Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Having Lunch With The Critics

Twelve Days of Christmas
Hello Everyone:

It is the second to the last day of 2014 and time to recap the best and worst of architecture over the past twelve months.  There some highlights, the opening of One World Trade Center (take that terrorists) and lowlights (the black blob that ate Los Angeles). There were also some truly WTF moments that would make even the most jaded architect's head explode.  Mark Lamster and Alexandra Lange from The Design Observer recently sat down for their "Lunch with the Critics: Fifth Annual Year-End Award" to pick through the best and worst of architecture and design.  It is an amusing look at the best and worst the profession had to offer in 2014.  The winners are:

George Lucas Museum of Narrative Art
Chicago, Illinois
The winner of the "Jabba the Hut Award for Sensitive Urban Design" is (long pause) Space Mountain.  No, the winner is Mr. Star Wars himself, George Lucas for thinking he can plop a replica of one of Disneyland's most popular rides on Chicago's Lake Michigan.  George, loved the original Star Wars movies, the first and third Indiana Jones movies but this, really come on.

Model for proposed new LACMA
Peter Zumthor
The "Most Unexpected Blobmeister" of the years is Pritzker Prize winning architect Peter Zumthor for proving that despite all the acclaim and years of practice, he still is capable of producing a proposed plan for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that make people scratch their heads and say "WTF."

The "Top Jargon" of the year award goes to the phrase "tactical urbanism."  This phrase, which blogger has no clue about its actual meaning, is now enshrined in the hallowed galleries of the Museum of Modern Art and is closely related to "pop-up urbanism" and "bottom-up urbanism."  Both Mr. Lamster and Ms. Lange warn us, "We're dangerously close to enshrining the small moves as we once did the big plans."

Visitors Center Clark Art Institute
Tadao Ando Architect and Associates with Gensler
Williamstown, Massachusetts
The "Best Architecture Money Can Buy Award" is given to the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts by Tadao Ando.  Mr. Lamster and Ms. Lange dismiss the campus as "a pristine if pricey exercise in museum building..."

The "Most Architecture Money Can Buy:" Frank Gehry the Vuitton Foundation Museum in Paris. Frank Gehry does Paris.

Sugar Hill Housing Complex
Harlem, New York
Adjaye Associates
David Adjaye's Sugar Hill Housing Complex gets the "Bringing Back Brutalism" award for a "kinder, gentler" version.

The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City is presented with the "Brutal Rejection of Brutalism" prize for closing the doors on the beloved Marcel Breuer building to hang out with the fashionable denizens of the Meat Packing District.

Timothy Rohan is awarded the "First Brutalism, Best Brutalism" Award for his timely Paul Rudolph monograph The Architecture of Paul Rudolph. Mark Lamster and Alexandra Lange write, "The rare monograph that leaves wanting more-and we do wish there were more photos."

Aspen Museum of Art
Aspen, Colorado
Shigeru Ban Architects
The "High and Low Award" goes to Shigeru Ban.  Long recognized for his humanitarianism and sustainable design, Mr. Ban won the Pritzker Prize, and proceeded to open an art museum in Aspen, Colorado that yours truly is not quite sure what to make of.

Every once in an odd while a country will redesign its currency to update the security features and Norway is no exception.  The Norwegian design firm Snøhetta wins the "You're So Money Award" for the pixelated resign of the Northern European nation's currency.

Mystery men can have an intriguing aura.  Think James Bond walking into a Far East Asian bar and everyone's heads turn.  However, in this case, think Austin Powers as in the winner of the "Austin Powers International Man of Mystery Award" the new chairman of the Museum of Modern Art's architecture and design department Martino Stierli. Who?!  Not exactly a name that comes to mind.  While we are on the subject of MoMA, they get the "Lousy Stewardship of Modern Architecture Award" for demolishing the Folk Art Museum.  Mr. Lamster and Ms. Lange ask, "Was it perfect?  No.  But what exactly is MoMA Inc. about?"

Beige.  A neutral color that signifies blandness.  To wit, the "Beyond Beige Prize" goes to Memphis, the eighties Italian design collective, Nathalie Du Pasquier at American Apparel, Peter Shire at the Architecture + Design Museum in Los Angeles, and the monograph on Memphis Group founder, Ettore Sottsass, proving the "it's clear we need a break from good taste all over again."

Thomas Heatherwick : Making
"Exhibition of the Year" is given to The Thomas Heatherwick at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas.  Coming soon to a museum in New York and Los Angeles.  Mr. Lamster and Ms. Lange call it a "happy celebration of creativity."  Speaking of Mr. Heatherwick, his privatized "park" spaces in London (Garden Bridge) and New York (Pier 55) was given the "But Will Play IRL Award" for establishing " uncomfortable choice between supporting design innovation and letting donors set urban priorities.

The "Making Mountains Award" goes to Bjarke Ingels's 57th Street peak which is shaping up to be "the architectural opening of 2015, but who was canny to propose a gentler slope next to the Smithsonian's Castle. No City left un-terraformed."

Fujiko Nakaya
"Atmospheric Effect of the Year" is presented to Fujiko Nakaya's Veil, which shrouded Philip Johnson's mid-century Modernist masterpiece Glass House in mist.  This is the stuff for Instagram and allowed visitors to take in the architecture from a fresh point of view.

The winner of the "Resistance is Futile Award" is Philip Nobel for quitting criticism and joining SHoP Architects as editorial director.  Did you think I was going to say Mr. Nobel was assimilated into the Borg? Close but not quite.

Sze Tsung Leong's monograph of panoramic landscape images, Horizons is the recipient of the "I Can See for Miles and Miles Award."

The Portland Service Building
Michael Graves
Portland, Oregon

The "Gritting Our Teeth Award" goes to (long pause) Postmodernism preserved.  Really?  Michael Graves's Portland Service Building and a host of other eighties pastel pastisched modern takes on historicism will genuinely stretch the boundaries of historic preservation to the absolute breaking point.

Sea Ranch is given the "Lines Look Good On You Award."  The venerable community in picturesque Sonoma County, California is celebrating its fiftieth birthday.  Must be the "stunning landscape, weathered architecture and intricate interior delights."  Yours truly thinks it is the temperate Northern California climate.

The "Blue-Light Special Award" winner is Alice Walton's Crystal Bridges Museum.  The Wal-Mart scion's museum cracked open its checkbook to import a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian house to the great state of Arkansas.

Proposed Tokyo National Stadium
Zaha Hadid
Tokyo, Japan
Karma is such a fickle thing.  You know how it is, what you put out in this world comes back to haunt you.  No one learned that lesson as well as Zaha Hadid the winner of the "What Goes Around, Comes Around Award."  This year, Ms. Hadid went to court to force a retraction from critic Martin Filler for his inaccuracy filled rant against her Qatari World Cup Stadium and the host country's sterling human rights record (insert irony).  In the meantime, Japan's great architects: Toyo Ito, Fumihiko Maki, Kengo Kuma et al band together in opposition of her proposed Olympic Stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

The "It's a Tough Game Award" for The Philadelphia Inquirer's architecture critic Inga Saffron for winning the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, making her the first singular architectural critic to win since Blair Kamin in 1999.  Yet, the Providence Journal of Rhode Island bid adieu to longtime crusty critic David Brussat.

Some people are really into public displays of affection.  This is why Tim Goodman and Jessica Walsh get the "Just Get a Room Already Award" for the viral video (see it on YouTube) of their love life.  This led to the inevitable movie deal and coming soon to a theater near you.  Assuming some petulant dictator or irate movie studio employee does not committed a cyber crime first.

Frank Gehry
Frank Gehry has been a practicing architect for over fifty years.  Thus, has rightfully earned the "Grumpy Old Man Award" not because he has been around for a long time and produced many noteworthy buildings, giving him the right to be critical of others.  Let me clarify that, it was his finger flipping four letter commentary on contemporary architectural production that garnered this award for the Santa Monica based architect.

Michael Morris, the head of the North Texas highway system, is the winner of the "Robert Moses Award for Longevity Award."  Mr. Morris has been in office since 1990 before Ann Richards, the last Democratic Governor of Texas, was in office.

The "Good for Women in Architecture Award" goes to Amale Andraos of WORKac for becoming the dean of Columbia's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.  Conversely, the "Bad for Women in Architecture Award" is handed out for the fact less than twenty-five percent of working architects (including academics) are women.

Fulton Center
New York City
Aby Rosen is presented with the "Don't Touch the Art Award" for commissioning a pathetic engineering study to justify removing Pablo Picasso's Le Tricorne from the Four Seasons Hotel.  Seriously?

Everyone and everything has its limits, including the Helsinki Guggeheims' open competition which attracted 1,715 designers.  For this, the Finnish branch of the famed New York City Museum gets the "Enough Already Award."

Cooper Union is one of New York City's best colleges, especially for architecture and engineering.  Yet, the school that produced Shigeru Ban and Daniel Libeskind was not satisfied in graduating well-known architects, they joined the legions of gentrifiers and, horror of horrors, started charging tuition, thereby getting the "There Goes the Neighborhood Award."

The "Stolen Thunder Award" is presented to the Fulton Center, the one component of the Ground Zero site that is "...both architecturally surprising and urbanistically useful."

Fashion and architecture occasionally collide but this does not make sense.  Mark Lamster and Alexandra Lange award figure skating's darling duo Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski the "Blue Steel for Fashion Award" for their campy glamour and playing fashion police at the Winter Olympics. Heirs to Joan Rivers?

Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum
New York City

Looking for a good book to read over your Winter break?  Check out Louise Sandhaus's Earthquakes, Mudslides, Fire & Riots: California Graphic Design, 1936-1986.

The "Practice What You Preach Award" is given to the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum which reopened on December 12 "...with sleeker galleries, timely exhibits, and some very intriguing museum-tech toys."

The Design Observer patted itself on the back with the "White-Pinkman Baby Blue Award."

Lou Reed, Mick Jagger, and David Bowie
Fond Farewells

As we say goodbye to 2014, Mark Lamster and Alexandra Lange say farewell to Metropolis publisher Horace Havemayer III  with "Benevolent Patron Award" for giving"the design world serious journalism, and launched countless careers.

Deborah Sussman receives the "Brighter Than the Sun Award" for being Los Angeles's reigning mistress of supergraphics and knowing how to make each color count.

The "Perfection to the End Award" is given posthumously to Massimo Vignelli, who no doubt is reading all this up in design heaven.

Last but never least Lou Reed, punk to the end.

Monday, December 29, 2014

How The "New Minorities" Are Re-Defining America

People walking down a random New York street
Hello Everyone:

As we wind down another year together, I want to take a moment to thank each and everyone of you for your continued readership.  It really means a lot.  I look forward to the coming year, bringing more posts on architecture, historic preservation, urban planning and design. To wit, today we look at how minorities are position to re-define America.

In a recent article for CityLab, "March of the Non-White Babies," Tanvi Misra interviewed Demographer William Frey.  Mr. Frey explains how racial minorities will outnumber majority Caucasians by 2050.  The title of this article sounds like a bit of fear mongering on the part of the publication but, as Ms. Mirsa explains that the non-white baby boom will affect "...everything from family structures to economic trends to, obviously, voting patterns."

U.S. White and Minority Populations, 1970-2050
William Frey is an internationally known demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, who has written extensively on urban populations, migration, immigration, race, aging, and political demographics.  Mr. Frey recently published the book Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics are Remaking America, in which he analyzes the current rise of minority populations and predicts how they will reshape the American landscape in the not-to-distant future.

By 2050, the alleged "new-minorities"-Hispanics, Asians and multi-racial groups-is predicted to double.  If the first reason you give is immigration, you are not totally off the mark.  Immigration is definitely a factor, but it is specifically past immigrant.  What is the engine that drives and will continue to do so in the future is the bulk of the immigrant population already here is old enough to have babies.

U.S. Race Groups and Projected Growth

William Frey explains, "Back in the 1950s, we had a lot of Americans across the board in their childbearing years-we had all these babies...Now, that's really the only case for some the newer minorities."  From a demographic point of view, this is good news, because the Caucasian population is rapidly aging.  Thus, Mr. Frey concludes that the new minority baby boom comes at a good time.  "The surge in minority births will arrive just in time to pick up the slack...Absent any major change in immigration policy, the future of the American Labor market will depend on the next generation of U.S.-born minorities."  The first question that comes to mind is "Where are these 'new minorities' likely to live?"

Hispanic Concentration Areas and New Hispanic Destinations
This is a good first question, where will the "new minorities" live? Way back in the nineties, the balkanization of minority groups was a big concern.  Newly arrived Hispanic groups tended to cluster in major cities such as Los Angeles, Miami, or New York, while the rest of country was moving elsewhere.  However, in the last fifteen years, this trend has shifted.  Hispanic have spread out from the the immigration magnet cities such as the ones listed above, especially in the Southeast (e.g. Florida and Georgia) which before the recession happened, was an economically growing area.

Another prediction is migration to the Mountain West.  Why the Mountain West? Employment was relocating to this region, creating opportunities in different labor sectors. Yet, the recession has slowed some of the upward trajectory but Mr. Frey believes, "I think that's temporary."

Asian Concentration Areas and New Asians Destinations
The next subject that Tanvi Mirsa asked William Frey about was migration cities and suburbs.  The suburbs used to be the ultimate destination for people who wanted a safe place to raise their children and good schools.  However, the injection of the "new minorities" are making this once sedate place into something more lively.  Minorities moving to the suburbs is not a new phenomena. Over the past two decades, more Asian metropolitan residents have set up house in the suburbs.  Now, more Hispanics are migrating to suburbia as well.  Mr. Frey reports, "Now, with the 2010 Census, there are more blacks moving to the suburbs...which is a real milestone in the U.S, given the strong city-concentration of blacks for many, many, many decades.  This younger generation of African-Americans-professionals and graduates-are moving off to the suburbs just like younger people other race groups."

Contributions to City and Suburban Population Change

How does the Asian, Hispanic, and African-American presence affect the suburbs?  At the ground level, it means that institutions and community organizations need to open themselves up to people of different backgrounds.  How does this square with the African-American population overall?

William Frey says, "In the 1990s and since 2000-the last 20 years or so-there's been a much more full migration of blacks back to the South.  The major metropolitan areas that's attracting blacks is Atlanta, which has been a fairly successful for most of these areas."  Mr. Frey adds, "They haven't moved back as to Alabama and Louisiana, places that haven't been doing as well."  It's tempting to read this and think the South?  Really?  After all that bloody history?  That interpretation of the information would completely miss the contemporary reality.
Greatest Black Suburban Gainers, 2000-10

It is not just young middle class African-Americans, desperate for jobs, that moving to the American South.  Mr. Frey predicts, "...we're going to see in the next decade or so, many more African-America retirees who spent their lives in Northern cities will decide when they retire they're going to move to the South. What's interesting about the black migration back to the South is that it's a real destination for them."  Mr. Frey speculates, "It's the economy, but I think it's a little bit of history, in that, maybe their parents weren't from there but maybe their grandparents were....There's something about the history of the South and the culture of the that's part of the pull as well." What does this imply for the white population?

Metropolitan Chicago and Atlanta Black Populations, 1970-2010

For the white population, "It's kind of a zero-sum population shift...," say Mr. Frey.  " [The white population] isn't growing very rapidly at all.  That means any place that gains whites through migration means some other place has to lose them."  In terms of numbers, approximately fifteen states, 140 metropolitan areas, and over half the counties across the country are losing their Caucasian population.  Where does the Caucasian population move to?  The same places a bulk of the minorities are heading to, i.e. places with good economies in the Southeast and the Mountain West.  Finally, one has to ask about the implications of this demographic reshuffling.

Black-White Segregation:
Average Levels for Metropolitan Areas, 1930-2010

Sounding an optimistic note, William Frey says, "I'd like to think this whole story about the new minority in the country is a good news story for the U.S."  He notes that implications of the growth of the new minorities is being felt in interracial marriages and affecting the politics of places.  Migration occurs at different speeds in different locations, however Mr. Frey emphasizes, "...but it is moving out and an integration-not only across regions, cities, and suburbs, but at the neighborhood level."  With any migration, there are always going to be some difficult adjustments.  This is a historic fact vis-a-vis America's history of immigration.
In the not-to-distant future, minorities will become the majority, thus determining the direction of this country.  What remains to be seen is how this will translate into real world practical policies.  How our current law makers address the major issue immigration today will have profound impact for the future that will be felt in every aspect of our lives.  Thus, it becomes incumbent on lawmakers to recognize that we live in changing society and must adapt to it.     

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What If Women Designed Cities?

Heydar Aliyev Center
Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher
Baku, Azerbaijan
Hello Everyone:

Let us begin with a statement of the obvious, men and women think differently.  Changing out think for design, men and women design differently.  Susanna Rustin, writing in a recent article for The Guardian "If women built cities, what would our urban landscape look like?," asks the question what would urban landscapes look like if women, not men, designed them?  Ms. Rustin begins by quoting United Kingdom-based architect Fiona Scott, partner at the firm Gort Scott, "I hate to stereotype...Male architects are often quite sensitive artistic people and any suggestion that buildings designed by women are more curvy, tactile, or colourful is wrong.  But I don't think there are many women who think, 'Oh, my ideal project would be a massive tower.'"  Ms. Scott also describes a generational gap between women working in the field now and those who have retired or close to it.  The article is focused on Ms. Scott and whether or not gender influences her work but also has implications for all women architects. 

The Museum of Modern Art
Lina Bo Bardi and Oscar Niemayer
São Paulo, Brasil
 It is quite common to learn about women who have not been properly credited for work, however, there are certain advantages to being female.  Ms. Scott, "I've alway thought there was a benefit to being a woman [in this field] because you don't have to so much to get noticed, and if your ideas are any good then people want to hear what you've got to say." Working under the radar can be a good thing because you can develop your ideas without all the distraction of unwarranted publicity.  Ms. Scott continues, "It's a mistake to think women aren't capable of having grand ideas...even if such ideas are often associated with big egos," in referring to Lina Bo Bardi, whose hundredth birthday was celebrated this year.  Yours truly first thought is Zaha Hadid.  Despite, her positive outlook, Fiona Scott admitted to Susanna Rustin that she struggled in her early career.  "I would go to networking events that were full of guys who had a way of talking I found exhausting...Quite bullish, lots about sport.  You find yourself feeing you have nothing to say.  It's a vicious circle where your confidence gets diminished if people don't listen to you..."

The National Gallery extension
Michael Venturi and Denise Scott Brown
London, England
The first thing one needs to pay attention to when discussing     how cities would differ if women designed and built them is, despite the fact that women hold powerful positions, the biggest urban development decisions are still made by men.  To be clear, there have been women architects, planners, and politicians who have inspired urban greatness.  Of course, let us not forget the seminal book about urban design, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) was written by Jane Jacobs.  However, around the the world the upper echelons of building professions (eg. architecture and urban planning) are still heavily male dominated.  In the UK, Ms. Rustin cites a recent survey that found "the number of women in architecture firms fell from 28% to 21% between 2009 and 2011."  In 2012, the Gendersite, a database created to feature information on gender and the built environment on the heels of the new gender parity duty for planners, closed due to lack of funds.  Kate Henderson, chief of the Town and Country Planning Association, was interview by The Guardian described the construction field as a, "very, very male-dominated industry,"  Every female architect, planner, urbanist, and engineer interview for the article described what it is like to be the only woman in the room.

Environmental engineer Sarah Bell recently told Ms. Rustin at a gathering of the women's network group Urbanista's, "The thing about that we don't actually know we're not meat to be doing physics until we get to university."  Blogger's experience has been the opposite, no one ever told yours truly you couldn't do physics, ever.  To put it another way, the teacher's at Ms.  Bell's girls's school did not exactly warn her that she would be the only girl in class.  Susanna Rustin writes, "Currently just 14% of UK engineering and technology students are female and just 7% of engineers, making the UK one of the least equal countries on this measure."

Denise Scott Brown in Las Vegas, c. sixties
These sobering numbers are reflected at the individual level.  A woman in a male-dominated workplace may feel isolated, face discrimination by being excluded from networks, while male supervisors "...hire and promote in their own image."  Ms. Rustin asks, "Does the lack of female representation materially affect the work produced by architects, developers, and planners?  Would new housing, street and office blocks look or feel any different if more women were in charge of designing them?"

Attempting to answer her own question, Ms. Rustin introduces the readers to Wendy Davis.  In the mid-eighties, Ms. Davis was among the principals of
Women's Design Service meeting at City Hall
August 2011
Women's Design Service, one of the first feminist architectural design groups.  As an architecture student in the seventies, Ms. Davis and her fellow female students object to the way the subject was taught.  Essentially, "...You had to pin your design to the wall and everyone would have to go to you, and I really go told off for saying 'Oh yes, I hadn't thought of that.'  It was very agressive and completely counter to the feminist groups that we [women] were all starting to join, that emphasised cooperation."

This method of design studio critique has not changed in the millennium.  The architecture profession's machismo spurred Ms, Davis and her colleagues to band together but they faced issues over the substance of the work.  Ms. Davis continues, "No one seemed to have any gender issues around design at all...The thing that's stuck with me was Le Corbusier's idea that everyone should work to a human scale, which you really can't argue with-but the figure he use to show how this worked was six feet tall!  Generally speaking women are smaller and what about children?"  Sounds like hair splitting to blogger but obviously important to Ms. Davis.

Ladies bathing pond
Hempstead Heath
The WDS provides design consultations including sketches and plan drawings to groups who request it and advocate for more family-friendly public spaces.  The group has also pioneered research on women's safety, publishing a pamphlet on public restrooms, "At Women's Convenience."  This may sound trivial to the casual reader, but speaking as a female, the long lines to use the ladies is more than inconvenient, it is downright irritating, forcing your truly to contemplate using the gents.

The focus on sexism in the built-environment is a sticking point for contemporary women architects-the younger generation are eager to show that they have moved on.  Fiona Scott says, "too much focus on sexism these days feels 'not cool.'"  Architect Catherine Greig who used to rent desk space from WDS and now runs her own firm adds, "I was constantly thinking, 'It's got to be about more than toilets!'"  Ms. Greig continues, "The premise of our practice is to put people at the centre-I'm thinking about gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, age.  There are lots of groups that get marginalized...Even if cities were designed by female architects, they would still be a very narrow group."

Jane Jacobs
While both Mses. Scott and Greig sympathize with the previous generation, they differ in the belief that men and women work.  "If I said I'm not aware of gender in my profession I'd be lying," admits Ms. Greig.  She continues, "Even when you're training, you realize this field is so male-dominated!  My entire relationship as a professional was tied with the realisation that I was in the minority."  Ms. Greig starting for understanding this relationship was her research into the seventies feminist adventure playgrounds.  Reading about how activists fought for teenage play areas, it dawned on Ms. Greig, "how everybody can be involved in thinking about how cities are made."

Zaha Hadid
Of course there professionals, of both genders, who are focused on the profit margin above all.  However, both Fiona Scott and Catherine Greig are cautious about generalizations, rather, they believe that women tend to be more pragmatic then their male counterparts, have a more collaborative approach to decision making, and are better at understanding the nuances of a project.  This last point is partially due to the physical differences between the gender and having specific female needs.  Being marginalized professionally can accentuate an awareness of what life is like for other minority groups.  "It gives you a little bit more sensitivity to what it might be like to have another vulnerability," said Liane Hartely, co-founder of the Urbanistas and runs social concern Mend.  Ms. Hartely continues, "Considerate is the word, because you you can't include everyone in everything.  The question is really not would cities be different if they were designed by women?  It's would they be different if more voices were heard?"

Lina Bo Bardi
Therefore, it begs the question, "what would such a city look like, and does it exist?"  To answer this question, Ms. Rustin interviewed urban anthropologist Caroline Moser, who pioneered a gender-aware strategy to planning at the Development at University College London and spent most of her career doing field work in Latin American slums.  Ms. Moser answered the question of what a more inclusive urban plan would look like, "This is the antithesis of the built environment, but also the most incredible space for women at different stages of life."  As they amble through the Hempstead Heath, along the Ladies Bathing Pond, Ms. Moser points to the pool, referring to it as "recognition that women needed their own space."  "A Room of One's Own" in three-dimensions.  Ms. Moser distinguishes between practical gender needs like infant highchairs and strategic ones such as political representation.  Through her field work, she learned, "you had to clearly articulate the community role of women."  She also emphasizes "that the built environment means not simply buildings and public spaces but also 'the way people are in them.'"

"What Would a Non-sexist City Be Like?"
Dolores Hayden's class 1980 essay "What Would a Non-sexist City Be Like?," called for places that would "transcend traditional definitions of home, neighbourhood, city and workplace."  Since the publication of this essay, other have taken up the cause that a woman-oriented city "...would be more porous, the divisions between home and work less rigid, so that domestic acknowledged as productive activity, and carers...are less excluded from economic life.  In any case, such divisions are often artificial with women in developing-world cities undertaking economic activity that has too often been ignored."

Al-Wakrah Stadium
Al-Wakrah, Qatar
Zaha Hadid
Feminists are not the only ones making the case for a radical transformation of the urban environments. Recently, the City of Sao Paolo approved a "strategic masterplan," considered by many as a model of a more inclusive and equitable design process; inspired by broad concerns surrounding growing inequality and housing needs.  However, expert such as urban planner Yasminah Beebeejaun say that the gender politics of urban planning have long been underestimated.  Ms. Beebeejaun argues, "that the garden city movement-which looks set to be revived in the UK with  cross-party support-was conceived in part as a means of moving women out of city centres..."  The single family home with gardens are something we have all be taught to aspire to but require more upkeep then apartments and more likely to result in a single-income family.

Women protesting sexual violence in India
 According to Caren Levy, who used to work for Caroline Moser now a professor at UCL, in many parts of the world women cannot leaven their homes by themselves without risk of harassment or worse.  Prof. Levy studies transportation, an area growing concern for policymakers in light of 2012 horrific gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey. Despite the glaring evidence women must be considered in transportation planning decisions, Prof. Levy says, "gender remains at the fringe of policy debate, if it there at all: 'it's clearly very hard to talk about questions of gender if you don't talk about people in the first place and there are elements of planning that are very technocratic.'"

Is there such a thing as a feminist or minority-friendly exist?  The short answer is no.  However, there are places where women, children, the elderly, the disabled, sexual or ethnic minorities can thrive and are part of the decision making process.  These places are far and few in between.  Truthfully, no city has ever been planned and built along female or minority-friendly lines.  Everything posited in this article sounds utopian and deaf to the real world urban concerns but this may change in the future. The solution lies at the early stages, training architects and planners.  Like women who are encouraged to learn to code, women should also be encouraged to study the building and planning professions.  Not just, the "nice" fields like interior design but architecture, architectural engineering, and planning.  Girls can do physics.  Second, all community stakeholders should be heard at planning and design review board meetings.  Planners and architects need to design with more sensitivity to all the building's user, not just a select few.  Women can build and plan; we do so with greater awareness. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Arts As An Economic Engine

"Art Basel Miami Beach"
Hello Everyone:

Between December 3rd and 6th, the art world convened in Miami Beach for three days of gallery shows.  Sun, surf, modern and contemporary art a combination hard to beat.  More than the thought of spending a long afternoon taking in a beachside gallery show, Richard Florida looks at how leading arts hubs play a role in economic development.  In his article, "Why Cities Can't Afford to Lose Their Artists" for CityLab, writes, "The art fair is widely credited with kick-starting the economic resurgence of the Miami area, so it seems like a good time to ask: What do we really know about the role of art and the city?"  Good question.  Do art exhibitions and other cultural events help economic growth and development or do they facilitate gentrification? Are leading art clusters found only in big cities such as New York and Los Angeles or can they be replicated in smaller and/or medium sized cities?

Industries in arts cluster
2010 U.S. Census, North America

Recently, Urban Studies published a study that closely examines the connection between the arts and the city.  Before yours truly goes any further, I would like to clarify the word "arts."  Arts is defined as a general term for all facets of the performing (eg. acting and music) and fine arts (eg. painting and sculpture).  The study was conducted by Carl Grodach of the Queensland University of Technology, Elizabeth Currid-Halkett of the University of Southern California (full disclosure, Ms. Currid-Halkett was one of my professors at USC), and James Murdoch III of the University of Texas, Arlington.  It analyzes the economic and demographic factors closely associated with arts clusters and the types of metropolitan areas where arts hubs are located.  The research team looked at the concentration of arts clusters, using the standard location quotient measure, across 366 American metropolitan areas and almost 14,000 ZIP codes, about 90 percent of all arts-related employment.

The Grodach team also studied the relationships between the arts clusters and a series of 33 social, economic, and demographic determinants spread out over four types of metro areas: large metros with populations over 1,000,000 people, mid-sized metros with a 500,000 to 1,000,000 people, small metros with a population of 250,000 to 500,000 people, and smaller metros with populations of less than 250,000.  The researchers identified arts clusters as composed of twenty-two key industries that produce artistic content, excluding the radio and television broadcasting industries.  They used a series of statistical techniques, such as correlations and regression models, to locate the types of places home to arts clusters and the key locational factors connected with them.

2010 Metro arts cluster employment size and concentration
Grodach et al.
The research discovered that "...arts hubs are considerably concentrated, taking the form of a 'winner-take-all geography.'"  Case in point, "28 out of the 366 U.S. metros, less than one in ten, have substantial arts hubs with LQ's of 1.2 or higher."  The chart to the left illustrates how metro compare in terms of arts employment (Y-axis) versus their concentration of arts industries based on their LQs (X-axis).  Metropolitans such as Los Angeles (upper right), have higher levels of very concentrated arts employment.  While cities in lower right quadrant have high concentration of arts industries but lower art employment. Historic arts hubs New York City and San Francisco have high arts employment opportunities but less concentrated.  Smaller cites like Ashville, North Carolina; Boulder, Colorado; and Ann Arbor, Michigan present a significant arts hub for their size.  However, Nashville, Tennessee; Honolulu, Hawai'i; Seattle, Washington present impressive number in terms of arts employment and concentration, despite their small size.  Yet, Boston and Chicago contain smaller arts clusters than suggested by their levels of arts employment.

Downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan
In general, the study reveals that arts clusters are found in "urbanized, relatively diverse regions," and their presence is definitely associated with strong economies.  Richard Florida adds this caveat, "But the factors that are associated with arts hubs vary considerably  between large, medium-size and smaller metros."  The situation gets more complex when the research team bring their analysis down to the neighborhood level.  The first and most obvious result is the data from their statistical analysis is weaker: "Their neighborhood level analysis explains just 14 percent of the variance in where arts hubs are located, compared to 59 percent for the metro models." Specifically, the links between arts clusters and urbanization, density, a highly educated population, and diversity get weaker or disappear at the micro-level (the neighborhood).

Union Square
San Francisco, California
Richard Florida point out, "While much has been made of the connection between arts and gentrification, the researchers find little evidence of it, noting that 'arts clusters are lied less to conventional signs of gentrification and 'urban' characteristics but rather they maybe found where other related industries that rely on specialized expertise and knowledge abound.'"  In other words, there is a negative correlation between arts clusters and poverty.

Further, there are two important implications that emanate from the study's key conclusions.  First, mayors, arts and cultural policy makers, and economic developers are better served by taking a localized approach to arts hubs and creative place making.  The researchers write:

[A] comprehension of arts clusters requires a specificity and particular attention to the uniqueness of the the type of art and place itself.  Targeted local development may be the most important means by which to support the arts, rather than broader federal, state or regional efforts.  Distinctions between arts clusters occur at localized level and thus ought to be supported as such.

The second key conclusion in the study found that benefits flow better from connect arts and innovation hubs.  The research team writes, "While many of the variables linked to arts clusters are incredibly place specific...the arts are linked to broad measures of innovation and development...suggesting the arts can play a larger role in economic development irrespective of metro size or geographic boundaries of city and neighborhood."

What can we take from this study of arts clusters and economic development.  In a somewhat limp conclusion, Richard Florida writes, "Ultimate the study note that while arts are not a silver bullet for cities, their role in urban economic development is, in the authors' words. 'highly underestimated.'"


Monday, December 22, 2014

Latino Urbanism And The Reinvention Of A City

Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles
Hello Everyone:

Over the past two days, Christopher Hawthorne has taken taken on tour of the Mid-Wilshire area and the City of Arcadia, showing us how Korean and Chinese immigrants have altered the urban and suburban landscape.  Our final stop today is Downtown Los Angeles, specifically Broadway. Today's article, "'Latino Urbanism' Influences A Los Angeles In Flux." comes courtesy of one of my Facebook friend and city planning consultant James Rojas.  The article looks at what Latino Urbanism is about and how it is radically remaking one of DTLA's busiest thoroughfares.  For several decades, Broadway has been one of the most vibrant pedestrian oriented streets in Southern California, usually crowded with Latino shopper, some recent arrivals from Mexico.  This makeover comes at time when the discounts stores are being pushed in favor of "artisanal" food stores and upscale boutiques, who coincidentally, are taking their design cues from Latin American street life.  Coincidence?  Let us find out.

The Orpheum Theater c.1931
The redesign of Broadway is a reminder of the number of regional politicians and policymakers are drawing inspiration from Latino Urbanism. What exactly does this term mean?  Mr. Hawthorne writes, "Latino Urbanism, a term that describe the range of ad hoc ways in which immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America have remade pockets of American cities to feel at least a little like the places they left behind."  City planners are adding parks and bicycles land to major streets and fighting to relax anachronistic restrictions so that murals can be installed in the arts districts and street vendors can operate legally.  Further, events like CiCLAvia are inspiring urban design changes that challenge the auto-centric way of life.

CiCLAvia Los Angeles
"We're seeing what had been a series of informal activities become formalized," say city planning consultant James Rojas, who came up with the term "Latino Urbanism." Mr. Rojas the influence spreading across the region, especially in Los Angeles.  Mr. Rojas continues, "There's a whole official design lexicon that is borrowed from lessons about how Latinos design their homes and interact with their neighborhoods."  The end product is Los Angeles, long a culturally and demographically a Latino city in context to the street grid and the way the public spaces are designed.  Thus, Latino Urbanism, "largely the study of how immigrants use Los Angeles," is rapidly reflected in the way the city looks.  What this shift implies for the immigrants, in relationship to gentrifying DTLA or Boyle Height, is a different and fraught question.

Boyle Heights sign
Latinos have historically created space in Los Angeles for entrepreneurial and community activities in a city structured around a maze of freeways and private homes. Most are renters without connections or resources to remake civic architecture, the immigrants have learned how "to modify an established, largely suburban metropolis around the edges to make it more hospitable and sociable." In the modification process, they have fuzzed the line between public and private space that has been steadfastly maintained by earlier generations of L.A. residents.  Mr. Hawthorne writes, "In a neighborhood remade by Latino immigrants, signs are mostly hand-painted, whether they announce an accountant's office or nail salon.  The wall of grocery stores are covered with pictogram-like drawings of milk jugs and  and boxes of detergent."

"East LA Interchange"
The fences surrounding the individual houses are more like thresholds rather than barriers.  Parks, as well as front gardens, are packed on the weekends with birthday parties or other celebrations.  Streetscapes are apparent, like the one in well-established communities such as Cesar Chavez Avenue in Boyle Heights.  The streetscapes are also visible in northeastern San Fernando Valley, which is now 70 percent Latino.  Latinos have also made inroads in historically African American neighborhoods  such as Watts, where front garden resemble those of Tijuana.

East Los Angeles T-shirt vendors
One example is Carmen Quintero who lives with her extended family, including her five grandchildren, in a bungalow along Compton Avenue.  About two years ago, she began selling t-shirts, hanging on a chain-link fence, to make extra money.  She also sells toys, bicycles, CDs, DVDs, and VHS tapes.  The front garden and sidewalk have all become Ms. Quintero's five and dime store.  Ms. Quintero says, "I can't work because of the kids...So I do this."

As Los Angeles County, about 50 percent Latino, transitions into a post-immigration phase, long-established immigrants are becoming more financially secure and gaining influence at the ballot-box.  Also, their influence in residential design, entrepreneurship, public and private space is being felt in the realm of city planning.  Mayor Eric Garcetti has been actively pushing his Great Streets Initiative that aims to increase the what he calls "the street-level health of city."  The plan calls for improvements to selected boulevards across the city to make them more pedestrian, cyclist, and small business friendly.  Mayor Garcetti has said the program is "a shift from the way our neighborhoods have been planned in Los Angeles," emphasizing "walkability and transit."  To this end, the Mayor has instituted a program called People Street, intended to make it easier for residents to add plazas, pocket parks, and bike corrals to their communities.

Ruben F. Salazar Park
Los Angeles City Council member Jose Huizar, who represents the fourteenth district which includes DTLA and Boyle Heights, has been active in the advancement of changes to street and public space design-including Broadway.  He has also supported legalizing street vendors and helped reverse the mural painting ban.  "In Mexico, every town has the local plaza, the town square," said Mr. Huizar.  Further, "And then you come to a place like L.A., It's all about the car and how fast you can drive through different neighborhoods."  Former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa  was the first Latino mayor elected in Los Angeles in more than a century.  Mr. Villaraigosa had an inconsistent commitment-vis a vis wallability- to redesigning the city based on Latino Urbanism.  Perhaps Mr. Hawthorne was assuming that because Mr. Villaraigosa is Mexican-American, he would be more committed to Latino Urbanism.

Parlor Hair Design
El Sereno
Even as the former mayor worked to expand public transportation, he misguidedly supported a plan to convert Olympic and Pico Boulevards into one-way streets.  Yours truly says misguided because it "would have pushed car traffic right up to the sidewalk and undermined the appeal of those streets for pedestrians and shoppers."  A new administration means new ideas drawn from Latino Urbanism, a smattering of other sources, and the scholarship of Jane Jacobs are being worked into the basic structure that guided urban planning, architecture, and development in L.A.

To wit, the city is simultaneously revising three key policies: zoning codes that were last updated in 1946; Los Angeles's mobility plan; and its strategies for health and wellness, which includes suggestions for parks and pedestrian activity.  The draft version of each of these guidelines suggest a more concerted effort to re-imagine a post-war landscape of the city for a less privatized epoch.  The proposed mobility guidelines point to L.A. streets being reconsidered as complex public spaces instead of traffic corridors.  The proposed health and wellness guideline revisions argue that L.A. residents need more parks and better safer places to walk.  It only took the City of Los Angeles about eighty or so years to figure this out.

Homeboy Industries
 Christopher Hawthorne writes, "The gap between how Latino Urbanism seeks to remake Los Angeles and the way it's planned from City Hall for decades, largely giving priority to the private realm, is far from closed."  The gap between the two is further highlighted by architects and real estate developers who continue to come up with ways to maintain the status quo.  Recently, public space advocates took umbrage with Mr. Huizar over his support for a developers seeking approval for a private bridge connecting two apartment buildings.

It is also important to bear in mind that the Latino immigrant population in Southern California is extremely diverse.  This diversity is also expressed among the immigrant communities from the same country-i.e. "...among Mexican immigrants, regional differences are significant.  Families from Oaxcaca, many of who have settled in Koreatown, have different expectations about how the city should be designed than a childless twentysomething from Mexico City who lives downtown."

7th and Broadway
Downtown Los Angeles
The propose Broadway makeover is another example of the challenges that lay ahead.  City Hall has opted to lavish plenty of attention on a street that already is pedestrian-friendly but increasingly upscale, leaving City Hall open to accusations "...that it is co-opting rather than expanding the basic ideals of Latino Urbanism."  Why choose Broadway when there so many other streets all over the city where immigrants who must rely on public transportation while struggling to find a safe place to walk?

For example, in Highland Park (Tim Logan's December 21, 2014 article at, East Los Angeles, and elsewhere, immigrants are slowly being squeezed out of their neighborhoods that have been remade in their image or marketed specifically for their Latino Urbanist appeal.  This past spring real estate agent Bana Haffar posted fliers around downtown urging apartment dwellers to consider purchasing property across the Los Angeles River in Boyle Heights.  To blogger, Boyle Heights seems an unlikely place to attract more upscale residents but the flier described the community as a "charming, historic, walkable and bikeable neighborhood."  All the key buzzwords designed to attract milliennial clientele.  The flier invited prospective buyers to participate in a "free 60 minute bike tour of the neighborhood followed by a 30-minute discussion.  Artisanal treats and refreshments provided." Insert eye roll, pleeeease.

El Huarache Azteca
York Boulevard, Highland Park
Needless to say Ms. Haffar was slammed with angry responses on her social media sites, "...accusing her of promoting the sort of gentrification in Boyle Heights that might wipe out the very charm she'd identified there."  The tour was promptly canceled.  Said Ms. Haffar, "I got a very strong backlash from the community."

Christopher Hawthorne writes, "In some fundamental ways, though, the political establishment's growing embrace of Latino Urbanism is consistent with the cultural history of Southern California."  Despite the stranglehold of car culture in Southern California, it is quite surprising how many of our most successful pedestrian oriented places are celebrated; offering some form of sidewalk commerce, authentic or faux.  After decades of private pedestrian oriented places, popular escapes from the dominance of the car, Los Angeles is finally getting around to looking at the design of the streets and sidewalks.  Los Angeles is a city with deep Latin roots that go as far back as its founding. The streets are laid out along a grid pattern established by the Spanish crown in the sixteenth century for its territorial possession.  Streets remade following Latino Urbanism is both a look back and forward, a city on the cusp of reinvention.  After all, this is what Los Angeles is about, a place to reinvent yourself.