Hiatus: The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

An ad for The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Credit: pdxcityscape on Flickr.

Written in 1961, The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs is a seminal work in urban planning. The work is a condemnation of orthodox planning, especially that based in the work of Ebenezer Howard and Le Corbusier. These ideas, Jacobs argues, are paternalistic and controlling, and lack any understanding of real cities. She also defines a new paradigm for urban planning, based in people and the complex truth of cities, which she sees as a “problem of organized complexity.” Throughout the work, she argues that solving the problems of urban life requires a more in depth understanding of the interactions of people and the built environment on every scale. Read more

The Farms of Detroit: Urban Agriculture in the Motor City

The Earthworks Farm in Detroit. Credit: Detroitunspun on Flickr.

Detroit has a long history of agriculture, from the French farmers who colonized the area and set up ribbon farms along the river to the Panic of 1893, which prompted Mayor Hazen S. Pingree to open empty lots for farming. With the growth of the auto industry, the city’s agriculture faded into the past. Now, as the city plans for shrinkage, a resurgence in agriculture is making its way through cracks in the urban fabric. Read more

Detroit: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the Motor City

In recent years, Detroit has become a byword for the decline of industrial cities in the United States. The community grew rapidly with industrialization in the mid-1900s, faced political, social, and economic turmoil through the rest of the century, and decayed into a disaster of infrastructure. Today, Detroit is finding its own way in the future of urban life, and it just might prove an example for all of the cities facing their own changing futures. Read more

Le Corbusier: From the Contemporary City to the Radiant City

In the early 1900s, not long after Ebenezer Howard realized his first Garden Cities, another designer put forward his own solution to the woes of urban life. French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier, born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, saw the machine age as a chance to remake society and improve the lives of all. Corbu’s ideas, which reached their ultimate form with the Radiant City, proposed nothing less than the complete destruction and replacement of cities with his concept of perfect, ordered environments.

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Hiatus: Comparing 3 Smart Cities

Author’s Note: With my finals week closing in, I’ve had to once again push off my next major post. Once summer starts, I’ll start building up a backlog again, and have new posts for the rest of the year. Until then, here’s another piece I wrote for my Smart Cities class.

New Songdo City

New Songdo City, AKA Songdo International Business District (IBD), is a South Korean planned city begun in 2008.  The city was designed by an international partnership, led by two New York companies. The plan covers many distinct and occasionally contradictory goals. First, Songdo aims to be the first  “ubiquitous city,” with technology in every aspect of residents’ lives (Kshetri, Alcantara, & Park, 2014). It was also built near the Incheon International Airport as an aerotropolis, claiming to be “a 3 ½ hour flight to 1/3 of the world’s population” (Songdo IBD, 2015). Songdo’s developers also claim it is a sustainable green city, but it is clear the main goal is to be a hub for international business. Read more

Hiatus: Comparisons of Smart Cities

Author’s Note: Between my trip to Vienna and my general school work, I’ve run a bit behind on writing blog posts, so for this month I’ll be putting up a few things I wrote for my Smart Cities class, taught by Professor Alenka Poplin (from my various Vienna posts).

As smart city programs become more and more common, it is becoming necessary to understand them and recognize their successes and, perhaps more importantly, their failures. Studying any individual city can give some information, but real understanding comes from comparing these projects to each other. However, comparisons of such complex entities are not easy, and a lot of work has gone into finding ways to compare cities to various ends.

There are any number of reasons to compare smart cities: choosing the best place to live or build a business, finding ideas for new programs (and steps not to take), marketing success and revealing opportunities for growth, or just as an opportunity to academically study how these cities perform. Different needs and biases have necessitated differing comparison methods and results, from simple if opaque rankings to complex categorical analysis to individualized qualitative descriptions. Comparisons also vary in their scope, from massive worldwide studies to granular examinations of small categories.

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Vienna Day 3: VR, Real Cities, Urban Innovation, and Architecture

With everyone in the group finally landed, we started the real program off with a busy Monday. After breakfast, we made our way to the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien) to meet with Drs. Ioannis Giannopoulos, Gerhard Navratil, and Paolo Fogliaroni at the Spatial HCI (Human Computer Interaction) Lab, where their group studies how humans can interact with spatial data, from large-scale geoinformation to individual building models, using emerging technology. This means using Augmented and Virtual Reality to study how people interact with space, as well as exploring new techniques of data visualization and functional uses for this technology. Of course, we got to try out a few of their systems. Read more

Vienna Day 2: Schönbrunn

My group spent Sunday mainly wandering around Schönbrunn, the royal family’s summer residence and just one of the dozens of amazing public parks in the city. While beautiful, there’s only so much urban planning or smart city information to glean from a 300+ year old garden. I picked up a few things today though, notably the importance of art in public space. Almost every square in inch of Vienna has some sort of art, from sculptures in plazas to paintings above subway staircases (the subways also feature professional buskers, who audition for the right to play for an hour and a half at a time), and of course, architecture. One very interesting bit of art appeared in a display case attached to the already beautiful entrance to an underground parking garage, a regular site in the city. Many in my group find these to be extremely exciting, since they simultaneously protect historic buildings and landscapes while hiding cars and the ugly parking garages that come with them.