Friday, July 10, 2009

Jane Jacobs' City-Thinking Need Only Apply

By Paul K. Haeder
Below is an article from a great urban-rural E-zine-Web site for not only planners, but for all people interested in the past, present, and future of cities and communities, and the morphology and sociology of our ways of gathering and creating work, recreation, living, and support "space." Having cities "cut their losses," or as in the case of New Orleans, allowing a pretty simple natural disaster fueled by global warming to pummel and bulldoze a city as a type of economic and ethnic-racial cleansing experiment is absolutely unconscionable. If indeed the great public schools of the New Orleans area have been allowed to go private for greedy profiteers in some cases to decimate effective and equitable education, then we as a nation are not close to being prepared for these huge shifts in economics, demographics, climates and ecologies that will be fueled by resource scarcity, global population blooms, and shifting groups of people looking for a place for safety, food, shelter, work, and education for their children. All because of global warming and economic entanglement.
Huge steps need to be taken by planners, governments, experts in GIS, those reaping the benefits in the computing fields, and on and on, to begin preparing for these paradigm shifts -- the deindustrialization of America, the global economy retracting, a New Deal for localism, for supporting infrastructure in a multi-region fashion, instead of the dog-eat-dog mentality of the Business Elite, Chambers of Commerce, Builders, Developers, Bankers and Investors.
Architects, engineers, urban specialists, ag specialists, computer technologists, Autodesk, PacifiCAD, IBM, Global Urban Development, International Downtown Association, the Bioneers, thinks tanks, left and right, and a brigade of urban-rural-ecological thinkers and sociologists need to begin the large planning map to scale up for the negative effects of global warming and economic peril. Letting California's $40 billion budget shortfall take down many of that states' communities is dead wrong. It's wrong for any state in this country to have to beg, borrow and steal for funds to keep going. A Vatican City-sized green zone Embassy in Iraq is the sort of project that is more than symbolically telling. It runs up against the will of the American people who demand a new Big Deal. We need to work in a bio-eco-econ-diversity driven regional strategic planning mentality and roll up our sleeves and make sure Americans in any city or state have the capacity to plan their futures with a sense of fairness, drive, elegance, and partnership.
That 365-day a year fire season Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California declared is something ALL Americans must deal with and help mitigate and prepare for. We have too many times allowed federalism and this highly competitive state-by-state/state-against-state mode of thinking to act as a wrecking ball or wrecking crew against those states that have less representation, a smaller population, or tied to farming and rural dispositions.
Mountaintop removal in Appalachia and the South is a crying shame and a slight against America, all 50 states. We need a new way of thinking through our so-called "united states."
We can't continue doing the same thing over and over, allow a Grapes of Wrath wrath fall upon our country. We need Marshall Plans for economics, energy and education and social networks and community building and community togetherness. The article below is short, to the point, but narrow in scope and partially more of the same sort of thinking inside the box -- the capitalist, supply side, uneven economics that create the financial crises and debt burdens and inequitable lives that we in this country have to face daily. But look at some of the recommendations -- rebuild, adaptive reuse, smart infrastructure, community gardens, land banking, bike lanes, what have you. We need communities have cultural as well as historical ties. We need communities to work together in this Diaspora, this internal migration. We need this on a national level, not just letting a place like Flint, Michigan, flounder.
Read on.
Next Steps for Shrinking Cities: Results of the Planetizen Brainstorm

Bulldoze? Densify? Walk away? There are many ways cities can react to shrinking populations and abandoned neighborhoods. Planetizen readers decide which ways are the best.

It's hard to think about Detroit these days without picturing empty streets, cracked windows, and chaos -- essentially, a broken city. In fact, if the idea of a "broken city" needed a poster child, Detroit would be high in the running. Between 2000 and 2007, the city lost more than 30,000 people. More than 15,000 homes are currently under bank ownership. More than 3,100 homes were torn down in 2008.

Detroit is clearly in a tough place right now, but it's definitely not alone. The recession and housing market crash have weakened many cities, leaving large sections of town that are virtually abandoned. Empty homes and businesses line what were once living streets but are now ghost neighborhoods with little prospect of coming back to life.

Some say these neighborhoods will never recover, and it's time for cities to cut their losses. And when they say cities should "cut their losses", they're really talking about bulldozers and widespread demolition.

It's a concept based on the experience of Flint, Michigan, a city plagued by post-industrial decline. Officials there began bulldozing large abandoned areas of town and allowing them to "return to nature", creating park and open space. The idea is reportedly gaining some traction, as officials in the Obama administration are considering a study to identify areas within American cities where "back-to-nature" bulldozing may be appropriate.

But some argue that the bulldozer doesn't have to be the only way to deal with these withering places. Recent opeds have argued that bulldozers shouldn't start their engines quite yet. "Obliterating whole blocks and neighborhoods is just another way of giving up past and future," writes Gregory Rodriguez in the Los Angeles Times. "It will only further encourage the decentralization of residents and jobs."

In other words, it may be too soon to count these places out. And even if cities do count them out, things may not turn out the way officials intend.

So what should cities do with their empty and abandoned neighborhoods? We asked the Planetizen community of planners, developers and designers what they thought, and they offered dozens of suggestions and hundreds of votes for the best one.

As of July 9, 2009, these are the top five ideas for cities:

  1. Infill the core. (64 votes)
  2. Open vacant buildings to artists, nonprofits, etc. (42 votes)
  3. Seize the day! Rebuild smart infrastructure (hub systems) restore nature, rebuild in zero footprint. (37 votes)
  4. Establish land banking. Hold parcels with development potential, green & clean the rest. (21 votes)
  5. Build bike paths and community gardens. (19 votes)

The variety of responses shows that this is much more than a question of bulldozing or not bulldozing. Some readers suggested that certain parts of abandoned areas should be demolished, but others left for adaptive reuse projects. Some advice was as simple as following the lead of Flint and tearing buildings down, while other suggestions focused on rebuilding the urban core and increasing density.

"It's not a question of shrinking," commented one reader about the top ranked idea. "It's a question of concentration to support regeneration."

But taking advantage of urban space for traditionally non-urban uses was also a popular idea. Four separate suggestions mentioned reusing some of these abandoned spaces for urban agriculture.

The third place suggestion, to "rebuild smart infrastructure, restore nature and rebuild with a zero footprint" was probably the broadest idea. Encompassing more than just a single empty house or abandoned block, this suggestion calls for a new way of thinking about how the city as a whole should work. As one commenter suggests, cities should "rehab the family homes close to the urban core," but farther out "pull down unused structures and roads, and rent the land to eco-farmers."

Others suggest urban change on more of a social level. The second place idea calls for incentives to lure artists and entrepreneurs to declining areas in an effort to revive the local economy. "They will bring not only ideas but eyes on the street to reduce crime and increase livability," one readers suggests. Another reader proposes creating "community currency", the better to retain local wealth.

Overall, the wide variety of suggestions underlines the uncertainty that many cities have about how to react to these changes. They also show that cities don't have to look at empty buildings and declining populations as sure signs of a downfall. In fact, these seemingly unfortunate changes present what may be the best opportunity these cities get to rethink how they work and how they could work better.

Web Sites and Organizations -- smart growth, new urbanism, downtowns, global development, post carbon, transition towns, Bioneers

No comments:

Post a Comment

This blog is brought to you by

This blog is brought to you by
Paul Haeder

Fuse Washington

Fuse Washington

Blog Archive