Thursday, October 30, 2014

Do Conservatives Have a Problem With Suburbia?

Los Angeles urban sprawl
Hello Everyone:

We are heading back to suburbia today after taking a brief sojourn to Paris, France for the Frank Gehry retrospective at the Centre Pompidou.  Ahh suburbia, that magical place with beautiful homes, happy and healthy families, and good schools.  Right?  Well not exactly.  Joel Kotkin, in his article "Why Suburbia Irks Some Conservatives," for New Geography writes, "For generations, politicians of both parties-dating back to at least Republican Herbert Hoover and Democrat Franklin Roosevelt- generally supported the notion of suburban growth and expansion of homeownership.  'A nation of homeowners,' Franklin Roosevelt believed, 'of people who own a real share in their land, is unconquerable.'"  Of course neither president was living during the home mortgage industry implosion.  So why exactly does suburbia irk some conservatives?

 Tyson Corner neighborhood
Tyson Corner, Virginia
To begin, support for suburban growth has dramatically waned, especially among the self-proclaimed  FDR-esque progressives.  In my home state of California, Green partiers, planners, and their developer allies have supported legislation that puts the price of single family homes, the preferred living quarters of about 70 percent of adults, far above the buying capacity of most residents.  Operating under the radar is the antithetical view to suburbia-typically known as sprawl-which has been growing among old-school conservatives, like author-philosopher Roger Scruton, who do not make any effort to hide their animus toward the suburbs.  These old-school types actually prefer European-style planning laws that insist that people live in densely packed cities such as Paris or London instead of more spread out cities like Atlanta, Houston, or Los Angeles.  "...better places for the well-heeled tourist..."

London skyline
Joel Kotkin infers, "There may be more than a bit of class prejudice at work here.  British Tories long have disliked suburbs and their denizens."  Citing the 1905 book The Suburbs by poet T.W.H. Crossland, Mr. Kotkin writes that said tome "launched a vitrolic attack on the 'low and inferior species,' the 'soulless' class of 'clerks' who were spreading into the new, comfortable houses in the suburbs mucking up the aesthetics of the British countryside."  This seems to be quite the opposite of the historic American view of the suburbs as the goal of upward mobility.  Ironically, many British conservatives, like Mr. Scruton and his American counterparts, frequently inhabit the lush countrysides and would prefer that these soulless class of clerks stay as far away as possible.  Despite this, in their zeal to protect their turf, there is little, if any concern, that they have embraced legislation that contributed to the housing inflation in cities like London and San Francisco.

Union Square
San Francisco, California
 Conservative criticism of the suburbs is not solely based on aesthetic discontent, it is usually founded on specific social and environmental issues.  "There's no telling how many marriages were broken up over the stress of suburb-to-city commutes," states conservative writer Matt Lewis in a recent issue of The Week.  In Mr. Lewis's estimation, the problem with the suburbs is it is anti-family.  Well now, this is a switch, the American suburbs have long be touted as the ideal place to raise a family.
What is apparent is Mr. Lewis and his fellow "retro-urbanist conservatives" are mimicking the philosophies of the smart-growth coterie and urban planners.  Mr. Kotkin notes, "If he actually researched the issue, he would learn that the average commutes of suburbanites tend to be shorter, according to an analysis of census date by demographer Wendell Cox, than those in denser transit-oriented cities..."

Paris, France
 Matt Lewis and other conservatives have looked to the perceived anti-social elements of conservatism-a favorite motif of new urbanists.  One example, in a report titled "Conservatives and the New Urbanism: Do We Have Something In Common," the late conservative activist Paul Weyrich argued in favor of "forcing 'traditional designs for the places we live, work and shop,' which 'will encourage traditional culture and morals,' such as community and family."
Once again, Joel Kotkin takes the research to task, writing, "...suburbanites, as University of California researchers found, tend to be more engaged with their neighbors than are people closer to the urban core.  Similarly, a 2009 Pew study recently found that, among the various geographies in America, residents in suburbia were more 'satisfied' than either rural or urban residents."

Suburban lawn
Baltimore, Maryland
Klaus Philipsen
By working against suburbia, said conservatives are, in reality, waging war on the middle class, which Mr. Kotkin say and yours truly agrees, "not necessarily a smart political gambit."  In general, typical suburban enclaves are home to about three-quarters of the urban population.  However, this number is still low, considering that most large American cities are suburban by nature with low mass transportation consumption and single-family built during the postwar auto-centric years. Thus, a mere 18 percent of major metropolitan residents actually live in dense transit oriented places.

Given this percentage, you might be tempted to think that conservatives would have an issue with the progressive agenda to go around preferences and market forces by restraining suburban and single-family home development.  These progressives might seize on a strategic opening to take the urban periphery, the one place still in play in the American political landscape.  By contrast, the "blue" cities and "red" rural areas have picked their teams and voted accordingly.  Therefore, tempted by their own class prejudice, some conservatives appear to willingly abandon the long cherished market forces.  The promulgation of Draconian is unnecessary  for density growth.  Case in point, in Dallas and Houston which have both liberal planning measures and economic growth, there has been a great increase n multifamily residences in comparison to Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, and New York.  Housing costs are lower.

Hyde Park, Illinois
Again, Joel Kotkin critically examines the research and concludes, "...few mainstream conservatives apparently bother to study such things, and, as prisoners of the conventional wisdom, embrace the notion that, on economic growth grounds, suburbs are becoming irrelevant."  Others, such as libertarian oriented economist Tyler Cowen infer that stagnate post-recession America has to adapt to the "new normal" of lower expectations.  Since middle-class opportunity seems stuck in a morass, the majority of financial interest see America as becoming a "rentership" society. Thus for those investing in multifamily residences, the death of the suburbs would be quite economically advantageous.  Mr. Kotkin writes, "It's hard for me, even as a nonconservative, to see how this trajectory works for the Right."

Northwest Washington D.C.
In Mr. Kotkin's estimation, "Renters, childless households, highly educated professionals, as well as poor service workers, clustering in dense cities are not exactly prime Republican voters."  Further speculating, "Without property, and with no reason to be overly concerned with with dysfunctional schools, the urban population tilts increasingly, if anything, further to the left."  Yet, it is the middle-class property owner and the upwardly mobile who find themselves without a party or philosophy to champion their cause.  Here, Mr. Kotkin takes to task the elite in the media and academia, urban planners, and conservative thinkers for having "...once again, missed a chance to build a broad popular coalition that can overcome the 'upstairs, downstairs' configuration that increasingly dominates the Democratic party."

Phoenix skyline
Phoenix, Arizona
The opportunity for either party to find a way to appeal to a coalition of middle-class property owners and the upwardly mobile that compose the suburban base.  Say what you will about Ronald Reagan or Margret Thatcher (I've said plenty on the former) but they understood the link between property ownership, democracy, and status.  The same can be said for more traditional Democrats from Franklin D. Roosevelt through Bill Clinton.

Whether or not you see the suburbs as paradise, they are the embodiment of the American Dream, holding out the promise of a better life.  This is not to say that the suburbs cannot be improved socially and environmentally.  Mr. Kotkin reports, "This already happening in new, mostly privately built developments where the 'ills' of suburbia-long commute distances, overuse of water and energy-are addressed by building new town centers, bringing employment close to home, the use of more drought-resistant landscaping, promoting home-based business and developing expansive park systems."  This all looks very promising, in light of a aggressive agenda that pushes denser housing and "create heat-generating concrete jungles."

In abandoning the suburbs, both Republicans and Democrats are engaging in a lethal electoral attack on the concerns and interests of the majority of Americans and their aspirations.  By insisting on denser housing and more constricted planning initiatives, not a return to solid republic virtues that link democracy to property ownership, the United States risks moving from a property ownership-based democracy to a feudal society.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Perfectly Frank

Centre Georges Pompidou
Paris France
Bon jour tout le monde:

Hello everyone, as you might have guessed we are moving on from climate change to a Frank Gehry retrospective at the Centre Georges Pompidou in paris, France.  This blog's favorite architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne was recently dispatched by the Los Angeles Times to review the exhibit on the "City of Angels's" best-known architect.  Mr. Hawthorne's review titled, "Comprehensive 'Gehry retrospective draws a sociological blank," sums up the retrospective as " impeccable vacuum.  The curators have worked strenuously, if invisibly, to keep at bay the full range of issues that have given the rest of the architecture a full-on identity crisis in the last decade or so."  The exhibition is drawing architecture fans and the curious, all eager to be a part of and peer into the fertile imagination of Frank Gehry.

Frank Gehry
Exhibition portrait
On the Centre Pompidou website, the museum writes, Le nom de Frank Gehry incarne á lui seul l'image de l'architecture contemporaine.  Mondialement reconnu por des project qui ont aujourd'hui valeur d'icône, son œuvre a révolutionné l'esthétique de l'architecture... (  Basically translated into English, "The name Frank Gehry represents the singular image of contemporary architecture.  Globally recognized for his projects,  today he is considered an icon and his work revolutionized architectural esthetics.  Despite this hallowed description, Mr. Hawthorne reports, "The curators cast Gehry in a well-worn mold: as one of the Great Men of contemporary architecture, a lone creative genius who has navigated a path from teenage Canadian immigrant in postwar Los Angeles to global superstar, churning out unorthodox houses, museums and concert halls all the while."

Frank Gehry models on display
"Well-worn mold: as one of the Great Men of contemporary architecture?"  Mr. Hawthorne makes Mr. Gehry sound like some molten material (concrete, a Gehry favorite, perhaps) poured into a well-used mold, allowed to set, and out comes a copy of the idealized Great Man of contemporary architecture.  Please.  If you want to ponder his greatness, then consider this Mr. Gehry greatness comes from the fact that he, more than any architect, signifies one side of the battles that have reshaped architectural practice over the last ten years.  Combat began "...with a dispute over how architecture is produced; whether it is fundamentally a collaborative or personal art."  Mr. Hawthorne used the magic word, "art."  Architecture is an art form the straddles the line between fine and technical art.  One one side is we have the importance of form-making battling "the value of the iconic, photogenic project in architecture" and on the other side is a strategy that is politically, socially, and environmentally engaged.

Frederick R. Weisman Art and Teaching Museum, model
Photography by Don F. Wong
The retrospective coincides with the recent opening of the Louis Vuitton Foundation Contemporary Art Museum in Paris.  The building is the latest reminder that Mr. Gehry is still very able to create architecture that falls into the category of iconic, photogenic projects.  Humanism is the essence of Frank Gehry's work which insulates him from running after a succession of vanity pieces.  On a side note, Mr. Gehry recently spoke to a gaggle of Spanish journalists who asked him to respond to criticism of his own style.  Mr. Gehry answered by giving the writers a rude gesture and declaring "Let me tell you one thing.  In the world we live in, 98 per cent of what gets built and designed today is pure shit."  Excuse the language and let me amend that to pure egotistical s__t. (

Louis Vuitton Foundation Museum
Paris, France
The Louis Vuitton Foundation Museum for Contemporary Art for Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennesy Chairman Bernard Arnault is, by Christopher Hawthorne's estimation " of his firm's finest buildings," on par with the Walt Disney Concert Hall.  Mr. Hawthorne is seems to be convinced, at least for the moment, "that architecture's single highest calling, even in 2014, is to produce rooms that achieve a surprising kind of equilibrium and proportion without resorting to boxy and predictable geometry."  Even at this architecture 101 skill, Mr. Gehry is far more accomplished than his critics care to admit.  Mr. Hawthorne also concurs with the Centre Pompidou curators, who have dedicated a whole section of the retrospective to urbanism in Mr. Gehry's work that his eponymous firm is underrated in it ability understand and respond to urban context.

Close up of the Louis Vuitton Foundation Museum
Christopher Hawthorne concides, "But the truth is that the battle over the profession and its priorities is far from settled or clear-cut.  In fact it continues actively to reorder not just architectural practice but urban planning, criticism and other related fields."  He cites the Vuitton building as an excellent example, calling it "...both a spectacular work of architecture and a challenge, thanks to the deal Arnault managed to strike to build in the middle of the Bois de Boulogne, to a deeply held set of beliefs in France about communal civic culture."  If one were to read it at the superficial level, one would miss the full range in which architecture operates.

Model of the architect's house in Santa Monica, Ca
Frank Gehry
Typically of retrospectives, the curators at the Centre Pompidou divided the architect's career into six chronological phases, beginning with his early work at the office of Victor Gruen.  The drab stucco boxes that characterized the early years, exemplified by the Danziger Studio (1964) on Melrose Avenue, begin to transform into more abstract forms that Mr. Hawthorne likens to the still lives of Italian painter Giorgio Morandi.

The exhibit hinges on a pair of projects that suggest a completely new, fluid, and digitally enabled architecture.  The Vitra Design Museum in Germany and the never built Lewis Residence in Cleveland, Ohio present Mr. Gehry's mounting frustrations with traditional building and design methodology. The shift to digitally enabled architecture would come full fruition in the spectacular Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain (1997) and the Disney Concert Hall (2003) in Los Angeles.  In addition to a room dedicated to the firm's use of computational architecture then finishes with a look at works in progress.

Guggenheim Museum
Frank Gehry
Bilbao, Spain
The retrospective is composed of carefully selected framing drawing varied in their technique and approach.  Expressing mock surprise, Mr. Hawthorne reports, "they are the big surprise of the show-along with models mounted on simple white pedestals and video screens  showing a rotating group of projects." There is a wall dedicated to seventies era photographs by Frank Gehry of industrial buildings and warehouses that bring to mind the work of Ed Russcha, Bernd and Hilla Becher; a small number of projects from 1962 when the architect was having his Paris moment working for architect Andre Remondet and planner Robert Auzelle.

Christopher Hawthorne takes issue with the fact that the Gehry Retrospectives misses the opportunity to showcase how Frank Gehry works.  The exhibit leaves out the extra-large models used by his firm as a main feature of the design process.  More succinctly, there is no information about the role played by key partners Greg Walsh, Edwin Chan, Meaghan Lloyd, Craig Webb.  Also not presented is Mr. Gehry's complex relationship with Los Angeles, the uncertain fate of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, and the political uproar caused by his plan to put over a dozen buildings and a basketball arena in Brooklyn, and the controversy over labor conditions at the Guggenheim satellite museum, scheduled to be completed in 2017, in Abu Dhabi.  Regarding this last issue, Mr. Gehry has employed a human-rights to monitor working conditions at the Abu Dhabi site.

The Vitra Design Museum
Frank Gehry
Weil am Rhein, Germany
Christopher Hawthorne questions whether or not Mr. Gehry's working methods, his partners, or his more controversial projects are appropriate architectural or curatorial subjects.  Should they be relegated to exhibition catalogs or placed in a separate room? Yours truly thinks that the Centre Pompidou curators wanted to focus more on the heroic aspects of Frank Gehry's work, leaving out the messiness of the day-to-day aspects (far more interesting) including the architect's design methodology or his relationships with his partners.

Museums are continuing to resuscitate architecture and design exhibition by insisting that they including social, economic, and political components.  One example is the Museum of Modern Art in New York has recently mounted a series of design and architecture exhibition, such as "Conceptions of Space: Recent Acquisitions in Contemporary Architecture," which specifically have a political and social agenda.  (  An increasing number of curators: Ruth Estevez, Joseph Grimes, Henry Urbach, and the Belgian collective Rotor have enlarged the scope of their shows to present similar themes.

The Dancing House
Frank Gehry
Prague, Czech Republic
Centre Pompidou has gently insulated the Gehry exhibit from these emerging design strategies.  Mr. Hawthorne expresses a lack of astonishment, "To a certain extent that's no surprise.  Monographic shows of this king often tiptoe around touchy subjects, edging in the worst cases toward hagiography."  According to the museum curators, Mr. Gehry worked closely with Centre Pompidou on the exhibit design.  Thus we can infer that Mr. Gehry himself deliberately omitted any references to social and political design strategies as well as the messiness of quotidian.

However, Mr. Hawthorne suggests that there are ways to address the big issues without falling short on the architecture, as other curator have managed to accomplish. What differentiates architecture from the fine arts-i.e. painting and sculpture-is architecture is not experienced hanging on a wall or behind a vitrine. Architecture interacts in and with the real world.  What distinguishes Frank Gehry's work from the vanity projects is that Mr. Gehry manages to negotiate this synergy better than the majority of his contemporaries.  All of this leaves the Los Angeles County Museum of Art with a problem.  The Gehry retrospective is schedule to come to LACMA in September 2015 and helming the exhibit is senior curator and head of modern art Stephanie Barron, which gives Mr. Hawthorne reason for optimism.

Walt Disney Concert Hall
Frank Gehry
Los Angeles, California
Why is Christopher Hawthorne sounding a note of optimism over the pending arrival of the Gehry retrospective?  "The museum is hardly in a position, though, to assess Gehry's work at a critical remove. The architect often works with Barron to design exhibitions for the museum."  In other words, Mr. Hawthorne hopes that LACMA will present a more critical exhibition of Frank Gehry's oeuvre, not hagiography such the one at Centre Pompidou. Further, museum director Michael Govan has been vocal about hiring Mr. Gehry to design a new tower on property owned by the museum, just south of Wilshire Boulevard.  Yours truly has a suggestion, fire Peter Zumthor as the architect of the new LACMA and hire Mr. Gehry.  Mr. Govan is also expressed interest in acquiring the Gehry archives which could serve as an anchor for planned architecture and design galleries at the base of the tower.

Like Christopher Hawthorne, yours truly is also glad to hear that Michael Govan is bring the Gehry retrospective to his museum.  However, it remains to be seen how the story of Frank Gehry, architectwill be told without ignoring the complicated elements of his work.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Preservation In The Time Of Climate Change

Flooded City Dock
Annapolis, Maryland
Hello Everyone:

When we last spoke on Wednesday October 22, we discussed climate change going mainstream in urban planning.  Over the summer, we looked at climate change and historic places.  Now that autumn is upon us, yours truly would like to revisit the subject of historic places and climate change.  Today we have a blog post by Adam Markham, director for Climate Impacts Initiative, titles "The Future of Historic Places and Climate Change" for The Equation and originally appeared on the Preservation Leadership Forum Blog.  Mr. Markham looks at the future of historic places and can be done to save them from flooding, super storms, intense heat, and other natural disasters.

Boat patrol in Annapolis, Maryland
Admittedly the image of people in boats, rowing down the streets of Annapolis, Maryland looks a little odd but this past August the city experienced extreme flooding, the result of severe storms.  This extreme flooding, "nuisance" flooding, is not something completely unfamiliar to the Chesapeake Bay region. "Nuisance" floods overwhelm storm at the rate of ten times more than they did fifty years ago.  What is a "nuisance" flood?  The definition of a "nuisance" flood varies, depending on the slope of the shoreline and the presence of any man-made barriers.  (  Mr. Markham reports, "Sea level rise and costal flooding exacerbated by extreme rainfall events and storms, is perhaps the most obvious threat to our heritage..."  The City of Annapolis, supported by the NTHP, has identified 140 historic buildings threatened by flooding, and the growing risk to historic districts along American coastlines.  As global warming continues, changing the climate, the affects for historic buildings, archeological sites, and cultural landscapes become more desperate.

Man looking at flooded parking lot on Dock Street
Adam Markham reports, "The global average of sea level rise was about 8 inches between 1880 and 2009, a period during which the planet warmed by 1.8 degrees F.  As water warms, it expands, and this combined with the melting of land ice including glaciers and polar ice sheets causes sea levels to rise." It is those rising sea levels that present the biggest threat to historic structures in coastal communities.  "Higher seas mean more frequent and severe tidal flooding, increased rates of coastal erosion, and greater storm damage."  A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists analyzed 52 National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration tide gauges along the East and Gulf coast, demonstrating that many of the low-lying communities will experience double or triple the amount of high-tide flooding in the fifteen years.  The full study is available at

Sveinn Storm drains water out of ice cream store
You really do not need to be a climate change expert to understand the risk flooding poses to historic waterfront districts from St. Augustine, Florida through Norfolk, Virginia.  Charleston, South Carolina, already one of the leaders in historic preservation experiences annually experiences about ten high-tide flooding events, compared to the mere two events in the seventies and the situation is getting worse.  Some cities, including portions of Washington D.C. and Annapolis, can expect to undergo 150 to 200 flooding events yearly by 2030.  Shocking statistic. Storms (Mr. Markham does not distinguish the level of severity) on make the threat of floods worse.  One example, the United Sates Naval Academy, famous for its Beaux-Arts period buildings, sustained $120 million in flood damage from Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

Flooding from Hurricane Isabel
September 22, 2003
U.S. Naval Academy
It is not just the East and Gulf Coasts that are in danger, it is other historic coastal communities throughout the United States.  Another example, early Hawaiian sacred sites and prehistoric fish-traps on the west coast of the Island of Hawai'i are in peril, as are shell mounds on the wetlands of southern Florida, colonial districts in Baltimore and Boston, the Gay Head Lighthouse on Martha's Vineyard, and the very first colonial settlement in the United States, Jamestown, Virginia.  This past June, Adam Markham participated in climate change round table with American Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell in Jamestown and was struck by the growing threat of flooding facing this seventeenth century settlement.  During the day, Secretary Jewel toured the first site of English manufacturing and had this to say,

It' very clear we have global warming and sea level rise and this is a hot spot for it...And what's risk is the history of our country...We don't have very many places in the United States that talk about the super-early history of settlers connecting with the native people of the land, so this is a really important place."

Jamestown, Virginia
Even though threat of flooding from rising sea level to historic coastal communities is obvious, it is also important to point out the less considered impact of climate change on inland historic sites.  Wildfires are a growing menace to historic sites in the west, from the pueblo ruins of Bandelier National Monument to the Gold Rush towns of Groveland, California and Virginia City, Nevada.  In May of this year the UCS published a report, National Landmarks at Risk, which you can find at  The more intense hot and dry conditions have been the main engine behind the growing number of areas destroyed by wildfires in the western states.  Further, said conditions have prolonged wildfire season by two months since 1970, followed by flash floods in areas devoid of trees and vegetation, placing in danger archeological resources in the Southwest.

Mission at San José at Tumacácori
Adam Markham reports, "According to the 2014 National Climate Assessment (NCA), there has been a strong trend toward increasing frequency of extreme rainfall events nationwide in recent years."  The heavy rainfall has been identified by the National Park Service "as a risk factor for abode structures such as the Mission at Tumacacori in Arizona while flash floods associated with Hurricane Irene in 2011 brought damage and destruction to many historic covered bridges in upstate New York and Vermont."  The Northeastern states have also experienced greater extreme rainfall events since 1958, more than any region in the United States-a 70 percent increase to be specific.

Bandelier National Monument
New Mexico
Less dramatic but equally insidious climate change affect are alterations in the freeze-thaw cycle.  One case in point is the alarm raised by the managers of Augustus Saint-Gaudens's house, Aspet, in New Hampshire over the damage done to the brickwork from warmer winters.  In the past, the snow stayed on the ground throughout winter, now it melts before falling again and the repeated freeze-thaw cycles are causing the brickwork to splinter and shear.

This just some of the case studies of how climate change affects historic sites.  Like Adam Markham, yours truly also finds alarming to consider that for a country so steeped in history, Americans very little understanding of just how perilous the situation is for historic sites at risk or under immediate threat. One of the solutions Mr. Markham proposes is reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.  This is the most apparent solution but one that needs to be addressed immediately, not just in the immediate future but also in the long-term to keep the problem from worsening in future decades.  Mr. Markham calls for climate resilience to become a national priority.  He suggests, "...we must allocate the necessary resources to ensure effective preservation in the changing climate.  One that will require a better understanding of which resources are most vulnerable to climate impacts and how climate change is increasing the risks."  Mr. Markham also recommends evaluating "...the effectiveness of current preservation strategies and technologies in light of these rapidly changing environmental factors.  And significantly, we must find ways to prioritize among at-risk sites given limited available resources."  The bottom line, the longer we delay addressing these matters, the more likely we will regret it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mainstreaming Climate Change in Urban Planning

Portland, Oregon
Hello Everyone:

More housecleaning today and this time we have unearthed an article by Peter Dizikes of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology News on urban planning in the time of climate change, "Global survey: Climate change now a mainstream part of city planning."  Regardless if you think climate change is real or not, the fact is climate change has become so much of an issue that an increasing number of cities across the globe are making preparations for more intense storms, wetter winters, and hotter summers part of their basic urban planning.  However, Mr. Dizikes reports that a global survey of cities revealed, "....but only a small portion of them have been able to make such plans part of their economic development priorities."  The article is based on a collaborative study by MIT and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiative, Urban Climate Change Governance Survey, which looks at " different approaches to climate governance affect how cities take action on climate change..."(

The UCGS study is the result of a joint effort between the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and ICLEI, the world's biggest association of cities.  The report was released in time with an ICLEI-sponsored urban planning conference in Bonn, Germany.  The researchers sent civic officials from 700 different cities around the world a questionnaire to which 48 responded to a set of 69 questions

MIT Department of Urban Studies logo
 According to MIT DUSP post-doctorate student and lead author of the  study Alexander Aylett, "Climate change isn't an isolated  issue....It has large implications for all other aspects of  urban life.  What we are see is cities starting to build it into  the DNA of how they approach urban planning."  The  survey found that 75 percent of cities around the world now  make climate change issues part of their regular planning  and 73 percent of said cities are trying out both climate  change mitigation and climate adaptation-meaning, the 73  percent are trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and  adapt to long-term change already in place.  Yet, only 21  percent of the surveyed cities reported an real connection  between the response and achieving other municipal goals.

Alexander Aylett dismisses the "cliché" that "environmental and economic progress cannot coexist, citing a number of cities where jobs and growth have derived from climate-change efforts.  Portland, Oregon is one example cited by Mr. Aylett.  The City of Portland has developed incentive, training, and regulations to assist the growth of sustainable construction firms.  A pilot program, Clean Energy Works Portland has hired 400 people tasked with reducing home energy use and carbon emissions by 1,400 metric tons yearly.

Calgary, Alberta skyline
Another example are the urban planners in Alberta, Canada who analyzed the cost efficiency associated with limiting metropolitan sprawl.  The found that denser development had the potential to  save $11 billion (unclear whether this is Canadian or American dollars) in capital costs over a sixty year period and $130 million (again unclear if this is American or Canadian dollars) in annual maintenance.  By maintenance, is the reader to assume sanitation, infrastructure upkeep and repair, landscaping, or something else?  Mr. Aylett suggests, "...most cities...have simply not yet identified ways to link climate planning and economic development in the first place...It isn't so much that it's hard to reconcile economic and environmental priories...It's that we're not trying."

Des Moines, Iowa
Regional difference remain

The Urban Climate Change Governance Survey is a companion to a study conducted in 2012, which revealed regional differences in urban climate planning.  When compared with the 75 percent worldwide average, American cities fall behind in both mitigation and adaption; 58 percent of cities dealing with both.  This is similar to the findings of the 2012 survey, which concluded that a smaller number of American cities were conducting elementary climate change planning in context to other regions-59 percent for the United States versus 95 percent in South America.  I wonder if this 95 percent in South America is a little high.  Overall, 63 percent of cities claim that the have at least one employee dedicated to climate change planning-North American cities (Canada, the United States, the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, Greenland are most likely to have only one staff member dedicated to the subject. The executive summary state, "A lack of funding to hire sufficient staff to work on climate change is a significant challenge for 67 percent of cities."

Boston City Hall Plaza
Boston, Massachusetts
On a slightly more positive note, about 85 percent of the cities surveyed have conducted an inventory of local GHG emission and 15 percent of that have tried to trace the emissions stemming from goods and services consumed in their specific city.  Mr. Aylett observes "Beginning to address these upstream emissions is crucial if cities are really going to help bring down global emissions."

The survey conclusions also demonstrate that local businesses and industries are more or less disengaged with the urban responses to climate.  About 25 percent of cites claim that local businesses have been important to the creation and implementation of climate mitigation plans juxtaposes to 48 percent of cities reported that local non-profits or like organization have participated in climate planning.

John Robinson, a professor of geography at the University of British Columbia, is among other scholars who believe the survey is "extremely important and extremely useful."  Specifically, Prof. Robinson states, "[an] important issue raised by this work is what the connection is between framing these responses in terms of climate change and framing them in terms of broader conceptual frameworks, such as sustainability."  Prof. Robinson believes in the general concept of sustainable development in urban areas, adding, "may be most helpful in mainstreaming climate policy."

The full report is available at

Riding Through Buffalo

Tour de Neglect poster
Buffalo, New York
Hello Everyone:

Once again, yours truly needed to clean out the drop box folder.  Today my housekeeping efforts yielded a small treasure written by Mark Byrnes for City Lab titled "Riding Through Poor Neighborhoods With New Urbanists."  The article looks at the "Tour de Neglect," an event staged by the Congress of New Urbanism in June 2014 in Buffalo, New York.  The purpose of the tour was to "inspire feelings of civic duty and moral outrage," yet at the same time may have also exposed an inherent weakness in the New Urbanist philosophy. About seventy-five people, including Mr. Byrnes, participated in the event held in Buffalo.  The guided tour led riders through some of the city's most economically depressed areas and the predominantly African-American East Side, where census data has shown an alarming 89% drop in demographics since 1950.

Sacred Heart Church
The first stop on the ride was a shuttered Catholic church just minutes from downtown.  At the church, the riders were handed a flier with a list of "five things to think about" during the tour.  The first bullet point declared:

The East Side is not a zoo.

-These are neighborhoods where people live their lives every day.  These residents are people just like you, with full lives and dreams of their own.
-Do not romanticize or demonize what you see
-Do not treat them as lab rats to be observed for research.

This sounds like something yours truly would write.  Kudos to the author of this flier. A mystery woman quietly circulated among the participants, passing out the two-page manifesto to self-proclaimed New Urbanists before disappearing.

Tour participants
Mark Byrnes observes,

After a half-week of CNU sessions that spoke to the aesthetic values of cities (it was, after all, a large gathering of mostly planners and architects) more often than the poverty and inequality they too often host, there was reason to worry the tour would quickly unravel into an uncomfortable two hours of professionals and students marveling over the potential and authenticity of their surroundings.

Fortunately, this did not happen.

Leading the two hour tour was activist and blogger David Torke, a resident of the East Side who has been documenting it decline for decades.  Mr. Torke is currently involved with CNU NextGen, a a young professionals group who stage unsanctioned events for CNU attendees.  In a nod to the group, CNU added NextGen events to the official agenda, overriding host committee approval.  The Tour de Neglect was a rare opportunity for the participants to get an up close look at the other side of Main Street.  David Torke states, "Otherwise the East Side-the elephant in the room here in Buffalo-would have been swept under the rug."

Atlas Johnson in front of St. Ann's Church
David Torke, fixBuffalo
Coincidently Atlas Johnson, a local resident, was riding by the group's first stop at St. Ann's Church.  Mr. Johnson decided, the spur of the moment, to join the group nearly taking over tour guide duties.  He shared his personal experiences and memories of the church before moving on to another shuttered church. Without fanfare, the route down Emslie Street took the tour by a local celebrity, developer Rocco Termini first attempts at construction, "...a blighted, vinyl-sided apartment building built for a veterans housing non-profit before eventually sold to an overseas investor."  Before this attempt at a construction project, Mr. Termini was the face of downtown and North Buffalo's luxurious New Urbanist inspired developments.  The developer got his start building more modest sized homes on the East Side, which unfortunately have not aged well.  Earlier in 2014, Mr. Termini publicly wished Buffalo had "Manhattan Rents."

Uncle Sam's Army Supply
David Torke, fixBuffalo
Traveling south, the riders arrived at Larkinville, an inner-city business district filled with eclectic public spaces and high-end offices located inside former industrial buildings.  Mr. Byrnes reports, "In front of a massive old warehouse in rough shape but anchored by a popular Army Supply store, city planner Chris Hawley shared the story of old Buffalo's blue collar economic might."  The ruins of that might are not too hard to see in what was previously know as "the Hydraulics." Currently, Larkinville is a magnet for white collar jobs, most of whom have relocated from the suburbs.

Yet, as Larkinville continues to evolve, it is taking on the appearance of the kind of warehouse districts found in Seattle or Pittsburgh, while failing to add new housing.  Just as the neighborhood gained popularity, the census tract it is located on showed a demographic loss of ten percent between 2000 and 2010.  The plethora of surface parking and proximity to the highway make the area more attractive to employers than residential developers.

More riders on the Tour de Neglect
David Torke, fixBuffalo
The riders made their way to the stunning Central Terminal, a former train station that has been the beneficiary of slow but impressive stabilization efforts by a local non-profit group.  The group arrived at a nearby urban farm operated successfully by a husband wife team since 2009 on formerly vacant lot.  Here, Messrs Hawley and Torke took the opportunity to remind the tour group that the city's Green Code, once implemented, will make it easier to replicate similar success.

On the way to the restored Hotel Lafayette in downtown Buffalo, Mr. Termini's crowning achievement, the tour group returned to the vision of Buffalo the host committee wanted everyone to see.  It was here that Buffalo News art critic Colin Dabkowski took the opportunity to question CNU's priorities during the meeting.  In an open letter to CNU, Mr. Dabkowski suggested that "the movement often appears regressive and unwilling to shout as loudly for equality as it does for walkability."

Heading toward the Central Terminal from Larkinville
David Torke, fixBuffalo
Quoting Colin Dabkowski:

While there was some talk about developing mixed-income neighborhoods...neither the New Urbanist manifestos not anything I heard during the conference proposed a convincing or coherent strategy for accomplishing that on a grand scale...we don't need to rebuild a traditional city, a traditional neighborhood or a traditional way of life.  What we desperately need is to create a new one.

Agreed, too often the New Urbanist residential developments overlook the very real needs of a community in favor of (re)creating something that resembles the work of Disney imagineers.

Buffalo has expended a good deal of energy on recreating its past and has been let down by too many postwar bad planning decisions.  Thus, it is quite understandable that the New Urbanist philosophy would be appealing.  However for all of the profitability in developing neighborhoods with quaint architecture, walkability, and transit access, the end result has turned basic neighborhood amenities into selling points for luxury housing.

Rider group picture
An economically depressed city like Buffalo there is a growing concern some neighborhoods will wind up dependent on trickle-down renewal, leaving issues of inequality and poverty unaddressed "...while each preservation effort and historically sensitive building create the illusion of a city being fixed."  The West Side's growing number of art galleries, hip restaurants, soaring rents, and construction boom-all supposed signifiers of progress in Buffalo-are readily apparent.

Mark Byrnes cites the Buffalo-Niagara Enterprise which claims. "there's over $5 billion worth of completed, underway or planned construction in and around downtown in the last decade."  This is in stark contrast to the fact that region's labor force and shrunk nearly two percent while the growth rate was only 0.7 percent-half the national pace.  An analysis of the city's racial and household income distribution data is another reminder of precisely how unequal this modest statistic looks.  The flip side of this bleak reality is, for buildings, "'s a more promising time than usual to be in Buffalo. But for the average person, not much is different.

The factors contributing to the East Side's decline are complex.  The remedies, regardless of their source, will face numerous challenges.  Very few, including those who presented at this year's Congress for the New Urbanism have an answer or the ability to affect any meaningful result.  David Torke sums the situation best, "If the revival of distressed cities does not become the mission of the Congress for the New Urbanism...the movement will become irrelevant."

Monday, October 20, 2014

New Experiences in Old Places

Luftwerk at the Farnsworth House
Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe
Plano, Illinois
Hello Everyone:

In Tom Mayes's ongoing series "Why Old Places Matter," on of the subjects covered was the connection between creativity and old places, on vivid display at Nations throughout the United States. Katherine Malone-France, vice president for historic sites for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, shares four examples of how old places can be an inspiration for installation pieces in her post, "New Art, Old Places: Four Examples of Inspiration Amplified."  Ms. Malone-France reports, "Right now, four of our sites have dramatic new installations...boundaries of their interpretations while being powerfully linked to their history.

New Iberia (Iberia) Parish, Louisiana
If you are planning to travel down to the New Iberia Parish in the state of Louisiana over the next few months, be sure to check out Shadows-on-the-Teche.  What is the attraction, you may ask?  The attraction is being entertained by the virtuoso fiddling of David Greely on the second floor gallery, overlooking visual artist Linda Frese hard at work in the painting studio of the former home of sugar cane planter David Weeks and his wife Mary.  A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts is enabling these two artists to participate in a yearlong residency at the planation, creating new works of art, inspired by this antebellum site.  Their tenure will culminate in a spring 2015 festival, inspired by Shadows and the interplay of the artists.  The results should be quite fascinating.  Ms. Malone-France promises an update in November, stay tuned.

The Veil at The Glass House
Fujiko Nakaya
New Canaan, Connecticut
Philip Johnson's Glass House is considered one of the seminal works of modern architecture.  The late architect's former residence is a source of inspiration for Fujiko Nakaya, who created an immersive installation pieces, Veil, that uses fog to shroud and reveal the house.  Ms. Malone-France experienced Veil this past summer and writes, "Being enveloped in the dense fog stopped all the random...around in my head.  And as it slowly dissipated, I was left with existential...connection between what is fleeting and what is permanent, and overwhelming significance of the legacy of Philip Johnson and David Whitney."

Sea Andromeda
Albert Paley
Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Chesterwood, the summer home and studio of Daniel Chester French is the inspiration for contemporary sculptor Albert Paley.  The large-scale pieces are rendered in plaster and are housed in the restored studios of the late nineteenth, early twentieth century sculptor. Ms. Malone-France observed, "While their sculptures are rendered in entirely different media--plaster for Paley--I was struck by how both are brought to life by the beautiful quality...of Chesterwood."  Ms. Malone-France cites Daniel Chester French's work Sea Andromeda as an example of how the natural light flooding the studio enhances the "humanity and drama" of the piece.

This was deliberate on the part of the late Mr. French who designed a railroad track so that he could roll the enormous works he created outside as worked on them.  The natural light also enhances Mr. Paley's work--they change throughout the day as the sun move across the sky finishing " the spectacular piece lawn and glows lavender-pink in the Berkshire sunset."

INsite by Luftwerk
Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe
Plano, Illinois

This past Friday, October 17, the well-known artist collaborative Luftwerk debuted their installation piece In Site of Light at the Farnsworth House, designed by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, in Plano, Illinois. Luftwerk had previously presented installation works at Fallingwater in Bear Run, Pennsylvania and Millenium Field in Chicago, Illinois.  The project was brought to life through crowd sourced funding, which raised $25,000 for the installation at the Farnsworth House.

In Site of Light took three years to make and illustrates how the Modern Movement architect's elegant architecture continues to inspire new art and design.  "Ten video projection...structure, displaying a cohesive, fluid video composition that will be enhanced by Chicago-based percussionist Owen Clayton Condon."  Like Veil, In Site of Light plays with main characteristics of the house--its minimalism--to create an entirely new experience of the building, yet so distinctive.

On a self-congratulatory note, Katherine Malone-France writes,

Each of these projects is made possible not only by the creativity of the art and dedication of our staff members--from the building staff at the Glass piping for Veil's fog to exist, to the executive director at Shadows...introduced the artists at the Shadows to the site's collection and the the grounds staff at Chesterwood who used cranes to lower the huge Paley...locations selected by the artists...

Art and architecture have always inspired each other.  Thanks to these and other collaborative efforts, art and architecture can continue to bring new ways to experience old places

Union Station: Ready For The Future

Union Station, 1939
Los Angeles, California
John and Donald Parkinson
Hello Everyone:

In May of this year, the landmark Union Station, located on the outer edge of Downtown Los Angeles, celebrated its seventy-fifth birthday.  She is a beauty both inside and out.  About two years ago, I had the pleasure of spending a lovely Friday morning touring the station and enjoyed every second of it.  I loved being in the wide open spaces all designed to move people from the street to the trains and buses.  You can just feel the history in this place.

Seventy-five is quite a milestone birthday. Even more exciting is what the next seventy-five years will look like for iconic ode to railroad transportation.  In a recent article for the Los Angeles Times titled "Metro's Union Station master plan a significant shift," Christopher Hawthorne takes a look at almost completed master plan jointly authored by local firm Gruen Associates and London-based Grimshaw Architects. The plan "...imagines remaking not just the guts of the station, including the concourse that leads passengers beneath its tracks but a swath of downtown."  Fear not, preservation-minded, train aficionado ones, the John and Donald Parkinson designed building will be mostly protected, only experiencing minor changes.

The proposed master plan also acknowledges a much greater goal, accommodating  high speed trains from San Francisco, the construction of new (presumably mixed-
Model for proposed Union Station Master Plan
use) towers near the station, creating a new link to the Los Angeles River and Civic Center-all which will depend greatly on forces beyond the control of the architects.  Mr. Hawthorne observes, "As a result the plan is both deeply, sometimes mind-numbingly technical and highly speculative.  It aims to fix some past planning and design errors while also readying the building for a future as the central rail hub in a city with a revived downtown and a growing transit network."

 According to Mr. Hawthorne's estimation, "Despite that uncertainty, the plan promises, in the short term, to bring significant and long-awaited changes to the station."  The long-term results are the big mystery.  This month, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board of directors, who bought the Station and forty acres of the surrounding land in 2011, is expected to approve the basic framework and begin work on the state-mandated environmental impact report.

Rendering for proposed Civic Plaza
Mia Lehrer
The architects, together with landscape architect Mia Lehrer, have proposed a brand new civic plaza-a "forecourt" if you will- at the foot of the main building which would replace a surface parking lot. The renderings for the plaza present a lovely space that takes its cues from the Spanish colonial design with its paved open space encircled by benches, café table, and some shade.  The plan itself also proposes remaking Alameda Avenue, specifically the portion that runs along the front of the station, to make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to travel.  From my own experience, trying to walk down Alameda from the bus stop was a little of a perilous situation.  Yours truly had to watch out for cars making a sharp turn into the parking lot.  However good this proposal sounds, what complicates is the city's current plan to actually widen Alameda to make room for heavier automobile traffic produced by the revamped Union Station.

In an aside, Christopher Hawthorne notes, "Such are the contradictions of planning in contemporary Los Angeles.  The master plan suggests crafting a memorandum of understanding with the city's planning office to help bridge this gap.

Entrance to El Pueblo de Los Angeles'
All together, Mr. Hawthorne quotes the MTA argument that the perimeter "will soften the edges of the station" and improve ties to El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, across the street from Union Station, and the Civic Center.  On the other side of the station, the proposed plan calls for razing the existing Patsaouras Transit Plaza where bus riders currently line up above a glassed-in semicircular entry hall.  Mr. Hawthorne refers to this plaza as "unfortunate."  From my own experience, the interior of Patsaouras Transit Plaza feels cave-like but we have to remember that it was not meant as a waiting room.  It was intended as a transitional space between the terminal and the buses.

Main Hall at Union Station
The greatest change will occur in the concourse itself. Presently, train passenger exist the main hall, moving past rather cozy looking Starbucks and a Famima market into a very long and very low tunnel with tracks, accessible by stairs on either side.  In the proposed Gruen-Grimshaw plan, this tunnel would be replaced by a predominantly open-air concourse with sunlight filtered from above and and planters with with benches around the edges.  The master plan comes at a point in time when Union Station is witnessing other major changes, which facilitates the concept that the building and the surrounding neighborhood are in a noticeable state of flux.  One letter writer to the Los Angeles Times pointed out the proximity of the Twin Towers Correctional Facility to Union Station, noting the irony of high security facility so close to a bright shiny new proposed development.

Tunnel leading to the train tracks
Union Station, Los Angeles
According to Mr. Hawthorne, "The basic track design is in the middle of a $350-million overhaul that will soon end the inefficient practice of trains pulling in and then having to back out of the station in favor of a so-called run-through setup."  This would require elevating the track by five feet, allowing them to clear the 101 Freeway as they loop around the station.  How is this more efficient?  This change in the way the trains leave the station has direct implications, good and maybe bad, for the remainder of  master plan; yet it is a reminder just how many moving parts (and exactly how much interconnected infrastructure) Gruen and Grimshaw and MTA's own architects have had to keep track of.  No pun intended.

On the positive side: raising the tracks will open up the concourse, making it feel less cave-like since the ceiling will be five feet higher.  The possible down side: if elevating the tracks in and around the stations implies also lifting them along the Los Angeles River, then it could mean several historic bridges will need to be replaced.  Yours truly can just imagine the fight over replacing those bridges.

The Fred Harvey Room
Mary Colter 
In the meantime, one of Los Angeles's great underused rooms, the Fred Harvey Room inside Union Station, will finally have a tenant after years of sitting empty.  Restauranteurs Eric Needleman and Cedd Moses and have tentatively agreed to open a gastropub in the former site of the once ubiquitous Fred Harvey Restaurants.  It is another one of the lovely underrated rooms in Los Angeles, designed by Harvey Company in-house architect Mary Colter in a kind of Navajo Revival style. It is quite spacious and tall, offering a magnificent setting to enjoy a brief repast while waiting for a train, bus, or just simply spending time.

What does remain uncertain is what will happen to the delightful but long vacant old ticket room just north of
The ticket room at Union Station
the main entry.  Mr. Hawthorne suggests, "If it opened directly onto the new forecourt, it's possible a kind of market hall could fill that space, a blend of the Ferry Building in San Francisco and L.A.'s Grand Central Market on Broadway."  This sounds like a nice idea.  What also remains up in the air is the fate of the eastern edge of the property, where the master plan posits a new skyscraper accessible by one of two brand new pedestrian bridges above the tracks.  The question in Mr. Hawthorne's mind is, " For starters, who know how quickly efforts to remake the section of the Los Angeles River directly behind Union Station will bear fruit?"

Further, these is the ongoing issue of California's bullet train project.  The proposed master plan calls for a high-speed station, mainly built underground, on the east side of tracks.  In order to make room for the station and create connections from there to the banks of the remade River-would possibly require the demolition of the C. Erwin Piper Technical Center (Piper Tech)-a city-owned building housing public archives.  I can just hear the choruses of protest.

Rendering showing the new concourse
 Out of necessity, the MTA is hedging its bets       regarding high-speed rail.  While the staff report on the master plan supports the site near Piper Tech, quoting the report, Mr. Hawthorne writes, "...the agency is 'flexible and open to other station alignments.'"  Mostly, this is one of many planning issues.  Mr. Hawthorne observes, "A separate question is how and when Metro will choose architects-and designers-for the expanded station which could include a new hotel to go with the towers and the relocated bus terminal."  For the record, Gruen and Grimshaw signed on only to produce the master plan.  Thus choosing the right firm is very important, not just for the site makeover but also for the future of the landmark building.  While the master plan respects and gives the original building plenty of space, achieving an "...unusual balance between grandeur and pedestrian scale, not to mention between ornament and spare abstraction.  But the scale of the new development threatens to overwhelm it."

The MTA Building
In the very next paragraph, Mr. Hawthorne adds, "This is not to say that any new towers should aim to match the architecture of the older building."  Agree on this point because the result would be too imitative.  Besides, the MTA and architecture firm McLarand Vasquez Emsiek & Partners already attempted it in 1995 with the 28-story MTA tower, which Mr. Hawthorne laments, "...unfortunately remains standing in the master plan, even as the bus plaza at its feet will be removed."  The MTA is not even a good imitation of the original building's architecture.  If I were to hazard an opinion, I would say the MTA tower is a wisp of a thought to match the original building.

However, when the train station was new, Union Station's relationship to the surrounding city was straightforward.  The "...grand, arched main entrance face City Hall and the rest of downtown."  Behind the station, were the tracks, recently encased in concrete by the Army Corp of Engineers and the L.A. River. Los Angeles was expanding westward, forward into the future; the placement of the station mirrored this sense of optimism.  Over time, the separation between the front and rear began to fade.  The bus plaza and Metro office building opened up the back of the site.

Concept rendering for Union Station
The primary goal of the master plan, i.e. its central urban and civic idea, the extension and refinement of the process begun in the nineties with the addition of the bus plaza and the MTA tower, eventually turning Union Station into a 360 degree transit hub.  This transformation acknowledges not only the river but the whole of East Los Angeles on the opposite side of the bank.  It would reflect the fact that passengers arriving and leaving the station via bicycle or foot-or just coming to people watch or have dinner.  The lovely building that once defined an edge, backed up against an unloved river is ready to take its place center stage in the future.