A Tale of New Cities

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The architect must be a prophet…a prophet in the true sense of the term … if he can’t see at least ten years ahead, don’t call him an architect.

Frank Lloyd Wright
An illustrated sci-fi city

A Postmillennial Paradise? [Alexander Somma / Flickr]

Ten years? What about being able to see a hundred years into the future? That’s what the History Channel asked leading architecture firms to do in a contest to design postmillennial versions of the nation’s three largest cities: New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

This wasn’t a fanciful exercise in imagining a futuristic utopia with the amenities of Star Trek’s Transporter or Sleeper’s Orgasmatron. This was a rigorous assignment: architects had to project the consequences of today’s social and environmental trends to 2107 and design cities optimally suited to their 22nd century contexts.

The winning contestants foresaw a waterlogged Manhattan whose skyline is dominated by towering “vanes” that vaporize and purify water for consumption; “eco-boulevards,” transforming the Windy City into an oasis of wetlands and wild grasses; and Angelinos finally freed from the freeways by a new network of tracks, bridges and power grids.

In many ways these model cities suggest that the architects are looking back to find the future. If the architects are indeed prophets, their metropolises herald a bare bones, utilitarian world that might be more recognizable to Fred Flinstone than George Jetson.

How do you see the real estate around you in Century 22? Is your city undergoing a troubled obsolescence or will a familiar infrastructure of highways, sky rises, and parks live on to greet another century? What is your vision of a postmillennial urban paradise?

Michael Sorkin

Principal, Michael Sorkin Studio

Director, Graduate Urban Design Program, City College of New York

Eric Owen Moss

Principal, Eric Owen Moss

Adam Yarinsky

Principal, Architecture Research Office

Martin Felsen

Architect, UrbanLab

Extra Credit Reading

herbert browne, in a comment to Open Source, 1/11/07: “Perhaps another paradigm for future city planning is Habana, Cuba, which had to deal with an abrupt termination of cheap petroleum, and learn to get along without it. The radical change in food production there was reflected in the city, in which small plots of vegetables and fruiting plants became ubiquitous.”

alokemon, in a comment to Open Source, 1/11/07: “Right now I’m living in Shanghai. The architectural/urban planning zeitgeist here is basically the opposite of those chastened models of the 22nd century New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.”

Matt Gross, In Shanghai, Balancing the past, the Future and a Budget, the New York Times, January 21, 2006: “In Shanghai, the present does not exist.”

Charles Siegel, City of the Future — Or City of the Trendy Present, Preservation Institute Blog, December 14, 2006: “If you want a design that endures, then design a city that is a good place to live today. No one has ever created a livable city or an enduring design by trying to design a city of the future.”

James Howard Kunstler, A Reflection on Cities of the Future, Kunstler.com, October 23, 2006: “Back in the early 20th Century, when the cheap oil fiesta was just getting underway, and some major new technological innovation made its debut every month – cars, radio, movies, airplanes – there was no practical limit to what men of vision could imagine about the future city, though often their imaginings were ridiculous.”

Via Ben: Diane Lewis, Within NY Chicago LA, The Cooper Union School of Architecture: “By presenting the deeper relationship of structural skeletons and how they can be seen in cities throughout time, Lewis’ overview may illuminate a reading of the visions of the future presented by her colleagues, and provide an architectural understanding of how the present and future cities are rooted in ideas that endure and transform over centuries.”

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  • When I imagine future cities (in the US), I keep coming back to the idea that their fate will be driven by energy costs and environmental pressures. I get stuck on the doomsday scenario outlined in The Long Emergency by James Kunstler.

    The reason that futurists are finding the past in cities they dream up for the next century may be that civilization has been propelled from the 19th century to now by cheap energy, and if the cheap energy goes away we will have to relearn and adopt some of the old ways — walking, smaller dwellings, the decline of airplane and car travel, fewer luxuries, living in closer quarters, e.g. The energy question seems to drive a lot of this envisioning.

  • silvio.rabioso

    I have lived in New York City for a long time. New York is an incredible city, and it is doing much to redefine urban living in the 21st century. As avecfrites proposes, it may be that we are forced to return to a dense urban model that will allow many people to live efficiently in close proximity without the need for individual transportation. But until then, we should not look at updating yesterday’s City of Tomorrow for the future, but rather we should look at the city of today: Las Vegas.

    It pains me to say this, but if we want to talk about a city of the future, the canvas on which we design such a city should be a City of Today. The Cities of Today are all fast-growing, and each approaches growth with a slightly different model (in addition to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, think of places like San Antonio and other sunshine cities. These are the places the average (statistical mean) American wants to live. What will these cities look like in one hundred years?

    Robert Venturi told us to learn from Las Vegas in the 70s. Much has changed since then. What can we learn from a 21st century Las Vegas? From a 21st century San Antonio?

    On a side note: I don’t think it’s fair to play up the bar-bones nature of the winning entries. They architects and designers were under a strict time deadline (one week, I believe) and thus we forced to work in shorthand. But then again, if global climate change is as pressing as many scientists argue, then we may only have a short window within which to shift the architectural paradigm.

  • herbert browne

    Perhaps another paradigm for future city planning is Habana, Cuba, which had to deal with an abrupt termination of cheap petroleum, and learn to get along without it. The radical change in food production there was reflected in the city, in which small plots of vegetables and fruiting plants became ubiquitous. Densely populated cities will want fresh food (as well as good water)- and will most likely move to resemble “natural” environs, where nothing is truly wasted.

    New technologies (eg toilets that isolate urine, keeping it out of the sewage “waste” stream, and making a nutrient of it, instead), roofs made of interlocking solar panels, “on-demand” water heating systems (augmented by solar pre-heaters), the renascence of nuclear power, will all play a part in comfortable near-future lifestyles. Any buildings designed from now on out which ignore passive solar elements (as well as active ones, eg lighting) of space & mass heating, thermal circulation, etc, will be… anachronistic, at best (&/or frivolous). With the rediscovery of our feet, better health is sure to follow… ^..^

  • Pedestrian roads

    Open vistas to cities

    Drawn of nature’s hues

  • Right now I’m living in Shanghai. The architectural/urban planning zeitgeist here is basically the opposite of those chastened models of the 22nd century New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Looking forward, the American architects imagined cities that continue to be imaginative, but are sort of chastened by the hubris that led to environmental and social degradation. Here in Shanghai, as in much of the developing world, the leaders don’t let these glum forecasts impact the city’s psyche; it’s all about optimism, the future, growth. Here, the pace of new construction is utterly mind-boggling. Right now Shanghai has 4000 skyscrapers, with almost 1000 more on the way. In one year, they built more skyscrapers than there are in all of New York. Everyday I pass by rubble that the week before was an fully-fuctioning apartment complex, displacing hundreds. The long necks of cranes litter the city, and migrant workers from the countryside enter Shanghai in droves, as construction reaches its hyperdrive phase in anticipation for the World Expo 2010 (the “coming out party” for Shanghai that the olympics in 2008 are going to be for Beijing and China at large).

    The remarkable thing about urban planning here is that it’s nonexistent. There is no vision of how the city should look, or how liveable it should be for its citizens. Its a face for the rest of the world to see and appreciate. Any plot of land that the government can exert its will over, it will, by which I mean it will tear down whatever shabby yet utilitarian structure exists and build a magnificent new skyscraper that may or may not be used at all and may or may not be still standing in 25 years. My friends and I have commented how so many of the buildings seem like they’re so short-sighted. We’d be surprised if some of them last 25, 50 years. They’re not built to last; they’re built to be built, basically, for show. As so many cities in their prime, Shanghai has an edifice complex. It wants to build. The future does not even enter into the equation.

    Sorry, too much rambling. For the show: compare architectural forward-looking in the developed world against the short-sighted growth ethic in Asia and the developing world.

  • Tom B

    If the rate of change is accelerating (and it seems to be) expect decentralized models where everything is built to last a few years at most to predominate. Exogenous variables — ranging from energy costs to global warming to warfare to terrorism — are interacting in patterns which are unpredictable, so the form of the cities of the future are probably likewise unpredictable. It’s like evolution in the natural sphere. The forms adapt to the environment; some survive and others don’t. One (unstated) assumption here is that cities will remain geographically fixed; this may be unrealistic. Consider the ebb and flow of events in Louisiana, where populations are flowing due to exogenous variables (unforeseen three years ago). Or consider changing contours of Johnstown, PA, or

    Detroit, MI. Benoit Mandelbrot and other complexity and chaos theorists make the point that in very integrated systems, it is impossible to make valid predictions. We indeed live in quicksand, and our cities do too.

  • faithandreason

    Past defines the path to the present, and unless we change that path, it will continue unendingly into the future.

    For all the wondrous ideals behind city redesign, the California Department of Transportation is seriously considering expanding Interstate 5 from downtown LA to Orange County from 6 to 12 lanes. That, more than any wishful design, will define the future of Angelinos.

    Sadly, for all the design impetus put forth by the History Channel’s contest, cities are not easily redesigned short of a major disaster, like post-1944 Warsaw, or major political impetus to change the social and economic dynamics of a region. The “powers that be” are that way for a reason, and those reasons came about through a historical process. A different future also requires a historical process. Recall that when as CEO of GM and Charles Wilson said, “for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa. The difference did not exist,” he was but a short time from proposing a national highway system financed by a gasoline tax that could only go to highways.

    Right now, road builders and home builders, fueled by that gasoline tax and Congressional pork, and supported with gusto by mission-oriented highway agencies, have a VERY secure system for transfering hundreds of billions of public dollars into new roadway construction, and this is a big part of what must change if the cities of the future will be different. I never underestimate surprise to change the future (e.g., a flooded Manhattan or a regionally consolidated Shia seizure of Iraqi, Persian, and Saudi oil). However, “business as usual” is here for a reason.

    While designers, idealists, environmentalists and some urban planners long for a city designed around sustainability, it requires political will of a type difficult to muster. The Rocky Mountain Institute has put forth a plan for the “regeneration” of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga Valley, http://www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid1087.php, but sadly a plan of this scale might only be possible in a city that elected Dennis Kucinich mayor and whose determination to keep its power supply public made it the only city to keep the lights on in the great blackout of 2003.

    Highways are sapping cities’ strength, and the fight against them has been monumentous. Sadly, mission-oriented highway agencies are following the 1950’s GM-designed mandate to build more highways, and they have literally hundreds of billions of dollars flowing through their hands. In Great Detroit where I moved when I was young, the construction of I-75 right through “Black Bottom,” the pre-Depression center of social and economic center of a vibrant black middle class helped set the preconditions for the infamous 12th Street Riot of 1967.

    A great designer of another era, Mies Van der Rohe, helped to bring a jewel of urban renewal to the area where Black Bottom once stood, Lafayette Park. For all its wonder, the Park has struggled to embrace and repel low-income Detroiters.

    Ironically, the freeways have crippled Detroit. According to the Transit Cooperative Research Program’s report 73, throughout metropolitan Detroit, 13% of the population has no car. The statistics are higher in the City, but I don’t have the exact stats. But in Detroit, there is no regional public transit system!

    White flight took the highways northward into Oakland and Macomb Counties, and now the suburbs are trying to recreate a “Downtown” Oakland County in Troy, mall capitol of the affluent. The expansion of I-75 in northern Oakland county has spurred low-density development of the northern reaches of Detroit’s suburbia (soon Flint will be a suburb!). And the result of all this development, possibly to the benefit of the Big 3, is that job-related mobility in Detroit is defined wholly linked to automobility.

    Highways and roads create automobility, and are a necessary (but not sufficient) component of urban sprawl. Robert Noland published a paper in 2001 estimating that from 1984-1996 25% of the growth in vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. was due to new road capacity ALONE, not economic or population growth. In Michigan that plays out as land development growing at three times the population growth between 1990 and 2000.

    So, apologizing for the long rant, I have to say that to build the city of the future that we want to see (I like the Chicago design myself), there is much historical momentum to overcome. Would that we have the ability and will to change it!

  • I’m all for going back to the future. My town began as a fishing & farming village and is now more like something easterners might find on Martha’s Vineyard. The price of real estate has been escalating on a J curve since the 1960s.

    My personal utopian vision for Friday Harbor sees a return to sailing vessels and the re-emergence of an agrarian craftsman culture. Unfortunately our fisheries are depleted but I would hope that with the removal of petroleum powered vessels and careful stewardship they may recover.

    What would my town look like? Friday Harbor is 1 of only 2 Pacific Northwest towns than never burned down (even Seattle burned). We still have timber frame western false front buildings on our main street. I see the new multiuse developments surrounding the town core becoming classrooms and workshops to process agricultural goods and craft fine wood products. I see replacing the gas station with a blacksmith and a barn. Our parking would return to places to tie up and water our horses.

  • nother

    “Olmsted believed that the rural, picturesque landscape contrasted with and counteracted the confining and unhealthful conditions of the crowded urban environment and served to strengthen society by providing a place where all classes could mingle in contemplation and enjoyment of the pastoral experience.”

  • OliverCranglesParrot
  • nother

    Ugh, sometimes that link thing works, sometimes it doesn’t.

    http://www.fredericklawolmsted.com/Lifeframe.htm

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    I should add: The Village of the Watermills, sans tourism

  • Ben

    In spite of the many great individual achievements of the American spirit and it’s architects and designers, I am reminded of a statement made that I can’t attribute or quote correctly that went something like this: “It took less than 200 years for America to completely forget the last 3,000 years of urban planning and design.” We are re-inventing the wheel as a culture and leading the way for imitators and and collaborators with the same case of amnesia. Inside the new urbanism, green designs, smart growth, and other new ideas perhaps we are just beginning to dimly recall pre-1950s concepts established as far back as the Romans and their predecessors instead of just outfitting our old camps and frontier outposts with the latest technologies.

  • Oh yeah, I forgot, that the tide might be coming in a bit higher here in Friday Harbor C. 2200 than it does now. Luckily, we have experience moving our historic structures out from under the clutches of developers. We should be able to move them inland without too much trouble.

    “That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land

    is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics. That land yields

    a cultural harvest is a fact long known, but latterly often forgotten.”

    Aldo Leopold–San County Almanac

  • herbert browne

    With the loss of manufacturing infrastructure and the advent of a “culture of the ether”, there are fewer reasons for the vertical integration and consolidation of people and energy that cities represent. They will continue to be distribution hubs- as long as goods are shipped & re-shipped- and centers of information (gathered & gathering) and culture (a spinoff of information, population density and concentrated wealth); but the considerations of a future in which the false “economies of scale’ (ie based upon something finite & valuable treated as a free or cheap resource) are reconfigured &/or eliminated may truly decentralize populations- and reintroduce the semi-self-sufficiency behaviors, eg subsistence. We can have that, and community, too, with electronic links to one another… Some people have been applying Leopold’s concept of “land as a community” to the ether for awhile, now… and it can be an intrinsic facet of a “sustainable” lifestyle (and all the more valuable in that it expands the potential for the extent of each individual’s “circle of inclusion”). Out of the “Forum” that’s being nurtured (here and elsewhere) may eventually come the attention of a world community that can appreciate real “globalism”, ie an awareness of our common needs, limitations, etc (rather than the nuevo-mercantilism that is being sold as Globalism by the resource extractors, arbitragers & lords of corporate feudalism).

    I take a cue from “Faith& Reason”: we need to examine the path that brought us here, if we wish to change our progress into the future. The expansion of roads has led to an apparent sublimation of our “rugged individual” stereotype… or maybe to the atomisation of our culture into “consumer units”, who go off each morning together in their individualized containers to face the day alone, together. The desire for property (that Essential to the semi-independence and self-esteem that come from subsistence) pulls people to the suburbs- where an expanse of lawn, sans sheep or cow, and landscaping free of vegetable beds & fruit trees is a place to putter on weekends. The sense that “this is Right- and Meaningful” doesn’t diminish easily… and social inertia, complete with cultural diversions, is readily available. (That old Brit sitcom, “Good Neighbors,” played on the urban homesteader theme to good advantage, but made few inroads, I fear…) The SUV has been our response to a sense of an implicit global challenge to the inequities of our material resource consumption. It’s the personification of our Rugged Individualist’s family-friendly Bradley Fighting Vehicle… & on we go… ^..^

  • hurley

    The Cars That Ate Paris was, I think, the title of an early Peter Weir film. The title bears some meaning to anyone who has been there recently. On average, residents of major European cities will live one year less than they should because of pollution. That’s a lot of life lost — millions of years. Yet it’s a moot point in any but the most progressive communities. I walk most everywhere I go, therebye, given the matrix of poisons and hazards I subject myself to in the process, hastening my end as I try to stave it off. Irony, unfortunately, doesn’t enter the equation. How is it that we’ve become so comfortable with the agents of our own demise? A sci-fi premise might propose a technological imperative, but why do we accept it, losing a year or so of all we have that someone else can drive somewhere they could as easily walk? A naive question of course, given human nature, but the better part of human nature looks to overcome the worst. In short, how, in the various versions of the city on the hill likely to be aired, do you control the godamn cars?

  • hurley

    You’ve probably read this:

    http://bostonreview.net/BR31.6/scarry.html

    but if you haven’t you might. The wonderful and truly scary Scarry, with whom Chris conducted a

    facinating interview years back about citizen governance aboard the plane that crashed in Pennsylania on 9/11, here turns her attention to material and theoretical breaches by the US of the Geneva Accords and much military doctrine besides, and their likely consequences. This from toward the end:

    And what if the military does manage to hold the line? What if over time we come to see again and again that our civilian leaders do not obey the law and our military leaders do? And that our civilian leaders do not know how to safeguard the American population and our military leaders do? (Hurricane Katrina is an example: only when the military arrived did rescue begin.) Would this lead to our eventually preferring military over civilian leadership? It is exactly this situation that Charles Dunlap—the writer with whom we began—warns against in an earlier, 1992 article entitled “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012,” an article that ought to be as widely read and debated in the civilian world as it has been in the military world.

    I haven’t read the article she refers to, but I will. She’s up to something deeply interesting and important, and I’d be happy to hear her again in conversation with Chris.

  • hurley

    Sorry, I posted the above on the wrong thread. Cross-town traffic…Over to Suggest A Show…

  • I would like to see cities where when viewed from above look like forests. Gigantic trees with beehives models for living and working areas. Buildings that mimic the ways of trees, allowing humans and other creatures to cohabitate, having ‘roots’ and ”veins” that are water recycling systems. Every building is energy self-sufficient. No ‘grids”. energy self-suffficient, canopies that ‘bud and bloom’ in the summer months for shade then retract to allow more sun into the warming panels in summer. Living, breathing soil left intact. (Surface soil contributes significantly to air quality, we are literally smothering the earth and ourselves with all of our solid foundations, pathways and parking lots.) Lots of soft walking paths planted with ground cover that stands up to being tread upon. All composting toilets.

    Each neighborhood would be self-sufficient in terms of supplying all of life’s necessities to its inhabitatants. No individual transportation except for emergency purposes. All public transportation is underground. Buildings can have series of connectors high up, like the crossing branches of trees. Information networks are wireless everywhere.

    You get the idea. I think we have to be radical in our thinking if we’re really going to find away to support our population and the environment that we require for survival. So, if we’re building the city of the future from scratch, how about we really re-think our entire approach to construction?

  • Hey Allison, check this out…

    Here is a link to a short video about an urban organic farm/food-justice co-operative, S.O.L. Sustaining Ourselves Locally, in Oakland, California.

    http://www.current.tv/studio/media/2498384

    I thought it was very cool. Sounds a little like what you are talking about. Or at least a start.

    An S.O.L. member might be a good guest for this show.

  • hurley

    Allison, I liked your visionary projection of what a green city might be. Can you sketch it out further, literally or figuratively? Old Savannah, GA. one of the greenest cities I’ve seen in terms of its rhythmic patterns of parks and housing. The pattern doesn’t carry out into the newer, poorer periphery, but I suspect the entire city would be better off if it did.

    Someone you might want to invite to the discussion is Christopher Alexander, of A Pattern Language fame, among other things. He’s been looking at these questions for a long time, has many interesting things to say.

  • Tom B

    The world seems to be moving in the direction of The Borg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borg_(Star_Trek), — “The Borg are an amalgam of humanoids of many different species that are enhanced with implanted cybernetics, giving them improved mental and physical abilities. The name Borg is short for cyborg (cybernetic organism). The Borg function as automata; the minds of all Borg drones are connected via implants and networks to a hive mind, the Borg Collective, personified by the Borg Queen and controlled from a central hub, Unimatrix One. According to themselves, the Borg only seek to “improve the quality of life for all species” by integrating organic and synthetic components in their quest for perfection. To this end, they travel the galaxy, increasing their numbers and advancing by “assimilating” other species and their technologies, and subjugating captured individuals by injecting them with nanoprobes and surgically implanting prostheses, quickly changing their biological anatomy and biochemistry to the Borg standard.” — Expect our cities to mirror the Borg-like evolution of our New World Order. Too bad we can’t post a picture of The Borg Cube here… but here’s a link… http://www.infosun.fmi.uni-passau.de/br/lehrstuhl/Sommercamp/virtualworld/2005/galerie/borg_cube.png

  • plnelson

    Cities are unnatural and obsolete.

    They made sense for a brief period in human history when having lots of people in close proximity was the only way to achieve a critical mass of intellect and ideas during a period when communications technology was primitive. Cities also made sense at that time for group defense against attack.

    But fundamentaslly humans are not wired-up to interact on a daily basis with thousands of strangers. We evolved in small groups of primates and later small groups of hunter-gatherers and our brains and social behavior are optimized for seeing a relatively small number of familiar faces regularly.

    Furthermore, cities are noisy and have unnatural day-night lighting cycles, which further adds to the psychological distortions they impose on humans.

    On top of all that, cities separate people from the natural world, giving them less understanding of, and less sense of connection with the natural environment. This undermines any understanding of the damage humans do to the Earth, which facilitaes their ability to keep doing it, willy-nilly. And it’s not just the Earth – in cities you cannot see the night sky, which cuts people off further from their grasp of their place in the universe.

  • It’s interesting to consider a world of small interconnected cities, instead of the paradigm of a huge city surrounded by suburbs. I think that a city size of, say, 100,000 people would give enough critical mass to fund a hospital and similar bits of infrastructure that require some scale, but could still be walkable and feel like a community. Take a bunch of these walkable cities, interconnected with a light rail systerm, and maybe that would work as a model.

    At the same time, all through history, our imagination has been captured by the large leading cities (Rome, London, Paris, New York, etc.). These have persisted for centuries or millenia; maybe there is something valuable in them that will persist no matter how many internet-enabled cellphones we carry around.

  • plnelson

    At the same time, all through history, our imagination has been captured by the large leading cities (Rome, London, Paris, New York, etc.). These have persisted for centuries or millenia; maybe there is something valuable in them that will persist no matter how many internet-enabled cellphones we carry around.

    I don’t think so. I think those places have captured the imagination precisely and only because they were the only way for creative people and thinkers to achieve a critical mass. Today they are polluted, noisy, and expensive. They always were, of course, but in the past that was the price you paid for stimulation. But in the age of the internet this is no longer necessary.

    I’m an artist, poet, and software designer. I live out in the sticks where I’m surrounded by nature; I can look up into a night sky dark enough to see the Milky Way. But I collaborate daily with people from Bangalore to East Fairfield VT, and from Provincetown and to Paris.

  • Ben

    Jeffersonian agrarian idealism and Hamilton’s metropolitan urbanism still rings as a distant and dissonant echo in the American pathos. I’m not sure either of them would have experienced anything short of shock if confronted with explosive sprawl of the modern Zwischenstadt.

  • Without large cities, would we have symphony orchestras, large museums, major league sports stadiums, cultural diversity, big-name rock concerts, research hospitals, and other things that demand large populations? Young people still flock to New York to get in the thick of things; surely large masses of people and infrastructure are important in generating creativity and energy.

    Can we retrofit large cities in situ to be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly, rather than dismissing them?

  • plnelson

    Without large cities, would we have symphony orchestras, large museums, major league sports stadiums, cultural diversity, big-name rock concerts, research hospitals, and other things that demand large populations?

    It’s interesting to note that many large sports facilities, e.g., Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA, (also a site of rock concerts) and new museums, e.g., Mass MoCA, have been build outside the cities. And then, of course, in music you have Tanglewood and Marlboro, etc. The biggest, most famous rock concert in history was Woodstock. And I work for a company that supplies a lot of the equipmwent used in biomedical research and there’s certainly nothing about biomedical research that requires it be done in an urban environment.

    Young people still flock to New York to get in the thick of things; surely large masses of people and infrastructure are important in generating creativity and energy

    Young people flock to cities because apartment living is cheap and you don’t need a car. Most of them flock right back OUT again as soon as they have the means. Nowadays the biggest, most creative “masses” of young people are the ones found online. There’s a limit to how many creative geniuses you can fit into one coffeehouse or apartrment livingroom but there’s NO limit to how many can fit into an online community. If there is a 21st century version of the Algonquin Club or the Lost Generation it probably ends in “.com”.

    Can we retrofit large cities in situ to be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly, rather than dismissing them?

    As I said, I think the REAL problem with urban environments is that, biologically. we are not-wired up to be well-adapted to living among large groups of strangers on a diurnal cycle vasttly different from the one we evolved with over millions of years. I think it creates stresses that cause many of the health, personality, and behavioral problems we associate with urban life. Basically we’re hunter-gatherers and while you can take the hunter-gatherer out of the savannah, you can’t take the hunter-gatherer out of our genes.

  • faithandreason

    pnelson:

    I don’t think that how we evolved should define how we should live, lest we run headlong into the naturalistic fallacy (something on the order of “is implies ought”). Just as easily, someone could argue “we live this way because we evolved this way.”

    I don’t think evolution has anything to do with city design, though it should. The late ex-anarchist and social ecologist Murray Bookchin noted rightly that in nature, evolution creates greater diversity of forms, and that industrial civilization ‘to date’ has reduced the diversity of forms where it occurs. So while the internet has brought us diversity of opinion, it may be contributing to the acceleration of linguistic extinction.

    Merging those radical leftist thoughts with the perhaps apolitical thoughts of “natural capitalist” Amory Lovins, if we promote “biomimicry” in our cities by engineering our lives to produce zero waste and imitate ecological systems, we could get back to increasing the natural, architectural, and social diversity of our cities.

    But I think you’re right, ”pnelson”, in that some modern city forms do induce stress by overloading stimuli. However, I think most successful cities are “cities of neighborhoods,” where localism can still thrive.

  • Ben

    Cities and towns are entirely natural expressions of one of the greatest biological developments in human beings – cooperation. While many of our technologies and beliefs are in need of biopsy, the behavior of physically getting together in large groups to pool resources is far from vestigial.

    The Cooper Union has an interesting online presentation exploring The Ancient City Within NY CHI LA that illustrates one of the competition project’s inspired look back at history to understand more about the present and future of cities. It assumes a lot from Rome, as most western civilization does, though there is evidence of cities 2,000 years earlier in the Indus Valley.

  • plnelson

    I don’t think that how we evolved should define how we should live, lest we run headlong into the naturalistic fallacy (something on the order of “is implies ought”). Just as easily, someone could argue “we live this way because we evolved this way.”

    It doesn’t matter whether you THINK evolution “should” influence how we live. The fact remains that we are the products of evolution. The enzymes produced in our gut, the shape of our teeth, our nutritional needfs WRT to vinamins and types of proteins we can synthesize, etc, determine what we can eat and stay healthy. The designs of our nervous systems; the number of faces we can easily remember, the way we form clans and tribes, our emotional and sexual responses, the way we react to social stress, etc, etc, are ALSO the products of our biology. We are not deer; we are not cats, we are not dogs – they have their own neurophysiological wiring and we have ours.

    There are many aspects of modern 21st century life that we are not well-adapted to. The result is that levels of stress-related illness and behavioral and personality problems are astronomical. 7 million children are on Ritalin, millions more are on antidepresants, millions of young women are anorexic – the NY Times did a scary story last year about what life in a modern summer camp is like as all the kids line up each morning to get their drugs. And the adults, too, are on drugs or in therapy by the 10’s of millions.

    We’re a very adaptable species, but we are not infintely malleable – to be happy and healthy we need to respect who/what we are as a species.

  • plnelson

    Cities and towns are entirely natural expressions of one of the greatest biological developments in human beings – cooperation. While many of our technologies and beliefs are in need of biopsy, the behavior of physically getting together in large groups to pool resources is far from vestigial.

    But we only did that because the advantages of cooperation outweighed the disadvantages imposed by the noise, pollution, crowding, etc, of cities. Also note that in ancient cities most people mainly interacted with others in their own section or quarter of the city, ie., people who were basically like them.

    MY point is that we no longer need to make that tradeoff. We can have the large-scale cooperation and sharing of ideas and effort WITHOUT needing to deal with the donsides of urban life thanks to modern methods of communication and transportation.

  • faithandreason

    pnelson:

    While there is no doubt that genetic traits sculpt how we respond to our environments, but sometimes those genetic traits head us down the wrong pathways. For instance, sweet flavors have been hypothesized to trigger a “nutritious” flag in our brains, brought about by the high sweetness of fruits, which tended to be enriched in the antioxidants and vitamins and other phytonutrients that our bodies had evolved to require for metabolism. However, in the age of high-fructose corn syrup, genetic instinct serves us poorly, and lead to problems like diabetes. That’s one example of why I say that we shouldn’t just rely on what our genes tell us, though they definitely influence us.

    My concern is that appeals to genetic traits, which tend to dictate individual phenotypes, do not fully explain behavior (nor should they) of individuals, and are a long way from explaining social dynamics. Computer simulations of residential patterns show how segregation can arise only from people preferring to share at least one border with someone of the same color, with no antipathy towards other colors. Since our cultures and economies shape collective behaviors to a large extent, I don’t think that appeals to genetics will give us the picture of what we should have, so much as what we should NOT have.

    I think you and I agree that some urban forms are not what our brains are evolved to. I would generalize that to modern life (e.g. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2006 Apr;160(4):354-60 shows that children without ADHD who have high television exposures when young tend to have lower visual attention and cognitive engagement upon stimulus than lower-exposed peers). The hypothesis here is that fast-moving and rapidly changing images are not easily processed by developing brains, whose visual stimulus is continuous in nature.

    Taking a cue from a field of which I know nothing, “ecopsychology,” I think brains need natural shapes and structures to develop good spatial and visual memory skills — hence the chic new term “nature deficit disorder” for urban youngsters — definitely something to it. And into adulthood, I think the “social ecology” of cities can have huge impacts on us all. Compare the Netherlands and Germany, where bicycle ridership increases with age to the U.S. where it declines… no doubt that has something to do with obesity and the incidence of diabetes.

    As to the claim that cities have pushed us past the limit of human “malleability,” I think it falls flat in examining epidemiologic evidence. U.S. lifespans and survival rates for many diseases have increased substantially in urban areas over the past few decade, and no doubt some part of this is due to the concentration of medical resources where many people can access them. I do believe that urban design limits how healthy we can truly be — a good number of epidemiologic studies have found that living alongside a lot of traffic (or being in it) increases heart and lung disease incidence and death rates from traumatic injuries. While reducing these consequences is an very important benefit of “redesigning” cities in the right manner, I think that the “imperatives” for doing so come not from the stresses of urban life, but on the horrible toll that we take on the planet and on the interconnectedness of thh human family.

    If you want my opinion as to why the health impacts and other direct stresses of transportation aren’t going to change things, just take a look at how the Department of Transportation has responded to the significant body of epidemiology saying that traffic is bad for health — deny, play up uncertainty, and obfuscate!

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    plnelson: “It doesn’t matter whether you THINK evolution “should” influence how we live.”

    Are you claiming that the evolution of human beings is independent of thinking?

    plnelson: “We’re a very adaptable species, but we are not infintely malleable”

    I agree, but could thought imply or contribute to some degree of malleability in evolutionary devlopment? Looking at this in terms of evolution, what role does thinking play? Is it simply a side-effect of our physiology? Has it had any effect on our physiology? Has it had any effect on say biota, and if so, could that affect our evolution?

  • faithandreason

    Let me just humbly apologize to pnelson and everyone else for the terrible logic of my last post… circularity and lack of clarity about in my last post… please discount it!

  • Sutter

    I’m a bit skeptical of the idea that cities are already relics. It may be true for computer programmers, and it is largely true for lawyers (most days, I travel from the burbs to the city but do the same research, writing, and talking that I could do from home, though some days I do other things — at the least I could come in only as necessary, saving energy costs, increasing my peace of mind, carving out more family time, etc.). But we still have a manufacturing base that requires accumulations of workers, and cities still permit us to spread certain costs over large numbers of people. They are therefore both necessary efficient in certain ways.

    The broader point raised by PLN, I think, is this: In considering the public policy implications of new urban planning tools, should we also be considering whether our public policy should be working to prompt people into cities, or should it be working to resist the “city model”? For example, where I live in Virginia, transportation issues loom large in the public debate — anyone who has driven on Route 66 during rush hour understands why. The debate now centers on widening roads, controlling development, expanding light rail, etc. But should it also focus on providing incentives for employers to rely more on telecommuters? Are there other steps it should take to promote dispersion where dispersion is now possible?

  • faithandreason

    Please don’t let the show get centered strictly on design, tonight!

    Our “public intentions” can only get us so far, or Frank Lloyd Wright’s integration with the landscape would be commonplace (note: Falling Water is literally falling).

    Warsaw is ugly because it was rebuilt in the Stalinist image after Hitler ordered collective punishment upon the self-liberating Poles of 1944. That was, sadly, “successful” urban redesign.

    Detroit has a paragon of urban redesign in Lafayette Park, envisioned and made real by the great van der Rohe, yet only as a result of the power of eminent domain freeing up enough land as I-75 destroyed the cultural centroid of the antedepression black middle class of the city.

    I fear that the next city to be designed entirely by a visionary architecture will be Tehran, when the big one strikes the fault that is its home.

    Before I sound cranky, let me say that one word encapsulates the only tangible “design” characteristic — short of the intangibles — that could save all of our cities: biomimicry. My idealized urban design = ecology applied to integrating the natural and human-made.

  • robert leaver

    Perhaps it is less a call for totally new cities and more a call for what is next for our cities.

    Climate change/global warming, population growth/diversification, the demands of the next economy, and democracy in the US, will keep cities at the forefront of our culture. It is for these reasons that cities will be around for awhile. I respect plnelson for his views and he seems at home in his cabin, but I think cities are natural and far from obsolete. Cities are not for everyone, but they are essential for our culture.

    Climate change will lead to fewer cars and trucks on the streets and more localism and regionalism. The changes in our lifestyles raised on this blog regarding less car use and life post peak oil are coming in the form of green buildings, localized energy production, and close looped city ecosystem where “one persons waste is another’s food.” (Michael Braungart)

    The nature of buildings will change too. Not only in terms of design – that is the look and feel of a 21st century post modern/green building in old industrial cities that will shock the preservationists – but also the mechanics of buildings as our next buildings will be designed for the long-term and disassembly so the parts can be reused and thus less goes to the dump or floats on a barge in the ocean to be dumped somewhere else. Most recently built buildings have a financial shelf life of 10 years after which the investment has been paid off and it is often torn down for another 10 year building. In all cases, the rubble is sent to the landfill. This practice will change too.

    Buildings will be built with different processes too. Take a clue from Christopher Alexander from his most recent work The Nature of Order, where he calls for buildings to unfold based on what the land wants built on it and be guided by generative code that is spiritual and ecological in origins.

    More localism and regionalism will have cities cooperating more in the exchange of goods and services. One city will do the urban farming and exchange food for something produced in the next city over. Intervale in Burlington VT produces 8 % of the cities fresh food. It is what Jane Jacob describes in Cities and the Wealth of Nations about how cities thrive when they trade directly with each and thus form regions from the exchange.

    Population growth brings another force for change. In the US we will grow from 300 to 400 million people in the first part of this new century. Cities will house most of these people because it is cheaper than elsewhere. To accommodate the rising population, buildings will have to become more compact and dense and go up in height. Population growth will continue to bring more diversity of immigrants. Recent immigration is less European/Mediterranean as it was in past times, and more diverse cultures—African, Islamic and Asian – with many diverse customs and symbols, requiring us to think and act more inter-culturally where we work together directly (Charles Landry).

    Some people will make a living by using the Internet and never leaving home. But most next economy companies will be multi-disciplinary because our problems demand so. For example to create a next century business requires the coming together of art and science. No longer is a new business in the heart and mind of one entrepreneur, but in the hearts and minds of many. Thus, companies will be federations of know-how’s from many entrepreneurs. And companies with this complexity of talent will require dense places like cities for the partners to meet, talk, and have the face time required to create the trust which is the spine of this new kind of business.

    In Yeats poem, “The Second Coming” he says: …”The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; The center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…The center of democracy will hold only when we see and feel the faces of others. As Levinas says: “the bare face of another is where ethics lies.” If we truly see the face of others we cannot turn away from our service to the common good. If we all head for the woods and isolation and assume cities are dead, Yeats center falls apart.

    As James Hillman often reminds us, in City and Soul the Greek polis is the origin for city where the polis is the throng and energy of the crowd mixing it up. Despite our feisty need for independence and to be alone, there is something equally hard-wired about us to be with others. This is the human dilemma: to handle this creative tension of self and others and it is how character is formed.

  • David Weinstein

    I marveled at these architects and planners imagination. But what abut the more prosaic notion of smart growth and the humanist philosohpy of Jane Jacobs. Smart growth grows out of the imperative of environmental sustainability and dovetails well into the architects’ eco-technological vision of cities renewing resources such as energy and Martin Felsen’s vision of Chicago becoming the “kidneys’ of lake Michigan. Smart growth is the un-L.A. where transportation hubs are near shopping areas all integrated into living spaces. European cities have done this well (the problem there is the expense of living in these urban cores) as well as the human quality of exoerience on these streets — think of Paris or Amsterdam.

    Cities have offered the best and worst of human experience. I am no utopian but I think that we would do well to remember both the wisdom of Jane Jacobs and the basic outline of smart growth in re-imaginaing our cities.

  • BB

    Chels, sorry if someone already wrote about this, but I can’t read through all the posts. Bill McDonough was commissioned by China to design a whole new city. Not sure whether it’s actually happening or not, but he’s a very eloquent/interesting speaker and has made a lot of presentations about it. His big thing is Cradle to Cradle, green building, etc., but this is his latest big project.

  • Why look for “The City of the Future” in the cities of the past? If looking for “A Tale of New Cities” then you need to find those present-day seedlings that will grow into something greater. Older present-day cities are not much more than warmed over versions of their older selves.

    If you had a time machine, where would you take a visitor from the past? Would you offer the 2000-odd year old city of Rome as a vision of the city of the future? More likely you would offer as example a city that scarcely existed (or not at all) in your guest’s time.

    Perhaps the title should be changed to “Existing City in the Future”?

    When looking for the model “City of the Future”, you need to look where the cities are not … yet, but will be later.

    New York was once the city of the future, as shaped by sea travel. Chicago was once the city of the future, as shaped by railroad travel. Los Angeles was once the city of the future, as shaped by the automobile. To find the next model “City of the Future” you want to look where the influence of the Interstates and the Internet finds it’s fullest expression.

    To look past the immediate future, you need to look outside today’s old cities. You need to look at the spaces in between. Drive out of Los Angeles. Do not be fooled by the lack of a readily discernible center. the suburbs of today are greater engines of economic activity than major cities of the not-so-distant past.

    Drive up Interstate 15. Note the tremendous growth surrounding Las Vegas. Drive a bit further and you hit rapidly growing St. George, Utah. Stop and pick up the real estate fliers as you travel down the interstate. Clearly something major is afoot.

    Between the 1930’s and the 1960’s, something like 1/3 of the US population quietly moved from farms to cities and suburbs. Seems that we are in the middle of another big quiet change. This time folk are moving outward, away from crowds, crime. pollution, and overpriced real estate. The Internet and all those shiny-new trucks on the Interstates have further lessened the need to live in major cities and their suburbs.

    What happens when the oil runs out? Will this all come tumbling down? The answer is found in the price of oil. As the price rises, the production of oil from alternate sources (shale, coal) becomes profitable, and the reserves suddenly increase. Also as the Internet allows folks to travel less (commuting, business trips) demand and pollution are both lessened.

    To find the model “City of the Future”, you need to look outside the cities of yesterday.

  • hurley

    Another wonderful show. Why not a sequel? Michael Sorkin an inspired choice. Good writer, great talker. He really tore up the architectural scene in New York when he was writing for the Village Voice. His notion of “poetic dystopias” worth the hour. I suspect the friend he alluded to re LA and Vegas was Mike Davis, who manages the odd feat of making LA the lovelier the farther you are from it (not so odd, actually…). The persistent water references remind me to remind you of my old proposal for a show about WATER. If water is the oil of the 21st century, why aren’t you doing a show about it? Happy to point you in interesting directions in the event.

  • Chelsea

    Hurley,

    I was looking up Mike Davis’ contact info when your comment came in. I’m researching Part II of this conversation: slums as cities of the future. I just read through the Pitch a Show Thread and I can’t find your water pitch. Perhaps you should resubmit it.

  • hurley

    Chelsea: Slums as cities of the future — Mike Davis is your man. I hope you can get him, and very much look forward to the show. I left a note re Water on the Pitch Us A Show thread.

    Ben, thanks for the link. I’d never heard of Diane Lewis, but received an invitation to attend a lecture she was giving right after reading your note. Couldn’t make it, but I’ll seek her out in future.

  • plnelson wrote:But fundamentaslly humans are not wired-up to interact on a daily basis with thousands of strangers. We evolved in small groups of primates and later small groups of hunter-gatherers and our brains and social behavior are optimized for seeing a relatively small number of familiar faces regularly.

    I concur. I believe studies have been done to show that humans live most copacetically and productively in groups of not more than 150. That’s a miniscule number when you consider that a “small” city is 100,000 people. If we can’t migrate back to a small village/tribe society, perhaps we should be considering micro-neighborhoods, where all the basic needs are met by the members of the m-n: food production, etc.

    Trying to live in a more integrated way with the earth’s natural environment might impel us back toward small communities.

  • plnelson

    I concur. I believe studies have been done to show that humans live most copacetically and productively in groups of not more than 150. That’s a miniscule number when you consider that a “small” city is 100,000 people.

    One thing that many people in ths discussion don’t realize is that in many ancient cities people used to spen most of their time in their own neighborhoods, doing business with local merchants and shopkeepers and seeing many of the same faces all day long. Ancient cities tended to be divided or organized along ethnic or religious lines so people lived in the same quarter, ghetto, etc, as others like them.

  • plnelson

    Between the 1930’s and the 1960’s, something like 1/3 of the US population quietly moved from farms to cities and suburbs. Seems that we are in the middle of another big quiet change. This time folk are moving outward, away from crowds, crime. pollution, and overpriced real estate. The Internet and all those shiny-new trucks on the Interstates have further lessened the need to live in major cities and their suburbs.

    exactly

    Contrary to what another poster surmised, I don’t live in a cabin, but a large, modern open-concept house in the “exurbs”. I have space, privacy, peace-and-quiet, lots of land where i grow apples, pears, blueberries, and various vegetables, full internet access and about a 20 minute commute to work, which like many modern high-tech companies, is also in the exurbs.

  • Michael Sorkin made a great point about Las Vegas during the second half of the show (great union town, anyone can find a good job and make the down payment on the house). But he referenced a friend of his who taught in LA, without giving us a name. Who was he talking about?

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