Category Archives: Urbanism

The Lens: New York’s abandoned subway station

New York's abandoned city hall subway station (constructed 1904) as seen on Web Urbanist. (Photo courtesy Web Urbanist.)


Caucus day: On architecture and politics

A collage of the Republican candidates' houses from the New York Times

In honor of Iowa caucus day, I think the architecture of the Republican candidates’ houses is worth considering. An in-depth breakdown after the break.

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The way(s) forward: the bright future of urbanism

All good things come to an end, and my series The Way(s) Forward for Urbanism, which goes back all the way to July of this year, is no exception. I consider this the seventh and final part in that series.

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Here’s the New York Times’s David Brooks:

According to recent polls, 60 percent of Americans think the country is heading in the wrong direction. The same percentage believe that the U.S. is in long-term decline. The political system is dysfunctional. A fiscal crisis looks unavoidable. There are plenty of reasons to be gloomy.

But if you want to read about them, stop right here. This column is a great luscious orgy of optimism. Because the fact is, despite all the problems, America’s future is exceedingly bright.

There’s a good beginning! And then a little later:

In his book, “The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050,” über-geographer Joel Kotkin sketches out how this growth will change the national landscape. Extrapolating from current trends, he describes an archipelago of vibrant suburban town centers, villages and urban cores… Over the next 40 years, Kotkin argues, urban downtowns will continue their modest (and perpetually overhyped) revival, but the real action will be out in the compact, self-sufficient suburban villages. Many of these places will be in the sunbelt — the drive to move there remains strong — but Kotkin also points to surging low-cost hubs on the Plains, like Fargo, Dubuque, Iowa City, Sioux Falls, and Boise.

Sounds accurate. And  Christopher Leinberger, a professor urban planning and a fellow at the Brookings Institution, had this response:

This conclusion is exactly in line with my research; there is pent up demand for walkable urban places and upward of 70 percent of this demand will take place in the suburbs while the rest will be the redevelopment of center cities… What is needed to catch up with the pent up demand for walkable urban places, especially in the suburbs, is complete transportation policy reform. Since transportation drives development, we need to build the second half of the American transportation system–rail and bus transit and bikes and walking– while repairing our existing roadway system. Only this will allow for the emergence of the walkable urban places that the market, economy, and environment demands.

Good points all around. And this is what the future of urbanism is about: it’s about finding potential in the future and exploring. Fundamentally, it’s about applying our tremendous human problem-solving skills to what we’re up against. And I have a strong feeling that we’re going to do a damn good job of it.

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This series came out of my April piece about the follies of looking to the past and the necessity for bold ideas that tackle the problems of the future head-on. I set out in the series to present the best of those ideas that I found around the Internet, and I’m pleased with the result. This serieis included a video of Christian de Portzamparc’s discussing his ideas; a piece advocating for more government money spent on high-speed rail; a piece about those instances when preservationists are in the right; and much more. You can explore the entire series by clicking ‘Urbanism’ in the menu above.

By no means am I done writing about urbanism. The future of urbanism on this blog, not unlike the future of urbanism is America, is unmistakably bright.

The way(s) forward for urbanism, part VI

Particularly astute readers might have noticed that this is the second time part VI has appeared. Why? Because the post formerly with this title, which can be found here, really isn’t about urbanism at all. I lost focus, and now I hope to correct that by redoing this correctly.

Yes, this is strange, and far more flashy and polished than most urban gardens, but I do think it's interesting enough to merit a photograph. (I certainly would like this garden.) Photo courtesy Bella Online.

Apparently, in some major cities, urban gardening is on the rise. More on this new trend after the break.

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Defending my post on cycling

This is quite the photograph.

I had some pretty harsh words yesterday for what I see as the often excessive and self-indulgent culture of cycling. My criticism certainly went against the grain and drew some strong criticism of its own. Some is legitimate; some less so. And much of it seems based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what I was trying to say — perhaps I wasn’t as clear as I should have been. A full defense of my post after the break. Continue reading

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When cycling culture goes too far

You can find the first five parts here, here, here, here and here.

Photo courtesy TripleC

My views on cycling after the break.

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The way(s) forward for urbanism, part V

Too often the debate about urbanism revolves only around function and not about form, as if architecture and urbanism were divorced and unrelated. That is, of course, not the case at all. Time for round five! You can find the first four parts here, here, here and here.

The new West Hollywood Library. Photo courtesy LA Times.

More about the new West Hollywood Library after the break.

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New Apple headquarters

A suburban office park for classy people

Well that’s it — Apple’s plan for a new headquarters building. It’s basically a big circular building surrounded by lots of green space on a big plot of land bought from Hewlett Packard in Cupertino, not far from Apple’s current, quite generic headquarters. The design is by Norman Foster. Read on past the break for more.

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The way(s) forward for urbanism, part IV

Welcome to round four! You can find part one here, part two here and part three here.

In this round, I’m going to explore the role of the preservation movement in the future of cities. Now I, along with many academics and critics, am often quick to decry preservationists as simpleminded and focused on preserving the past at the expense of reality. And that is often true. The requirements for building a skyscraper in New York City are rather ridiculous — Jean Nouvel’s new tower next to the Museum of Modern Art recently had its top 200 feet chopped off, because it top apparently wasn’t good enough to be up there with the Empire State Building. That argument is, of course, silly. And dangerous. The idea that what we create now cannot match or surpass what we have done in the past is one I have sharply criticized repeatedly on the blog.

But the truth is that not all preservationists are that simple. Read on past the break for more.

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Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands has it right

In my post the other day, I talk about how the suburbs are here to stay, and how they need to be treated like opportunities, not irreparable blights on the face of the earth. The filmmaker Tim Burton is an excellent role model in this regard. Below is a screenshot from the film Edward Scissorhands (1991 — and highly recommended). Burton’s caricature of suburbia is spot-on, but not vicious. He sees it for the flawed, and yes, ugly, place that it is, but also makes its inhabitants endearing, real people, and sees that there is some visual wit to be found in its matchy-matchy lawns and colorful houses.

I love this movie.

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