Posts tagged with "urbanism":

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Can a volleyball bar change Houston?

Houston is a city that revels in the intersection of event and space—it certainly has an abundance of both. Adjacent to one of Houston’s meandering and often overflowing bayous in what was once an empty lot turned parking lot, Sideout Volleybar responds to the city's social pressures and urban conditions. This volleyball social club opened in the Northside neighborhood in June 2017 and combines casual sports, bright lights, and beer. AN contributor Jack Murphy and I decided to do a bit of participant observation on a recent Wednesday and headed over for burgers and beer. Sideout has three courts lined on two sides by a covered observation porch along with a bar house, a bean bag toss court, a dog area, and a food truck parked outside. “It’s like an athletic Ice House,” Jack observed, referring to the open-air beer joints that have long dotted the city. The comparison to the classic Houston outdoor bar is apt in that everything feels so provisional, as if the wood-framed decks could quickly be dismantled and the carpet of sand rolled up if business got too slow. The bar itself is not much more than a converted bungalow with a slab of wood in the space once occupied by the living room sofa. There was an effort to cover every surface with some choice of bright yellow, millennial pink, or a color I can only describe as greenish. The lighting is simply the parking lot pylons poking out of the sandy courts, which were installed on top of the parking lot surface, like a Houston version of “Sous les pavés, la plage!” This particular evening was both a trivia night and a league night, so the jarring patter of trivia questions layered over the chatter of various teams on the courts, all atop the soundtrack of greatest hits from the early 1990’s. The music of 311 was on heavy rotation. It was a ball. Sideout is a bar for beach volleyball and this seemed simple enough. The venue calls itself a “volleybar,” but the place is alive with activity: What we discovered was a veritable volleybar ball. “I think we are in the 1 percent of people not wearing an obnoxious league shirt,” Jack comments. The team players wear generic loose-fitting league T-shirts, distributed by Houston Sports & Social Club. For expediency, the graphics on every shirt are the same, so the 20-odd teams are differentiated by a range of colors that evokes a middle-school summer day camp. What is illustrative to the architect in this situation is that what is happening is really an event-based urban choreography. Houston is a city of unparalleled diversity with very few circumstances that allow for the public to appear together—but here, people come in droves. By our rough count, there must have been nearly 200 players at any given time in the complex: trivia sharks, volleyball players, dog-walkers, and even a few just plain barflies. I can’t help but imagine the league T-shirts as some type of Situationist uniform à la Constant’s Homo Ludens. Will Thomas, one of Sideout’s owners and a local musician, cited many of the Tex-Mex establishments of his youth and their “organic informality” as his inspiration for the place. Thomas is a partner in W2 Development, a company responsible for many of the recent commercial developments in the neighborhood. Nearby, there is a new metro light rail stop, the White Oak Music Hall, designed by Schaum/Shieh, a dramatic bridge over a river (a bayou, upscaled), and a hike and bike trail in the works, all set in a loose assemblage that doesn’t quite amount to an urban system until you see it activated through its events. Whether it’s an outdoor concert, a cinema screening, or, of course, league night at the Volleybar, each time you visit, you might find yourself in what feels like a different city. If you don’t mind the sartorial constraints of the league T-shirt and would enjoy the feeling of standing at the center of a sociality you can’t quite perceive the edges of, then come over to the Sideout Volleybar. If bumping, setting, or spiking isn’t your thing, then at least you will find a unique place to imbibe and watch the sun set against the Houston skyline.
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How to survive an ecological apocalypse: the architect’s guide

The Continuous City: Fourteen Essays on Architecture and Urbanization Lars Lerup Park Books, 2017 $39.00 Lars Lerup, the Swedish-American designer and writer, has published a new book. The Continuous City (Park Books, 2017) presents his latest thoughts on architecture, cities, and the people who inhabit them by way of 14 disparate but interconnected essays. The handsome volume is bound in a matte cover featuring René Magritte’s painting Panorama Populaire (1926), which depicts buildings, a forest, and a seashore stacked atop each other, the ground plane of each upper level sawed away to reveal the strata beneath. The picture turns out to be a perfect signpost for what lies within, as its suggestion that these (and other) seemingly discrete realms are inextricably linked is precisely the crux of Lerup’s otherwise episodic inquiry. Lerup’s two previous titles—One Million Acres & No Zoning (Architectural Association Publications, 2011) and After the City (MIT Press, 2001)—took on the postindustrial car city as a subject of serious study. They look beyond the European-oriented urbanist’s dismissal of such environments as merely “sprawl” to find and examine the often-surreal juxtapositions embedded within that type of built fabric. Both books show Lerup’s fascination with Houston, where he first moved in 1993 from Berkeley, California, to take the job of dean at the Rice School of Architecture, a position he held until 2009. He is currently a professor there. Houston was to architecture in the 1980s what Dubai is to the field today—a petro-capital spending big money on ambitious development projects without paying much attention to the rules. Lerup’s championing of this subject matter in architectural academia (his has been one voice—there are others) has done much to save the discipline from self-inflicted obsolescence, an observation driven home by the fact that approximately 80 percent of currently existing global urban environments are designed and constructed around the automobile. His leadership also supported and propelled other academics who have done important work in this area, including Rice colleague Albert Pope, whose seminal volume, Ladders (Princeton Architectural Press, 1996), laid the groundwork for serious consideration of the postwar American city, and former Rice assistant professor Keith Krumwiede, whose latest book, Atlas of Another America: An Architectural Fiction (Park Books, 2016), explores speculative futures of suburbia. Another of Lerup’s preoccupations is subjectivity. In the 1970s, during a sabbatical from UC Berkeley, Peter Eisenman invited him to the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York (Rem Koolhaas was writing Delirious New York just down the hall). Lerup’s design work exhibits ties to that lineage of formal exploration and defamiliarization, but where Eisenman seeks to liberate architecture from the user, Lerup’s ambition has been to explore the problems of the urban inhabitant. For example, he did several years of research with the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., on how people in nursing homes panic and escape buildings that are on fire. The result was a series of publications compiled into Learning from Fire: A Fire Protection Primer for Architects, composed of a series of hand-drawn comic strips that depict nurses and patients reacting to infernos. In Continuous City, Lerup says hello to the Anthropocene. Quoting from the introduction: “The Anthropocene brings with it the realization that we live in a new (catastrophic) geological era of our own making. This is no longer a squabble between liberty or community, but a need to avert disaster. Lacking easy answers, we now seek opportunities for change, skirting the dark side of the new city, which the earlier books dealt with, to find in architecture a device for positive movement forward.” He argues that conceptual distinctions between urban and suburban, or urban and rural, are no longer productive. “The urban,” he writes, “is inescapable. The city is everywhere.” Lerup’s hunt for constructive examples takes the reader on a journey that spans the globe and delves into the history of human settlement. He establishes links between the plan of Teotihuacán and OMA’s Seattle library, investigates the coexistence of natural and built environments in the work of Roberto Burle Marx, considers the synergies of Herzog & de Meuron’s Miami garage, and worries the uneasy relationship between users’ topological experience and the planner’s topographic approach. His findings are as revelatory as they are perturbing. If humankind is to survive the era of global warming (the Anthropocene’s most threatening result), there remains much more work to be done.
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New draft plan for Gowanus rezoning emphasizes resiliency, housing, and waterfront access

Gowanus, the Brooklyn neighborhood known for its namesake toxic canal (which is prone to flooding), will be joining Manhattan’s Garment District as the next neighborhood to be rezoned. Following over 100 hours of community outreach after the release of the original Gowanus PLACES Study in 2016, the Department of City Planning (DCP) has unveiled the Draft Framework for a Sustainable, Inclusive, Mixed-use Neighborhood. The 188-page draft breaks down suggestions from the city and community on how to boost the neighborhood’s resiliency, replace some of the manufacturing areas with residential, and build up flood-resistant infrastructure. New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) tenants were also consulted on how to improve the area’s public housing stock moving forward. Surprising no one, a great deal of attention was paid towards the future of the Gowanus Canal proper. Plans for dredging and remediating the industrial waterway (despite the preservation concerns), preventing runoff from reaching the canal, and incentivizing private residences to remediate their contaminated sites were given top billing. Despite the fetid waters, Gowanus has seen an upsurge in luxury development in recent years (including Brooklyn’s first Whole Foods, on 3rd Avenue). The city worked with community groups such as Bridging Gowanus to develop guides for building affordably in the neighborhood. Some of those proposals include rezoning the majority industrial and commercial neighborhood to allow for mid-rise residential developments with a sizeable affordable housing component. While nods were given to reigning in development along mid-block properties, the city has proposed allowing higher-density developments along certain stretches, such as near Thomas Greene Playground and on 3rd Avenue. Some of the beefier urbanist proposals in the draft framework include bridging non-contiguous plots into walkable “superblocks,” and the creation of a unified waterfront esplanade around the canal under a Waterfront Access Plan (WAP). The WAP would also create uniformly-spaced canal crossings, new flood resistance requirements, ground-floor retail requirements along the waterfront, and lowered street wall heights on the coast. The full draft framework plan can be found here. The framework’s release will be followed by the Draft Neighborhood Plan and Zoning Proposal this winter, and then the rezoning proposal will move to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) for public comment. Interested community members can attend an open house at P.S. 32 at 317 Hoyt Street on June 27 from 5 to 8:30 P.M. to share their feedback.

RESIDE: Mumbai Mixed Housing

RESIDE Rapid urban growth and growing inequality has created a global crisis in housing that increasingly segregates the rich from the poor. Though not fully understood, there is a clear and parallel relationship between the size of a city and its level of socio-economic disparity: the larger the city, the less equal it tends to be. Physical and social segregation, which both reflects and perpetuates socio-economic disparity within a city, is a growing concern in cities worldwide - including Mumbai. The long-term success of a city depends on the collective well-being of all its inhabitants. To what extent can architecture support social inclusion and break down spatial segregation within the megacity? arch out loud challenges competition entrants to design a mixed residence development on one of the last undeveloped sections of Mumbai’s coastline. Entrants will design for both the indigenous fishing community that has occupied the site for hundreds of years - as well as a new demographic drawn to the affluent neighborhood that now encompasses the site. Proposals should identify architectural and planning solutions that support integration between these socio-economically distinct communities. JURY Daniel Libeskind - Founding Principal, Studio Libeskind Norman Foster - Founder & Executive Chairman, Foster + Partners Sheila Sri Prakash - Founding Principal, Shilpa Architects Dominique Perrault - Founding Principal, Dominique Perrault Architecture Deborah Berke - Founding Partner, Deborah Berke Partners | Dean, Yale School of Arch Joshua Prince-Ramus - Founding Principal, President, REX Vishaan Chakrabarti - Founding Principal, PAU Sanjay Puri - Founding Principal, Sanjay Puri Architects Sameep Padora - Founding Principal, sP+A Romi Khosla - Founding Principal, Romi Khosla Design Studio Grace Kim  - Founding Principal, Schemata Workshop Geeta Mehta - Founding President, Asia Initiatives | Professor, Columbia University Shefali Balwani - Founding Principal, Architecture BRIO Eric Bunge - Cofounding Principal, nArchitects Yosuke Hayano - Partner/Principal, MADarchitects REWARDS Prizes total to $8,000 OVERALL WINNER - $5,000 + AO feature and certificate 3 Runners up - $1,000 each + AO feature and certificate 10 Honorable Mentions - AO feature and certificate Directors Choice - AO feature and certificate CALENDAR Advanced Registration: Dec 11 - Feb 1 Early Registration: Feb 2 - Mar 29 Regular Registration: Mar 30 - Apr 1 Submission Deadline: May 1

Critical Needs in Planning the ‘Good City’: Lessons From Detroit

Professor June Manning Thomas will give a lecture, Critical Needs In Planning the 'Good City,' in honor of her recognition as the Mary Frances Berry Distinguished University Professor of Urban Planning. A reception will follow in the Rackham Building Assembly Hall. Mary Frances Berry Distinguished University Professor of Urban Planning Centennial Professor of Urban and Regional Planning June Manning Thomas will give the Mary Frances Berry Distinguished University of Michigan Professor of Urban Planning Lecture at Taubman College. As one of nine faculty members university-wide to receive this top faculty honor this year, Thomas is also the first faculty member at Taubman College to receive this prestigious designation. Thomas is a pre-eminent scholar on how racial inequality and disunity have affected the planning, evolution, and redevelopment of cities and their neighborhoods. Her work focuses on economically distressed central cities, addressing issues of planning theory and socialjustice. Her co-edited book Urban Planning and the African American Community: In the Shadows is a path-breaking exploration of key connections between racial injustice and urban planning. Redevelopment and Race: Planning a Finer City in Postwar Detroit won the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning’s Paul Davidoff Award for urban planning books published in in the area of social justice. She has written or co-edited three additional books related to race and poverty in Detroit and in other depopulated cities in the Midwest as well as dozens of book chapters and articles in scholarly journals. She also has written policy reports for the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan. Her recent research explores community development in Detroit and the 1960s civil rights movement in Orangeburg, South Carolina, where she helped integrate the local high school. Her research has been widely recognized by numerous academic awards including her election as a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners. She is a prominent and highly effective national advocate for diversity and inclusion of under-represented faculty and students in urban planning academic programs. In 2013 she was named president of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, where she encouraged greater racial diversity in the nation’s urban planning schools.

Housing Brass Tacks: What Can Architects Do?

The architect’s typical role in building or renovating housing is to answer a client’s brief, working within the confines of a prescribed budget and program. But in a world where “housing” and “crisis” have become married—shorthand for a widespread lack of affordability and the commodification of shelter—can the architect be more than a passive participant in a broken system? For the Architectural League's final Brass Tacks event, we’ll debate the possibilities and limitations of the profession to address access, affordability, and inequity in housing. Are architects service providers, trapped within the strictures of larger economic and political forces, or are they complicit in perpetuating the crisis? Are other roles possible? Panelists Susanne Schindler, Deborah Gans, and Jared Della Valle—and later, the audience—will discuss the professional and ethical imperatives of architects, ways to make the existing system better and the potential for structural change. Beer, wine, and snacks included. Bring your questions and opinions. Jared Della Valle is founder and CEO of Alloy. He has been a real estate professional and architect for more than 18 years and has managed the acquisition and predevelopment of more than 2 million square feet in New York City. Jared is the Board Chair of the Van Alen Institute, sits on the Board of The Architectural League of New York and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. He holds a B.A. from Lehigh University and Master’s degrees in both Architecture and Construction Management from Washington University in St. Louis. Deborah Gans, FAIA, is founder of Gans studio and Professor at Pratt Institute. She has devoted much of her professional and academic work to architecture as a social art and practice, particularly housing and its landscapes. Working in New Orleans after Katrina and in New York City after Superstorm Sandy, she has focused on emergent urban and environmental conditions. She has happily collaborated with The Architectural League, first in 1987 on the Vacant Lots study of infill fabric, and recently in the 2013 on Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers jointly with the CHPC. Current projects include workforce housing in Sag Harbor and a renovation of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. Susanne Schindler is an architect and writer focused on the intersection of policy and design in housing. She is currently completing a PhD at ETH Zurich on the Model Cities program (1966–74) and its effects on discourses of “context” and “community” in New York architecture. From 2013 to 2016, she was lead researcher and co-curator of House Housing: An Untimely History of Architecture and Real Estate at Columbia University’s Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, and co-author of The Art of Inequality: Architecture, Housing, and Real Estate—A Provisional Report. Susanne has taught at Parsons, Columbia, and Hunter and writes on housing for Urban Omnibus, the online publication of The Architectural League.
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Saskia Sassen on how the powerless can “hack” global 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’s “Modern design, pleasure, and media blur at “Playboy Architecture, 1953–1979.” The article below was authored by Saskia Sassen, is the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University and a Member of its Committee on Global Thought, which she chaired till 2015.
Cities are complex systems. But they are incomplete systems. These features take on urbanized formats that vary enormously across time and place. In this mix of complexity and incompleteness lies the capacity of cities to outlive far more powerful but formal and closed systems: many a city has outlived governments, kings, the leading corporation of an epoch. Herein also lies the possibility of making—making the urban, the political, the civic, a history. Thus, much of today’s dense built-up terrain, such as a vast stretch of high-rise housing or of office buildings, is not a city; it is simply dense built-up terrain. On the other hand, a working slum can have many of the features of a city, and indeed, some slums are a type of city—poor, but deeply urban. It is also in this mix of incompleteness and complexity that the possibility exists for the powerless to hack power in the city, in a way that they could not in a plantation, for example, and to hack particular features of the city. They are thereby able to make a history, a politics, even if they do not get empowered. Thus, current conditions in global cities, especially, are creating not only new structurations of power but also operational and rhetorical openings for new types of actors and their projects. In these cities those without power can make themselves present: in the richest neighborhoods where they are the indispensable household support, in the corporate center where they are indispensable service workers, and so on. Thus powerlessness can become complex in the city. And this is, in itself, a transversal type of hacking. One way of conceiving of some of this is as instances of urban capabilities. In this essay I am particularly interested in two features of the city. One is that the global city is a strategic frontier zone that enables those who lack power, those who are disadvantaged, outsiders, and minorities who are discriminated against—even though it decimates the modest middle classes. The disadvantaged and excluded can gain presence in such cities in a way they cannot in neat, homogenous provincial cities. In the global city, they become present to power and to each other, which may include learning to negotiate their multiple differences. They can hack power and they can hack their differences of origin, religion, phenotype. The second feature is the strategic importance of the city today for shaping new orders—or, if you will, hacking old orders. As a complex space, the city can bring together multiple, very diverse struggles and engender a larger, more encompassing push for a new normative order. It enables people with different passions and obsessions to work together—more precisely, to hack power together. Global Cities Are Today’s Frontier Zones The large complex city, especially if it’s a global city, is a new frontier zone. In frontiers, actors from different worlds meet, but there are no clear rules of engagement. Whereas historically the frontier lay in the far stretches of colonial empires, today’s frontier zone is in our large, messy global cities. Cities are now the places where actors from different spheres have an encounter for which there are no established rules. The historic frontier lay at the creeping and expanding edges of empires; but those edges of empires no longer exist today. Today that space of encounter with differences lies deep inside our large, messy cities. Thus, these cities are strategic for both global corporate capital and the powerless. Much of the work of forcing deregulation, privatization, and new fiscal and monetary policies on governments actually took place in the corporate sector of global cities rather than in legislatures and parliaments. In this sense, then, the corporates hacked the city because that making of new instruments was a way of constructing the equivalent of the old military “fort” of the historic frontier: the corporate zone in our cities is a protected, de facto private space. And corporate actors have been doing this since the late 1980s in city after city worldwide to ensure they have a global operational space that suits their interests. The global city is then also a frontier zone because it is where strategic spaces of power can be hacked— though they rarely are, which has always surprised me. But global cities are also strategic places for those without power. They signal the possibility of a new type of politics, centered in new types of political actors. That is one instance of what I seek to capture with the concept of urban capabilities. It is not simply a matter of having or not having power. For the powerless, the city is a strategic space because the political goes well beyond routinized voting and having to accept corporate utility logics, or the dominance of narratives that strengthen powerful actors. Urban space in powerful cities provides new hybrid bases from which to act. One outcome we are seeing in city after city is the making of new kinds of informal politics. For instance, there is a kind of public-making work that can produce disruptive narratives, and make legible the local and the silenced. Political work gets done this way: it becomes the work of making a new kind of contestatory public that uses urban space as a medium, a tool to hack power, even if it does not bring power down. The Occupy movements that rose in countries in very different parts of the world were momentarily disruptive but educational in the long term. They rhetoricized inequality and provided a narrative to large sectors of the impoverished middle classes, usually a rather conservative and prudent sector. It has evolved as a politics that is making headway at the level of political speech and mobilization, but not necessarily system change: Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, the rise of a seventy-year-old long-term socialist in the United States as a presidential candidate appealing to all ages, but especially the young. Deeper have been the changes in Bolivia and Venezuela, encompassing a whole new vocabulary and governmental logic; less radical but still significant are Peru and Quito. All of these, across their differences, and with varying levels of intensity, share a partial or full repudiation of politics as usual. It also signals the possibility of making a new type of subject, one abundant in cities across time and place, but always somewhat rare: the urban subject that results from hacking ethnicity, religion, phenotype, inequality, physical disability. Old Baghdad and Jerusalem, industrializing Chicago and New York, early-twentieth-century Berlin and Buenos Aires were such cities. This is not to deny the specific histories and geographies that generated what I like to call the “urban subject.” The urban subject is at home with enormous differences of religion, ethnicity, etc. A city’s sociality can bring out and underline the urbanity of subject and setting, and dilute more essentialist markers. The need for new solidarities (for instance, when cities confront major challenges) is often what can bring about this shift. Urban space, especially a city’s center, can hack our essentialisms, as it forces us into joint responses, into crowded public transport, into highly mixed work situations, into public hospitals and universities, and so on. From there it can move us on to the appreciation of an urban subject, rather than more specific individual or group identities that might rule in a neighborhood. The big, messy, slightly anarchic city enables such shifts. The corporatized city or the office park does not. There is yet another type of hacking of long-time orders that is taking place today. It is the hacking of well-established larger units, notably nation-states, that are beginning to lose their grip on domains where they once had considerable control. This is an important even if partial and not always desirable change. In Territory, Authority, Rights, I identified a vast proliferation of such partial disassemblings and reassemblings that arise from the remix of bits of territory, authority, and rights, once all ensconced in national institutional frames. In Europe, these novel assemblages include those resulting from the formation and ongoing development of the European Union, but also those resulting in a variety of cross-city alliances around protecting the environment, fighting racism, and other important causes. These generate a European subject for whom protecting the local or global environment matters more than nationality. And they also result from subnational struggles and the desire to make new regulations for self-governance at the level of the neighborhood and the city. Against the background of a partial disassembling of empires and nation-states, the city emerges as a strategic site for making elements of new partial orders. Where in the past national law might have been the law, today subsidiarity and the new strategic role of cities make it possible for us to imagine a return to urban law. We see a resurgence of urban law-making, a subject I discuss in depth elsewhere (see Territory, Authority, Rights, chapters 2 and 6). For instance, in the United States, a growing number of cities have passed local laws (ordinances) that make themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants; other cities have passed environmental laws that only hold for those particular cities because they are far more radical than national law, or have developed currencies for local transactions that only function in those cities. These are among the features that make cities a space of great complexity and diversity. But today, cities confront major conflicts that can reduce that complexity to mere built-up terrain or a cement jungle. The urban way of confronting extreme racism, governmental wars on terror, and the future crises of climate change is to make these challenges occasions to further expand diverse urban capabilities and to expand the meaning of membership. Yet much national government policy and the “needs” of powerful corporate actors go against this mode. In the next section, I discuss a range of issues that illustrate how the powerless can hack power in the city.
This article originally appeared as Can Cities Help Us Hack Formal Power Systems? on urbanNext. 1- I develop this argument in “Does the City Have Speech?,” Public Culture 25(2) (April 2013): 209–21; see also Expulsions (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014; Dutch translation forthcoming with ACCO). 2- This is the process I describe at great length in The Global City, 2nd updated ed. (1991; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), and in Cities in a World Economy, 4th ed. (CITY: Sage, 2012). 3- The emergent landscape I am describing promotes a multiplication of diverse spatiotemporal framings and diverse normative mini-orders, where once the dominant logic was toward producing grand unitary national spatial, temporal, and normative framings. See Saskia Sassen, Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), chaps. 8 and 9. 4- One synthesizing image we might use to capture these dynamics is the movement from centripetal nation-state articulation to a centrifugal multiplication of specialized assemblages, where one of many examples might be the transborder networks of specific types of struggles, enactments, art, and so on.
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Branden Klayko, urbanist and former AN editor, dies at 33

Branden Klayko, an urbanist, journalist, and former senior web editor at The Architect’s Newspaper (AN), whose intense and diverse interests spanned several fields and media, died after a battle with leukemia. He was 33 years old. “He really began our whole website, it was an incredible project to take on,” said William Menking, AN’s editor-in-chief. “But he also knew architecture well and had a deep understanding of the field.” Klayko devoted six years of his career to AN, transitioning the primarily print periodical to a web-savvy publication and eventually overseeing the site’s current responsive design. As a writer Klayko was well versed in developments throughout New York City, but he will perhaps be best remembered for Broken Sidewalk, a website devoted to his hometown, Louisville, Kentucky. Launched in 2008, Klayko continued to run the site remotely throughout his years in New York. Former AN Editor Alan Brake, now editor at Oculus, admired the site. “He was interested in tactical urbanism as an emerging toolset, so that people, designers, and non-designers, could make changes to the places they live,” said Brake, adding that while Klayko held a degree in architecture from Washington University, many of his skills were self-taught. “He didn’t come from a writing background, same with coding and website development. He just taught himself how to do all that.” Brake, also from Louisville, said that despite living in New York, Klayko remained an “important voice in improving the city” and used vacation time to stage events there. In a statement, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said Klayko’s writing “went beyond criticism to offering specific ideas for improvement.” Both Menking and Brake agreed that Klayko rooted his criticism in classicism and was not particularly enamored with the avant-garde. “He saw Louisville as torn apart by the post-war modern architecture and he was just not interested in new for the sake of being new,” said Menking. “He was in favor of melding post-World War II architecture to the the pre-modern city.” “He really believed that you can’t just think about buildings sitting on plane, you have to think about safety, the street, you have to think about the humanist aspect of the city,” said his wife Melissa Baird, an architect with Louisville-based WorK Architecture + Design. She said Klayko’s sensibilities were born of an idealized childhood spent in Wooster, Ohio. “He was very much an American: Kentucky, Ohio, New York,” she said. “He had great memories of Wooster, of his mom walking down the street and of taking public transit. That shaped his ideas of what cities and towns could be.” Baird said the two met through a mutual friend and she was charmed by his “hyper passionate” nature. She said his interests ranged from the writings of novelist Wendell Berry to entomology, the study of insects. She noted that one of his last Facebook posts included a quote by Berry:
It may be that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.
She added that Klayko also collected domain names, which he concisely organized on a spreadsheet, including, “Bugopolis.org: the Urbanism of Bugs.”
“You better believe that he wanted to pursue that too,” she said.
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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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Ambitious “Well-Tempered City” explains what makes cities work, from ancient Mesopotamia to Lagos and New York City

As a certain New York real estate figure thrusts a set of unpalatable values down the national throat, another local developer’s ideas are entering public discourse for better reasons. Jonathan Rose is, in important senses, the Antidrumpf: a developer who views the building of communities as an ethically consequential profession. He applies knowledge from nature and intercultural history to benefit entire populations. He advocates resilient development in sane, mature, well-evidenced, and convincing terms.

One finishes The Well-Tempered City with respect for a substantial contribution to the urbanist literature—and with the impression that in an administration dedicated to planetary and institutional stewardship, not plunder and bluster, Rose would merit a cabinet-level appointment. (Interior? HUD? Energy? A polymath like Rose could lead any of these departments.) The Well-Tempered City stands alongside works by Jane Jacobs, Lewis Mumford, and Christopher Alexander, deserving influence and implementation.

The enduring fivefold path

With ambitious scope and explanatory clarity, Rose offers a unified theory of urban history grounded in five core concepts: coherence, circularity, resilience, community, and compassion. He also identifies nine variables critical to the rise of ancient cities: cognition, cooperation, culture, calories (energy), connectivity, commerce, control, complexity, and concentration.

The alliterations may imply a professorial top-down scheme, but Rose infers the nine C-concepts from historical studies before elucidating how stagnation or resilience depends on “urban operating systems” promoting the five principles. Cities that manage resource flows efficiently, generate socially beneficial incentives, and respond to shocks have thrived (e.g., today’s Copenhagen or Singapore, the altitude-adaptive village of Shey, Tibet, or the flexibly organized cities of Islam’s golden age). Wasteful, dis- or over-organized, militaristic, and parasitic cities (e.g., imperial Rome) have ossified and decayed.

Rose distinguishes complication from complexity: the former merely reflects scale, while the latter describes volatile conditions where small inputs trigger large outputs. The acronym VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity), he contends, describes urban as well as biological systems. Design suited to a VUCA environment will avoid the oversimplifications of 19th- and 20th-century planning by incorporating feedback phenomena and by continually adjusting incentives, technologies, balances among market and public-sector mechanisms, and other determinants of civic well-being. Ecosystems’ cyclical resource metabolisms are particularly important, avoiding linear extract-and-discard economies.

Déjà vu will kick in for readers of Jacobs, whose Death and Life chapter “The Kind of Problem a City Is” drew on Warren Weaver’s observations about “problems in organized complexity.” To this foundation Rose adds a broad familiarity with global cultural practices, evolutionary biology, archaeology, cognitive science, and network theory: He has the intellectual discipline to be usefully interdisciplinary.

Discussing how the efficiency metric of energy return on investment (the ratio of usable energy generated to energy spent creating it) correlates with civilizations’ rise and fall, he notes how China’s recent agricultural practices resemble those that doomed Rome for a thousand years; how New York, Detroit, Lagos, and Baltimore have benefited from better data collection; and how a Big Mac takes seven times as much energy to produce as it provides to its consumer. One strong chapter, “The Cognitive Ecology of Opportunity,” links the neurohormonal threat response of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis to environments that traumatize children, exacerbated by exposure to neurotoxins such as lead, producing vicious cycles of maladaptation and social isolation. Tragic cases like Freddie Gray’s death in a struggle with Baltimore police illuminate interwoven civic and individual pathologies.

Taking the polis in for a tune-up

Rose’s master metaphor is the tuning system popularized by Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, an advance beyond Pythagorean “just intonation” (grounded in astronomic-mathematical ratios and generating beautiful scales within each key, but unable to change keys without discord). Music from the baroque through bebop is inconceivable without it. Bach didn’t invent equal tempering; Rose scrupulously credits the discovery to Ming prince Zhu Zaiyu’s Fusion of Music and Calendar (1580), brought to Europe by a traveling monk and incorporated into German music theory by Andreas Werckmeister (1687), then into practice, gloriously, by Bach.

Conceiving harmony broadly, Rose looks to Mesopotamia for another key (if unfortunately named) concept. The societal codes that the Ubaid civilization (5500-4000 BCE) considered divinely ordained, known in Sumerian as meh, are the archetype for subsequent codes found across world history. Rose finds similar operating-system principles in Chinese nine-square geometric urban forms, Lübeck Law regulating trade in the Hanseatic League, and contemporary Smart Growth codes. Conversely, when civilizations embrace a poorly designed code—as when the Federal Housing Administration incorporated racist residential legislation into redlining, or when Chicago School economics ignores environmental externalities or network-scale Nash equilibria, in which choices maximizing individual benefits produce worse outcomes than coordinated choices do—disharmonies are inevitable: congestion, impoverishment, waste, and disease.

Socioeconomic reharmonization requires a comprehension of how codes handle inputs and outputs. Humanity’s mandate is thus to approximate nature’s advanced harmonies. Rose’s spiritually oriented conclusion points out how the Hebrew concept tikkun olam (“repairing the world”) has cognates across cultures. Humanity, he finds, has “evolved with an innate metacode” in which “altruism flows through every bit of a city’s interdependent social and cognitive ecologies, and is embedded in the morality of its systems.”

The audience that needs Rose’s analysis most drastically may be the least prepared for it. “Meh” in current parlance also names the shoulder-shrugging indifference of the incurious to anything beyond their truncated attention spans. Recent electoral results inspire little confidence that American society can decode principles observable in Uruk, Göbekli Tepe, and Chengzhou, and act on them purposefully. In his November 9 AIANY book talk, Rose emphasized how increasing immiseration in poorly built cities requires more comprehension of history and the sciences than partisan politics could muster: “I don’t believe either side of the election had the intellectual capital to deal with this.”

If Rose’s tempering theory omits anything vital, it may be a recognition of evil: Another synonym for the civic distempers flowing from greed and fear. Yet in accentuating the positive, the connectedness that has outlived such distempers, he reinforces our sense of harmony even in out-of-tune times.

The Well-Tempered City: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life Jonathan F. P. Rose Harper Wave, 2016, $29.99

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What does “radical urbanism” mean today?

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 "Explore three near-future worlds where technology has changed romance (and cities too) in this GSAPP exhibit." This article was authored by Alexis Kalagas, Alfredo Brillembourg, and Hubert Klumpner.
What does it mean to be a radical architect or designer today? Never before have cities mattered as much to the future of humanity. As David Harvey attests, we have sleepwalked unknowingly into a full-blown “crisis of planetary urbanization,” with acute social, political, and ecological dimensions[1]. Cities are fundamentally places of opportunity—after all, urban migrants continue to be drawn in their millions by the promise of security as well as upward mobility. But cities are too often sites of yawning inequality, where land, housing, infrastructure, and services are transformed into symptoms of exclusionary growth. Faced with contemporary urbanization patterns, we are forced to question how cities and city-making have traditionally operated. More to the point, as architects and designers we are forced to rethink how we can operate within the city, learning from its emerging intelligence and shaping its outcomes to radical and tactical ends. The notion of a radical urbanism draws us unavoidably into the realm of the political. Imagining a more equitable and sustainable future involves an implicit critique of the spatial and societal conditions produced by prevailing urban logics. As such, we are not only reminded of Le Corbusier’s famous ultimatum, “architecture or revolution”, but its generational echo in Buckminster Fuller’s more catastrophic pronouncement, “utopia or oblivion”[2]. Both were zero-sum scenarios born of overt social disjuncture, whether the deprivations and tensions of the interwar period, or the escalating conflicts and ecological anxiety of the late 1960s. While the wave of experimental ‘post‑utopian’ practices that emerged in the early 1970s positioned themselves explicitly in opposition to perceived failures of the modern movement, these disparate groups shared a belief – however disenchanted – with their predecessors in the idea that radical difference was possible, as well as a conviction that a break was necessary[3].
It is precisely this potent mix of idealism and criticality that we wish to explore under the rubric of ‘radical urbanism’—utopian dreams tempered by an unflinching engagement with social reality. We are interested in those who advocate for the exceptional while cloaked in the trappings of routine. Those who infiltrate peripheral disciplines, embed themselves as outside observers, and leverage a proximate vantage point to influence decisions and policies. Those who relinquish direct control in favor of distributed autonomy and instrumental feedback. We are interested in projects that seek distance from disciplinary bounds, and from legal, political, and societal norms. That render complicit the imminently possible and the highly improbable, the absolutely necessary and the prohibitively taboo. A radical project does not necessarily view design as a solution, nor as a means to elucidate a question, but as a fundamental restructuring of assumptions in the way we live, and the environments that are necessary to support that life.[4] The history of architecture and urbanism is littered with individuals, groups, movements, structures, unbuilt work, conceptual projects, research programs, theories, exhibitions, publications, and performances that collectively trace a potent tradition of radical intention. What ties these diverse activities together is not a desire to escape disciplinary boundaries entirely, but instead to redefine the very possibilities of architecture and design as a means to usher in an alternative to the status quo. Though radical urbanism can assume countless forms, one can point to three potential fields of contestation that embody alternative modes of practice, thought, or engagement. The first is by outlining a provocative vision that challenges the normative thinking of the time. The second is by recasting the role of the architect in order to question what is pragmatically possible when intervening in an urban environment. The third is to operate at the vanguard of political change, or, in other words, architecture as revolution. If one accepts the foundational modernist belief that addressing the realities of contemporary life means working in (and through) the city, then architecture and urbanism can represent a radical subversion of established social structures beyond material questions of form and aesthetics[5]. From unrealized visions and plans like Antonio Sant’Elia’s La Città Nuova, Yona Friedman’s Ville Spatiale, Constant Nieuwenhuys’ New Babylon, and Cedric Price’s Potteries Thinkbelt, to the avant-garde provocations of Archigram’s Plug-In City, Superstudio’s The Continuous Monument, and Archizoom’s No-Stop-City, the inclusive humanism of the Smithsons, the animist hybridity of Pancho Guedes, the techno‑utopianism of the Metabolists, and the politically charged agit-prop of groups like Ant Farm, Utopie, and Haus‑Rucker‑Co, we can see a shift from the limited understanding of architecture as the design of discrete structures, to an expanded notion that architecture and urbanism can embody a form of cultural critique, or venture even more decisively into the realm of social and political action. This dovetails with a parallel line of thought that views the role of the architect as extending beyond ‘pure’ design, to support the agency of the individuals and communities whose everyday life shapes the evolving built environment. We see this in the flexible open building concepts of John Habraken, the simple modular housing system of Walter Segal, the self-build and self‑management theories of John Turner, the cooperative strategies and ‘pragmatic anarchism’ of Colin Ward, the tecnica povera of Riccardo Dalisi with children from the Traiano Quartiere in Naples, and the ‘action planning’ of Otto Koenigsberger in India. Besides a common concern with the groups or ‘users’ most often marginalized or excluded by formal processes of authority and control, these projects are linked by a modesty that contrasts starkly with the heroic projections of the modern movement. It is a radical urbanism characterized by sensitivity to scale and time, an appreciation of context, and a shift from author to enabler. The third type of radicality emanates from the inside out, where urbanism is adopted as an institutionalized building block prefiguring a new way of life. Though discredited in its most deterministic guise—the hubristic belief in the ability to “correct society on the drawing board”[6]—this direct alignment of architects and designers with revolutionary governance is perhaps urbanism at its most ‘radical’. While the emblematic case remains the ‘social condensers’ of Mozei Ginsburg and the Russian constructivists, which were consciously designed to induce collectivism, it is echoed in Álvaro Siza’s involvement with the ‘brigades’ of the Serviço de Apoio Ambulatório Local (SAAL) housing program following the Portuguese revolution, the Proyecto Experimental de Vivienda (PREVI) launched in Peru in the brief mid-1960s interlude between military dictatorships, and the peripheral new towns designed by BV Doshi’s Vāstu-Shilpā Consultants in post-independence India. In tune with emancipatory political agendas, these schemes sought to underpin alternative forms of economic and social development. Reyner Banham has described dreams of a better world as the true “ghosts in the machine” of 20th century architecture, while Tahl Kaminer argues the loss of the “utopian horizon” means the idea of progress has been rejected as a myth[7]. Does it make any sense then to speak of a contemporary radical urbanism? In short, we are convinced it does. Cities are complex, hybrid spaces where divergent ways of acting, thinking about, and living urban life collide and transform. And in these spaces, a new generation of architects, designers, advocates, artists, sociologists, anthropologists, economists, and activists are collectively reimagining new tactics to tackle critical urban and social issues. The city today is perhaps more radical than those operating within it. It computes unknown possibilities, conducts high‑risk experimentation, and telegraphs previously unknowable futures more quickly and more completely than the raft of professionals tasked with its stewardship, analysis, or design. A discussion based around concrete and scalable projects is necessary to reframe the term ‘radical’ and its potentials for design in the 21st century. The ‘Radical Urbanism’ exhibition in this Biennale will bring greater visibility to alternative models of housing, mobility, production, and recreation grounded in the pursuit of social and environmental justice, diversity, and equality. It will highlight forms of radical praxis that question the role of the architect and redefine the discipline, claiming new territories, new functions, and new legitimacy for architectural and design thinking. It will give space to projects that are both courageous and provocative—that call attention to game-changing urban agents of tomorrow. It will show how it is possible to develop path-breaking tactics of intervention and engagement while operating legitimately within the blind spots of existing power structures. And it will reaffirm the capacity of architects and designers to articulate empowering, transformative, confronting, and realizable visions of our collective urban future. [Excerpt from Re-Living the City: UABB 2015 Catalogue, 2016]
This article originally appeared as The Evolution of Radical Urbanism in urbanNext. [1] David Harvey, ‘The Crisis of Planetary Urbanization’ in Pedro Gadanho (ed), Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities (2014) 29. [2] See Le Corbusier, Toward an Architecture (1927); R Buckminster Fuller, ‘Invisible Future’ (December 1967) 11 San Francisco Oracle 24. [3] Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future (2005) 168. [4]This and other portions of this text are excerpted from a curatorial statement authored by UABB curatorial advisors Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller from AGENCY. [5] John R Gold, The Experience of Modernism: Modern Architects and the Future City, 1928-53 (2013) 15-16. [6] Meyer Schapiro, ‘Architect’s Utopia: Review of Architecture and Modern Life’ (1938) 4 Partisan Review 46, 89-92. [7] Reyner Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (2nd ed, 1980) 12; Tahl Kaminer, Architecture, Crisis and Resuscitation: The Reproduction of Post-Fordism in Late-Twentieth-Century Architecture (2011) 19.
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Habitat III conference charts a difficult path for successful global urbanization

We are living in an urban age. According to the United Nations, the balance of people living in cities crossed the threshold of 50 percent in 2008 for the first time in the history of the planet. By 2050, it is estimated that more than three-quarters of the world’s population could reside in cities.

With such global demographic shifts taking place within cities, combined with the accelerating challenges of climate change, it would be easy to be pessimistic about the future.

The UN conference Habitat III, which took place in Quito, Ecuador, from October 17–20, was a key moment in which the global community embraced the idea of urbanization as a positive agent of change in human development. Occurring only once every 20 years, the conference collects some of the world’s most influential policy makers, politicians, press, designers, researchers, experts in sustainability, and interested onlookers on issues surrounding housing and sustainable urban development.

This year there were 45,000 participants, the greatest number ever to attend. Many of the thousands of participants appeared to be local Quiteños who had managed to register in time and had braved the long lines. The week was hectic, busy with visitors clamoring to attend panel discussions, visit exhibitions, and listen to lively discussions. The audience was filled with intrigue and anticipation, teetering on frenzy—there was so much to do and so many important conversations to absorb and participate in.

We felt that this was a landmark week—because we were in the place where the New Urban Agenda, the ambitious document that underpins the conference, was officially adopted. Paragraph five out of its twenty-three pages perhaps communicates best its bold potential: “By readdressing the way cities and human settlements are planned, designed, financed, developed, governed, and managed, the New Urban Agenda will help to end poverty and hunger in all its forms and dimensions, reduce inequalities, promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, in order to fully harness their vital contribution to sustainable development, improve human health and well-being, as well as foster resilience and protect the environment.”

The positive outlook continued into the conference and throughout there was a series of exciting conceptual revelations that shifted the discourse on the evolution of cities. It started with recent Pritzker Laureate  Alejandro Aravena’s keynote speech at the end of the first day, where he extolled his belief that the moment had come to invert our notion that good cities only come about after the creation of wealth and prosperity; to one where good cities lead by setting the context for economic development—an idea he borrowed directly from Dr. Joan Clos, executive director of the conference. Then there was the hugely anticipated release of the Atlas of Urban Expansion, a collaboration among New York University, UN-Habitat, and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. After years of analyzing satellite data, Professor Shlomo Angel and his team revealed conclusive proof that the footprints of cities are expanding faster than their populations.

LSE Cities and Deutsche Bank’s decade-old Urban Age program explores how the physical and social are interconnected and enter the collective conscience. The New Urban Agenda’s mantra of “urbanization as an engine of sustained and inclusive economic growth, social and cultural development, and environmental protection” with its “potential contributions to the achievement of transformative and sustainable development” seems irrefutable and was adopted by all member states.

However, just because it is written does not necessarily mean it shall be. Reality is unpredictable. Ominously, on the final day of the conference, after days of a smoothly run operation, there was a sudden power outage. The whole complex of the Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, where the majority of the conference was located, was temporarily thrown into darkness. As people exited the dark lecture theaters, eyes squinted against the bright sunlight, rumors circulated that there were power surges causing explosions on the grid and that the city was without electricity, perhaps even the whole country. An hour or so of presentations, though written weeks before, were wiped from existence.

Leaders often turn to architecture to make concrete ideas that are, in reality, abstract constructions and Dr. Clos was no different in this regard when he asserted that the New Urban Agenda is contingent on “three pillars” of development: the rule of law, good design, and a sound financial plan. By the end of the conference they were being expounded almost as if they were fundamental laws of nature: “Without these three pillars in a good manner, well balanced, we don’t have good urbanization. You can have excellent project design of two pillars but if … any one of them fails, all the systems fail.” Unsurprisingly, architects across history have been among the biggest exponents of using architectural rhetoric to imbue an underlying natural order to their ideas. Though Dr. Clos is an epidemiologist by training, his image of three pillars conjures the spirit of the likes of Vitruvius, Vignola, and Le Corbusier. Though subsequent societies came to recognize these men’s “laws,” as polemical constructs, now that the New Urban Agenda has been adopted it would seem that Dr. Clos’s words have become a fixed reality for many.

Aravena has an enthusiastic belief in these laws. In fact, his practice, Elemental, provides the perfect example of the three pillars at work. In his evening Urban Talk, Aravena explained the financially sustainable building models his practice develops that allow the construction of homes at scale. He informed us that crucial to his projects, in addition to the relationship between the state and the market, a third element is utilized: the capacity of the people themselves. This dynamic, exemplified in his Incremental Housing concept, is where people expand on their homes within a preset framework when they have the means. Aravena’s model exemplifies how good design enables people who start with nothing to become property owners and even sell and reinvest.

This goes to the heart of a key idea pervading the New Urban Agenda. Bundled up in the preeminence of the city is an ideology that increasing land values will unlock wealth and prosperityfor all, in what the president of the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy, George McCarthy, said is a virtuous cycle: “… when new investments made in infrastructure and services increase the size of the tax base, and increase the value of the land, it becomes the source of new own source revenues and those revenues become available to make new investments…” Essential to delivering on the New Urban Agenda is a strategy based on market economics. In this context, fears over the right to the city are understandable. With growing inequalities in urbanized and urbanizing regions, how can the prosperity of the many be guaranteed?

It is possible to have come away from the conference believing that the world’s leading thinkers on urbanization were broadly in agreement about their faith in the strategies underlying the New Urban Agenda. Except, beyond the high fences and security barriers protecting the Habitat III venues, other events were taking place that ran counter to this, such as “The Alternative Habitat,” organized by activists, community organizers, and researchers who felt left out of the official process. Invisible from any official program, the geographer David Harvey gave an energizing talk at the university on the Right to the City.

Professor Edgar Pieterse of the African Centre for Cities was one of the few speakers to plainly spell out the political economic challenge when speaking on a panel in the conference discussing the UN Green Cities partnership: “… it does require that we also talk about the political economy of vested interests… There are a set of infrastructure economies, financial actors, and financial markets that have a vested interest in the unsustainable form of the city.” Pieterse went further, explaining that “60 percent of the labor force is employed in precarious situations. So they don’t have the revenue or the income to live in these beautifully, carefully planned cities. They don’t.”

However, delve further into the implications of Clos’s pillars, and the whole conception of democratic place making could be brought into question. “First and foremost,” he argued, “urbanization should be based on the rule of law. Good urbanization is based in good urban legislation and its implementation. Good urban legislation generates urban value.”

But how might the rule of law be enforced? The foregrounding of these ideas will have fundamental impacts on the development of cities and their architectures with potentially dangerous unintended consequences. When Clos dictated that “… the natural form of spontaneous urbanization is the slum,” it seemed clear that his insistence on the rules of law is most acutely directed at developing nations and their regions of rapidly expanding informal settlements. What troubles him is that in the coming years, developing countries will provide the greatest growth. Current UN estimates show that Africa alone will account for 54 percent of global population growth by 2050, the majority of which will bein cities. These are precisely the places where the social contract is weakest, making the rule of law, regulation, and planning the most difficult and antagonistic to implement. So, if the price of establishing the New Urban Agenda is expropriating land and increasing municipal revenues by imposing new, ever-inventive forms of taxation that also target the poor, without addressing Pieterse’s pertinent point about securing jobs, then UN-Habitat might inadvertently be framing the city as the territory of a battle between elite policy makers, planners and politicians, and the urban poor.