“Are Our Greatest Cities Destroying Their Greatest Assets?
Around the world, city authorities are developing unstructured creative spaces into more lucrative commercial or residential zones – but the ability to generate more income from these areas comes at a cultural cost.
London, Paris, New York and Hong Kong are just some of the world’s ‘global cities’. Not only are they major nodes of political and economic power, but they have the ability to disseminate ideas, trends and technologies across the world. Sadly, recent economic and physical changes in such cities are leading to the destruction of some of their most important assets. London’s Southbank Undercroft is the latest to come under the knife.
Youthful, creative spaces are being razed around the world to make way for ritzy apartments, “kitchy” cafes and manicured public spaces. In order to appeal to the world’s elite, these cities create new places of consumption at the expense of existing inner city spaces.
The shabby buildings and public spaces that don’t fit into the glossy and glamorous ideal of what cities should look like also happen to be the last remaining inner city places that young people have to hang out. As places of mass consumption are created for people with mass salaries, cities are losing their ability to cater to diversity. Young urban populations are losing important spaces they require to create ideas and build networks.”
Anthony Flint. June 14, 2013
Five years ago, Robert Moses got a thorough revisiting – you could even say his reputation was in some measure was rehabilitated – in a sweeping multimedia exhibition organized by Columbia University, the Museum of the City of New York, and the Queens Museum.
This summer, the Museum of Modern Art is staging a show on the architect who might be described as a chief inspiration for Moses: Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, better known as Le Corbusier.
Like Moses, the Swiss-born visionary of modern architecture is also widely disparaged, by New Urbanists and traditionalists involved in any way in the world of urban planning and urban design. Le Corbusier is blamed for the “towers in the park” of ill-fated public housing projects in cities across America, the devastating slum clearance of mid-century urban renewal, and elevated urban freeways that are being systematically dismantled to this day.”
Image: Courtesey of MoMA
Emily Badger. June 18, 2013
Simon Kuper sketched a dismal picture in the Financial Times over the weekend of the end-game for what he’s calling the “great global cities” – places like New York, Paris, London, Singapore, Hong Kong – where the fortunes of a few have become entirely detached from the sputtering economy most of the world has experienced over the last several years. Elsewhere, manufacturing jobs have dwindled, agricultural work has disappeared, and wages have stagnated. Meanwhile, in the great global cities, increasingly only the very rich can afford to live.
These once-poor and crime-riddled cities have become highly desirable over the last decade. However, Kuper writes:
There’s an iron law of 21st-century life: when something is desirable, the ‘one per cent’ grabs it. The great cities are becoming elite citadels. This is terrifying for everyone else.
More specifically, he argues that places like New York and Paris are turning into “vast gated communities where the one per cent reproduces itself.” He identifies the means as something worse than gentrification:
Now comes plutocratisation: the middle classes and small companies are falling victim to class-cleansing. Global cities are becoming patrician ghettos.
This is a real fear. But Kuper treats the near future of wealthy city-citadels as a foregone conclusion, never contemplating that perhaps things don’t have to turn out this way. Great cities don’t naturally evolve to serve only the super-rich as if through some organic process. They come to exclude people by decision and design. Yes, the more desirable a place becomes, the more expensive it is to live there. But cities also become unaffordable when zoning regulation limits the supply of new housing, or caps the height of new construction. Cities become out of reach when no policies are in place to maintain affordable or mixed-income housing.”
Emily Badger. June 11, 2013
We often talk colloquially about the “fast pace of city living,” and that pace actually has a default speed: We’ve long assumed that people cross the street walking at about 4 feet per second.
Crosswalks are timed with this number in mind, so you don’t get clipped by a creeping car when the red hand starts flashing at you midway through an intersection. But the older we get, the more likely we are to slow down. Most 80-year-olds just don’t move at 4 feet per second.
This bit of infrastructure trivia wasn’t all that relevant just a few decades ago. “In the ’60s, a majority of people weren’t living past 70, or 75,” says Hilde Waerstad, a physical therapist and research associate with the MIT AgeLab. As the vast baby boom generation now prepares to age well beyond 75, the demographics of entire cities will effectively age, too. “We’re entering into this new era,” Waerstad says, “that we just have not seen before.”
Image: Mark Brynes
Kaid Benfield. Jun 11, 2013
There is little question that suburban strip malls represent an unsustainable architecture. Totally automobile-dependent, marked by large surface parking lots, and remarkably inefficient at using land, strip malls generate much more pollution and consume much more in the way of resources on a per capita basis than do more walkable, urban shopping districts. Such urbanist thinkers as Galina Tachieva (Sprawl Repair Manual), June Williamson and Ellen Dunham-Jones (Retrofitting Suburbia) are absolutely correct in urging that, as these malls age and decline, they should be replaced with better, greener forms.
Indeed, some of our best and most iconic smart growth developments – The Crossings in Mountain View, California, and Mizner Park in Boca Raton, Florida, come immediately to mind – were built on what were once dead shopping malls. Late 20th-century commercial buildings typically have much shorter life spans than do homes, so remaking these old parking lots and typically single-level stores represents one of our best hopes for achieving a greener suburban future.
And yet: As these properties have declined, so have their rents, making them affordable to small, often entrepreneurial businesses. Particularly as immigrants have settled in inner suburbs (where many of these fading commercial strips are), businesses owned and patronized by the immigrant population have occupied many of these spaces, in some cases alongside small start-ups owned by longtime community residents as well. “
John Metcalfe. June 12, 2013
How bad is the historic flooding that’s turning Europe into a certain terrific Kevin Costner flick? Take a look at these images captured by the Landsat 8 satellite that NASA featured todayalong with a nifty, sliding comparison tool. The first is from May 6 and shows the farmland around the city of Wittenberg, population 50,000:
What a nice, docile-looking river. It’s the Elbe – a major European waterway that meanders through the lowlands of Germany and the Czech Republic. See if you recognize the same river in this shot from June 7:
The blue rivulet is gone, replaced with a massive watery boa the color of milky coffee. When this photo was taken, the Elbe was swollen to a height of 22 feet, prompting workers in Wittenberg to make a defensive perimeter of sandbags around town. Yesterday, German police had to shut down the city center in anticipation of the Elbe soon cresting.”
Photos: NASA / U.S. Geological Survey
Kia Gregory & Marc Santora. June 11, 2013
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg outlined a far-reaching plan on Tuesday to protect New York City from the threat of rising sea levels and powerful storm surges by building an extensive network of flood walls, levees and bulkheads along its 520 miles of coast.
The mayor said the plan would initially cost about $20 billion, and eventually far more. The city would spend the money on fortifying infrastructure like the power grid, renovating buildings to withstand hurricanes and defending the shore, according to a 438-page report on the proposals.
The proposals, in all, would change the look and fabric of the city, though not until well after the mayor leaves office at the end of the year.
Still, he emphasized that Hurricane Sandy was such a devastating event that the city had to move immediately.”
Photo: Ozier Muhammed
RIVER OF INDUSTRY
Philadelphia adopts plan to revive activity on the Schuylkill River.
A plan to revive 3,700 acres of Philadelphia’s Lower Schuylkill River—an industrial area that has long been home to oil refineries—is now underway. On May 21, the Philadelphia Planning Commission adopted the Lower Schuylkill Master Plan, which seeks to turn the area into a thriving manufacturing hub.
“It took us 18 months to pull it together,” said Thomas Dalfo, senior vice president of real estate services for the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC). “The concept is to take this industrial district, which in a larger respect under performs compared to what it has done historically, and bring it up to the standards of the city’s other districts. We want to get the vision out into the market and let [potential businesses] know where the city’s investment is going.”