Tag: Urban Planning

“But what city leaders have been trying to reckon with recently,” writes Andrew Small, “is how representative that audience sample is of the community they represent.”

The audience sample in question here being those who show up for things like local neighborhood planning meetings and whether or not they “represent the moderate opinion of everyone who’s just okay [on] a decision but don’t have the time between work, school, and play to show up to a meeting”.

I’ve deep reservations about the use of the word “recently” there, as this was a perennial question back when I was covering local planning matters on Portland Communique back in the early-to-mid aughts, and even then it wasn’t a new issue.

Lily Bernheimer, writing for Reasons to Be Cheerful, examines the “missing middle” housing that isn’t merely about mid-density dwellings which typically get the attention of that phrase: courtyard communities.

Living at the Salemi compound for 17 years, Dolan realized that its Mediterranean-style site plan fostered the kind of vibrant neighborly interaction that staves off isolation. The layout of the average American block — with front entrances around the external perimeter and private, fenced-off yards in the center — was essentially reversed here, where residents typically enter their homes through the commonly held central courtyard.

But when appealing to a highly educated, mobile, upper-middle class resident or employer, uniqueness gives way to a candied sameness. While publicly funded arts and cultural planning efforts can serve to materially improve the lives of residents, top-down, developer-centric efforts can result in a homogenous banality. The effect is an algorithmic kind of beauty: sleek and modern, while also gorily Frankenstein-esque. Popped color palettes, parklets, and glass-walled buildings make cities indistinguishable from each other. It’s the architectural equivalent of “Instagram face,” designed with the robotic pragmatism of a targeted ad. In coding design elements towards wealth and the professional class, cities and developers also necessarily code aesthetics toward the sensibilities of white urban transplants, given the makeup of this class.

From Slicker Cities by Saritha Ramakrishna (via Paris Marx)

It’s reasonable to assume that the world, left to its own devices, will continue to entrench and enrich the powers that be, during and after this crisis. It’s clear that the treatment of street vendors and the homeless are two places to start when considering the equitable implementation of al fresco streets. Police enforcement of social distancing has also shown glaring discrepancies along racial lines in some cities, as have decisions about which parks and public spaces have stayed open, and which are closed. Public transit ridership could crater long enough to kill off transit service all over the country. If people start relying on cars for even more trips, cities could lose some of the most effective resources for social and economic mobility. If people start relying on cars for even more trips, entire cities, not just bus riders and pedestrians, will be overwhelmed with the traffic and pollution caused by cars.

From Cities Are Suddenly a Little Less Car-Centric by James Brasuell

Civic Signals is seeking “five graduate student researchers with expertise in digital ethnography and urban spaces to conduct research for a two month fieldwork project on digital public spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning June 2020”.

Research will focus on key issues such as digital inequalities, infrastructures, misinformation, digital publics, and digital literacies, in relation to community building, education, activism, exercise, nightlife, and more. How are understandings of public and private shifting and for whom? What are the material conditions of these shifts? Researchers will conduct fieldwork independently, but will collaborate with the research team and the research leads, Dr. Mona Sloane (Principal Investigator) and Dr. Jordan Kraemer.

The vague irony of a 1500-word piece for Curbed making what are very important points about urbanism and privilege and exhorting people “to center the voices of their black, Latino, Asian-American, and immigrant neighbors” being written by a white woman.

Places Journal announced a forthcoming book “by New School professor and columnist Shannon Mattern” called A City Is Not a Computer, named for an article of the same name; if the article is any indication, the book likely goes right onto my to-get list. The timing is interesting, given the economic collapse of Google’s planned “smart city” in Toronto.

Which is not to say wise. For every reasonable question Y Combinator asked — “How can cities help more of their residents be happy and reach their potential?” — there was a preposterous one: “How should we measure the effectiveness of a city (what are its KPIs)?” That’s Key Performance Indicators, for those not steeped in business intelligence jargon. There was hardly any mention of the urban designers, planners, and scholars who have been asking the big questions for centuries: How do cities function, and how can they function better?

Link Log Roundup for May 7, 2020

In this edition: getting outside, race and climate, herpes, lines and strains, conflicts of interest, autistic social distancing, screen time, coronavirus parties, universal basic income, tracking infection, reopening Oregon, worker petitions, public space, language, paying for transit, and Pedalpalooza.

Portland announced its “slow streets” locations (also see the Willamette Week story) and looking at the map they are going with N. Central St. here in St. Johns, which basically runs between two green or greenish spaces — Roosevelt High School and St. Johns Park. What’s not clear to me is how the signage is going to work, as only two intersections get “barrel barrier” treatment, and depending upon how you count they are fifteen to twenty blocks apart. Surely there will be additional non-barrel signage along the route? Or, at least, surely they will let residents get away with guerilla signage?

I’m not sure anyone actually finds anything useful or interesting in these RSS/newsletter roundup posts I’ve been doing, but I’m keeping at it anyway. I think today’s batch is especially compelling.

Maciej Cegłowski (via Paul Bausch):

But in this essay, I want to persuade you not just to wear a mask, but to go beyond the new CDC guidelines and help make mask wearing a social norm. That means always wearing a mask when you go out in public, and becoming a pest and nuisance to the people in your life until they do the same.

Timothy A. Schuler (via Places Wire):

Maintaining distance from other people is, indeed, the task at hand, and as Mooallem writes, it is a noble one—as noble as saving a person from a burning building. Social isolation takes a toll, however. Loneliness can be deadly, increasing the risk of heart disease, depression, and high blood pressure, and potentially weakening the immune system’s ability to fight off diseases like COVID-19. Urban parks can provide anxious, weary citizens a bit of much-needed fresh air and sunlight, along with the sights and sounds of others—reminders that we are not alone. For those suffering from depression or domestic violence, such small reminders might be as important as not contracting a virus.

Megan Garber (via Places Wire):

But the problem of time is also a problem of space. Homes, too, in this moment, are taking on a new kind of indeterminacy: They are now serving not only as shelter and refuge, but also as workplace and school and gym and theater and restaurant and bar and laundry and town square. They now contain, for many, an entire day’s worth of demands. But whether a house or a compact apartment, those dwellings were never meant to be as profoundly multifunctional as a shelter-in-place scenario requires them to be. American homes, Don Norman, the founding chair of the cognitive-science department at the University of California at San Diego and an advocate of user-centered design, told me, are simply not meant to be lived in 24/7.

Heather Cox Richardson:

In an interview on the Fox News Channel on Monday, Trump explained his objection to Democrats’ efforts to appropriate billions of dollars for election security in the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package. “The things they had in there were crazy,” he told the hosts. “They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” On Wednesday, the Georgia House Speaker, Republican David Ralston, echoed Trump. He opposed sending absentee ballots to the state’s registered voters because the effort would lead to higher voter participation. That would “be extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia.”

John Stoehr:

The problem, of course, is this vocabulary does more to misinform than it does inform. The major parties are in fact unequal in their influence. The Republicans can and will use democratic institutions to sabotage the American republic. The Democrats, meanwhile, mostly try defending these institutions, nurturing them when they can. The public, however, often doesn’t see the difference. As you often hear me say, most people most of the time have something better to do than pay attention to politics.

Laura Bliss:

But essential workers — doctors, nurses, grocers, pharmacists, delivery drivers, and others — are still commuting, and homebound folks must still make trips for survival goods. Now local governments are taking action to help that critical movement happen more easily: They’re striping new bike lanes, retooling traffic signals, suspending transit fares, closing some streets to vehicle traffic, and taking other temporary transportation measures. CityLab has mapped some of the changes happening on city streets in the U.S. and around the world as of April 3, using data from the National Association of Transportation Officials’s Covid-19 Transportation Response Center, a newly launched repository of emergency responses.

Financial Times editorial board (via Colin Nagy):

Radical reforms — reversing the prevailing policy direction of the last four decades — will need to be put on the table. Governments will have to accept a more active role in the economy. They must see public services as investments rather than liabilities, and look for ways to make labour markets less insecure. Redistribution will again be on the agenda; the privileges of the elderly and wealthy in question. Policies until recently considered eccentric, such as basic income and wealth taxes, will have to be in the mix.

David Byrne:

Imagine a representational voting system that has nothing to do with political parties and that guarantees that the voices of we the people are heard. Such a system exists — in fact, it has been in use in various parts of the U.S. for some years now. More and more places are getting on board. It’s called ranked choice voting.

My morning hour of hitting the snooze button was filled in with interconnected mini-dreams about a new scheme for color-coding public transit systems, which (god help me) I’m going to try to explain later.

Some of what’s been piling up in my RSS and newsletter apps while I’ve been struggling through a two-day depression that hopefully social distances from me today.

  • Inga Saffron explores the role of Philadelphia’s public spaces during the pandemic (and asks why we don’t pedestrianize our streets).
  • Chrissy Stroop examines the defiance of authoritarian Christians in the face of social distancing orders.
  • Nancy LeTourneau outlines the Republican principles which complicated the ability of a Republican government to respond to the pandemic.
  • Aaron Gordon suggests an opportunity in bailing out transit agencies: fix how they are funded.

A few days ago I noted Brad Enslen noting that it’s possible to design cities that can accommodate sociality even during social distancing measures. Two relevant items came across Places Wire yesterday.

In the first, Michael Kimmelman, writing for The New York Times, examines how pandemics seem to strike at the heart of what a city is meant to be.

Pandemics prey on this relentlessly. They are anti-urban. They exploit our impulse to congregate. And our response so far — social distancing — not only runs up against our fundamental desires to interact, but also against the way we have built our cities and plazas, subways and skyscrapers. They are all designed to be occupied and animated collectively. For many urban systems to work properly, density is the goal, not the enemy.

In the second, Dianna Budds, writing for Curbed, examines the urban design issues raised by public health, including pandemics.

During the industrial era, modern sanitation and water systems were originally created to fight the pathogens that cause cholera and typhoid. Before indoor plumbing and sewer systems were common, it was typical for raw sewage to flow out of buildings and directly onto city streets. It wasn’t until a severe cholera outbreak in London in the 1850s that a physician proved contaminated drinking water caused the deaths. Prior to that the prevailing theory was “miasma,” the medieval understanding that disease was spread through contact with “bad air,” like vapors emanating from rotting organic matter.

Brad Enslen notes that we could design cities resiliant enough to allow for social distancing that nonetheless still accommodate sociality.

It looks like the Civic Signals discussion has begun, with a brief introduction to the idea of trying to use urban placemaking to find analogues for use online.