Sunday, July 19, 2009

President Obama on Urban Policy

The White House Office of Urban Affairs and the Domestic Policy Council host a roundtable about the future of America's urban and metropolitan areas. In his remarks, the President addresses some of the challenges facing these communities, and highlights innovative solutions.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Nike IAM1 Amsterdam Journey

Nike Sportswear presents a new video showcasing their IAM1 Campaign with blogger/entrepreneur extraordinaire Nalden, directed by Sartoria. The tour travels through some of Amsterdams hot spots, including MiNiBar, Momkai, La Melodia (the Betty who made the Soundtrack) and HOTEL who designed the Amsterdam map.

Friday, July 17, 2009

More than just Place-making

One of the running themes of this blog is showing how people experience and interact with the city. In between opinion pieces of the challenges of city planning are multiple posts showing urban art from all over the world. While posts about planning theory implementation and urban art may seem like an odd mix they both aim to affect how people interact with their environment. Like new planning theories, urban art intends to not only create a sense of place but also define how people experience their own neighborhood.

The perspective of this blog is on how people live in cities and not on city planning theories and ideals. In my opinion, too much of city planning focuses on implementing proposed liveable and defined spaces and not on the outcomes of the people they have affected. City planning theories and ideals focus almost solely on defining neighborhood spaces and not enough on building the community’s social capital. When planning neighborhoods, planning theorists often fail at addressing where will the working poor live, how can we improve city schools, and how can we produce more non-retail jobs?

Now all of the above questions deal with issues that go way beyond city planning’s scope but they are all central issues on how and where people live. To ignore these questions on how people truly live and experience their city is to whitewash cities into one identical ball of putty that can be shaped into whatever planner ideals that we envision. This type of thinking ignores regional and local identities, cultural differences, socio-economic patterns and is very…suburban. In fact, most city planning ideals are most successful in suburban locales where suburban lifestyles almost trump any possible conflicts on identity, culture and socio-economic patterns.

City neighborhoods do not share the luxury of middle class stability as their identity-less suburban neighbors. Great city master planning will not significantly improve schools, increase the number of non-retail jobs or greatly impact soci-economic patterns. This is why city planning has to be more then just about place making. This is also why I am so critical about the implementation of theories such as Transit oriented design, form based codes and New Urbanism.

While these theories produce great senses of places when implemented correctly, they often have a negative effect on the existing community. On top of that these places often become insular developments with poor social connections with its neighboring communities. So while millions of dollars are raised, financed, taxed and levied for a new planning infused development of improved spaces and buildings, did the social quality of the people who live in the community improve as well? These are questions that planners should always ask of themselves and questions this blog will always pose about new and old planning concepts.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tales of a City Planner

Tales of a City Planner
Red Tape

One of the biggest complaints in government is red tape. In fact there is probably some local politician who is saying right now that they are going to “cut the red tape in government and stop waste!” Only to see a free for all in backhand deals, lack of accountability and transparency and possible scandal. Which then leads to another local politician saying they are going to “clean up government,” that inevitably leads to more red tape.

As a planner we are not policy makers. We cannot arbitrarily ignore rules and processes that we think are stupid and arduous. The fun part is that each process is often independent of the other multiple processes and that’s only if it’s determined if you even have to go through any processes at all. There are so many different interpretations of different processes that we ourselves do not which process one development will go through or even how many. Sometimes it feels like your playing Plinko. Developers drop the Plinko chip and think the chip is headed for “straight to permit” and WHAM, they have to go before the Development Review Board, Design Panel and an additional public hearing.
Cue the horns.

Sometimes it feels like you are being a small time hustler explaining all these different processes to the public. Typical convo:

Ok, ok, ok…if you do this, you have to go through this process. If you do that, you have to through this, that annnnnd this. You don’t want do that. But if you do this, you should be straight…but don’t quote me.”

And that conversation is based on…a.) The government employee knows what their talking about and b.) Some other more experienced planner comes us and says, well if you do this, that annnnnd the other thing, you don’t have to go through any of this per this new law. You follow me?

Still not following me? Let me give you a recent real life example of this. I was recently at a meeting in which a private entity would donate half of their property to the government for redevelopment. Since the property’s land use had been grandfathered due to pre-existing use before it’s zoning changed, the property would need a special exception as well…and since they are giving a portion of their property away, a variance for other setbacks and regulations. On top of that there is a historical landmark on the property, which triggers the review of the Historic commission of the development plan. Finally there were major environmental problems with the site and a question on flip the bill for the environmental upgrades.

So this one development triggers an acquisition, a subdivision (along with design review), special exception, variance, historic review and stringent environmental review. So what development is so important that if triggers six, that’s right six different governmental processes? This must be some type of huge tax revenue inducing, multi-use complex that will trigger hundreds of jobs…this has to be it, right? Because who would go over this much scrutiny for a… *drumroll please*… park. That’s right a park. Not an office, not a high-rise but a park. “
We’re talking about park.”

Building a park should never be this hard. This is not an episode of Parks & Recreation. But thanks to red tape we must treat this park as if we were reviewing the site plan of a new mall. But despite the hassle and the meeting of at least six different agencies to discuss a park, I’m sure government would look a lit worse if we just arbitrarily started accepting valuable pieces of lands from private entities with no condition. I’m sure that would be fine but I’m sure that you can see how that could become a slippery slope of private influence on government.

There really is no moral to this tale except to show that red tape is fun for no one. In fact red tape can kill developments that we as planners try to push for. Is red tape necessary…I don’t know. But I can’t think of a better way of to regulate development…like a park. Anybody out there have any ideas?

And once again, thanks for reading!

JR's Street Art of Rio's Favelas

French photographer and street artist JR has produced another awe inspiring public art project in Rio. Known for his massive scale black and white portraits, JR recently covered a hill side shanty town with his trademark imagery. The photos make the houses almost seem alive with the intricate emotional details of his subject’s faces popping out.

So may people ignore the favelas and the favelas have eyes and are looking back at the rest of the city compelling everyone to look back...and hopefully pay attention.

Br(az)illiant: Restructuring Shanty Towns For the Future

This post was swiped from, which is a popular design and fashion website.

Yes, these are real … and yet entirely unreal at the same time. After traveling extensively through the shanty towns of Sao Paolo and Río de Janeiro, Brazil, artist Dionisio Gonzalez has constructed a series of photographic collages that blend imagination and architecture, a kind of hyper-real Alice-in-Wonderland representation of the hodge-podge urban reality around him.

His work is not just artistic or theoretical commentary – it is a semi-concrete vision for the possible restructuring of shanty towns. He has imagined and proposed a reuse of the spontaneous constructive elements of the existing structures in mass settlements to create controlled hybrid-but-functional communities of the future.

The artist’s critique and proposal are based on his observation of the slash-and-burn tactics of the Brazilian government which, when it intervenes, simply swoops in and sweeps areas before rebuilding utterly – at the expense of the shared structural history of an area that might not be ideal but is what many people call home.

González tests out various configurations, scales and stylistic combinations in his compelling series of collages – in part an aesthetic exercise but also an attempt to take the real materials he has photographed and find new ways to recombine them for new purposes. His work has won him international recognition and awards.