Wednesday, December 01, 2010

When Republicans Don't Plan

Witold Rybczynski. Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities. New York: Schribner, 2010.

This book presents the emergence of ideas regarding city planning and how they were refined over time. Present planning concepts favor more use of private sector entrepreneurism than many past planning theories considered.

Lewis Mumford is noted by the author as having ideas of regional planning that still resonate as he theorized the coming reality of sprawl spreading to exurbs. Jane Jacobs is noted as correctly foreseeing urban neighborhood vitality, but not with a steady middle class as Jacobs saw, but with wealthier results and more mobile newcomers. Frank Lloyd Wright correctly forecast urban decentralization. All together, these and others' planning ideas helped shape applicable theories today.

The U.S. has undergone relatively unplanned development, which is something Jacobs woud defend. Many of the primary factors determining how development occurs are decided by private developers rather than a few city planners. Planners strive to set and meet general goals of keeping cities livable and economically viable, safe from crime, diverse, and environmentally responsible. Economic decisions determine what people are willing to purchase. This had led to clashes between those desiring consistent urban design and those who want unique architectural designs. A major clash develops when the desires of what people wish to purchase may not be in the best interest for others, or the best for the environment.

Public parks are unique to North America. Most European cities, by contrast, have areas for visual viewing of gardens, flowers, and tended plants.

The public sector has often sought to work in conjunction with the private sector. An example of this is the Brooklyn Bridge Park where piers, parks, and housing are simultaneously under construction.

Much of current planning evolved from past ideas. Charles Mulford Robinson supported keeing cities looking nice visually. He favored cities adorned with trees, public art, clean streets, well lit streets, limited outdoor advertising, and height limits on buildings.

Ebenezer Howard led a movement that created Garden Cities. There are parks near cities. Many continue existing.

Le Corbusier called for tall buildings designed for practical use. He also favored bringing parks and nature close to cities. He argued for keeping apart the different centers of activities, such as shopping areas, main government buildings, sports stadiums, cultural and arts centers, etc. Zoning would plan this accordingly.

Jane Jacobs was very critical of urban renewal. She argued that residents and not bureaucrats should determine what residents wanted. She also believed cities should not be art but should concentrate on allowing people to live their lives,

Lewis Mumford agreed with Jacobs on her views against urban renewal plans but disagreed with her on her criticisms of planning for urban parks. Mumford believed good architecture and design were worthy goals while Jacobs did not see these as proper planning laws,

Patrick Geddes supported Howard's plans for parks and urged for additional conservation and ecological preservation. He was active in getting Scotland more involved in establishing parks and helping the local biology. Le Corbusier took favorable note of the efforts of Geddes.

Frank Lloyd Wright realized that automobiles had taken away the need for a city with a concentrated center. His predictions of decentralization were confirmed with the growth of suburbs. His prediction that cities would is wrong as cities have found ways to revitalize.

The Garden City movement of Ebenezer Howard resonates even thought none have been created since the 1930s. This is because many of those that were created remain and continue to be popular.

Herbert Gans observed that many people have various ideas on how their city should develop. We live in an entrepreneurial economic system. Martin Meyerson noted that there should be public support for planning goals in order for them to be enacted.

William Manning prepared a master plan for Harrisburg. It turned a swamp into a lake and created parks, gardens, and a pedestrian bridge. His Riverfront Park remains an attraction.

The Burtham and Bennett master plan for Chicago led to a lakefront park. Much of the rest of their plans did not materialize. Their ideas did influence the actions of planners and developers.

San Francisco created Fisherman's Wharf to attract tourism. It was not an urban renewal plan. Similarly, private developer James Rouse renovated Quincy Market in Boston as an attraction for tourists and well as nearby residents. Other commercial developments that attract tourists include Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco, South Street Seaport in New York, Navy Pier in Chicago, and Bayside Marketplace in Miami.

Some new buildings are so uniquely designed that they are affected by the Bibao Effect. This means they are immediately declared an iconic building. This is also called the Bilbao Anomaly since this rarely happens,

Penn's Landing in Philadelphia took decades to develop. Its large size required large and stable investors who could weather market cycles. There was a master plan with a grand plan the entire areas. What may have made more sense would have been to develop it in smaller sections. By comparison, the Brooklyn Bridge Park had clear public good and private development goals that are materializing.

The author notes public participation is important when developing large urban projects.

Suburban growth has happened more quickly than urban growth in most regions except for in seven areas where the cities outgrew their suburbs, The seven cities that did this are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Cleveland, and Norfolk.

Most downtowns are about four square miles and are walkable by 20 minutes from the downtown center to its edge. It is the attraction of shopping on foot that keeps downtowns competitive with suburban malls. Thus, downtowns can't expand in size. 90% of people who live downtown are single. Downtown residents are 0,3% of the population.

Most urban development occurs piecemeal. The author notes that marketplace decisions are not always the most accurate means to decide development. Still, the larger number of people involved in these decisions likely make their plans better than those of a few city planners. The author notes historical information should not be a deciding factor but that knowledge of past experiences and outcomes can help guide current actions.


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