. The political skill of the dense city is different than other places. The city is regularly expected to create change that people will believe in even though each change is determined by combinations of corruption and inspiration. The effectiveness of either or both is fixed in the experience of communities and demonstrated in neighborhoods. Inexplicably, is this what makes the celebration of cities so unique and important in the advancement of human thought?  Here is one example.

From the 1960s to the early 90s New York City experienced rapid cultural and physical changes unlike any other. Initially, it confronted wholesale infrastructure deterioration coupled with a profound housing crisis, population loss, racism, double-digit inflation, a significant recession and a nation embroiled in a foreign war. The city responded with improvements in race relations, education, and training there was just enough of a federal response to prevent catastrophic collapse. Why? People with disadvantages and other people with extraordinary power found themselves face-to-face with the problem of being face-to-face.

The appointment of a financial control board control over NYC credit crisis lasted a decade. ending of the mid-1980s. You know the old story borrow $5,000 from a bank and don’t pay it back you are in trouble, but make that $500,000 with a run into trouble, you have a new partner. The concept of leverage is thematic in urban development. It includes knowing the power in the phrase, “people united can never be defeated.”

The agreement struck was to build equity through housing rehabilitation, rent stabilization, education, and good employment.  Community control of schools and ideas on how to create neighborhood government matured along with the creation of community-based development corporations in partnership with charitable foundations and city agencies. They had one purpose. Confront the city’s issues directly before them and create a better city.  It worked, but new problems without easy solutions dug into the city’s flesh as irreversible displacement and permanent homelessness became continuous, like a tide.


Displacement and Homelessness

The examination of the causes of displacement summarized in the UC Berkely presentation have some solutions and remedies offered at its conclusion. Zoning is not one of them.  In fairness to Mike Bloomberg, his comment on the issue was, “Hey, this was the only game in town, so you’re either in or out.”  To this extent he is correct, the Federal response to urbanization continues to allow the market to have its way until it doesn’t and the great recession of 2008 was not far off. 

What is poorly understood is how low- and moderate-income people are finding housing in the suburbs for work and affordability by combining unrelated individuals and families in shared housing arrangements as under the radar as possible. The irony is shocking zoning is used in the dense urban environment to include low- and-moderate-income families in town, and used to keep them out in the suburbs.


Evidence of failure to implement the remedies for ongoing home displacement is in the number of individuals and households (largely women with children) who are estimated in distress.  A detailed look at this is described in a brief article entitled A New America (Here) It describes the beginnings of a Federal role in housing production, infrastructure and economic mobility due to the rise of displacement, formal and informal homelessness in America.  Here is a brief excerpt: 

“When violent change hits a community, the question turns to the first responder’s capacity, then speed, followed by when (or if) the full weight of federal support occurs. If the change is massive but slow, as if following the logic of a cancer cell, a long-term sense of resilience is essential. Leverage for needed change will be found in these fast and slow forms of damage. The “small fires” response to sudden catastrophes in the national context continues to produce quality emergency management skills. Service providers and communication systems reach deeply from federal to local levels. The service of a national post-trauma framework is building strength because it is vital, but first-response systems are quickly overwhelmed without front-end steps in mitigation that can pull its people out of trouble at a steady and reliable pace along with outright prevention.”

RLC

The Isle de-Jean Charles

What if the Isle de-Jean Charles was Canarsie, Brooklyn?

“Without weapons, humans are not built to kill, no claws or fangs, but when one group of humans is forced to say to another group facing a life-threatening condition “we cannot help you” now or even in the evolutionary sense, I do not know which group is worse off.”

Rex L. Curry
Trust.org Video

If NYC’s ramparts are drawn across its landscape, it forces two questions: 1)Who’s In? and 2) Who’s out? The GND says we need to get practical about the local impact of global climate change problems as a matter of science and humanity. In this spirit, I will apply America’s first climate refugees from Isle de-Jean Charles, LA to a New York City example (video here). The relocation action taken in Louisiana occurred when they were down to the last two-percent of their land along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.


Can New York or any other city afford to set that kind of relocation standard? Let’s do the math here,  it cost $100 million in relocation funds for 20 households of the Isle de-Jean Charles. Now apply that to the 35,000 families in Canarsie, a neighborhood in Brooklyn threatened by lots of seawater. The relocation bill would come to $175 billion. A resettlement plan at 20 households/year would take a millennium. At 500 households a year, the cost would be $2.5 billion/year, and it would take 70 years.

The plan now (and it is a bad one for people) is to allow land poverty to occur and over the course of seventy years of increasing worthlessness, let it go “in rem” or purchase the property at the lowest possible price, strip it of its toxins, and wait for the ocean to come in an unrelenting, but unknown rate. The product would be an artificial barrier reef of foundations on the north side of Jamaica Bay. If the acidity could be neutralized, it would be a seafood farm.

The current policy destroys lives and smacks of environmental racism. A good investment policy would protect the future by creating a value that could accrue to the estate of every displaced household. It would not prevent the “land poverty” plan currently in play, it would also result in lives horribly disrupted, but it would create a benefit to future generations of the families displaced. For a place like Canarsie, or the Rockaways (the natural rampart), the test should be whether a quid pro quo is in place, or just another caveat emptor slap in the face, aimed at people of color that will soon be without the power of an alternative or a public admission of a plan for recourse. Could the pitiful amount of $2.5B be put into action today? Unlikely, as the policy of catastrophic resolution is now the only way to draw a line in the sand. It is already around a burned to the ground neighborhood in CA today, and likelihood of a neighborhood soaking in seas of Jamaica Bay.

Today the planners, engineers, architects, and climate scientists assess the impact of the sea rise, storm surges and microbursts pounding down the Hudson River Valley on the city’s property. The Flooded City article points out the big picture these professionals paint for owners and policymakers.

The San Francisco – Bay Area Challenge is an excellent illustration of what needs to be done. The simple answer known solutions will not occur – but take heart there are people out there who know what to do and are not afraid to illustrate the steps. (Here)

For example, a rise in sea level far less than a meter places 71,500 buildings and $100 billion of property in NYC’s high-risk flood zones. Sea rise is not a complex assessment. Remote earth sensing devices can measure elevation to less than a meter other, devices calculate small fluctuations in gravitational forces, and for any area in question in real time. The data is in, the “when” sea rise is too high remains unknowable. Analytical programs on weather and storm forces may never get beyond a two-week window. MIT’s Ed Lorenz 1968 paper describing that two nearly identical atmospheric models can diverge widely after just two-weeks of an initial disturbance as minute as a butterfly flapping its wings. This model has yet to be altered beyond two weeks by mathematicians, meteorologists or both for a half century.

The below-ground world of tunnels and conduit (vehicles, gas, power, clean, gray and black water) of New York City is not climate proof.  Given the positives of the walls and ramparts, the capacity to fragment infrastructure systems to function independently is implied, but the policy is dishonest unless the question “who is in and out” is answered.

Global processes are geologically instantaneous events in the context of the last half-billion years. They occur daily but remain well outside of human experience. We are unlikely to “duck and cover” or step back from the waves of an unobservable rise of the ocean at the base of a massive river basin. Creating incentives to do so is the challenge of our time.

Nevertheless, insisting the acquisition and removal of toxins from NYC’s waterfront and flood-prone zones may be the best plan of action for no other reason that it will take a century to accomplish. The planning work as it stands today favors protecting property in the short term. It emanates from the boardrooms and public conferences in the old way.  It is about producing jobs through relatively high yield, short-term investments under the heading of resiliency. The discussion of the chemical, biological, and most importantly, financial toxins encircled by these old ways requires a sharper focus by its critics.

The sea rise may be known first in Kiribati, Vanuatu, and the Marshall Islands with a poignant reminder: If the world fails to halt global warming they disappear in the tide.

It is the Water Stupid

The following chapter from “Finding Density” looks at the simplicity of water as a regional development strategy. Combining the duality of land/water systems as interdependent brings ideas for density, or “compacity” into focus. It also turns to a growing dependency on transit-oriented designs with this interest in taking a look at the Northwest by not repeating the mistakes of the Northeast.

Rex L. Curry

Successful municipal economies yield control of its laws governing annexation and eminent domain to state governments. The loss of decisiveness and accountability caused by ever-lengthening adjudication proceedings is destructive in that it forces an ever looking “outward” for revenue. The boundaries have been the same for over a century for New York City and it proves the look inward is the way to thrive on limits and prosper.

New York manages the complexity of its social diversity; it conducts daily battles rooted in zoning; it sustains a quality bond rating. It has written and re-written the rules of what is and is not a “taking”. In brief, it is a powerhouse of jurists and litigators.  Despite the intense political debate, it gets to the truth. On this point, the City’s zoning laws became fully accessible to the New Yorker public in early 2019.  Having the NYC Zoning Resolution  (ZR) online for anyone with an interest in its authority, practices and procedures put all proposed changes upfront. In the spirit of transparency, the full text went live as a beta version here because the City Planning Commission (CPC) sought feedback with a link.

That huge 1,570-page physical binders will no longer be printed in preference to a digital platform still provides access to all 14 Articles and 10 Appendices, plus 126 Zoning Maps and Special District boundaries. The use of ZR’s police power to contribute solutions to problems is well known. It has aided in the production of affordable housing, perhaps the city’s most serious dilemma but it addresses even more complex problems such as the impact of climate change on a compact urban environment such as New York City.  The creativity demanded by land area limits and looking inward for solutions to problems also isolates and defines in sharp detail a set of dependencies that remain outside of political boundaries.  One of the most important is water.

The origin of New York City’s success is retaining clean water coming in as well as going out, but the initial plan to accomplish this goal has grown to control much more land outside of its boundaries that it has within. Like other cities, two interlocking parts energize the City’s power. One sustains a sophisticated, occasionally stealthy war of antidevelopment heartily welcomed by the wealthier suburbs, while its counterpart offers the prospect, if not the full reality, of development in the dense urban center that is without limits. Recently added sweeteners of growing value are enormous economies of scale in environmental protection.

Highly useful boundaries emerge that define everything from “a 20 x 100-foot lot” to “the wilderness”.  The downside of this approach are blunders of local governance, especially as it applies to the regulation of land use for water. In these two basic envelopes, one is defiantly anti-development to yield clean water in the reservoirs freely given by a forest root system, and another offers no limits for the human settlements in it use as it returns to the global ocean’s vast water cycle. There is an economical triple bottom line menu here if it (wilderness and metro-region) is reinvented as a duality of land and water, as it gives users an “in or out” boundary for the application of an essential life cycle criterion.

Once both are defined with a relatively hard edge, the performance within each becomes accountable to a standard. The combination of private ownership associated with the rules of limits defines “in or out” options that tend to strengthen an “as is above, as is below” structure for debate. The rules that govern the use of a 20 ft. X 100 ft lot in a compact city remains compatible with rules guiding the use of land throughout the state. Protecting one protects or defends them all. The genius of this is how it supports the two permanent and essential elements of tension vital to democracy, decisiveness, and accountability.  That is, until recently. 

New York City and Environmental Conservation

The reason urban development policies incentivize is in preference to the enforcement of penalties or the provision of subsidies. Minimizing standards for low-density water treatment, site-by-site opens hundreds of individual pathways to corruption across a vast landscape of jurisdictions. Nevertheless, American values strongly support multiple centers of social and economic power to assure a layered political leadership structure. An example is the authority of the states to charter cities. A broader example is support for the lawful rise of social change movements seeking the means to alter, then “fix” boundaries of all kinds. This kind of “don’t tread on me” diversity is seen as a source of leadership. The reality of this structure is the fallacy built into the continuous growth assumption.

The image (above) is the water system in the NY metro region. Long term predictions expect a modest increase in rainfall.  The image (below) is from Wells Dry, Fertile Plains Turn to Dust (NYT 5.19.2013) illustrates a five ft. to 150 ft. drop in water from the High Plains Aquifer running from Nebraska to the Texas Panhandle. A multi-state regional water system that defines loc. These localities are politically incapable of yielding values of independence in trade for a common good. Core issue rooted the nation’s land use policies is how it is entangled in its social problems.  The American frontier view of nation-building is part of this, yet, another view highlights the rise of the national highway system in a nuclear era and represents forces aimed at developing the landscape without the introduction of countermeasures or public interventions associated with conservation. Policy: there is plenty of land and water, so use it.  What if these systems are dying?

When a will of the people strategy is employed, is the complaint about poor leadership? It is far more accurate to describe it as a lack of vision beyond state borders. The frontier has moved, it is no longer out west. The frontier is everywhere and it involves everything affecting everyone all at once. A basic human need such as clean, use water, that connects metropolitan regional policies to urban centers would be capable of collecting and re-charging water systems leading system protection.

To get a sense of the importance of this issue a based search using the words High Plains Aquifer Map will quickly illustrate local concerns from the Nebraska Water Science Center of the USGS to Everything Lubbock TX worried about nitrates linked to uranium contamination in the aquifer water that may come from fertilizers, animal, or industrial waste.

Wanted: A Density Trigger and a Clock

Do not blame America’s 20th c. Middle-Class for its useful affluence or its fascination with innovation. The belief in the promise of carefree life remains as easily exploited today as it was in 1950. Half a century ago urban design thinking capitalized land with a street and a car; now it needs to be an alternative. The street remains vital sans car but not sans mobility.  Therein lays a new problem.

Bellevue’s compacity just east of Seattle, WA is a good example. The completion of two 450-foot 43 story towers among five approved will hold 543 units on a 10.5-acre site with a 900-car parking structure. Why room for so many cars? Site approvals include a build out to 900 units and three proposed office towers with hotel and retail shops pending market conditions.[1] In brief, the site will have plenty of reserve multi-level parking. Car storage is still a key in the “get in the black early” strategy, but down the road, Bellevue planners probably purchased serious auto congestion.  Therein lays the solution.

The introduction of a subway or light rail system is an automatic density trigger if it connects the right stuff. Why does this system require a planning clock with a half-century movement hand? Perhaps it is the attendant exaction process needed to produce distributive benefits to the city such as a mass transit system. Housing affordability is another example, to avoid the “Aspen Effect” but it will of necessity include a variety of building design treatments aimed at mobility in the small scale using alternatives. 

The idea of a density trigger assures that the mass transportation process begins first. New mass transit partners are growing rapidly; they are eager to help evaluate costs, alternatives and so on. Setting a density trigger through zoning establishes a priority that “points” before it shoots. The history of mass transit has been “ready, fire aim”.

If zoning tips off the land-owners to the idea of growth in a larger, more compact city it could plan triggers to take it away by suggesting a time interval for planning that frames accountability for direct as well as unintended consequences. Developers and city administrators are intelligent enough to work out tax increment financing deals or other creative time value approaches much like a hedge fund.[2]

Transit Oriented Design Case Study

For a century, the zoning rules and tools of local government have promoted low-ground coverage for residential uses while expanding coverage with other impermeable surfaces for vehicular access to everything else. This includes the driveways and decks often uncounted in coverage data to the lots required by the retail model. Traditionally suburban county and municipal rules and tools abhor density, detest mixed land uses, and resist all regulatory control processes that call for performance measures.[3] Changes to these views are being altered by projects such as Bellevue in Seattle, WA.

Even though the quality and amount of space between multiple uses hold no priority, in much of the road warrior world of low density, some good news remains. A relatively small overall coverage percentage remains for most regions and the nation.

The bad news is low-density land uses continue to spread exponentially, and there is no stopping or questioning this type of growth due to hundreds of local governments per region. Not one of them wants the change that comes with density.

As planners and developers look at trains again because suburban real estate continues to have a long-term boom look to it. The centers of these little booms seem to be every station along the remaining rights of way laid out for trains nearly a century ago.  There is only one thing missing – a reason to go up and down the line.  A creative drive to establish destinations one station at a time. In the meantime, all anyone needs to do is to look at the rate of land purchases near every train station in the region of every major metropolitan region and center.

The most recent and bold example is Warren Buffet’s purchase of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad. This investment in 21st century energy-conscious transportation is compelling because his other “old technology” bets have been winners. It also stimulated many others to look at the land along the line only to discover that Buffet had been doing so for a decade.[4] 

Trains can move more than goods and people to more places with less energy, and as the image below suggests, rail could propel a very broad range of investment interest toward some of largest undeveloped sections of the United States. (Wiki)

Aside from researching land/rail purchases, another barometer is recent work of the Government Law Center on the number of local law review articles using green and sustainability issues to address land use law and practice.[5] Without a doubt, the relatively rural traditions of local land use planning need incentives to accept new ways of thinking but make no mistake about the motive for change. Even with “green and sustainability” tags, the task of maximizing investments by reducing risk holds priority.

Urban planning functions because banks, lawyers and developers drive it. The resource requirements to offer new ways to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) or more sustainable environment do not occur without bowing to a compelling capital return. Public rules, on the other hand, can require or limit significant portions development opportunities to “B” corporation structures adhering to specific aspects of triple bottom line practices assigned to their mission.

The Clearwater Junction & Kittitas Question

Protect the Northwest from what happened to the Northeast.

The north-south axis of BNSF and its northwest axis links to Cascadia, also known as the Northwest hub. Amidst the Clearwater, Lolo, Flathead, Bitterroot, Nez Perce, and Helena National Forest there are many conservation areas. The forests of Montana, Idaho, and Washington present the full breadth of a true wilderness. It also represents a mixture of wildlife entrepreneurship at loggerheads with conservation.

The value may seem incalculable. It is not. Write “Northwest National Forest” into a search engine (See Google Map below) and a vast range emerges. It illustrates an opportunity to get it right or turn them into “parks.” It is hard to imagine areas of this size surrounded by developer bids to “live alongside” or “work them” but one only needs to look at the “Northeast” insert to recognize that all that is left are isolated, invisible parks at the same map scale.

These Areas are Equivalent in Size

Anyone that has been in part of the thick forest for more than a few days understands why the desire to be in it defines one of the great joys of life, perhaps its meaning. It is not surprising that resistance is significant when attempts to develop housing through subdivision occur. A recent effort at protection against housing development used only one tool -the threat of predatory attacks. The central argument made by the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department of the State of Montana in resisting a 200-acre housing development in Clearwater Junction, MT is rightly based on this threat. The proposal for a 119 single family home sites was reduced to 59 in a compromise that included a variety of plan amendments such as a fence/wall surrounding the property. Again this plating alternative was again.

The developer continued litigation efforts to proceed until the Montana State Supreme Court affirmed the community’s denial for development on appeal. See Richards v. Co. of Missoula, 354 Mont. 334, 223 P.3d 878 (Richards I) and Richards v. County of Missoula, 366 Mont. 416 (Mont. 10/23/12).

As developers continue to produce strident objections to the environmental concerns cited by public authorities, the courts will often point out other ways to seek a remedy based on mitigating potentially deleterious impacts to wells, septic systems, and water resources on nearby properties and agricultural lands. A project’s failure to comply with irrigation laws, eliminate impacts on creeks, do not address violations of specific kinds of growth. Development plans and the transfer of rights through protection policies are all successfully litigated subjects defining the opportunity for compacity, urban clusters capable of meeting the need to be part of the wilderness but not living the wild, for that is its destruction. 

While forms of new urban development seem to be reasonable grounds which denies developers (Richards in this case). The court noted the making of “no effort to refute those objections” with alternatives for a reason – the illusion of wilderness living. It is ironic this case was lost on the danger to human life via the threat of predation when access to all the wonders of life in the wild would remain available to experience except one — the idea plunking down houses in it.

Case Study

Kittitas County in Washington is to the east of the Seattle, Tacoma urban area, and known to most national urban development observers and planners as Cascadia. At the turn of the century, Kittitas County had a few small towns east of the Snoqualmie National Forest along US 90. It is here where the battle over density and urbanization is very sharp, but it is losing the battle for conservation. 

One group, the Kittitas County Conservation Coalition’s central mission is the “preservation of a rural future.” A benchmark that sparked the formation of this countywide nonprofit was the closure of historical “trailheads” by private landowners. These trails link the past to the present and define an exquisite wilderness.  They should not be lost. The hope of this organization seems directly dependent on a fragile, but comprehensive statewide conservation initiative. It is the well-known, highly examined, and heavily documented Growth Management Act (GMA).

The state requires local governments to invest in comprehensive plans and comply with state and federal standards aimed at the protection of wetlands, streams, farms, and forests. This investment has heightened the debate on questions of growth and density and intensified the role of citizens groups such as the Kittitas Coalition. These issues pit the emotions and traditions of ‘frontier independence’ against the capacity of the state and local planning agencies to manage urban development as it occurs one plat, one PUD, one commercial farming, forest or retail project at a time. Before it was removed for viewing online, maps on the Kittitas Coalition’s website illustrated changes in land use regulation by zoning designation from 2000 to 2009. Perhaps the concern represented by the move to a virtual private network (VPM) was not to not aid developers with their formidable insight or to help them recognize areas where developer interest was occurring and could continue in consuming wilderness environments.

Increased public involvement in planning is exhausting, but the dialogue on how local governments need to plan and develop housing and services for all income groups has rarely met with success. The overall density of Kittitas is low at 17 people per square mile, but almost half of the housing in the county is rental, and nearly 60% of its 38,000 residents live in urban areas. Public planning helps the community to anticipate and respond creatively with facilities or services. Nevertheless, the overwhelming pressure of exponential population growth throughout the state is unrelenting; it exhausts the GMA and reveals a continuous battle largely based on the lack of alternatives to the single-family house (SFH).

From a national planner’s perspective, Seattle and Tacoma look something like Manhattan, to the east of Seattle and Tacoma there is a massive national forest. It looks like it could be something like one of New York’s large open spaces such as Central, Prospect, Pelham or Gateway National Park. While everything is very different to the northeast from the typography to the trees, places like Kittitas are beginning to look like New Jersey – a super-suburban state and most the densely populated state in the union.

What would happen if I drew a line around the little urban part of Kittitas? Inside this line, growth would be exponential to an upper, unknown density only limited by one rule, that it is not poisonous to anything and everything outside that line. Everything outside that line would become wild, with only the homesteads it has now. The development would be limited and comply with the same no damage rules. Would those who found themselves owning and controlling portions of these two worlds recognize the enormous value of each? A hint at this possibility emerged in May 2010, when Jason F. McLennan, CEO of the Cascadia Green Building Council (CGBC) announced a change in mission that envisioned the need to look well beyond buildings and to take a sectional view. Cascadia’s mission is, “to lead a transformation towards a built environment that is socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative.”

McLennan also recalls how the northeast experienced a similar response to “rapid growth” at the turn of the last century for colleagues and policymakers of Cascadia these mistakes can be avoided. Concerns about haphazard growth and lack of coordination influenced the creation of the Regional Planning Association (RPA). This outfit recognized the importance of linking the interests of three states — New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Established in 1922, it published the first regional plan in 1929, just before the advent of the Great Depression. RPA has a very deep archive, it has survived as a nonprofit agency, and given its longevity, it will emerge from its first century as a brilliant critic of the status quo and a staunch supporter for regional planning. It has the satisfaction of being right, self-correcting, and the dissatisfaction of being largely powerless.

Perhaps most telling of this duality is the title of RPA’s most recent local plan, Region at Risk.[6] It is likely history will repeat, as the central problem remains. Nongovernment organizations (NGO) like RPA or Cascadia’s CGBC are insufficient. They are greatly needed instruments for public education, but cannot draw the line in the sand that Cascadia is desperately attempting to bring in a kind of “time-delayed” wake enclosed in RPA’s almost desperate warning about the risks. Today RPA’s mission is a demand for social justice, a regional “greensward” and a seamless regional transit network. All remain its toughest unheeded challenges.

Those who could grasp the long proactive view have defined the current practice of regional planning as disjointed and incremental.  The “long tail” vision of America is one that offers a multi-modal, national transportation system, a diverse and creative multicultural society, and a progressive yet, globally competitive outlook.  Instead, we have an oil-addicted road system, increasingly polarized residential enclaves with laisse-fair politics, and the collapse of self-regulation as a viable American value. Perhaps, the lesson here is still far too bright, too optimistic for policymakers to take heed.

In response, I would have them know on my and your behalf that The Republic is without a lawful means to invoke the practical work that would allow one state to cut across jurisdictional boundaries of another in their mutual interest and that the discovering these interests is the only way The Republic will stand.

A crucial aspect of our urban metropolitan future is to spend some time looking past our borders for some encouragement. Clearly, NYC is happy about its positives, but a good plan for density starts and keeps momentum by defining serious new problems. You know, those hiding inside the smaller, older problems.

New York’s extraordinary history of support for affordable housing got some help in March of 2015 from the New Jersey Supreme Court. In the same way, New York City looks to the north for its environmental protection (e.g. clean water), it should look west at the two-edged nature of that calculation toward 2050.

Efforts to get New Jersey’s local governments to provide a fair share of affordable housing establish diversity and assure affordability remains a difficult road to travel but the routes were taken to date are instructive for the metro-region and the nation as a whole. In part, the density of New Jersey as a suburban state (yet, the densest in the country) brought to light sharp social and economic divisions stimulated by the so-called “white flight” and “spread-city” period out of New York City and Philadelphia in the 1960s and 70s with recovery in the 80s and 90s. The search for remedies to the social, economic issues presented over the next half-century is represented by unyielding efforts to link housing to social justice in New Jersey and with it, improved access to quality education and employment for the entire metropolitan region.

In 1983 the NJ Council on Affordable Housing was established with the power to require a local jurisdiction to comply with court order known as the “builder’s remedy.” This power was not renewed by the legislature in 1999. It was not until 2015, and considerable analysis of local government “certification” processes that the New Jersey Supreme Court established a state constitutional right to housing. The state can require local governments exercising its land use regulatory powers to “make realistically possible the opportunity for an appropriate variety and choice of housing for all categories of people who may desire to live there, of course, including those of low- and moderate-income.”

Those familiar with the Mt. Laurel One (1975) and Mount Laurel Two (1983) decisions will recognize the continuity of this most recent case leading to the re-adoption of the powers of NJ Council on Affordable Housing (March 10, 2015)[7].

One other gem in the inter-regional establishment of affordable housing is the region’s wealth of economic mobility. That mobility is threatened by the “on again off again” need for a mass transit tunnel that transportation agency planners, state and local leaders see as essential for two reasons.  First, the existing tunnel, while a miracle of construction is an official antique at 100 years of use.  It could kill many people, with the possibility of a catastrophic failure and if this risk occurs it will also disrupt the economy of both states for decades.  It may be possible to monitor the progress of this effort by following the Gateway Program.org


[1] The developer is based in Salt Lake City: Wasatch Development Associates

[2] Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is a financial tool.  Used will it helps local governments to sell debt in the form of bonds to pay for infrastructure (highways, subways, energy) and aim it at areas that need these improvements.  As land uses change, the neighborhood mix might contain former warehouses, industrial uses where the reinvestment risks are too high in comparison to the same investment options on “green fields”.   In this way, older, formerly compact neighborhoods can rid themselves of past errors in the quality of use and retrofit them with innovative housing solutions, with new combinations of private and public transit serving retail/cultural destinations.  When ideas like TIF tie to a “density factor” they give cities a way to make right past errors for good reasons.

[3] As mentioned in “Finding Density” the urban center leadership found in Miami 21 (October 2009), brought the “transect” idea forward.  It may change everything in land use management.

[4] On November 3, 2009, Warren Buffett‘s Berkshire Hathaway announced that it would acquire 77.4% of BNSF for $100 per stock in cash and stock, in a deal valued at $44 billion. The company is investing an estimated $34 billion in BNSF and acquiring $10 billion in debt

[5] See Sustainability and Land Use Planning: Greening State and Local Land Use Plans and Regulations to Address Climate Change Challenges and Preserve Resources for Future Generations.  The study reviews six initiatives, 1) land use planning process in the nation, 2) state and local climate action plans, 3) emission rules and EIS reviews 4) zoning and regulation, 5) building codes and 6) water management and landscaping initiatives Download article SSRC website: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1503379

[6] Cornell University holds a collection of Regional Plan Association’s materials from 1919-1997.  Those materials are available for research by contacting the university library.

[7] The opinion can be accessed at the deep end here: http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/supreme/M39214COAH.pdf

Urban Speakers

The authors in the following (long list and growing) visit New York City routinely. Perhaps they would enjoy a sponsored conference or a workshop on persuasion. The question on persuasion is direct. Who among them make the most sense on the “design” for change. No matter how smart they are if nothing happens the design and implementation was about book sales. Sad. Comment here or the LinkedIn site here to participants.

RLC

Recall Robert Gutman

I would like you to recall Robert Gutman to start off. The point being, to define measures of inequality in design practice. The intellectual rigor of his research has much to offer. In Architectural Practice he established useful controls for a wide range of factors that affect “life in architecture” such as poverty, residential mobility, and education.

Thousands of practitioners in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry may have been influenced (albeit briefly in a classroom) by Robert Gutman’s ratio of professionals to the urban population (Princeton Arch Press 1988). The central point was about 98% of the population never gets to meet or talk with an architect or engineer – ever.  To set a relevant tone for making urban design a contribution to sustainability, re-read and update the legacy of Robert Gutman.  

Questions such as the following should be aimed at people such Adolfo Carrin Jr.,  White House Office of Urban Affairs (a planner) or Shaun Donovan, an architect (HUD) and their global counterparts .  Believe me, they are familiar with “bottom feeding” architecture and planning. There is no courage in this industry outside an undergrad jury room. The question is whether this weakness should be allowed to continue as an acceptable part of the overall community development puzzle.

Question One: 
How possible is it to locally (if not globally) alter fee structures to represent a new set of values (carbon reduced, energy saved, life cycle defined) and to implement levels of public leadership that will effectively produce massive changes in the “live-work/play” behavior of humans over the next century? If not, why not? Get a handle on that, and the second question might be definable within architecture, engineering and construction (AEC).

Question Two: 
How can this industry change the existing contours of civic representation? Without a doubt, we live in a house that we all build, but unlike the other service professions, AEC produces places for million of people in recurring development events in increasingly massive domains that are interspersed with isolated, poorly linked and evaluated public realms that advance human capacity beyond “the hive”. The built environment is becoming tragically illogical by failing to address a greater sense of balance in the market of ideas for living if not, a broader social system for full participation in life itself will not take place.

The Global Urban Challenge

The first stage of a humanitarian crisis is the general denial of facts. As a result, defining the first question offers hope for finding and accepting new methods for recognizing resilience as the first step toward sustainability. The second stage is aimed at all biological beings facing short- or long-term ecological crises. The focus on the technology of  “life, work/play” will not define ecological problems. Essentially, there is no fix without a vastly broader sense of responsibility.

Given this foundation several other questions require development as follows: What policy changes within New York would the following folks recommend? (fiscal, land use, zoning) How would they implement a regional strategy?

Ecological Intelligence
Daniel Goleman

Position: Consumer-driven change will work, given the right iPhone type app at the right time.

To understand the full impact of a single consumption choice, the question “Is this good for the Earth?” is impossible to answer for the lack of life cycle data. The moment of consumption is well past design, or production and ahead of use and disposal.  Daniel Goleman defines this “being good” problem in his book, Ecological Intelligence and describes “industrial ecology” as way to act ecologically – confronting a complex global challenge that is embedded in personal consumption choices and in doing so, alter the forces that drive design and production, as well as, demand new cycles of responsible disposal and retention. Did you just think of all that plastic floating in the Pacific? I did, it was not about waste, it was about currents.

The Entropy Problem is the Solution

Beyond advancing the bonded rationality embedded in individual consumption choices, the virtual backbone of consumption remains the connection between railways, expressways and the power- and water-grids.  Will the ecological intelligence approach work to improve the quality of decisions that will make the 50,000 miles of national expressway infrastructure less dysfunctional, or 225,000-mile national rail system useful, or does it keep 200,000 miles of national grid power from routine catastrophic failure or plug up a very, very leaky water grid? Maybe as an intellectual exercise, but politically no f’n way.

The scale of coordination among states and multi-state regions to address these questions is well beyond the power of individual consumer choice. The mega-city structure of these regions and the mix of private, government and public benefit corporations serving as ad hoc,
impromptu, expedient, makeshift, cobbled together regulatory bodies do not appear to have a capacity for rational thought, let alone ecological intelligence. The timing of their failure requires study, nothing else.

Sustainable America
John Dernbach

Position: Sustainable development will make the US livable, healthy, secure, and prosperous.  Ten themes are developed by Dernbach as follows:

  1. Ecological footprint system integration
  2. Greenhouse gas reduction programs
  3. Stimulate employment for unskilled persons in environmental protection and restoration
  4. Stimulate or get stimulated by NGOs to play a major role
  5. Organizing government using sustainability principles to prioritize
  6. Expand options for sustainable living to consumers
  7. Advance general public and formal education
  8. Strengthen environmental and natural resources law
  9. Lead international efforts on behalf of sustainable development
  10. Systematically improve access to data for decision making

Released 1.12.2009: Order from Island Press.  Also see: Stumbling Towards Sustainability

With the Ten Items Above in Mind

Sim Van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan said it best in Ecological Design when they contrasted sustainability defined technologically as opposed to ecologically (pp. 18-23) Here they summarized David W. Orr’s position on ecology.

First, people are finite and fallible. The human ability to comprehend and manage scale and complexity has limits. Thinking too big can make our human limitations a liability rather than an asset.

Second, a sustainable world can be redesigned and rebuilt only from the bottom up. Locally self-reliant and self-organized communities are the building blocks for change.

Third, traditional knowledge that co-evolves out of culture and place is a critical asset. It needs to be preserved, restored, and used.

Fourth, the true harvest of evolution is encoded in nature’s design. Nature is more than a bank of resources to draw on: it is the best model we have for all the design problems we face.

Technology is zero sum when placed in a priority higher than these four principles of change.

Do Not Forsake the Following

Peter Droeg finds the question of technology is useful but probably secondary.  He is the author of The Renewable City: A Comprehensive Guide To An Urban Revolution and offers up the tool kits on city greening cities that have been around since the 1970s. The kicker is they were not implemented for the lack of “payback” and other reasons.

Mitchel Joachim seeks to integrate ecological design, but Dr. Joachim wins Time Magazine’s Best Invention (2007) for work with Smart Cities Group Compacted Car. As a partner in the nonprofit design organization Terreform, Fab Tree Hab project, an so on, he baits the Sprawl vs. Urban Center debate as a choice: is it better to spread over the landscape or produce dense compact cities. It depends.

Aside from the “unstoppable both” answer and the more jargon than juice issue, is anything going on here other than too much talent chasing after too much money or is it more hubris.  I’m talking about the kind of technology that is embedded in Tom Perkins’ Maltese Falcon (the $100M sailing ship that can be sailed by one person) Even he is embarrassed.

Mike Davis would seriously disagree about the “urban solution” to the “global challenge” question in Planet of Slums.  As an urban theorist Davis takes a global approach to the poverty that dominates the planet’s urban population.  The list is growing from Cape Town and Caracas to Casablanca and Khartoum. Davis argues health, justice and social issues associated with gargantuan slums like Mexico City’s estimated population of 4 million seem invisible in world politics.  He writes,

“The demonizing rhetoric of the various international wars on terrorism, drugs, and crime is so much semantic apartheid: they construct epistemological walls around gecekondus, favelas, and chawls that disable any honest debate about the daily violence of economic exclusion.” 

Mike Davis in Planet of Slums

Statistics showing the number of “mega-slums” or “when shanty-towns and squatter communities merge in continuous belts of informal housing and poverty, usually on the urban periphery” have been forming since the 1960s. Davis paints a bleak picture of the upward trend in urbanization and a severely negative outlook for urban slum-dwellers. Can you say, pandemic?

Matthew Kahn wrote Green Cities: Urban Growth and Environment to frame the process of rapid urban development and sprawl as a source of concern about economic exclusion and environmental health.  Are they mutually exclusive? Most policies pursue both, but Kahn suggests it is naive to do so.  Is Kahn the best person to ask the tough questions about the costs?

Douglas Farr’s recent publication, Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature (2007): Wiley ($75 – 304 pages) is his admitted first “draft”. The debate is open, case studies are available, but the initial steps toward a neighborhood-based “excellence” process on the long list of techniques worthy of implementation are outlined well.  Doug will be the first to tell you that it is “hell” out there, especially after spending a decade on a relatively simple process of trying to make it easy to walk from one place to the next. New Yorkers know intuitively that so many solutions to the problems of the glog lie quietly inside our tiny realm of thought islands.  (glog? – the blogged globe).

Peter Newman and Isabella Jennings most recent work, Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems, Principals and Practices. (2007) explores urban design as a resource for streaming energy, materials, and information into a new urban system.  Newman and Jennings recognize that “a system” can only be described in terms of larger more complex systems.  In this brief introduction (296p), urbanization as a system presents a series of human/non-human “man against nature” interactions that are being inexorably overwhelmed by the larger ecosystem. Nevertheless, Newman and Jennings make a case for an urban solution to the global challenge that is compelling.

Christopher Leinberger work, The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a New American Dream. (2007)  Chris is within driving distance of Detroit and must, therefore, be compelled to write a book with this title.  Top on his list of problems to solve is the lack of affordability in communities where walking to most services is available and mass transit for the remaining specialized services affordable and comfortable. Concerns regarding recent land use policies in NYC now support as many as nineteen different forms “drivable sub-urbanism” in New York City that seriously challenges the existing walkable urbanism structure. Local leadership is failing as developers (who only know how to do it their way) continue to be very pocketbook persuasive with policymakers. What is that other book – Retrofitting Suburbia?

Kim Moody has prepared a detailed summary of political/fiscal policy From Welfare State to Real Estate: Regime Change in New York City 1974 to the Present. (2007). The book summarizes the transformation of political and fiscal power by the Financial Control Board following the 1974 Fiscal Crisis. Since then, the budgetary powers of New York City Planning Commission and the Department of City Planning’s are in the hands of the New York State government whose “fiscal order” has become a national embarrassment.  Several questions require development as follows: Even though he believes it is “nearly too late” to make policy changes that would effectively address the economic “bifurcation” of New York, we are compelled to ask what might be done?  How would he implement a regional strategy that also recognizes the impoverishment of older urban centers throughout the region?

Other options:

Collaboration in Urban Design and Planning was recently extolled in Part III “The Design and Planning Components (Levels of Integration)” in the second edition of The Built Environment: A Collaborative inquiry into Design and Planning (2007) edited by Wendy McClure and Tom Bartuska, Washington State University.

Glenn Beck and Kevin Balfe wrote An Inconvenient Book (Threshold Editions, $26.) The tough solutions to problems such as global warming, poverty, and political correctness are described.  Many weeks on NYT bestseller list.  I suggest following it up… via James Lovelock vs. James Hansen? Panel and workshop?

ULI’s Army (always used their Dollars and Cents series but this caught my eye)

Getting Density Right: Tools for Creating Vibrant Compact Development. The tools for compact development, are in place for New York City, yet walkable communities remain strangely incomplete.  What is missing? According to NMHC, the key to improvements in leadership from local officials and neighborhood activists. The “frontline” obstacles to compact development are many. A review of this resource is needed.  Get it, read it, report and review.  It is $40 with a DVD of startup presentation materials.

Robert Wright in Nonzero – The Logic of Human Destiny (New York: Pantheon Books 2000) draws parallels between the trials and errors in the evolution of life and the determination of human culture to form a moral architecture.  The competitiveness for “place” through the manipulation of resources ultimately demands a social, if not a moral framework for trade and exchange.

For the most part, this relationship is the stuff of embedded knowledge – that which we “just know” but don’t talk much about in our day-to-day discourses.  Wright suggests this social data frames the trajectories of community through selection.  Well examined, these processes become predictable and will ultimately lead to nonzero.  Why? Our capacity to produce increased system complexity is grounded in the reality of trends in the evolution of organic form.  It is also a confirmation of the inevitability of convergences in the emergence of civilizations.

Life as we know it emerged from the inorganic to organic, to biological, and ultimately to physiological specializations producing the psychological – the mind.  In this continuum, the next stages of human history will be defined by the globalization of trade and communication technologies. Yet, is the human transcendental destiny defined by expanding our potential to shop?  Is this a world with meaning, is it worth having? Where is the glue to bind these survival and pleasure imperatives to a moral reality? The argument in Nonzero is the application of design as the teleological determinant.

The nearly irredeemable corruptions of systems that would process and manipulate physical material, including DNA may be balanced best by seeding human capacity with the information management resources to see, feel and define the spiritual transformations that are interwoven into these choices. We are now entitled to answer “of what community am I and my family apart?  We should also be entitled to ask and answer “of what community will I become a part by the making of these choices?”

Witold Rybczynski

In Makeshift Metropolis by Witold Rybczynski allows his teaching interests to lay down a lecture without admitting that at this stage in human history — people really need to be protected from what they want — Americans especially. As other top-level designers who succeed in a big way, I think Rybczunski writes to compromise with the realities of success as a teaching moment, nothing more. You see it in the choices he makes — to think once again on his own terms, or at least free of his client’s terms in a way that justifies the work of being incremental in a failing urban landscape.

The urban world is a physical and intellectual experience that fuels periods of vast prosperity, civic responsibility, investor confidence and an intangible sense of “pride of place” regardless of economic status. Cities are the catalyst for millions of experimental expressions of human thought and desire. They range from the myopia of projects for rapid capital returns to the grand visions of civil self-reforming society freely admitting mistakes and moving on with confidence. Within these many experiments, perhaps the greatest question confronting the expansion of global urban-ism is whether it is capable of containment. Is the city a physical entity that can stop expanding.  Were this possible, it would give the city-entity a new ultimate purpose to focus on the intellectual capacity of humankind and to recognize one key priority.  Protecting the diversity of the wilderness requires this separation.

We tend to forget that the market is never right until it corrects in what some call the race to the bottom in corporate governance. It also suggests that the aggregate of individual decisions eventually become overwhelming in every system.  Turn the econometric function of this fact on the earth as a whole and the rate of resource consumption is approaching the equivalent of 1.4 earth per year in 2011 and takes approximately 18 months for the Earth to regenerate what we use in one year. The level of correction this model suggests is painful to contemplate with a new sense of enjoyable abundance.

I fear, like so many before him, that Witold Rybczynski will force himself or will be forced into the survivalist fringe of Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti or the anarchy of Larry Harvey’s Black Rock City to be true to his word. One is physical proof of intellect the other is a call to the intellect for proof, both illustrate how messy humans will get just to make a disjointed point.

More? Really?

The Planner’s Network Book Club also selects great readings….check them out… A parallel group and an occasional joint session could produce excellent results. Please consider participating in the development of this resource.

Ah, so you’ve scrolled to the end breezing through all of the great thoughts of the thoughtful and yes, nothing has happened in the physical world, save a few bare hints of a case here or there.

See Writers Wanted if you would like to continue this punishment.