You are viewing beachofdreams

What makes a good city?

Well friends, it's been fun being beachofdreams  (not that I've been posting much), but I've decided to change my livejournal user name to stor_prime . I feel it's warranted, and that you'll understand that I would like to invite many readers to the blog, and so would not like my often and somewhat irrelevant scribbling from the past to be a part of the archive. Nonetheless I'll link back to this one, if ever anyone misses the "old" me. I hope you enjoy reading and like stor_prime .

So for a last post,

my former Dean (of the Landscape Arch. program at the University of Toronto), Charles Waldheim, now Dean of Landscape (and so it goes, Urban Design) at Harvard GSD, has alterted the "sentinel" James Howard Kunstler. You know that, when James doesn't like something, he is probably right about it. In this case, he's about half right.

For some context, there is currently a very large debate between the New Urbanists (anyone who has read much about 'Peak Oil' will know these) and the 'Landscape Urbanists' - those architects and landscape architects with the view that a city is made good by integrating well built and designed landscape (trees, water infrastructure and canals, waterfront, remediated post-industrial sites...) with the infrastructure of cities.  Of course, such a view makes a few major assumptions of what constitutes "good" urbanism. In the case of the New Urbanism, much of the "good" involves socially-oriented design of building and open space arrangements, that aims to makes people lives better when they live in the city - not to plan out their social interactions to any detail, but to set up the conditions upon which such interactions can take place. The good city, then, for the New Urbanist, is a vehicle and environment for the good social life, and the good social life is what gives the city meaning.

The debate, then, apparently turns on the question of what is more important (and also what is more in fashion): infrastructure (esp. green infrastructure)? or Social setting? Of course, the two can overlap, and many times during the course of my graduate education we were asked to think about ways that infrastructure (e.g. water canals that act as drainage) might be designed to act as civic space. And indeed they have overlapped: I'm sure both the Landscape Urbanist and the New Urbanist would agree that Amsterdam is examplary of their respective fields and ambitions. But the question of what is more important for the project of urban design remains. What should be the ultimate aim of urban design? The question has informed debates over curriculum: for what should the urban design program at Harvard GSD aim to teach?

Kunstler sees the new urban design (the landscape variety) as a load of bullsh... 

The problem with the debate, and Kuntsler's view, however, is that Landscape Urbanism cannot represent the wider discipline of landscape architecture and landscape planning. It is just like Kunstler leads on: empty of most meaningful thought. And the practices and examples of built work (if there are any at this point) don't have much to show. In many cases they are either nebulous urban parks that supposedly act as major forms of urban infrastructure and great civic spaces, either separately or in tandem; or they are examples of traditional urban design re-branded as "green" (Toronto's Waterfront Toronto markets what is essentially a cash grab for real-estate moguls as a new era in "greening" cities (amongst others), even though it does the mimimum to restore any semblance of ecological function to the harbourfront, where most of its built projects will be realised). It is a discipline obsessed with design competitions, superficial and sexy graphics, and has very little concern for most scientific design. I saw many a smart and sensible students at U of Toronto (the womb of Landscape Urbanism) pushed out, simply because they could not express their ideas as if they were on a model runway.

But this isn't the whole picture.

No, Kunstler is actually wrong to take on Landscape Urbanism as if it's the only method by which one would integrate infrastructure and natural systems into civic life and the function of the city.  Like it or not, water management (for instance), especially in future cities, is a basic prerequisite to a `good`urban place, despite how irrelevant it may seem to the more direct socially-oriented urban design coveted by the New Urbanists. To group things like the McHargian methods and GeoDesign, which have always been (and will continue to be) more scientific and robust, in with landscape urbanism is a joke. If you`re going to attack landscape urbanism, attack it for its irrational obsession with competitions and pretty drawings, not for the entirely rational idea of integrating well as a first principle human and non-human environments.

(cont'd on stor_prime  in a couple of days)

Research Program

Has anyone heard of the Mathematica programs? If so, have you heard if it is good or not? Seems like an ultra-sophisticated version of Wikipedia that can also do some thinking for you to boot. We may buy it for research (computed visual), but it' always prudent to ask for some testimonials...

(I happen to think that, if at some point we create artificial intelligence, programs like this, if they live up to their hype, will be the major stepping stones.Geographical Information Systems is another contender.)


So, on Facebook today I was stumbled upon by one of those side ad thingy's. But it wasn't just any add. It was an ad for Honda - the company I used to work for as a lowly (but still well paid) assembly worker. But that wasn't the most important part of it. Turns out the ad had a person's face on it and it was a former professor of mine.

The ad is part of a "documentary" series that Honda has put out for, well, the usual "how can we dream of bigger profits a better car?" in the usual happy go lucky optimistic tone these commercials usually have. I don't mean to sound cynical: as I said, the guy is a former professor of mine and he follows me on Twitter. And he's brilliant. But I'd expect to see him on TED before any of this, as he was. Then again, he was at the center of a project called the MIT car, for which he is most famous. Maybe Honda has a point after all. Though, like with Patrick Bell Geddes in the 30's, General Motors was the main sponsor of the research. The world is indeed ironic.

Techy platitudes

BREAKING NEWS: this ljournal now (more often than not) brought to you by Blackberry. Eek!

Post from mobile portal

Aug. 22nd, 2010

The other night, I was politely told by a non-typical Albertan (may be typical in this case) that I am a typical Ontarian. That is, I apparently think that Canada is like Ontario, and that anything else in the world that is like Canada actually is like Ontario. That is, I'm apparently a self-centered prick. Well, that may be true, but how else am I to react when I see a picture of Russian President Medvedev  enthusiastically taking photos  of the scenery in Huntsville ON - of what is, in my opinion, a landscape that he can easily find in his own country? (To be clear, I'd be doing the same thing if I were in Russia; sometimes a familiar sight is spectacular when it's in an unfamiliar place.) And it may be true, but how else am I to feel when the new movie 'Scott Pilgrim versus the World' not only is filmed around my neighbourhood here in Toronto, but actually takes place here?

Jul. 14th, 2010

Too late to post. Will do so tomorrow later afternoon. I have a few days until I have a nice whole week off. Stargazing, some camping, canoeing, and plenty of internet.


40 years left to save the world. So the first thing to do is to dispense with formalities.