Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Yearly Bleg: What makes a "sustainability" plan?

The grapevine in Charlotte is that we're gearing for a major initiative to green our Center City. So lately, I've been really thinking hard about this question. Studying other comprehensive plans to green a city, I've been trying to come up with a simple, yet effective, way to categorize strategies to green the city proper in a single comprehensive plan. I seem to be finding in my diagrams and notes that most physical improvements to a city need to focus more effectively on three sets of interrelated concerns for "sustainability": their actual physical make-up/impact, their relation to other systems, and their temporal scale. Sustainability is the innovation and re-negotiation, both within and between, these concerns. I call these categories "Places", "Links" and "Processes".

The diagram above, taken from a plan I participated in while taking an urban design studio in college, for example, represents the 'biorhythm' of a Cambridge city street and brings the temporal scale of a street to sharper focus. It is the most effective "streetscape" diagram I've ever known, because it tells me things about a street I have never observed. Approaches to sustainability have to be smart in this way...They have to make systems in space and time more legible before they can improve them. This begs the question: has anybody really created a "sustainability" plan for a city to date? Can Charlotte create a true sustainability plan? Or will it simply be the typcial greenwased compilation of voguish wish-lists and narrow initiatives that typically passes for a "sustainability plan"?

In the hope for further input and refinement, here is my first attempt to provide a step-by-step composition to an authentic sustainability plan for Charlotte. I would gladly welcome all critique and recommendation for reformulation to make it better...

A Good Plan will need to outline “Bridge” strategies for:

  1. Places: Context Sensitive Solutions that direct & structure growth; Green Urban Design; Housing; Open Space; Water Reclamation and Resources; Brownfield Rehabilitation
  2. Links: “Complete Streets”; A comprehensive multi-modal transportation strategy that insists on facility continuity and reduces dependence on the automobile to get from A to B; Green Infrastructure, including greenways, streams and wildlife corridors
  3. Processes: (a) Development-based: a process for creating and coordinating Links – most challenging of which is how to consider and integrate all transport modes; a process to better coordinate planning for Places; a process for incremental implementation that reduces future developmental impacts – i.e. “smart” infrastructure planning and material and resource recycling / saving / regeneration / recovery (b) Support-based: adaptability of infrastructure; agency coordination for green initiatives; environmental quality of service and maintenance; continuing stakeholder and community involvement; nurturing “green volunteerism”; marketing; programming and event planning; etc.
  4. Focused Energy, Air, Water and Climate Change Initiatives (integrating all the Links, Places and Processes above as relevant).
  5. Fine-level integration, sharing, adoption and improvement of Information Infrastructure in all of the above 4 items to process and understand feedback, improve system performance, remove harmful imbalances and optimize benefits… Some say this is the most critical component of sustainability planning – we will never improve effectively and rapidly ("leapfrog") without it. Recommended quick reading on this problem is the Spring ’08 issue of the Wilson Quarterly, which focused on smarter solutions for “America’s Infrastructure”.
  6. Implementation of all the above 5 (easier said than done, esp. when there are so many agents to involve).

Friday, December 5, 2008

Tamara's Sacred Benches (and the Urbanism of Paul)

My traveling companion Tamara Park just got her travelogue of our Rome to Jerusalem pilgrimage (via the Balkans and the Middle East) published! (Available already on Amazon.) On that journey she recorded interviews and dialogues recording the stories fellow travelers and locals in expounding their views of God and religion. The homage to the bench on the cover is not coincidental...Tamara considered the benches of the places we visited as places of sacred encounter. We visited these places as a pilgrim visits sacred relics.

Here is an excerpt recording our dialogue of Paul's visit in Athens (while we visited the Stoa near the Parthenon):

....Eric reminds us that Athens was world renown for the exuberance of its religious festivals. “Chances were very good that Paul had numerous occasions to view the Panathenaic Procession of priests and priestesses and devotees and revelers. He likely watched them parade votive offerings and garlanded beasts through the Agora towards the Acropolis. The procession was the apex of Greek religious expression…and the pride of Athens. Athens was the “Jerusalem” of the Greeks.
“In fact,” says Eric, “when Paul looked up at the base of the Acropolis, with its huge pylons and the ceremonial entrance of the Propylea (with the smallish Temple of Nike on its dramatic pedestal) he would have been hard pressed not to remember his beloved Jerusalem, where he was trained as a Rabbi in its most prestigious academy. I think the resemblance of the Acropolis to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is what was getting his Jewish goad.”
“I thought you said that the Athenian elite did not put much stock in religious festivities”, I respond, “so why would it appear Athenians were such enthusiastic worshippers?”.
“Well,” Eric replies, “while the philosophers held religion at arm’s length, they, of course, did not turn down the side benefits of religion, especially prodigious opportunities for festivity. Religions, even if you don’t put much stock in them, offer a wealth of side benefits. The Epicureans, for example, basically saw religion as a way of creating harmony within the culture. While ritual could be empty, it was not devoid of purpose. What mattered was that you took things in stride in your thoughts…and that you did not grant things greater importance than they’re due. Friendship and community, now, that was important!…
“And,” Eric smiles and points to the building just ahead of us, “that long building with the arcade in front of it, called a stoa, represented the happy fellowship of mankind. No doubt in my mind that Paul loved that place.”
“It was in the stoas,” Eric explains, “where strangers were expected to interact with strangers. Where common folk were expected to greet blue bloods and vice versa. Besides shopping, here it was where you headed to hear the latest gossip. It was where you debated matters of politics and war…where in fact, you cast your ballot in elections and referendums, and where you paid your taxes and whatnot. Here is the center of civic life in Greek culture…In fact, it is no accident that democracy was birthed and flowered in this space. We call this in the architectural world ‘liminal space’, where folks interact with others at the same level. It is not hierarchical space but a space of interchange.”...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Deep in the Blue Heart of Texas

My time in Austin, though brief, turned out to be well worth it. I had a chance to see the end of line station for the MetroRail light rail, which is set to start service in March. I was surprised to find it in a so-far virgin prairie outside of Leander, Texas (more of my photos here). I was a bit puzzled by its relative isolation, not just to adjacent development but to the road network accessing surrounding suburbs. Perhaps, in the future, Austin has plans for constructing a ring road in these far out parts, but I did not find much networked regional transportation logic in my brief survey of the area. Note to transit providers: End of Lines need to be treated as regional hubs!

I was also surprised to find that the only recent development in Leander is a very conventional strip mall (anchored by an HEBplus) on the other side of 183 from the station. Nevertheless, the station envelope was executed excellently, with (more or less) xeriscaped landscape and outstanding bus shelter designs. Clearly a design to celebrate the Central Texas cattle country. Ringing the Park and Ride is a walking trail that in the future will access the TOD being planned for Leander. Serendipitously, the next morning I caught a story in the Austin American Statesman about the redevelopment of the old Airport site into a New Urbanist community named Mueller (photo below). Bill Kohl, a U.T. Kinesiologist will be studying the neighborhood to gauge the health benefits of this walkable community. I did observe many of the (very recent) residents of Mueller strolling about and walking dogs on the still unlandscaped walks and trails.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It's time for a trip down memory lane again...

I'm going home!! Bevo and real salsa here I come....

I'm eager to roll into Austin again, not only to catch up with fam and friends, but this time I can't wait to check the progress onthe Capitol MetroRail, which is set to start service next year. One of the stops, it is my pleasure to note, is on Howard Lane, near my first boyhood home in the U.S. Somehow life comes full circle for a transit urban designer...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Streetview Urbanism

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I knew it was only a matter of time before hipster hoods got savvy. :) The first to flare itself out for panoramic voyeurs is Sampsonia Way in North Pittsburg. (Thanks Chris T.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

This is how its done...

...I know bikers complain about the safety of Uptown's one-way streets. Take a minute to see how SoCal bikers handle arterials. The principles should be the same. If they honk that's a good thing.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


May Day Rally, originally uploaded by Dalmatica.

Not that my endorsement is worth a flip...but I thought I'd make it official: I'm voting for Barack Obama and Joe the Senator. Like my two readers haven't guessed by now. :)

Let me just say a couple things about this endorsement. It has not been as easy as I've might have led on.

First, I really do have deep discomforts about Obama's stated strategic policies concerning our intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. First among which is the way he cavalierly treated our relationship to Pakistan in recent debates. The last thing we need folks, in removing Al-Qaeda, is to overlook the unthinking mess we might create with a nuclear-armed regime and a bunch of nationalistic Pakistanis, who are battle-hardy and not necessarily push-overs and moderate-leaning. How we deal with Afghanistan has 100% to do with what is going on in the rest of the steppe and that means pointedly, Kashmir, and our relationship with India. We're not dealing with the real issues if we're not willing to deal realistically with the larger concerns of the Pakistani people.

But this is a time of many concerns and (gasp) greater threats to our national stability and freedom are on the line. The quality of the character, intelligence, pragmatism and leadership potential of the candidates therefore has to be my top priority. Fact is, Iraq and Afghanistan may not be the only countries in dire straits. Scared as I am for the fate of the M.E., I simply can't afford to make my decision on one issue. I'm praying that Obama is as wise as he seems, so that he may chart a more realistic course than he's stated. I can trust him. James Zogby's endorsement of Obama has given me some comfort.

But I can't trust McCain.

As a Latino, the most disappointing thing about this past year has been to witness a man who I've held in great affection and esteem, an honorable man, a decent human being, a highly principled man,...summarily (and without much effort it seemed to me) betray my estimation of him by compromising on all his once stated values. I'm wounded by McCain's betrayal of his once notable, conscious-laden stance against his party's policies concerning immigration reform. I am saddened by his seeming complicity with his party's complete disregard for decency by shamelessly employing political terrorism and fear-mongering with tactics reminiscent of Jim Crow days. I am willing to tolerate negative ads, but really, this is beyond me. This is unprincipled as unprincipled can be. This is intolerable. This is reversing every strive we've made since Civil Rights. A man who would allow this kind of conduct in his campaign is willing to compromise sacred American values. This certainly is not the kind of quality we need in a leader to lead America in our century.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

We Luv America Too!!

Barack Obama: A mosaic of people, originally uploaded by tsevis.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A walk in the rain

A walk in the rain, originally uploaded by marcelgermain.

My oh my....This next week is going to be nail-bitter....considering what's happening with banks around the world. I just pray that we've seen the bottom already. One thing's for certain, voodoo economics and Thatcherism is done with.

Regardless of what happens, it is a time for personal reflection, not for fear or downcast illusions. It is a time for walking in the rain...a time for dwelling in booths...for renewing our be return to the beginning...

I'm praying good things for you world...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Aaahh....Architecture School

...I was wondering when reality t.v. would finally come to architecture studio....

P.O.D. - People Oriented Development

For its relevance for Americans, watch this.

And that's what I also call people-backed securitization of our global financial system...The deeper solution to our current crises.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Originally posted at Dezeen

Every once in a while, a designer sees an arresting representation of all his values and best hopes for a dream commission...realized in someone else's work. Wow! all I can say. My hat of respect to Subarquitectura for their tram stop in an Alicante roundabout. How this project understands the necessary nature of public space, the utility of a transit stop, and activating a no man's land in the process with a celebration of destinations, both earthly and fantastic. Thanks for that example.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Hedging on Stupidity

Tyler Cowen's top two (related) reasons why we have a credit crunch:

"1. Collective stupidity: A lot of Greeks believed in Zeus and a lot of people in 1938 thought Hitler would be good for Germany. They were just plain, flat out wrong. I'll also put "model error" under this heading. The relevant stupidity concerned both the fate of home prices and the degree of acceptable leverage.

"2. Writing the naked put: This is Bob Frank's main explanation, noting that he uses different terminology and adds a relative status dash to the argument. If you don't know options theory, just imagine betting against the Washington Wizards to win the NBA title every year. For a lot of years you'll earn super-normal returns, but one year (not anytime soon, I can assure you) you'll be wiped out. That is essentially the strategy the banks were playing. They were going "short on volatility," so to speak. In the meantime they reaped high returns and some amazing perks for private life. It's hard to just call the party to an end, even if you have a relatively long time horizon."

...Adds Matthew Yglesias:

"And of course if you can actually make the bet with other people’s money, leverage the hell out of that money, and then make your take-home pay in the form of fees taken from the annual gains rather than having too much of your money tied up the principle, you do even better. There’s probably not much of a regulatory solution to people making bad bets in this way. But between now and whenever the next bailout-requiring crash, I’d like to see much higher taxes on the super-wealthy. I’m not that concerned about preserving incentives for multi-millionaire financiers to keep doing their work."

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Now THAT was a sucking sound!

The Empire of Debt by Dee Hon, originally uploaded by Renegade98.

Reading my last post, I realized now that it was slightly prophetic without my knowing...I did not realize that WaMu's instant demise would suddenly open an abyss close to home. While Charlotteans were busy trying to find gas that weekend a silent run had begun on Wachovia the next day as depositors and shareholders became concerned with Wachovia's similar toxic holdings. We woke up Monday with the news that Wachovia had been parceled out to Citi Group. Just a week before, Bob Morgan, our chamber of commerce head, had been feeling a bit dapper and slick, stating in Time magazine's Postcard that Charlotteans "wanted to be number two to no one" (meaning of course New York) and here we all a sudden find a smirking New York dandy was riding on our number two filly (and top employer downtown)...My of my, how humbling...As they say, hoss, "Pride cometh before the fall".

These are amazing times for a tragic-moralist flaneur. Who can literally compose a sicker tragic drama worthy of Aeschylus than the sheer indictment of hubris that is transpiring before our eyes?? Just start with the finest piece of radio ever produced and go from there....It gets wickeder, wilder and my so much more chilling than anything Chrichton and folk can come up with. Just following the carnage of the dominoes falling is a surreal experience. I keep looking over my shoulder and I swear I just heard the voice of Jeremiah calling out from the hoary past....It is a time to be on bended knee. A time of reckoning.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Giant Sucking Sound

Posted at
It's been a wacky day here in Charlotte as drivers scrambled to every pump in the countryside they could find...apparently all the pumps are going dry in the western Carolinas. Guns are being pulled out in York County. In Salisbury, N.C., Charlotteans bumped with drivers from Greensboro (doesn't driving 50 miles to get gas kinda defeat the purpose?).

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, another giant sucking sound appears. A $150 Billion sucking sound.
...I know what we need...We need Big ICE Palin to put a stop to all this nonsense!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Alex Tabarrok:

"Banks are bridges between savers and investors. Some of these bridges have collapsed. But altogether too much attention is being placed on fixing the collapsed bridges. Instead we should be thinking about how to route more savings across the bridges that have not collapsed. Government lending may be one way of doing this but why lend to prop up the broken bridges? Instead, why not lend directly to the investors who are in need of funds? After all, if these investors exist and have valuable projects that's where the money is! Let the broken bridges collapse, taking the shoddy builders with them. Instead focus on the finding and rescuing the victims of any credit crunch, the investors who need funds."

In either case, David Leonhardt implores readers in NYT not get bogged down in distractions, such as changing bankruptcy laws and limiting executive pay and realize the crisis demands a "laser focus" to stabilize first credit markets.

The $1 Trillion Panhandler

PaulsonFreddieFannie, originally uploaded by robertodevido.

I Come to You, Cashmere Hat in Hand . . .

...Hey at least he dances for his money.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Goodbye Levittown, Hello Sun City

monkie.02.gated.communities, originally uploaded by monkiemag.

More woe to the suburb...

The fundamentals of the "bedroom community" economy have collapsed. Banks have not figured out at what point they will hit the bottom of their financing crisis. The need for radically improved, sustainability-focused strategies has never been more compelling than in this time of looming home foreclosures, $4 a gallon gas, an economy in decline, and broad agreement that the earth's fragility is not longer just the cry of the fringe.

I'm not so sure. For one, we can expect development to still gravitate to wherever land and services can be had cheaply and that means relatively unregulated land policies. The TOD's of today are only possible because of public will (and subsidies). "Bedroom communities" are in absolutely no danger of disappearing. You just add a club house. In fact, they are the only development economically and demographically viable. They just will become 55 and over monocultural enclaves sprawling around every bankrupt little municipality that needs the tax base without having to provide schools. Such is life.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Reflections on the Antichrist.

Here we are entering the final stretch of an unparalleled and energizing Presidential race,...the most information laden, issue-focused, discursive, well-debated and well-discussed, blog-busting we've had (since television?)...with evangelical pastors hosting fireside values chats with the candidates, both of whom promise to make this campaign about issues not character assassinations (wut...this is America?)...and suddenly someone lobs "the One" (above). A doozy of a character assassination if there ever was one (which - pray to Hashem it doesn't happen - may actually very well lead to actual assassination). In the popular eschatology of evangelicals, to posit yourself as a Christ figure is to be the Antichrist (or "beast" described in Revelation).

To be clear about the attack ad above: this is demonizing.

Sheez. For the Leave Behind brothers out there, let's just get a few salient facts straight:

A. Obama is a black man.

B. A Christian is a person who confesses that Christ is Lord and Messiah.

C. "Antichrist" in Greek means "being against Christ", which the good book defines quite unadornedly: "Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son." I John 2:22

D. Many white people typically have a hard time taking a black man at his word.

Clearly "C" cannot apply to a person who clearly defines himself in the category of "B", so in the case with this whole "Obama is the One (And Only Antichrist!)" panic it is safe to assume that Republican (and premillenial evangelical) ad-makers well understood that they could put "D" into play here and scare the knickers out of every waffling Leave Behinder it touched. A minor, but useful, exercise in logic here. No need for inductive Bible study to dispel the vulgar use of scripture in this case, but if you require it, Snopes actually does a good job at it. (Actually, more infuriating than the use of "D" to me is how these republican ad-makers are bastardizing Obama's use of black spiritual langauge as the handiwork of the Devil...but that's a whole other level of discussion that I have enough fuse to handle.)

Needless to say,...All expectations of a civil campaign are hereby put asunder. And finally, if there ever was any doubt or ray of clarity on this, the evangelical right and its leadership (by not speaking out immediately against this nonsense...unless *sigh* they actually do hold D so deep down that they can accept "the One" ad without a moment of some self-reflection) are clearly showing their sheer lack of decency and true respect for the life of someone made in the image of God. Let the record of their witness show.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Velocidade, originally uploaded by Jose L. Pedroso.

The benefits of high-end BRT systems - like Sao Paulo's Expresso Tiradentes above - argues Dario Hidalgo, are easily lost on a public acculturated to slow city bus systems. As a result they prove difficult to implement in countries such as ours, where BRT transit still lags years behind. Allan Hoffman and Alasdair Cain's suggest referring to full-fledged BRT systems as "Quickways" not only for more helpful political nomenclature. In fact, they suggest understanding a Quickway as a distinct mode in its own right, with its own special benefits that should allow it to move beyond the shadow of the Light Rail. Because it is planned as a fall back option, transit planners fail to realize and implement its network benefits.

If Herr Meier can do it...We can too!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A great example of messy urbanism

Posted at Seattle.PI

This story of a Seattle woman has much insights to teach about urbanism and life.

(a) Scale needs a reference point. Like the house, car, woman and lone tree in the photo above, every development, like a bride, needs the scale of something "old" to remind folks what was there, and most importantly, what now IS.
(b) It's nice when the enormity of a life can be made visible. One of the few cases that I can think of when the life uncovered makes a physical statement....What a happy accident! What would have happened had the developer not likewise been as stubborn? Would anyone have ever known about this woman? Is this not a foreshadowing of what the Last Accounting is all about?
(c) Making yourself the last holdout is sure to gain you more attention than you seek. :D
(d) Now I want to go out with that kind of style. No need for a will, or a ceremony...What exists is comment enough.

Thanks Steve for the hat tip.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Wireless/Mindless Internet Point, originally uploaded by NaOH.

What they were saying exactly three years ago.


"This bubble is no myth," wrote one California builder who said he had "been around for decades." "Real estate will go back to the Agricultural Age. Get ready for deflation."

"Warning signs are everywhere," said a New York mortgage banker. "Rates went through the floor, prices to the moon. I sold everything a year ago, paid off debt. The Great Depression will look like a cakewalk."

Funny, how prophetic they look now...and yet nowhere in the article was the scale of the meltdown truly foreseen. Some even thought the dollar would be stronger. They sensed the subprime lender troubles, but what did they completely miss? The picture with Oil.

The NYT today gives a sordid snapshot of the entire mess.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Four predictions on urban design process

Once again, I'm prognosticating. I'm excited about advancements in web2.0 applications for planning as well as the power of the multi-sensory screen to aid design production. (Increasingly, urban design and architecture will converge to near indistinction). In the office, multi-sensory screens will dramatically improve production, and will probably lead to a sharpening of design process roles. Here are some of the transformations to our field that I anticipate:

1) Architecture as Performance: Designers will be more like performers and movie directors - more accurately: Charette-performing animators (more on this later). There is bound to be more segmentation and diversification of roles. There will thus be a greater need for specialized support staff and a centralization of different disciplines in bigger offices, but perhaps we'll see more freelancing digital modelers, who are hired to be performers, coaxing clients and interacting with the public, as much as designers.

2) Re-materialized Contextual Perspective: Harnessing the digitized Earth, we will be designing from the street again, not from plan, thinking first about the environment and surroundings - perspective consciousness - not by starting from the myopic program of a black-screen plan to produce plop architecture (the way AutoCAD now likes production).

3) Fast Realization: In scale of work, huge productions are going to be accomplished with little relative man-power, as laborious drafting (a point by point process) gives way to computer mediated sculpting (synchronous manipulation – like playing a guitar). A single digital sculptor will probably be able to sculpt animations such as this one for a Moscow development, in a matter of a few days, if not hours, mostly by pulling real life building models of her favorite buildings from around the Globe, which she would pull from Second Earth or reconstitute by "photosynthing" photos in Flickr (or she will simply walk to her nearest favorite building, walk around it taking photos, take the shots to Photosynth, and she'd have a ready-made 3-D model she could morph to her liking). At her work station - which, incidentally, will look amazingly like the traditional architectural draft-tables of yore (hello swivelly stools!) - the multi-sensory screen before her will read the movements of her hands like a finely tuned musical instrument and also take input cues from her voice and even her eye movements. Effectively it will be a kind of prosthetic augmentation of humans – yes, the ubiquitous tools of civilization will all dematerialize into a perfect one (play 2001 music here) as the human and machine mutually contact one another without interfaces (keyboards, mice and the like). The work-potential of this is even disturbing...We just aren't used to thinking at that scale…or critiquing at that scale (is that New Czarist, upscale-retail "new town" really good for humanity?). Coupled with this is the increased work potential of networks, which will still value face to face relationships (contrary to the opposite effect people think the web brings…I'll have to talk later why this is so, and why your paycheck will still be dependent on how good your meatspace teammates are and how much they really want to work with you).

4) Design Thought: There will be a shift in the conceptual armatures of design, which there always is in the wake of innovations (witness the recent fetish for blob architecture). Design thought will change, subtly and not so subtly, both in the process of adding new sets of skills to the profession (particularly tied to changing objects in the fourth dimension) as well as in reclaiming traditional skills that have fallen to the wayside due to the keyboard dependent phase of our existence (drawing/modeling).

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Menifesto for Messy Architecture

This is the Blog of a Messy Architect and Urbanist. I just discovered A Minor Manifesto for Messy Architecture by Mahesh Senagala, which I pretty much already follow in practice, in thought, in intention and aesthetic. Glad to find at least one more person with the code. :)


"Messiness is the chaos from which life arises."

"Messy architecture is sustainable. Without being consumed by its moral overtones...All that is sustainable is necessarily messy."

By the way...Sorry for the three week E-niverse absense...I was a slave to meatspace working hard (all my spare time yes!) on the Crosland Sustainable Placemaking Challenge. We didn't win, but we finished in the top five and our firm definitely advanced our sustainability design skills in this wonderful process...Most interestingly, we learned how to design better collaboratively as a firm.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Authenticity is the New Media Strategy!

Explains much...and now you will know why Obama's campaign strategy worked so potently...

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Patrick Condon's "Streetcar City"

Source: City of Vancouver Archives
Stephen Rees has done an incredible favor by posting Patrick Condon's summary for his book on the "streetcar city"...quite possibly the best succinct treatment of the topic I've ever read. I wish I had read this when I edited the Trade Street Vision Plan for the Center City Streetcar where I did a similar (though not as beautifully written or informed) historical introduction to the streetcar in the development of Charlotte's detached single-family streetcar neighborhoods. That fabric is still in Charlotte, and similar to Vancouver, Charlotte will be able to capitalize on it to build up to its original vision once the streetcar is reintroduced (the new light rail is already doing the same for the South Corridor).
Incidentally, the streetcar system in Charlotte began to be electrified in of the earliest among North American cities. This was when Dilworth and Myers Park were built out to the vision of John Nolen and the Olmstead brothers. In 1911 an upstart power company, the Southern Power Co., took control of the streetcar system in order to capitalize on the use of electricity to maximize its profits from its hydroelectric projects. That company, which undertook similar cooperative ventures in other services, was able to last where other power companies had failed. Southern Power introduced into Charlotte a business culture that was adept at conglomerating ventures - making it attuned to the importance of retooling and improving the service side of its industries (Bank of America didn't come from nowhere people!). Southern Power became the company we know today as Duke Energy. In short, the streetcar not only shaped Charlotte physically, it helped pave the way to our successful business culture!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

"The dogs know Muscovites better than Muscovites know the dogs."

Heavy Heart, originally uploaded by above_usual.

As folks around the world begin becoming increasingly reliant on transit, other life forms among us are benefitting. I got a huge kick reading WSJ's article on the "cushy" life of Moscow's transit dogs. Certainly brings new opportunities to realization in my practice as a transit urban designer.

I've been saying...Transit benefits everyone! ')

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Lessons Hillary Could Have Taken from the Fall of the Roman Empire

Hillary & Bill 2, originally uploaded by Daniella Zalcman.


Reading Karen Tumulty's Time article on the rise and fall of the Clinton campaign sure reminded me an awful lot of the collapse of the Roman Republic. I'll just shamefully build off her 5 points, but here are the similarities I note:

1) She misjudged the mood.

Politicians in the late Republic gunned on inevitability, using dysfunction as an opportunity to consolidate ever more power, ever hoping that the public would not notice that "regime insurance" was actually the underlying problem. Politicians are a pandering lot, and no more and no less than the late republic, when emperors had geese peck at their consorts' naries for the amusement of the crowds (as Justinian's wife did), hoping that the "I'm no better than you!" low signals could keep the iron ball rolling.

2) She didn't master (competency in her campaign leadership).

Clinton's team was assembled for reasons of patronage and loyalty...which is exactly how the Roman Empire functioned, a system called "evergetism" which is from the Greek for "benefaction". Benefactive systems are enormously inflexible, bureaucratic, and innately dysfunctional because they are common sense would make clear to anyone but apparently the benefactors themselves who are caught up in their own promotive fantasies. They think the smiles of the nobilis amici actually do communicate competence.

3) She underestimated the role of the caucus states

The role of the public, in Clinton's ideal world, is to be pandered to pure and simple. They are the clients. Corporate negotiation and grass-roots consensus-building is just so, uhm, cumbersome. C'mon we're in the screen media age...Can't you see I'm your patron!! In ancient Rome, direct pandering to the public, the so-called "primary clients" (who are really locked out of the real clientage system of course), got directly pandered to by the elites with public celebrations and gladiatorial events, with public buildings and libraries celebrating their patron's names loudly on their facades, and so on. ...But, unfortunately for the gilded-age Clintons, the new media is the network, which is far more than a fact, it tends to remove the screens politicians so assidously construct faster than they can build them.

4) She relied on old money.

Here, of course, was the most important nail to seal the coffin of the Republic. Networks that relly on old systems of wealthy patronage tend to fail the fastest. Networks that are loose, grass-roots and driven by "oi polloi" (I'm pronouncing this with my perfect, Buth-taught, Koine "oi"=u-umlaut, BTW...heh, heh) are, on the other hand, amazingly resilient, fast-growing and consensually effective. This is how a strange phenomenon began occuring in over-taxed, fragile, collapsing cities in 3rd century A.D. Asia Minor, where Jewish Synagogues began acquiring expansive and quickly delapadating civic pagan buildings. One of the most prominent civic buildings in Sardis was acquired by Jews at about this time because when the old blue bloods began having problems financing things with rampant inflation and funding wars of attrition, the first things to suffer were the public buildings they patronized. Jews, on the other hand, rellied on their whole congregations for funds, giving in small amounts, pooling available resources and generally rellying on communally valued approaches to giving. For example, they tended to credit God, instead of a patron, for their munificence and generally shared the credit across the board...allowing families to announce their patronage of a single window, a tile, etc. Obama's web-based campaign is exactly this type of dispersed financing system...In this critical aspect it is the most "Jewish"! ')

5) She never counted on the long haul (thinking she had it in the pocket).

No need to explain.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Originally posted by Daily Dose of Imagery

If I were to sum up my involvements of the past month I would have to sum it up as "rich" and ripe with possibility. Major things are afoot with my projects both in and out of the office. Too bad, however, I haven't been blogging about them! Each one would be a rich discussion to unplug...I usually blog in the morning more to prepare my mind for the task at hand rather than to recap the day. I may may have to shake up the way I do blogging...but for now, my dear reader, you will have to deal with the tracings:

a) JC's old home in High Point: The boyhood home of my long-time musical hero John Coltrane is a strategic piece of a revitalization plan I'm working on for the City of High Point, N.C., a city which really needs to reinvent itself. We're looking at revitalizing Coltrane's old neighborhood and creating a regional music festival center. The Kilby Hotel, a historic structure on Washington Drive that once served as a stop-over on the "Chitlin' Circuit" (receiving guests such as Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and others) will hopefully be the generative seed of the revitalization effort.

b) The REEF building for Henderson, N.C. Again a revitalization effort. Although our proposal was not chosen, in the process I discovered the economic potential of Speed Shops...of all things! A catalyst for creative ventures that I can definitely take to Charlotte (especially for our South Corridor). That's right...Highly paid mechanical artists are great community builders. Already we have the biker-types rolling on South Blvd. We have near constant parades of them droning down the where are the speed shops, biker clubs and chopper shops that cater to them (outside of Max's Speed Shop)? A big idea to plop into my head: A hardscape garden for bike rallies and dragsters...Imagine the potential for South Blvd! We'll have to call it "DIRTY SOUTH BLVD". 'D

c) The Area 15 Artist Colony. Imagining a community for artists which is affordable, sustainable, and generative, and prevents gentrification by preserving the presence of artists in communities. This is a volunteer effort I'm undertaking for Area 15 and I am really excited...definitely more to blog about later. Not coincidentally, "b" and "c" are about to get married if I get my way...Find out more later, buds!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Jeremiah the Second

I love hearing these pundits wag their fingers at Rev. Wright's wood-work shattering "Hi America!" tour. I guess he's now the poo in Obama's shoe. Whatever...He can't be more right about the confusion of criticism with anti-patriotism. Which antics are worse, the droll bombast of a preacher or the antics of cowardice, hubris & denial? Kinda brings me back to the antics of denial practiced by some really, really old pundits, when they asked Jeremiah I,

"Why have you prophesied in the name of the LORD, saying, 'This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without an inhabitant'?" And all the people were gathered against Jeremiah in the house of the LORD. When the princes of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king's house to the house of the LORD and sat down in the entry of the New Gate of the LORD's [house.] And the priests and the prophets spoke to the princes and all the people, saying, "This man deserves to die! For he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your ears" (Jeremiah 26:9-11)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

What can leaves do?

Originally posted by Space & Culture.

I can't think of a more evocative way to frame my enterprise as an urban designer. ')

Thursday, April 17, 2008

No, no, no, no!

Sigh....As Thomas Friedman put it, "Don't follow us, LEAPFROG us!" Thankfully, most non-Americans are saner than we are.

Nora Libertun de Duren (quoted in the article) was my old TA for my "Cities Against Nationalism" seminar at MIT. Her paper on the historical development of Jerusalem under competing sovereignties is quite worthwhile. I wonder how she is situating urban conflict in her studies in the surbanization of developing countries, ha! Check out the Guardian article on Buenos Aires's shanty town and gated communities.

Paul Lukez (also mentioned) was one of the architecture profs at MIT...although I never took his studio.

Monday, April 7, 2008

#13b: When Flow Exceeds Form

Gone Fishin', originally uploaded by Bēn.

In more than one occasion a friend of mine (knowing I'm a planner - as if I can do something about it, ha!) has lamented the fact that Charlotte's greenways are paltry amenities compared to the river life that abounds in places like Greenville and Charleston...Some have even suggested we build an artificial canal like San Antonio to aid our soporific Uptown nightlife. (To which I respond: We do have a river! We just allowed McMansion developments to cut us off from it.)

Matt Edgeworth not only elucidates why rivers tickle our urbanist fancy, he evocatively suggests a whole framework for understanding humankind's technological genesis:

...rivers were the first artifacts. The great human transformation of the material domain may have started with things that were fluid rather than the fixed. From the moment that hominids placed stones across a stream to step across to the other side, or built a crude dam in order to create a pool for fishing or bathing, they were starting to influence and control the flow of water…

Rivers taught us to urbanize, to become technological beings, but there is something downright holy about rivers...Just ask John the Baptist. We were implanted with great reason at the Edenic confluence of four great rivers. Religious activity is a processive encounter with the flow-artifacts of life. To bring the spiritual to the mundane requires an understanding of life-cycles, seasons, phases and cultural pacts, the temporal phenomena of interchange, and our relationships to other beings.

Ann Galloway elicits the multi-disciplinary implication of Edgeworth's archaeological insights:

I may be biased by my previous life as an archaeologist, but I still don’t know any other disciplinary perspective that so persistently and convincingly troubles stable categories like nature and culture, and I think that Edgeworth’s essay is particularly evocative in its assessment of flow and the capacity to exceed form.

Besides mobile technologies, what other areas of study or practice could benefit from such an approach?

My answer: urbanism...or at least the form-fixated urbanism of the new urbanists.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

#13: What the "new urbanism" can't quite get

New Urbanism., originally uploaded by Ingorrr.

The recalcitrant David Harvey puts it best: Towards economic, social and even to some extent environmental sustainability, the practicioners of the new urbanism have been mostly all talk...and, indeed, lazy thinkers fixated on form. It seems the CNU folks are dedicated to preserving the suburban trope of their work: creating white enclaves on greenfields. As Sam Newburg reports at their current convention in Austin, they are indeed pouting over the fact that their suburban developments won't qualify for LEED-ND.

I always thought the "transect" was a stultifying model for describing the complexities of sustainable urbanism, which beggar questions about economic and social networks and the kind of things cities actually depend on for their existance...but now I've come to realize that the "transect" is an apt description of the mental lobotomy going on in the brain of a New Urbanist with respect to regional and global thinking. The only transects we need in the local context are the mass transit kind. New urbanists should talk instead about networks...sustainable processes. I'm still waiting for them to begin to develop what David Harvey calls a "utopia of process".

My single challenge to a new urbanist: What can you do for Dharavi?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Branca 2, originally uploaded by y0ze.

In an undignified surprise, I discovered that my peculiar disease for exploring decaying urban sites is actually shared by an entire subculture of folks called "urbexers". Of course, my explorations tend to be a meditative excursion to try to train my eyes to notice the overlooked spaces that folks actually DO look at every day...For example, the way a billboard makes the building below it peacefully and blissfully nonplussed in its surreal and lonely beauty.

Not related: The photo above actually reminds me of a season I spent in the decaying and gothic Hotel Imperial in the Old City of Jerusalem. Warm shards of dusty light suddenly flood my memory stairwells.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Starbucks Squared

The internet is abuzz with with lively and excellent Starbucks discussions. To second BrandAve's statement:

Seeing as Starbucks has long promoted itself as a "third place" or community living room, it behooves an urbanist to pay attention.

There is lots more here to think about. What I see in the Starbucks dialogue is a microcosm of the larger urbanist debates redirecting private (esp. commercial) development towards glocalized urbanist forms. As the suburb tanks in value and we transition from building malls and square miles of asphalt to building village-doppelganger, transit-fed, pedestrianized "lifestyle centers" (each with their "anchor" Starbucks), the American public is revisitting the important cultural questions that rake its identity in the promotion/exploitation of real-estate valued community capital (or the semblance thereof). The scary thing is, Starbucks may actually be our most authentic cultural icon. We have much to learn about ourselves as we debate the merits and demons of the mermaid.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Towards a hopeful containment

The young man above is going to pick up a weekly donation of food for his family from an Islamic soup kitchen. This is a photo I took while I last visited Jerusalem with an eye to understand an ancient institution of charity while researching for the project site of my masters thesis in architecture (the Nabi Daud Zawiyya...which is also venerated by Jews and Christians as the site of King David's tomb, among other things). My lessons of this institution gave me a powerful lesson about the Muslim world, which our country would do well to learn more about, considering the "long slog" of containment we are facing in the Middle East. Notice I call it "containment" and not the "global war on terror", for to call our embroilment in the Middle East a "war" is to grossly mischaracterize the nature of the enemy we face there.
We must think of radical Islamic terrorist groups as operations run like NGO's, whose front line represents the heart and mind of the boy above, and not the conventional enemies we prefer (states-which we are quite capable of overcoming). We cannot overcome the islamist radical with the same means at our disposal as we overcame Saddam...The next president will have to craft a policy - nay dogma - of intelligent containment, regardless of what party he or she will belong to. I hate to say it folks, but, McCain is QUITE correct in claiming this is going to be a 100 year struggle...but he is wrong to say that the struggle will look like an occupation or that it is even a "war". We need to call it what it is: "a 100+ year containment". We can't be naive that the terrorist will be appeased by resolutions of statecraft. (Say we lived in an ideal world and Israel gave Hamas every concession Hamas demanded, and even restored their energy and infrastructure needs to better than Israeli standards even - if only to allow Israelis to remain where they are...Do you think Hamas is going to be appeased? If you think so, you have failed to understand the apocalyptic, suicidal mindset of an Islamic radical my friend! Yes...this is a 100-year + engagement - get used to it so we can deal effectively with it, bud!)
We will lose the "war" on terror...but we can definitely win the "containment" battle. And we can win it with unconventional, smart weapons. We need a hopeful containment. The boy above represents our front line too...What can we be doing to make his world better? There is so, so, so much we can be doing.
The first cadidate who begins shaping a hopeful vision for this young man's life...will definitely win my heart and mind as well.

Friday, March 28, 2008

light rail shizzle

(light rail station design: Neighboring Concepts, PLLC)

Our office is blown away by Sean Busher's new photos of our light rail stations...Check em out yall!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

O Sinnerman Where ya gonna run to?

Originally posted at A Wealth Resource Center

Billionaire set to lose his shirt.

Wooooh Sinnerman... no one will be handing bailouts at the finish line.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Future!!

...Well, I don't know what they are singing, but let me tell you, considering the sinking ship feel of the state of the American economy today, one thing is for sure...We Westerners are going to be thinking AWFUL hard about how to serve their needs. Can't you see it in their beckoning eyes? We better figure out QUICK my American pals and dolls what they want.

Damn...I wish I was working for Ben Wood. Maybe its not too late.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Watermelon Man

Just because this is my blog!

Friday, March 21, 2008

#12: Mush-Urbanism

"San Francisco in Jell-O" by Liz Hickok
Cities are resilient fabrics, socially as well as environmentally - as my former prof. Larry Vale writes prodigiously. But what if they were also tectonically resilient, as Pruned just pointed in mushy? Able to wistand seismic shocks. Taking our structural ideas from sea cucumbers may actually seriously aid us in our quest for the jell-O urbanism Liz Hickok above.

Wouldn't it be fun to live in this?:

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Sublime Emptiness

Posted at KSMGRD

To what can we liken the absence of signs? Is this a city on a diet from capitalist excess? Cleansing itself of the demands of the present? I wonder what such a city does to the mind... Does it cleanse a citizen's minds like a 30 day fast cleanses the system? Does it bring a zen-like peace to society...less smoking, less caffeinated consumption, less sumptuary excess, less discretionary income wasted, less sex?...I wonder.

One thing they could do is allow artists to use the billboards for artistic works...Let a year long "sign fast" pass and then WHAM--Hit em baby! A veritable sign explosion in the public realm. Kind a like a shock diet. Then you'd really be playing with people's minds! It would be like the kind of horror turned to pleasure a desert monk would have if he lugged one book into the wilderness and discovered nothing was printed in it.

Check out the skymovie ad video (ironic, huh?):

Monday, March 17, 2008

Welcome to the Slumburbs: A Ghostly Lesson

Originally posted at Space & Culture

I find this post at Space & Culture utterly fascinating. It fills my analogical mind with lessons. Could this be foreshadowing the "slumburbing" of the U.S. sprawlific economy??? For any of you watching what is going on currently in Wall Street...The vultures are already circling. And as to why "the Quantitatively- and analytically-sophisticated Wall Street teams greatly overestimated their capability to assess and manage risk", look here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

#11: China as it would love to be

RMB City, by Chinese 2nd Life artist Cao Fei, AKA China Tracy (posted at KSMGRD)
Urbanism is the new hyper-life, the nominalist fantasy that results from the surreal collision of aspiring local culture in the midst of globalism, i.e. "glocal" expression. Maybe it is a mooring strategy to propel society through the highly unstable and disorienting, uncharted waters of the new global economy.
As the artist puts it:
RMB City will be the condensed incarnation of contemporary Chinese cities with most of their characteristics; a series of new Chinese fantasy realms that are highly self-contradictory, inter-permeative, laden with irony and suspicion, and extremely entertaining and pan-political. China's current obsession with land development in all its intensity will be extended to Second Life. A rough hybrid of communism, socialism and capitalism, RMB City will be realized in a globalized digital sphere combining overabundant symbols of Chinese reality with cursory imaginings of the country's future.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

#10: Powerbocking

Urbanism is all about human enhancement...For non-geeks - I'm talking the human. Creating a hybrid humana as variagated as the one in Star Trek:

Powerbocks Steal Dork Prize From Segways

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

#9: Re-imagining the curb.

Originally posted by Pruned
In r e a l Urbanism...It matters far, far less what the relationship of the store is to the street, than what the relationship of the street is to the environment.

Monday, March 3, 2008

#8: The Redneck Mansion

Originally posted at Space and Culture

In Urbanism form is not an important issue...character is.

#7: The Prada in Marfa

Prada Marfa, originally uploaded by ydhsu.

Urbanism is Marfa, TX.

Urbanism is not an equation of the number of people per square mile. No sir,'s the quality of spirits per square mile.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Monday, February 18, 2008

#6: The Way nau Tries to Reimagine Retail

6) Urbanism attempts to bring transparency to the surface/end product and encourages/trusts networked group knowledge to deliver superior services and products. It is citizen driven. It values feedback, blurring and circumventing the traditional dichotomy between production and marketing. It values multiple inputs and manifests the late stage of the service-information economy.

An excellent example: nau's system-valued approach to inform the consumer of the ecological footprint of its products ("Retail 2.0").

Sunday, February 17, 2008

My Principles for Urbanism

Yesterday, walking around Davidson, a friend asked me what I meant by "Urbanism", and why a college campus like Davidson College can be distinguished by its "urbanism". At first, I gave a very formal description, explaining urbanism in physical qualities - the way a building relates to the public realm, etc., and explaining a short history, from the early modernist notion of Urbanism to Jane Jacobs's notion of urbanism. Then I realized, "urbanism", if you think about it, really is broader concept...affecting all facets of design today, which can be evinced in David Adjaye's references to African "sensibility" in architecture and city planning to Malcolm Gladwell's essay (and apt references to Jacobs) on the "third space" rehaul of cubicle office design.
Here is my first stab at my principles for "true urbanism" (to be refined):
1) Urbanism seeks to mix forms, to hybridize.
2) Urbanism values the ad hoc, the "messiness" of colliding experiences, tastes, values.
3) Urbanism brings high-brow sensibility to low-brow tastes, and low-brow sensibility to high-brow tastes ("camp"...sometimes this is called "queer").
4) Urbanism values the ambiguous and synergistic relationships, in other words - multi-faceted, cross-pollinating, innovative and collaborative relationships over those that are purely pragmatic, optimized and functionally delimited. In short: urbanism is engaging. An ambiguous subject/condition forces you to engage it.
5) Urbanism seeks egalitarian, liminal space...It aims to remove hierarchical space and replace it with civic-dialogical, democratic space.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The architecture of refuge

I really enjoyed reading the interview of David Adjaye in the new issue of dwell (at the stands already for nonsubscribers like me):

As cities grow, and as the experience of urbanism becomes overwhelming or intoxicating, I think the notion of the domestic retreat becomes more and more important.

That and more insights...Highly recommended to you urban developers who can't figure it out!!

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Beatties Ford Plan is Now Online

...Finally! Definitely my proudest planning endeavor to date, the Beatties Ford Road Corridor Small Area Plan for the Town of Huntersville will not only help protect the critical watersheds protecting our main water resource, but shape growth in the region towards more sustainable patterns of development.
As a firm that almost solely deals with urban development it was very nice to work on the other side of that coin, preservational land use and transportation planning. If urban and preservation planning do not work together the gains by doing either are nil. The two mutually reinforce one another. So it was more than just a privilige to work in such a beautiful and historical area - a treasure to our cultural heritage, with its little legacy to the American Revolution. Together with the residents, we've secured a huge victory (however meager it might seem) for our children in Mecklenburg County. It's nice to see how it is having an impact in every development decision impacting the corridor already. Of course, the plan now has to be revised with the falling through over the Latta Village proposal...The only thing that was out of our hands from the beginning (but I'm glad the residents seem to be getting their desires--NIMBY's in preservational districts are people I can live with, ha!)
Here is the effective master plan:

Image above was provided by Christa Rogers of Natural Resources

Except for Christa's flower image, all images are the work of Neighboring Concepts, PLLC.
(specifically yours truly) =)