Posts tagged with "urban planning":

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MIT approves new degree combining urban planning and computer science

If you think that urban planning and computer science go hand in hand, MIT’s new degree may just be the subject for you. The MIT faculty just approved the bachelor of science in urban science and planning with computer science at its May 16 meeting, which will be available to all undergraduates starting from the fall 2018 semester. The new major is offered jointly by the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. According to a press release, it will combine “urban planning and public policy, design and visualization, data analysis, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, pervasive sensor technology, robotics and other aspects of both computer science and city planning.” Other inventive and multi-disciplinary methods include ethics and geospatial analysis. “The new joint major will provide important and unique opportunities for MIT students to engage deeply in developing the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to be more effective scientists, planners, and policy makers,” says Eran Ben-Joseph, head of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. “It will incorporate STEM education and research with a humanistic attitude, societal impact, social innovation, and policy change — a novel model for decision making to enable systemic positive change and create a better world. This is really unexplored, fertile new ground for research, education, and practice.” Students will spend time in the urban science synthesis lab, which will be a required component of the degree. Advanced technological tools will become an integral aspect of the exciting learning process.
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UW-Milwaukee elects new urban planning and architecture chairs

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has elected two new leaders for its School of Architecture and Urban Planning (SARUP). Lingqian (Ivy) Hu will serve as chair of the Urban Planning department, with Mo Zell taking over as chair of the architecture department. Zell is currently the associate dean and will be the first woman to chair the department. Hu has served as associate professor at UW-Milwaukee since 2010. Lingqian (Ivy) Hu has written extensively on spatial mismatch both in the United States and China. With a research focus on how transportation policy and planning affects the lives of people in vulnerable communities, Hu’s tenure as chair comes as UW-Milwaukee’s Master of Urban Planning degree program receives accreditation for another seven years. UW-Milwaukee has been offering urban planning courses since 1974, will full accreditation given by the American Planning Association (APA) in 1977. Mo Zell is a member of the leadership team of Woman in Design Milwaukee and a partner at bauenstudio, designers of the Veterans Memorial at Northeastern University and finalists of the 2011 Burnham Prize and the Washington Monument Grounds Ideas Competition. Zell founded the Mobile Design Box for SARUP, connecting community entrepreneurs with UWM designers in a formerly vacant space in Milwaukee’s Concordia neighborhood. The recipient of a $30,000 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Creativity Connects program grant, Zell will assist in connecting a pool of architects, artists and designers in creating commissioned art, with projects constructed in venues across Milwaukee that discuss the city’s socioeconomic diversity and material culture.  Zell has authored books on traditional architectural drawing. According to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), four out of ten architecture graduates in 2017 were women. The Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) reports that women make up 39% of graduate program faculties in urban planning schools.
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Foster + Partners will master plan the core of a new Indian state capital

  Amaravati, the new state capital of Andhra Pradesh, India (formed in a recent redrawing of state boundaries), is set to rise as a sustainable smart city, and Foster + Partners will master plan the green “spine” running through its administrative core. The 134-square-mile city is being positioned as one of the “most sustainable in the world” according to Foster + Partners, thanks to widespread solar power, electric vehicles, dedicated cycling routes, and shaded paths to encourage walking. The city was strategically positioned on the banks of the River Krishna for easy access to fresh water, and water taxis have been floated as mass transit options. The 3.4-mile by half-mile stretch that Foster + Partners will be planning holds the city’s central governmental complex, including the design of several administrative buildings, and most importantly, the legislative assembly and the high court complex. The green spine will be at least 60 percent occupied with either greenery or water, and Foster + Partners claims that the area, centered in a city with a strong urban grid, was inspired by Central Park and Lutyens' Delhi (an area of New Delhi designed by British architect Edwin Lutyens). The legislative assembly building will sit inside of a large freshwater lake at the spine’s center and appears to be floating over the water’s surface. Keeping the Hindu principles of vastu shastra in mind, the building dramatically spikes 820 feet towards the sky at its core and creates an internal void. The space below inside of the assembly building will be used as a courtyard, while visitors can climb a spiral ramp to a cultural museum and viewing gallery on the upper levels. The high court complex is located off of the spine’s central axis, and the building’s stepped, dome-shaped roof references Indian stupas; domed buildings typically containing Buddhist relics. Generous overhangs encourage natural, passive cooling throughout, and the programming is made up of concentric circles of circulation spaces and rooms. The public-facing sections will be at the exterior rings, while the most sensitive and private areas will be located at the heart of the court complex. A mixed-use neighborhood has been planned for the area closest to the river’s edge, structured around 13 public plazas, each representing a state district in Andhra Pradesh. Sir Norman Foster was recently in Amaravati to survey the site and discuss the project’s next steps. “We are delighted to be working with the Chief Minister and the Government of Andhra Pradesh to help them realise their ideas for the People’s Capital and to build a clear and inspiring vision for the governmental complex at Amaravati,” said Foster in a press release. “The design brings together our decades-long research into sustainable cities, incorporating the latest technologies that are currently being developed in India.”
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A new book on Rome’s urban formation probes its political and historical roots

In one of his last interviews, Vincent Scully claimed, “When you go abroad for the first time, most of your thoughts are about your home. Because you need to define yourself as you confront a very different culture.” Americans, Scully believed, “experienced this phenomenon with special intensity.” Indeed, for traveling American architects, going back to Daniel D.H. Burnham and forward to Robert Venturi, and of course for Scully himself, this was never truer than with regard to their experiences in Rome. In Rome: Urban Formation and Transformation, the author, Jon Michael Schwarting, maintains a certain distance from the American academic context and produces a rational, detailed examination of Rome (and other Italian cities) and a method of investigating and understanding architecture and urbanism by searching its rational basis. Both of these aims are achieved without claiming historical precision but by using history in a polemical, rather than factual, manner. A collage of a great amount of information and studies regarding Rome’s urban structure, this material was gathered over years of research, formally conducted at Cornell University in the 1970s and further elaborated in five case studies by students working in Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture program in Rome during the early ’80s. Schwarting was a student of Colin Rowe’s at Cornell, who, Charles Jencks said, “[gave] the younger generations of architects the metaphor of the past, of history, of references, as a viable generator of present form.” Influenced by Rowe’s vision, the author collects historical, analytical, and graphic data derived from these elaborate examinations of the ancient city, which is seen as a perfect case study to comprehend and demonstrate how urban formation, transformation, and architecture in general are in a critical relationship with the concepts of the ideal, the utopian, and the physical reality. Schwarting’s principle interest is to explore how, at various scales, the political, social, and cultural scenario of a specific time in history has influenced the forma urbis and affected its architecture. Rome, he proposes, offers a critical example of these dynamics for the American architect: The city’s developments and transformations have always been in a dialectic relationship with the existing environment. This urban strategy begins with the development of the Roman Republic and Imperial periods, gradually modified by medieval urban fabric, and finally transformed in the Baroque period by Bernini and even Borromini. Schwarting starts by clarifying fundamental concepts required to examine and understand the city’s history. At first, he introduces the issue of the progressive use of tradition in architectural language, which leads directly to the debate regarding utopia, the ideal, and the real and their dialectical relationships within architectural speculation. This argument was the main concern of Renaissance intellectuals such as Da Vinci, Scamozzi, Vasari, Filarete, and Francesco di Giorgio Martini, who all engaged in the designing of perfect, ideal cities. The author points out that none of these prototypes, except for Scamozzi’s fortified city of Palmanova, were ever built. According to this, the author states that—platonically—the enthusiasm typical of the early Renaissance treatises must be interpreted as instructive for cities’ potential transformation rather than reflecting an ambition for actual construction. The solution was instead realized in the adaptation of ideal principles and rules, derived from classical knowledge, to the real, existing conditions, with respect and according to a context that was rarely intended to be altered. In particular, the book focuses on the period from the 15th to the 18th century, between the Renaissance and Baroque periods, in which Rome was to be completely transformed into the new center of Christianity. The city needed a rethinking of its structure in order to create monumenti, piazze, chiese, e palazzi for the new dominant aristocratic families and for the Vatican, with a large flow of pilgrims. Popes Giulio II, Clemente VII, and Sisto V saw the possibility of giving Rome new life by creating ideal spaces and conditions in fragmented interventions related through a complex radial street system developed from important urban nodes in order to reach each other. Sisto V ultimately wanted to create an urban stellar system, namely, Roma in sideris forma. The lesson learned from Rome is a realization of how the principles of the ideal and the perfect would be impracticable for the whole but can exist in fragments, in a dialectical relation with the real, chaotic physical context in which the Renaissance architects, instructed by popes and noble families, imagined their projects as a representation or a recollection of the idea of perfection. Schwarting writes: “Each architect built according to the existing city, developed strategies to enhance the ideal plan notion, by creating a building and spaces that reinforced it.” These projects “are ideal set-pieces inserted into an existing urban fabric and, thereby, provide a degree of order, by providing a reference [...] for the surrounding area.” It is important to mention the quality of the graphics—produced thanks to extensive analysis and fieldwork by the researchers and students—are exceptional and very rigorous. These technical hand drawings aim to visualize the architecture and buildings in relation to their context and to the city as a whole, exemplifying a concern to consider each piece as part of a more complex structure. To conclude, we could quote Giancarlo De Carlo in his description of the work for the Piano Programma in Palermo by Giuseppe Samonà, to portray the research by Schwarting in Rome as well. “He [Samonà] used to spend all his energy—both physical and intellectual: The surveys in Palermo were long and frequent, and his days at work started early in the morning and finished late at night, when he used to go out with students to have an arancino or a gelato, depending on the season.” Rome: Urban Formation and Transformation By Jon Michael Schwarting, Applied Research & Design $30.59
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The future of smart power could lie in a single solar, storage and communications platform

In a 2016 broadcast of NPR’s Fresh Air, author and cultural anthropologist Gretchen Bakke characterized America’s energy grid as “increasingly unstable, underfunded, and incapable of taking us to a new energy future.” Nevertheless, the steady march toward progress continues, and the threat of obsolescence is driving many cities, urban planners, developers, and businesses to invest in the future. “We happen to be at a moment in time where people are starting to fear that technological obsolescence in the workplace and in cities is a pretty tough place to be and has some real consequences economically for the buildings and the cities that don’t have high-speed networking or don’t have modern energy,” observed Brian Lakamp, founder and CEO of Totem Power. “That’s why you’re seeing city planners, mayors, and businesses get more aggressive about deploying built environment technology than they ever have been, as far as I can tell.” (Note: Some states, such as California, have already passed legislation requiring new buildings to be outfitted with electric vehicle charging ports.) Identifying significant shifts in transportation, communication, and energy, Lakamp saw an opportunity to solve a problem that innovation imposes on our aging buildings. For example, as millions of electric vehicles begin to flood the market in the years ahead, a major investment in infrastructure will be required to support them. Similarly, as buildings are rewired with higher-gauge electrical cabling to accommodate new energy and communications networks, it’s clear that smarter, more flexible solutions are required to meet these ever-increasing demands. “With the coming of 5G and some of the IoT technologies, electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles, there’s a lot that is emerging that needs to change in terms of the way communications networks work and new technology is presented that gets really exciting,” Lakamp said. “We’re here as a way to deploy that infrastructure in the built environment in a way that can be made beautiful and impactful.” To that end, Lakamp launched Totem, a groundbreaking energy solution that reimagines and redesigns smart utility. The Totem platform combines solar energy and energy storage, WiFi and 4G communications, electric vehicle charging, and smart lighting into a single, powerful product that weaves these capabilities directly into the built environment.

How It Works

Totem is, at its core, a vertical server rack that’s designed to support evolution in technology over time. Its base product deploys over 40 kWh of energy storage that serves as a grid asset and dynamic energy foundation that ensures energy quality and provides critical resilience in the event of broader grid issues. Integrated solar generation, electric vehicle charging, and LED lighting add further capability to each Totem and sophistication to each property’s energy assets. Totem also provides a reliable hub for Wi-Fi, 4G, and 5G cellular services to bring high-speed connectivity to properties and communities. Through its modern connectivity platform, it also presents a key communications gateway for IoT devices on and around properties. According to a statement from Jeffrey Kenoff, director at architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, “Totem is one of the first to unite design, infrastructure, and community in a single as well as exquisite platform. It’s hard to imagine a major project or public space that it would not transform.”
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New York State Assembly to vote on lifting city’s density caps

New York State’s legislature is set to vote on a budget resolution that would lift the floor area ratio (FAR) caps in New York City for residential development, a proposition that the de Blasio administration seems to be onboard with. In a major budget bill for 2018-2019 working its way through the State Senate (S7506A), legislators have included a provision that would nullify the FAR cap installed in 1961. Floor area ratio is determined by dividing a building’s usable floor area by the overall lot’s square footage and is capped at 12 in the city’s highest density districts; therefore, indirectly influencing the height and bulk of new developments. The bill still has to pass a State Legislature vote on the clause (S6760) in two weeks before the Senate’s version can advance, though a similar proposal failed to pass in the 2015-2016 session, likely due to public backlash. The Municipal Art Society (MAS) has continually lobbied against such efforts, and this attempt is no different. MAS and the New York Landmarks Conservancy have decried the move, claiming that it would only lead to taller, bulkier glass towers that would displace existing residents. Not everyone feels the same way. Lifting the FAR cap would benefit Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing agenda, according to the city, as it would provide more space in market-rate developments for affordable housing. Building taller has been a core pillar of the mayor’s sometimes contentious Mandatory Inclusionary Housing plan, and as City Council member Rory Lancman argued in a recent op-ed, building taller is the only way out of the city’s affordable housing crisis. The Regional Plan Association (RPA) also agrees with the move, and recently put out a report highlighting how lifting the FAR cap would bolster income and increase diversity throughout the city’s lower-slung neighborhoods. Any removal of density caps would have to align with New York City's current city planning principals, which use FAR to guide development, so it's uncertain how quickly the impact of such a change would be felt. Of course, the RPA plan presumes that any changes would be accompanied by design guidelines and mechanisms to prevent real estate speculation. It remains to be seen whether the city or state government would enact such procedures if the budget manages to pass. New York residents interested in letting their voice be heard (on either side of the issue) can email or call their local Assembly Member before the vote, using the directory found here.
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How will autonomous vehicles change the way architects think about cities?

City planning operates on decades-long cycles, while infrastructure is typically built out using forecasts that extend current trends. If self-driving vehicles are poised to deliver the revolution in urban transportation that Silicon Valley has been promising, how should urban infrastructure accommodate them? With less parking spots needed, how can designers effectively reclaim this urban space? Anticipating the Driverless City, a recent conference hosted by the AIA New York (AIANY), brought together Uber executives, planners, architects, and policymakers in pursuit of a holistic approach to adapting to life with autonomous vehicles. Speakers acknowledged the same general themes over and over again, despite their differing backgrounds. With self-driving cars possibly arriving in New York City by early 2018 and real-world tests already happening in other cities, one of the most discussed topics was the need to plan for an autonomous future as soon as possible. Nico Larco, co-director of the Sustainable Cities Initiative, stressed that "planners think in 30-year increments, and autonomous vehicles are already hitting the streets today. Urban planners should be terrified." Autonomous vehicles will touch on every facet of urban life, from water management through the reduction of impermeable roads, to electrical grid infrastructure, and drastically reshape the economy. Larco, and many others throughout the event spoke of the need for government to begin working with planners and policymakers to redesign cities from the ground-up. Leaning on a "people, places, policy" framework is a good starting point, as architects and planners can strategize about how autonomous vehicles could possibly affect each of the three. Sam Schwartz, former NYC Traffic Commissioner and founder of transit planning firm Sam Schwartz Engineering, described how a future society with self-driving cars could tilt towards "good," "bad," or "ugly" outcomes. The ideal scenario would be one where the use of autonomous vehicles has encouraged mass transportation use, acting to move commuters to and from high-capacity transit corridors. Because self-driving cars can pack tighter and don’t need to park, streets would be narrowed and the extra space converted to public parkland. Conversely, in a world where autonomous vehicles are owned only by individuals, pedestrians might be walled off from the street, and our roads might be more packed than ever. According to Jeff Tumlin, principal and director of strategy at Nelson/Nygaard, the way we think about self-driving cars directly stems from concepts first presented at the 1939 World’s Fair. Nearly 80 years later, architects and planners wanting to design for a future with self-driving cars, busses, and trains, will need to go beyond simply extending our current car culture.
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A brief urban history of Pyongyang, North Korea—and how it might develop under capitalism

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) has partnered with urbanNext—a multidisciplinary platform for design promoted by Actar Publishers—to share articles on common topics every two weeks. This week, we’re pairing the urbanNext article below with AN’s “Photographer Andy Yeung uses drones to capture the density of Hong Kong.” The article below was authored by Dongwoo Yim, who received a Master of Architecture in Urban Design at Graduate School of Design (GSD), Harvard University, and bachelor’s degree in Seoul National University. Dongwoo is a faculty member of Rhode Island School of Design since 2011 and teaches PRAUD’s architectural discourse “TOPOLOGY & TYPOLOGY.”
As we witnessed from many post-socialist cities in Eastern Europe, Russia, and China, economic growth and political transition [have] supplied the formula for exceptionally radical and quick transformations of a city. Since adopting market-oriented systems, post-socialist cities have become “blue oceans” for new investments. Pyongyang, the capital city of North Korea, is one of few socialist cities in the world that has not adopted this new economic model. On the other hand, Pyongyang is comparable to socialist cities of decades ago, in that it exhibits a strong potential to attract huge investments if and when it begins to open its market to other countries. This change has, in fact, already begun to take place, raising the following questions for architects: 1) what growth model can be suggested? 2) where will the new developments be centered? 3) will the urban transformation replace or arise from within the existing structure of Pyongyang? Framed Pyongyang In spite of recent developments in its fledgling tourist industry, North Korea is still the most enclosed country in the world, and even Pyongyang, its capital city, remains under a veil. The information we currently have about Pyongyang primarily comes from media discussions of its political or social issues. In contrast to reports of its dictatorship, nuclear weapons programs, and the trend of nationwide starvation, the actual urban layout of Pyongyang has not received much attention. Pyongyang, however, was considered by other socialist countries to be an ideal socialist city when it was first built during the 1950s, instead of to be a city of veil or dictatorship. In the absence of the political dictatorship of today, Pyongyang provided an experimental field in which socialist architects attempted to apply their ideal urban structures to the real world. In the aftermath of the Korean War (1950-1953), Kim Il Sung, the leader of North Korea, decided to keep Pyongyang as the capital city of the DPRK (North Korea). Its layout reflected the ideology of socialism as well as [the] victory of the war. Left in complete shambles after the war, the reconstruction of Pyongyang afforded planners the rare opportunity to create a new structure from the ground up. Thus, in order to fully understand the urban structure of Pyongyang, it is necessary to first consider the larger context of the model socialist city, its historical context, and how it differed in key ways from the capitalist city model. Pyongyang as a Socialist City After three years of fighting in the Korean War, North Korea started to rebuild its cities through its first three-year reconstruction plan from 1954 to 1956. During this period, several socialist countries supported the reconstruction of North Korean cities by providing resources as well as technological assistance. Pyongyang received support from Hungary and Bulgaria, and not surprisingly, the architectural style and urban structure of Pyongyang showed some similarities to the two countries at the beginning of reconstruction. Based on a master plan in 1953 that reflected the ideals of socialist city planning, Pyongyang was planned as a one-million population city that would stretch from the Daedong River to the Botong River; the density of city was to planned as 20 percent to 25 percent. This scheme captured the socialist concepts of constructing a proper city in a well-planned way. Throughout the decades, Pyongyang realized a number of its socialist urban planning goals. The three major socialist urban morphologies mentioned above were well executed in the city. To resolve disparities between cities and to balance development between urban and rural area, [the] architects of Pyongyang aimed to set aside self-productive units within the city. Today’s Pyongyang continues to be planned based on a unit district system that combines the industrial and residential so that residents can both produce and consume their products. The density of population is planned at around 300 to 600 residents/ha. This district is well structured in the area across from the central administration district, and the two areas together comprise a key axis of directionality for city expansion. As North Korean leaders insisted that Pyongyang be developed in [a] well-balanced way in contrast to any other capitalist cities in the world, architects carefully injected landscape features into the city. Both riversides were developed major landscaped areas and most major boulevards were heavily planted. Additionally, to maximize the effectiveness of labor and production for workers, they created several leisure parks in the city so that the public could have enough rest and recover before returning to production. In Pyongyang, most of the leisure parks were located close to historical or memorial areas. The central part of the city was structured as a place for administrations and institutions. Major socialist buildings and symbols are located in this area, and the main square, Kim Il Sung Square, is also located there. Juche Tower, which is a symbol of North Korean ideology, is located directly across the river from the square. Together they create a major axis of symbolic spaces. Moreover, additional symbolic buildings and statues are distributed all around Pyongyang in order to serve as physical sites of propaganda for socialist ideology. Pyongyang was reconstructed based on the master plan that was designed by Kim Jung Hee in 1953. In the master plan, Pyongyang is structured as a multi-core city. Several different symbolic spaces are distributed evenly throughout the city and each of them become a core of each district. Also, main landscape structures are planned in between districts and work as buffer zones so that they cannot expand freely. This distribution of districts is mainly done to maintain the proper size of the city and to prevent social differentiation that can emerge from marked development in distinct areas. At the same time, each distributed central square works as a symbolic space that testifies to the centrally controlled society. In the 1960s, Kim Il Sung ordered the re-development of an architectural strategy of Pyongyang. Unlike the 1950s when development was more focused on [the] reconstruction of infrastructures based on a master plan, the new wave of development focused on five features that would propagate its society as well as its victory in war. They consisted for the expansion of the major boulevards and the construction of high-rise residential buildings along the boulevards, large-scale civic and cultural facilities, symbolic statues and squares, and leisurely and convenient facilities for foreigners. Once proposed, these five strategies became a major urban development standard with the larger scheme of the master plan in 1953. However, some of [the] schemes conflicted with the master plan. For instance, focusing on the development along major boulevards clashed with the development of several multi-cores. Major boulevards branched out of [the] central developed district and dense high-rise residential buildings came to be located along them. Consequently, this destroyed the multi-core system and only certain areas located near the start of the boulevards could function as core-like districts. Also, denser development of certain areas conflicted with the principle of evening distributing residents around Pyongyang. Additionally, even symbolic urban spaces came to congregate in the central part of the city instead of being distributed throughout the city. This phenomenon resulted primarily due to of the rapid growth of the city. Although North Korea, like other socialist countries, controlled migration of the population, it could not halt illegal immigration into the city and rapid urbanization of Pyongyang. As the city grew denser, housing shortages became a problem. To resolve this problem, as mentioned above, Pyongyang developed several high-rise residential areas. At the same time, informal residential areas emerged. They mostly arose in areas originally planned as landscape areas in the 1953 master plan, and housing resembled typical one or two-story houses that were designed for agricultural areas. This informal development not only broke with the landscape structure in the city, but also rendered micro-districts impossible. Hence, compared to other organized areas that were developed according to the master-plan, the informal development area lost its balance between residential units and service facilities. In short, the urban morphology of current-day Pyongyang portrays a mixture of the physical forms of the ideal socialist master plan and the realities of the actual development scheme. Transformation of a Socialist City As other socialist countries have already experienced, North Korea is also in the midst of [a] transition to adopt the capitalist system in some ways. There are several indications that highlight this transition. For instance, the secretive Pyongyang government recently launched an experiment with the free market in 2002, beginning to deregulate prices and hiking salaries. Also, small vendors, which had been controlled strictly by the government, are starting to emerge at major squares, and even underground real estate deals are taking place. Collectively, these changes can be seen as early indicators of a market-oriented economic system. The former Soviet Union, its Eastern European satellite, and China each underwent this transition a decade ago, and several cities amongst them, like Moscow, Shanghai, Beijing, have already [become] booming metropolises in the world. As noted earlier, socialist cities have different urban structures and morphologies from capitalist cities. These contrasts not only reflect different political ideologies but also differences in the flow of capital. Hence, when socialist cities start to allow capitalist forms of capital flow, the urban figures also change based on this new logic. The socialist city center has been the area where most of this transformation unfolds. Because of its strategic location and superior infrastructure, most investments are concentrated in the city center. Further, public spaces or institution areas in the city center that have weaker capital power tend to be occupied by bigger capitals such as business fields. Therefore, it is the central area of the city [that] begins to morph into the central business district, something that a socialist city has not had before. In summary, the emergence of a variety of retail outlets in the form of street vendors and warehouses are undeniable indicators of Pyongyang’s economic transition, and this trend will impact the transformation of its urban morphology. For example, the more evenly distributed activities of the socialist past will become concentrated in certain areas, while denser and higher pedestrian flows will develop around metro stations, major boulevards, or squares. Moreover, new warehouse-style transactions taking place outside the city will begin affecting the structuring of suburban areas where few developments have been witnessed under socialism. Suburbanization is also connected to the restructuring of social classes within the city. In an ideal social city, there is no class segregation and [the] government strictly controls the movement of its residents. However, as social classes begin to diversify based on personal earnings within the market-oriented system, upper classes have tended to relocate to areas that have better living quality. This observation is closely related to the system of the micro-district. Aiming to consolidate areas of production and living into one space, the micro-district creates a worse environment for residents than an area that is mainly focused on residential development. Therefore, social class differentiation leads to the segregation and restructuring of programs within a city. Pyongyang Transformation The urban structure and layout of Pyongyang will likely shift alongside major economic transformations that have already begun to take place. It may be beneficial for Pyongyang to develop a new set of plans to reflect its transition to a market-oriented system. What growth models are open to Pyongyang? There are several possible development plans for the city. One is the “incremental growth model.” Unlike most Chinese cities, the small size of Pyongyang’s market and the gradual nature of change suggests that the city will transform step by step. The incremental growth model differs from the ad-hoc master plan that ignores the existing socialist city structure and puts an alien structure onto the city. Just as the urban DNA of Pyongyang has resulted from the mixing of the original socialist master plan and development scheme, the incremental growth model will also be capable of forging a new DNA of Pyongyang, fusing it with its existing DNA. Thus the second questions to consider is: where would this incremental growth take place? Studies of other former socialists cities that have already been through the transition suggest that the urban mutation will occur easily in areas where the existing socialist structure and the market-oriented system collide. For instance, the area extending from the major axis of Kim Il Sung Square and Juche Tower is [a] location where socialist ideal morphology, as well as well-structured infrastructure, coexist. Because of its advantageous infrastructure and location, the area has a strong potential for attracting new investment in a market-oriented economic system. A desire to improve the residential environment will likely force production facilities, like light industries in the micro-district block, to be relocated to outside of the city; further, a new mix-used development, which is a typical development type in capitalist cities, will fill the gap. Similar types of transformation will unfold, albeit in distinct ways, in areas where informal development schemes arise. How does a new development interact with existing structures of the area? A significant difference between capitalist and socialist cities is "parcelization." Though its distribution of programs, there is no parcel system within a block in Pyongyang, whereas the parcel is the basic element that defines ownership in capitalist cities. However, like the notion of production-consumption within a block, the physical relationship between programs is very strong in Pyongyang. Thus, when a new parcel system is introduced for the sake of the market-oriented system, instead of just dividing parcel based on existing programs, the inter-relationship of programs should be carefully considered. For example, a parcel can be composed of both production facilities and residential lots, and it can be developed as a mixed-used program. This not only ensures the maintenance of the existing character of Pyongyang as a socialist city, but also makes possible gradual development within a block instead of a whole block scale development. In short, sixty years of socialist rule, twenty-first century Pyongyang is showing early signs of change, and the developments are nothing short of unprecedented. It will usher in new paradigms, a new economic system, and a new social structure. Therefore, a new structuring of Pyongyang is needed. There may be numerous strategies or scenarios to greet this new era of Pyongyang, and the scenario of incremental growth I have outlined is one I find particularly important. Pyongyang may or may not exhibit gradual growth patterns in the future. This scenario, however, takes into consideration the existing structures of Pyongyang and anticipates how they will be shaped by a new era.
Published in [UN] Precedented Pyongyang, 2017. This article originally appeared as Unprecedented Pyongyang on urbanNext. Springer, Chris. The hidden history of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, 2003. Kim, Won. Socialist Urban Planning, 2004. Kim, Youngkyu. Tong Il Han Kook, 1988. Faiola, Anthony. Washington Post, 2004. Haaussermann, Hartmut. From the socialist to the capitalist city: Experiences from Germany. Axenov, Konstantin; Brade, Isolde, and Bondarchuk, Evenij. The transformation of Urban Space in Post-Soviet Russia. Wu, Fulong; Xu, Jiang, and Gar-On Yeh, Anthony. Urban Development in Post-Reform China, State, Market, and Space.
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Urban planners are irresponsibly designing risky mega-developments across Africa

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) has partnered with urbanNext—a multidisciplinary platform for design promoted by Actar Publishers—to share articles on common topics every two weeks. This week, we’re pairing the urbanNext article below with AN’s “Shigeru Ban will design 20,000 shelters for a Kenyan refugee settlement.” The article below was authored by Christopher Marcinkoski, an assistant professor of landscape architecture and urban design at the University of Pennsylvania.
Today, according to recent United Nations data, there are just under 1.2 billion people living on the African continent. By 2050, this number is projected to double to approximately 2.4 billion people. By 2100, there is presumed to be somewhere in the realm of 4.4 billion people living in Africa, accounting for roughly 40% of the total population of earth. [1]
While Africa is currently home to a hugely diverse range of urban formats vis-à-vis their degree of maturity, the politics that guide them, and the economies that support them, the overall urban condition is substandard—both in terms of the infrastructures upon which it relies, and the building stock of which it is composed. In this context, there should be little question regarding the need for substantial upgrades to Africa’s urban settlement and infrastructure. Not coincidentally, in the ten or so years since the peak of the global real estate bubble in 2004 these population projections, in combination with the extreme deficiency of urban services and settlement seen across the continent, have led to a growing wave of proposals for new large-scale urban development throughout Africa. Acknowledging the urgent need for upgrades mentioned above, what is of particular interest regarding these proposals is the radical incongruity of their scale, scope, format, and program relative to the actual demographic and market demands of the contexts they are being proposed within. For example, many of these proposals are reliant on models of urbanization-driven economic growth that unapologetically borrow from exogenous pursuits recently employed in places like China and the Middle East. This appropriation seemingly ignores the fundamentally different set of material and demographic resources characterizing the contexts from which they are drawn, as well as the radically different governance and land tenure systems on which they are based. In turn, beyond their clear misalignment with the near-term realities of the African milieu, what many of these proposals for new settlement and infrastructure imply is the threat of further exacerbating deficient urban conditions by shifting severely limited capital resources away from more basic urban services. [2] In this way, these “African New Towns” represent an increasingly critical topic of concern for those disciplines actively engaged in their planning, design, and construction.
What complicates this process—or, in fact, what motivates it—is the emergence over the last 30 years of a phenomenon I refer to as speculative urbanization.[3] These are pursuits that employ the construction of new infrastructure and settlement for primarily political and economic purposes, rather than to meet real (as opposed to artificially projected) demographic or market demand. If this definition is expanded slightly, it can also include activities related to the legislative re-designation and re-parcelization of land for the specific purposes of increasing its monetary value. The phenomenon refers primarily to activities occurring at the periphery of established urban areas, or in entirely exurban contexts where physical urbanization is operating autonomously at the scale of a district or territory, rather than at the scale of a single parcel or building. While examples of the speculative expansion of settlement and infrastructure can be found as far back as ancient Rome, the last 15 years in particular have seen the most dramatic and consequential instances of the phenomenon, as well as a clear intensification of its incidence. [4] Given the severe economic and social disruption caused by the failures of recent speculative pursuits—see for example Spain, Ireland, China, and Dubai during the first decade of the 21stcentury—it is worth taking a moment to consider design and planning’s role in these activities. Historically, physical urbanization has tended to follow on economic growth. On the occasions when building activities do outpace their corresponding economy, a surplus is created and some sort of market correction is required: price, volume, etc. However, this correlation between urbanization activities and economic growth is more and more frequently being inverted. Here, as was the case in many of the examples mentioned above, physical urbanization activities are expressly being undertaken in the hopes of generating economic growth regardless of real demographic or market demand. This often means the pursuit of projects that are wildly over-scaled, economically inaccessible or simply inappropriate to the current circumstance of a given context. In turn, these projects are increasingly characterized by a high incidence of failure—either through low occupancy, partial completion, or complete abandonment. The costs of these failures extend well beyond the built environment into substantial social, fiscal, and environmental repercussions. Given the expansive nature of these consequences, what is increasingly coming into question as new proposals for gleaming urban development rapidly emerge across the African continent is how necessary upgrades to settlement and infrastructure should be undertaken; what types of physical formats and urban strategies these upgrades should rely upon; and—most critically—for whom these new settlements and infrastructures are actually being produced. When it comes to rapid urbanization in developing economies, these are not new questions. In fact, similar queries were raised in the 1980s and 90s in Southeast Asia, and again in the late 1990s and early 2000s in the Middle East as urbanization activities were employed with the explicit intent of projecting the image of modernity and competitiveness for both economic and political purposes, often independent of the realities of demographic or social need. While proposals for massive new urban districts are increasingly becoming the norm and, in turn, less shocking, a fundamental question does remain: Will the particular urban growth models employed in these pursuits serve to produce long-term urbanistic benefits as in the past, or will these initiatives ultimately succumb to unanticipated near-term disruptions (social, environmental, economic and political) that preclude the realization of longer-term successes? [5] While it is impossible to foretell the answer to this question, the role real estate speculation played in the global financial crisis of 2008, as well as reflections on other prior speculative urbanization events does suggest that without some sort of fundamental change, these contemporary pursuits are likely to produce commensurately severe repercussions—both locally and globally. Ongoing research being conducted at the University of Pennsylvania has found no fewer than 60 cases of territorial-scale speculative urbanization undertaken over the last decade within the 20 largest state economies in Africa. That said, examples can be found in many of the continent’s smaller economies as well. Each of these cases is a minimum of 80 hectares (approx. 200 acres) in size; is positioned as peripheral expansions of settlement adjacent to existing cities or on exurban greenfield sites; and is intended to function as an autonomous urban district, ostensibly independent of existing urban centers. Ultimately, what distinguishes these speculative urbanization activities from more credible or more conventional urbanization pursuits is their scale, their location, and their degree of accessibility relative to an available population (market). While this is not the appropriate venue to discuss each of these various developments in a great deal of depth, we can begin to sort them based upon type, which proves useful in exploring the motivations behind these pursuits. For example, perhaps the most common speculative urbanization format being seen on the African continent today is what I refer to as the middle class new town. These are developments undertaken with the explicit intent of accommodating a particular country’s so-called “growing middle class” that is projected to appear as a result of rural to urban migration in combination with the economic expansion associated with modernization. Examples of this type include Morocco’s ongoing new towns program initiated in late 2004; Tatu City northeast of Nairobi, Kenya (1,200ha); the Centenary City (1,260ha) and Lekki New Township (1,560ha) projects in Nigeria; La Cite du Fleuve (375ha) at the eastern periphery of Kinshasa, D.R.C.; Appolonia–City of Light (941ha), north of Accra, Ghana; and, what has become the media poster-child for this type of development, the Chinese-built new town of Kilamba (5,400ha), southeast of Luanda, Angola to name just a few. What is at issue with this particular format is that much of the housing being produced is simply inaccessible to the general population from a financial point of view without substantial government subsidies that many of these countries simply cannot afford to provide. The result is that this particular type of development often remains empty and physically deteriorating years, even decades, after its construction. Another common speculative urbanization format is the increasingly ubiquitous tourist/luxury enclave. Following on the urban growth models established in places like Spain and the Emirates, these urbanization projects are predicated on the opening up of an exotic landscape to foreign investment and populations, in combination with the creation of secured areas of exception within the extents of existing metropolitan contexts. Examples include the 2,400-hectare Longonote Gate located 70 km northwest of Nairobi; the various developments undertaken as part of the New Cairo project including Barwa (830 ha), Madinaty (4,500 ha) and Mivida (1,490 ha); resort projects along the Atlantic Coast of Morocco south of Tangier such as Tinja (330 ha) or Al Houara (234 ha); and the ten-square-kilometer Eko Atlantic development being reclaimed from the sea south of Lagos, Nigeria. These developments, like the middle class new towns mentioned above, are inaccessible to the vast majority of the African population. However, unlike the prior set of examples that claim to be undertaken explicitly in service of the continent’s growing urban populations, these developments make no pretenses about their desired clientele—the global elite and their associated investment dollars. The third category of speculative urbanization most often being pursued on the African continent is also primarily oriented towards the desire to attract foreign investment. However, rather than investment from individuals, these technology- or industry-sector new towns are geared primarily toward attracting capital and/or partnerships from established foreign corporations and institutions. For example, the proposed 2,000-hectare Konza Techno City, to be located 70 km southeast of Nairobi, Kenya, aims to capture the momentum behind the massive telecom market (SMS) already present throughout Africa. The Green City of Mohammed IV, roughly mid-way between Marrakech and Casablanca, looks to build upon the resources of Morocco’s Office Chérifien des Phosphate (OCP)—the state agency tapped with managing the country’s vast phosphate reserves—in order to establish an international research and industry hub centered around a newly created “world class” university. A few hundred kilometers to the north is the proposed Zenata Eco City (1,830 ha), which is intended to elevate Casablanca, already Morocco’s financial center, “to the rank of world metropolis.” [6] Elsewhere, forty or so kilometers north of Johannesburg, South Africa lies the privately owned Lanseria Airport, envisioned to be transformed over the next 25 years into a so-called Airport City, with an “aerotropolis zone” radiating out as much as 20 km from the airport facility at its center. In the context of these various pursuits, it is worth considering why the potential economic engine implied by each of these proposals is so often seen as incompatible with existing urban centers and structures. Certainly urbanization activities tied to potential job centers other than construction has proven to be a valid strategy. The question becomes why these pursuits seem to rely so heavily on exogenous urban growth models, rather than leveraging the particular assets of specific territory or context in the service of establishing new paradigms. The final category associated with the intensifying pursuit of speculative urbanization on the African continent is perhaps the most telling. The appearance of a number of new national capitals makes clear the perceived correlation between global political and economic status and the production of novel or iconic urban form. This correlation is obviously not new as places like Rome, Paris, and Moscow can easily attest. What is unique, however, as was mentioned before, is the inversion of this relationship to the point where the physical construction of the constituent components of the “global city” is now understood as a means to an end, rather than a product of growing economic and political status. Examples of these new capitals include the 6,000 ha “low-carbon city” of Boughezoul 120 km south of Algiers, planned as the new capital of Algeria and funded primarily by the carbon-dependent oil wealth of the country. In Equatorial Guinea, an 8,150 ha administrative capital called Oyala (or Djibloho) is rising on the mainland, roughly 350 km across land and sea from the existing capital at Malabo. While not a true new town, the Kigali 2020 master plan imagines transforming the territory of one of history’s worst genocides into a decentralized conurbation comprising high-tech, finance, and retail districts alongside ecological preserves in what can only be characterized as a city conceived in the image of Singapore, home to the planners behind the project. [7] And, as recently as March 2015, a massive new capital district for Egypt was proposed for the outskirts of Cairo in order to “spark a renaissance in the [country’s] economy”. [8] This new city, planned for five million residents and to be built in five to seven years, is just the latest example of an increasingly prevalent belief in urbanization as the ultimate instrument of 21st-century economic production and global status, particularly for developing economies. In reflecting on these various cases, what is striking is that unlike the post-war period in Europe where urgent housing demands and the need for modernization motivated the pursuit of innovations in both architectural form and urban formats, similarly urgent population projections for the African continent are inducing an urbanization response that seems to do little more than recycle familiar recipes for what constitutes the contemporary “competitive global city”. [9] Here, the limited pursuit of urban design “innovation” has been reduced to the occasional quest for hyperbolic architectural form or stamping out vast new urban districts wrapped in over-scaled, ill-defined wreaths of green. Such a body of work suggests an inexcusable abdication of responsibility by the urban design disciplines. In this regard, the urgent challenge facing urbanization on the African continent relates less to the models being emulated than to the particularities and appropriateness of the urban formats being employed; the processes by which this urbanization is undertaken; and the capacity of planning and design to conceptualize models of urbanization that actively adjust the disposition of these pursuits in response to changing demographic, economic, political and environmental demands faced over the extended timescale of a project’s deployment. Contemporary popular media’s engagement with these speculative urbanization activities could be described as uneven at best. European and American news outlets in particular have tapped into the paranoia surrounding China’s growing global influence by focusing their narrative on urbanization projects on the African continent being promoted or constructed by Chinese state or state-related entities like CITIC or CGCOC. [10] While significant in both number and scale, these are by no means the only actors involved in speculative urbanization activities on the African continent. For example, a group of familiar international funding sources and government-linked companies, alongside recognizable engineering and planning multinationals from Europe and Southeast Asia, appear again and again in many of these projects. Institutions like the E.U., I.M.F., and World Bank underwrite many of these projects through the support of planning studies or infrastructure funding. [11] Elsewhere, corporate partnerships and investment funds with interests in resource extraction or agriculture are utilizing urbanization activities as an instrument for gaining political favor, and in turn, access to these assets. [12] While many proposals emerge from the hubristic ambitions of the leadership of a particular state, other proposals are being promoted by foreign parties looking to take advantage of what they see as latent markets or fiscally desperate governments. State-linked planning and development companies from places like China, Singapore, and the Middle East trade upon the demonstrated “successes” of their particular urban growth models in order to convince the leaders of cities and states to retain their services or allow them to undertake development on their behalf. [13] In this way, the similarity between proposals in terms of central actors and proposed outcomes, in even the most divergent of contexts should be unsurprising. Simply put, there is a universal recipe for urbanization-driven economic growth that is being peddled indiscriminately across the African continent as the essential solution to the most intractable of economic and, in turn, social challenges. As I have argued elsewhere, this pursuit of speculative building is an inevitable consequence of a capitalist economic system. [14] However, acknowledgment of this inevitability should not be interpreted as acquiescence—quite the opposite. While these speculative activities emerge from a variety of political and economic motivations, we cannot excuse the design and planning disciplines from complicity in the consequences of these pursuits. For example, we must acknowledge the sheer absurdity of trying to design and plan large-scale new urban settlement—speculative or otherwise—by focusing solely on the realization of a single, preferred outcome. The illogic of such an approach is manifold. Focus on a single outcome presumes an impossibly stable state in terms of economic activity, population, and market demand. It demonstrates a disturbing naiveté or willful negligence on the part of the planner and designer to not take into account the increasing likelihood of disruption to the urbanization process that characterizes speculative building activities. It relies on discredited ideas of phasing and predetermined stages of implementation. And ultimately, this focus on a singular outcome demonstrates a hubristic belief in being able to accurately prognosticate just how an economy will function years, if not decades, in the future. This critique is not offered to argue for some form of indeterminacy—we know the dead end such an approach offers. [15] Rather, what I am suggesting is the need for a retooling of urban design theory and practice in pursuit of modulatable formats of land use, infrastructure, and settlement that can be actively adjusted in real time. In this context, the Dutch urbanist Michele Provoost has argued that there is a fundamental disconnect between Western design education and the realities of contemporary urban design practice. [16] She notes: “While big architecture firms are designing entire cities and constructing architectural icons ex nihilo, ‘their’ schools theorize mostly about the inability to plan urbanization, and offer up instead tactics of architectural acupuncture and bottom-up urban politics.” In essence, since the “failures” of midcentury modernist planning, the act of designing a city from scratch has been excised as a core competency of urban design education. In turn, design and planning’s capacity to adequately (or appropriately) conceive of and implement new urban form has eroded. As a result, what is most often being peddled as “urban design” today is simply scaled-up reproductions of “proven” urban formats, or dystopic renderings of new settlement as implausible architectural icons. Obviously, there is a certain operational efficiency to relying on familiar formats and fixed outcomes when it comes to the design and planning of new settlement. In fact, one might argue that to operate otherwise would risk disciplinary credibility. It is admittedly difficult (perhaps akin to professional suicide) to tell a client, “I don’t know exactly what is going to happen in 10 years,” or “there is a possibility this might not work as we desire.” On the other hand, the capacity to devise systems of urbanization that can be adjusted or adapted to changing circumstances; that can be recalibrated or modulated during an ongoing process of urbanization; that can create net positive outcomes even in “failure” offers the urban design disciplines an opportunity to expand and extend their agency in the inevitable speculative urbanization process. Under such an approach, urban design engages in the ongoing management of urbanization activities, rather than continuing to simply be employed in the blind production of physical urban products that stand in as proxies for the processes of urbanization. Given the pressing demand for urbanistic and infrastructural upgrades implied by population and economic growth projections across the African continent, such a disciplinary shift is essential if we are to avoid once again reproducing the severe environmental, economic, and social consequences that have emerged from comparable prior speculative pursuits.
This article originally appeared as Africa’s Speculative Urban Future on urbanNext. [1] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015), World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, Key Findings and Advance Tables, Working Paper No. ESA/P/WP.241. [2] Vanessa Watson. “African Urban Fantasies: Dreams or Nightmares?,” Environment and Urbanization 26, no. 215 (2014): 229. [3] Christopher Marcinkoski, The City That Never Was (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2015). [4] For a more complete discussion of these and other historical examples of speculative urbanization, see “A Brief History of Speculative Urbanization” in Marcinkoski, The City That Never Was, 16–48. [5] “Booms and Busts: The Beauty of Bubbles,” Economist, December 18, 2008. [6] Zenata Eco City project website, (accessed October 25, 2015). [7] While the Denver-based firm Oz Architects did much of the initial planning for Kigali 2020, the current scheme is clearly driven by Surbana given its characteristic disconnect with reality as seen in other projects such as their work in Mumbai. [8] “Egypt unveils plans to build new capital east of Cairo,” BBC (March 13, 2015). [9] For a discussion of these post-war pursuits see Eric Mumford, The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism, 1928-1960 (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2000). [10] “China in Africa: One Among Many,” Economist, January 17, 2015. [11] See for example, The EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund. For a discussion of the motivations behind these investments see, The World Bank, “Harnessing Urbanization to End Poverty and Boost Prosperity in Africa,” October 23, 2013. [12] See Jessica Chu, “Investigation Into German Involvement In Land Grabbing In Zambia,” Zambia Land Alliance and Caritas Zambia (March 23, 2012), and Hawkwood Capital statement on corporate social responsibility. [13] Examples include the aforementioned Surbana and CITIC, as well as U.A.E.’s Emaar. [14] See “Urbanization Beyond Speculation” in Marcinkoski, The City That Never Was,220–235. [15] For example, a common critique of the utility of the contemporary Landscape Urbanism discourse is its perceived embrace of open-endedness and indeterminacy at the expense of well-defined physical or policy interventions. [16] Michelle Provoost, “Why Build a New Town?” in Volume no. 34—City in a Box. The French version of the article was published in issue 4/2016 of Swiss magazine TRACÉS.
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Alejandro Zaera-Polo: Urban planners must rethink how they approach cities

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) has partnered with urbanNext—a multidisciplinary platform for design promoted by Actar Publishers—to share articles on common topics every two weeks. This week, we’re pairing the urbanNext article below with AN’sHow Can Cities Double down on the Climate Change Fight?” The article below was authored by Alejandro Zaera-Polo, an architect and co-founder of London/ Zurich/Princeton based Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Maider Llaguno Architecture (AZPML).
Since the eighteenth century when the Western world became human-centered, humankind has not ceased to evolve, and so too has the very concept of the human. In 1933, Le Corbusier and a few other members of the CIAM issued The Athens Charter, a document aimed at orchestrating the emerging technologies of the built environment into a proposal for the future of cities.[1] A classification of human activities became the vertebral spine of this proposal, structured around four urban functions: work, residence, leisure, and transport. This functional classification has structured urban planning policies ever since, but its human-centered approach appears now to be unable to address the problems of our age.
In the Anthropocene, humans have become capable of modifying natural ecosystems, geological structures, and even the climate; we have become so powerful that it is increasingly difficult to delimit the natural from the artificial. As the most populated human environment, cities are a central focus of these transformations, and yet, none of these concerns seems to have permeated the tools that we use to plan cities. The urban planning disciplines remain primarily conceived around human functions, despite the fact that the crucial questions they need to address—air pollution, rising water levels, drought, the heat island effect, deforestation, biodiversity, food security, automated work, inequality…— are primarily driven by concerns that, for the first time in history, transcend human societies and threaten the very survival of the planet. The economic, political, and technological drivers of modern urbanism—the mass integration of production, employment, and consumption; the separation of work, dwelling, recreation, and transportation; the division between the natural and the artificial—are no longer effective at addressing the urgent questions cities are facing today. Likewise, the traditional urban instruments such as plazas, streets, and neighborhoods have been commodified by neo-liberal practices and have become ineffective at addressing the new urban collectives and constituencies, both human and nonhuman, which populate contemporary cities.
Posthuman Cosmologies The agency that cities have in the construction of the Anthropocene is something that can no longer be ignored. We are assisting in a veritable paradigm change, one that requires a reformulation of the cosmologies upon which the contemporary tools of urbanism have been constructed. Arcane technologies and rituals of the urban were often based on mythological references. Ancient cosmologies were mechanisms of comprehending the natural world which enabled cultures to understand and operate within the natural environment. The oldest ones predated human settlements and were aimed at explicating natural phenomena and regulating the modes of relation between humans and nature. As the urban environment became increasingly controlled by human agency, cosmologies were discarded as systems of urban knowledge and governance. Typology and monumentality became primary tools for urbanism, with the structure of human relations prevailing over the physical and material determinations of the environment. The affairs of cities (politika) became an entirely artificial endeavor. The current prevalence of artificial environments and politics—cities—has tended to naturalize technology while de-politicizing nature. However, the pressing nature of ecological concerns and the scale of technological developments call for the imminent city to re-politicize both nature and technology and construct new urban cosmologies which can support the development of new urban sensibilities. An entirely new set of urban technologies have since appeared, radically transforming urban protocols and experiences: smartphones, GPS, electromobility, and biotechnology. Yet, these technologies still remain largely outside the practices of urban planners and designers, which remain trapped in the humanistic precepts of modern urbanism.Far from producing urbanity, urban functionalism has dismantled the commons and undermined urban democracy. Clichés, such as the relevance of public spaces as guarantors of urban communities and urban democracy, are as problematic as the inability of architects and urban planners to quantify the implications of density and urban form in the energy consumption or the determination of urban micro-climates. The idea that architects and urban designers can find effective agency in the distribution of human functions—such as work and domesticity—is at best naïve. Cities have become sources of extreme inequality and environmental degradation (in contempt not only of the demos, but also of all of the nonhuman constituencies that exist in cities), and these are even threatening the subsistence of cities and are pointing at insurmountable contradictions at the core of the current modes of economic integration. Theorists like Jeremy Rifkin and Paul Mason argue that we are already entering a post-capitalist world in which politics are shifting from a focus on capital and labor to a focus on energy and resources, and they have proposed new economies: shared economies of zero marginal costs driven by new technologies: peer-to-peer organizations enhanced by pervasive computation, sustainable energy sources, and carbon-neutral technologies.[2]
As the largest human habitat, cities have become the epicenters of global warming, air pollution, and a variety of ecological malaises. Naomi Klein has pointed at the fundamental opposition between capitalist growth and the limited natural resources of the earth, and questioned the capacity of capitalist regimes to resolve an imminent ecological catastrophe.[3] The decline of capitalism has loaded urban ecologies and technologies with unprecedented political relevance. Cities have now become a crucial intersection between ecology, technology, and politics where the equation between wealth, labor, resources, and energy has to be reset to address the shortcomings of neo-liberal economies.
Ecologies and Technologies Rather than Functions Does this scenario, determined by the rise of the Anthropocene and the crisis of neo-liberal capitalism, imply that the work of urbanists and architects has become futile? That the new commons will be entirely developed within social media? Has urbanism been expelled from politics, and is it now at the mercy of securitization and capital redistribution? On the contrary, some economists[4]argue that urban planning, housing, and real estate hold the key to resolving urban inequality.[5] Cities precede the installation of political systems, and have systematically outlasted them, often constituting themselves in mechanisms of resistance to power. For cities to become devices for the common good rather than instruments producing and implementing power structures (and often inequality or ecological destruction), urban practices need to locate resources and technologies at their core. Rather than splitting urban life into functions easily captured by power, we should try to identify first where the imminent urban commons are and how to reconstruct them as instruments of devolution and ecological awareness, constructed transversally across technologies and resources. We have tried to outline what those might be, and how they may become the source of a revision of urban practices.
This article originally appeared as Imminent Urban Commons on urbanNext. [1] Le Corbusier, Jean Giraudoux, and Jeanne de Villeneuve, La Charte d'Athenes (Paris: Plon, 1943). [2] Jeremy Rifkin, The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism (London: Macmillan, 2014. Paul Mason, Post Capitalism: A Guide to Our Future (London: Allen Lane, 2015); and Paul Mason, “The End of Capitalism Has Begun,” The Guardian, 17 July 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/17/postcapitalism-end-of-capitalism-begun. [3] Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014). [4] Matthew Rognlie, “Deciphering the Fall and Rise in the Net Capital Share,” BPEA Conference draft, March 19–20, 2015; http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/projects/bpea/spring-2015/2015a_rognlie.pdf, accessed 5 October 2016. [5] Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press, 2014).
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NYC could create a whole new neighborhood over a Queens rail yard

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s feasibility study for a possible Sunnyside Yard “overbuild” project is complete and suggests that the project could cost anywhere from $16 to $19 billion, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). “In Western Queens, there remains one of New York City’s last great opportunities to solve many of these challenges in one place,” said Alicia Glen, deputy mayor for housing and economic development, calling the development a “new and innovative solution” to meet New York City’s growing housing and transportation needs. The 180-acre rail yard, which sits in the center of Western Queens, is a major transportation center owned by Amtrak and Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) that services the New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road. Some entities are already proposing updates to the site—Amtrack, in particular, is planning a new High-Speed Rail facility that will open by 2030. The feasibility study took many of these developments into account, focusing on the engineering, economic, and urban design implications of the project, and after almost two years of study, the report concludes that the project is feasible, albeit costly. In the study, the NYCEDC establishes three case study plans with different program focuses. The first proposes almost entirely residential development, adding up to 24,000 units of housing. Of those residences, 30% would be allocated for affordable housing, part of de Blasio’s affordable housing goals outlined for New York City. The proposal would also add up to 19 schools and almost 50 acres of open space. The second study, dubbed the “live/work/play” proposal, was designed to offer a well-rounded program with residential, cultural centers, and office space. This proposal is the only proposal to include office space and would still incorporate up to 19,000 units of mixed-income housing and up to 14 schools. The third and final study is the “destination” proposal, which focuses on residential and cultural spaces. The proposal features almost 1.5 million square feet of mixed-use space and up to 22,000 units of housing, still allowing for retail spaces and up to 14 schools. Each of the three proposals focuses on developing the 80 to 85 percent of the site the NYCEDC has deemed viable and connecting it to the surrounding neighborhoods using existing bridges and roads and adding significant green space to the area. During their study, the NYCEDC selected a 70-acre portion of the site, called the “Core Yard,” as an optimal place to begin the development, with a price tag of approximately $10 billion. The area features enough space to create a complete neighborhood and is well-located to incorporate the Amtrak master plan. In the second phase of the master plan, the NYCEDC plans to look in greater detail at how to avoid significant impact on transportation infrastructure. They also hope to create a detailed urban plan and consider sustainable initiatives and architectural standards for future buildings. Before that phase, however, de Blasio and the NYCEDC will collect feedback from the community and work with Amtrak, who plans to begin construction on a High-Speedeed Rail facility at Sunnyside Yard in early 2018, according to QNS. You can read the full report about the feasibility of Sunnyside Yards here.
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Suburb versus city? This new book argues they have more in common than you’d think

Judith K. De Jong’s book New SubUrbanisms presents an American urban landscape that is at once all too familiar and yet full of exceptions and alternatives to the typical narrative. In her well-researched guide, she presents an argument for a new understanding of the relationship between urban and suburban space in the United States.

While touching on cities and suburbs across the country, the book uses Chicago, Houston, and their surrounding suburbs as case studies for what De Jong describes as a “flattening” of urban and suburban space. This flattening is characterized in its simplest terms as the urbanizing of suburban space, and the suburbanizing of the urban space. De Jong outlines three dichotomies of the flattening process—literal and conceptual, cultural and demographic, formal and spatial. Each of these are explored through four architectural typologies, found both in the urban and suburban context—car space, domestic space, public space, and retail space. As a whole, De Jong labels many recent trends in all of these typologies as being sub/urban, or possessing the qualities of both the urban and suburban.

Each of these typologies is given its own chapter. Fronted with vital histories, the chapters challenge the popular ideas of these specific typologies. In each case the socio-economic and cultural forces and implications of benchmark projects are tied to their roles in the development of suburban or urban spaces. De Jong continually reiterates, with evidence, the complex relationship between these seemingly opposing conditions, rather than setting them against each other. Often, surprising histories are revealed, questioning typical narratives. Examples of distinctly urban spaces in suburban settings and suburban ideals expressed in urban developments, build a more nuanced understanding of the gradient and overlap of the two.

Rather than just a historical account, the book is a call to action for designers to think and design more critically. While any historical text has an inherent bias, De Jong presents the histories in a matter of fact way, while offering thoughtful opinions in the second half of each chapter. In the assessment of innovative sub/urban projects, a general optimism arises throughout the writing. Yet the book is still sharply critical of many projects which fail to strive for the formal or spatial ambitions of those groundbreaking projects.

In the car-space chapter, the suburbs as the main domain of the automobile is rebutted with evidence of the car’s long role in urban planning, design, and architecture. The chapter primarily focuses on the space dedicated to parking, and the different forms that have developed out of the need to store mass numbers of cars. The example of Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina City is invoked more than once throughout the book. Its 900 parking spaces allow for the housing portion of the project to be lifted well above the din of the city streets, a technique that provides for a suburban sensibility of space and amenity, as well as an urban form. This arrangement has since become the prototype for many towers across the country, particularly in Chicago.

Along with Goldberg, the work of Victor Gruen is highlighted as proto-sub/urban in its ambitions to bring urban-like spaces and programs to the exploding post-war suburban landscape. Gruen, who is credited with formulating the contemporary suburban mall, envisioned a space which would function like an urban square or piazza, while serving contemporary American consumers. Once malls became what we generally know them as today, Gruen disowned the typology, upset with the lack of community focus. The retail space chapter brings the discussion of the mall up to today. Tracing the decline of the 1980s-style mall, and the rise of the lifestyle center, De Jong again criticizes current trends in retail architecture while outlining possible futures.

By the end of the book De Jong highlights some of the most recent critical investigations of the suburbs, and presents work that she and a team formulated as a rough guide to designing New SubUrbanisms. The schematic designs bring together many of the points made throughout the book, while proposing a more formally exuberant language for the typology. And though this final chapter brings the book together ideologically, it is De Jong’s writing that holds the book together. Without the clarity of writing, the thoroughly researched thesis could have easily fallen flat. Instead, the readers find themselves—either agreeing or disagreeing—quickly understanding a topic that seems to have escaped the general academic and professional discourse. New SubUrbanisms should give anyone interested in urbanism, city planning, or urban design something new to think about.

New SubUrbanisms Judith K. De Jong, Routledge, $51.95