Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The quote of the week. M.Christine Boyer. 1990

Christine Boyer writes a chapter in the book Philosophical Streets, by Dennis Crow.
"...fragmented elements of the city whole are planned or redeveloped as autonomous elements, with little relationship to the whole and with direct concern only for adjacent elements. Fragments of the city are regulated, for example, by special district or contextual zoning, or historic preservation controls, but say nothing about the city as a whole.(...) To play on the analogy futher, this recursive mentality is serial. Mass production is serial so that it is not surprising to find the mass production of city spaces in late capitalism taking on a serial appearance, producing already known patterns or molds of places almost identical from city to city."

Boyer, M Christine, 'The Return of Aesthetics to City Planning', in Philosophical Streets, New Approaches to Urbanism, edited by Dennis Crow, Urbs et Orbi: The Urban Project, volume 1, Maisonneuve Press, 1990, p96

In the context of a book that appears too far from practice to be of much value outside academia, due to a heavily philosophical language, Boyer speaks in a language that can be understood by a broader audience.
The repetition of urban patterns became ubiquitous since the 1960s, but it did especially in urban projects of the 1980s and 1990s. Waterfronts, boulevards, squares, plazas, urban regeneration in general, follows patterns that create urban spaces that appear and feel disconnected from the place and culture they belong to. This applies to streets to a certain extent, but streets are better at keeping a memory of place, for it is hard to erase their identity unless they are partially or completely demolished.

Monday, 19 January 2015

The quote of the week. Jane Jacobs.1961

Today: a classic Jane Jacobs on sidewalks.

"Reformers have long observed city people loitering on busy corners, hanging around in candy stores and bars and drinking soda pops on stoops, and have passed a judgement, the gist of which is: 'This is deplorable! If these people had decent homes and a more private or bosky outdoor place, they would't be on the street!'
This judgement represents a profound misunderstanding of cities. It makes no sense than to drop in at a testimonial banquet in a hotel and conclude that if these people had wives who could cook, they would give their parties at home."

Jacobs, Jane, The death and life of American cities, The Modern Library, New York, 1993, 1961. p72

Jane Jacobs writes one of the most simple and straightforward comments on public space. Jacobs is famous for her analysis of cities and their economies, but more so for her rivalry with Robert Moses and her critique of his plans for New York. Her book has had repercussions in planning, architecture and education throughout the world, but has been ignored repeatedly by the practice of planning through the last five decades. The use of sidewalks is inherent to the street and varies through each city's cultural context, but the active use of the sidewalk is a pattern that appears throughout different cultures. An empty sidewalk normally equates with a city that is more dependent on the car, where functions are spread in different zones of the city. A sidewalk that is populated, whatever the activities are, corresponds with a city that caters for different functions at walkable distance, encouraging people to not only go from A to B but to also gather, meet and stay on the street.

Monday, 12 January 2015

The quote of the week. Jan Gehl

And today a contemporary classic. Jan Gehl on walking

"The planning of long, straight pedestrian routes should be avoided. Winding or interrupted streets make pedestrian movement more interesting. Additionally, winding streets will be better than straight ones to reduce any wind disturbance."

Gehl, Jan,  Life between buildings, using public space,  Island Press, Washington, London, 2011 (Danish 1971) p141

Jan Gehl is an internationally well respected planner and was responsible for the transformation of Copenhagen into a walkable city. His work is very influential and has transcended national boundaries. In general I would agree with most of his observations, but this one written in 1971 seems not only romantic but limited. Yes, winding streets can be very interesting and it is very enjoyable to walk through a path that is continually changing. However this remark ignores the relevance of the great thoroughfares of 19th century grand plans, which accomodate diversity in the context of a long straight road. What about Champs Elyseés? Paseo de Gràcia? Avenida de Mayo? Unter den Linden?
More on Jan Gehl to come soon.

Monday, 5 January 2015

The Quote of the week. Bernard Rudofsky

From an academic erudite as Vidler to a more down to earth Rudofsky. Streets for People

"...for the street is not an area but a volume. It cannot exist in the vacuum; it is inseparable from its environment. In other words, it is no better than the company of houses it keeps. The street is the matrix: urban chamber, fertile soil, and breeding ground. Its viability depends as much on the right kind of architecture as on the right kind of humanity."

Rudofsky, Bernard, Streets for People: a primer for Americans, van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1982,1969, p20

Perhaps not as well known as his contemporaries Jane Jacobs and Kevin Lynch, Rudofsky is as ruthless a critic of American and British post war urbanism as them. Better known for his groundbreaking: Architecture without Architects, he is also an insightful observer of the public realm. He uses streets as his weapon of choice and confronts American examples with European ones, mainly Italian.  Through his experience,  living in both Europe and North America, he can speak as an insider and outsider. There is a balance in his observations between the formal and the social, which bridges a gap that still needs more analysis. Rudofsky's observations are valid now, and should be a useful source for practitioners in architecture and urban disciplines.