Monday, July 2, 2012


How appropriate to finish on a post from Frederick Law Olmsted - a man who constantly re-invented himself while 'inventing' the profession of landscape architecture.  So in that spirit of re-invention - my time and focus has shifted to my growing business, my studies, and other pursuits both professional and personal.

Blogging has also changed - and the profession(s) have benefit from this for the most part... there's a whole new generation of folks out there talking, discussing, and elevating the profession of landscape architecture, the pursuit of vegitecture, and the quest for enlightened urbanism.  I hope to do the same still, but in a different format - so i figure it is time to hang up the blog - 835 posts and 4.5 years later - for good this time.  Consider it my Independence Day.  I'm going to keep it visible, but not update anymore - as there's some good reading in there.

I hope you all have enjoyed it as much as i have.  Keep in touch!


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Happy Birthday - Frederick Law Olmsted Sr.

In honor of Frederick Law Olmsted Sr's birthday today, April 26 (1822, so let's call it a round 190!), I would remind folks to go out and read more about the man in the great 2011 biography 'Genius of Place' by Justin Martin  (Da Capo Press, 2011). Genius of Place traces Olmsted from his beginnings in 1822 up until his death in 1903.  While most well known as the creator of Central Park and in some circles as the father of landscape architecture, it's telling that much of Olmsted's life was spent in pursuits aside from park-making and design - in areas of farming, public health, journalism and the literary arts.  Martin does a solid job of showing the quirks and uncommon path that Olmsted took through his varied life - captured in the subtitle "Abolitionist, Conservationist, and Designer of Central Park".

Also worthy of reading is the 2000 biography by Rybczynski  'A Clearing in the Distance' and Erik Larson's more fantastical page-turner on the 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposion in Chicago in 'The Devil in the White City'.  Olmsted, as the father of the profession is featured in any manner of great landscape history books (i read a good portion of the entire 7? Volume 'Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted' in college) - but for the less nerdy and bibliophilic there's plenty of summary material and locations to delve into.

While we often question is pastoral scenic aesthetic sensibilities (he was a man of his time), there is much to learn in his tireless work ethic, social sensibility, and focus on ecological as well as public health -- providing models for issues that we still grapple with today.  We should also emulate his shrewdness in navigating messy politics to further his agenda and get things done, which is something we could use a lot more of these days in our somewhat timid, politically safe professional bunkers.

Celebrate the man and the profession, first by spelling the name correctly, and justly honoring his contribution to our profession, our cities, and our imagination.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Going viral: Blurred Borders

I'm pleased to announce that Landscape+Urbanism will be featured along with some great company as part of the Voices Going Viral Exhibition and event developed by AIANY.   More information below.

The AIANY Global Dialogues committee has dedicated 2012 to “uncovered connections” with the intention to investigate issues that are similarly impacting multiple regions, cultures and individuals. Going Viral: Blurred Borders explores the impact that social media, technology and device culture are having on our design process, and ultimately the way we practice. How do we shape a global conversation? How are we changing the relationships between academia and the profession? What is the impact of hyper information sharing and critique? Throughout the evening, the topics of communication, research, collaboration, and data distribution will be addressed and debated.

Bjarke Ingels of BIG, Toru Hasegawa of Morpholio and Columbia University Cloud Lab, Carlo Aiello of eVolo, and David Basulto with David Assael of ArchDaily will come together for a lecture and panel discussion moderated by Ned Cramer, editor-in-chief of Architect. In addition, selected game changing blogs and websites will be exhibited as Voices Going Viral on the evening of the event. Please join us at the NY Center for Architecture on May 21st at 6:00 pm and online for further information and to RSVP.

The exhibit will feature a ton of great design blogs, so good company to share - and thanks to the curators for the inclusion, and of course thanks to all of you for reading.  Check out the full list in alphabetical order:

Apartment Therapy created by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan and Janel Laban
ArchDaily created by David Basulto and David Assael 
Archidose created by John Hill
Archinect created by Paul Petrunia 
Architect’s Newspaper created by William Menking 
ArchitectureMNP created by Ryan McClain, co-founded by Kiye Apreala
Architizer created by Matthias Hollwich, Marc Kushner, and Benjamin Prosky
Archive of Affinities created by Andrew Kovacs
BLDGBLOG created by Geoff Manaugh
Blurr created by Ahmed Elhusseiny 
But Does It Float created by Folkert Gorter, Atley Kasky, & Will Schofield
Cooking Architecture created by Claire Shafer and Juan Jofre
The Cool Hunter created by Bill Tikos
Core 77 created by Eric Ludlum, Stuart Constantine, & Allan Chochinov
Culture Now created by Abby Suckle, Ann Marie Baranowski, Susan Chin, Diana Pardue, and Nina Rappaport
Curbed created by Lockhart Steele
Death by Architecture created by Mario Cipresso 
DesignBoom created by Birgit Lohmann & Massimo Mini
Design Sponge created by Grace Bonney
DesignReform created by CASE Dezeen created by Marcus Fairs
e-Oculus created by the AIA New York Chapter 
eVolo created by Carlo Aiello
Inhabitat blog created by Jill Fehrenbacher
Landscape + Urbanism created by Jason King 
Mammoth created by Stephen Becker and Rob Holmes
Morpholio created by Mark Collins, Toru Hasegawa, & Anna Kenoff
Places Journal online created by Nancy Levinson, Harrison Fraker, William Drenttel, Jessica Helfand and Michael Bierut
Post Post created by David Jaubert
Project created by Alfie Koetter, Daniel Markiewicz, Jonah Rowen, & Emmett Zeifman

Credits: Global Dialogue Chairs: Bruce E. Fisher AIA and Jeffrey A. Kenoff AIA Event Co-Chairs: Elie Gamburg, Diane Chehab Design and Curatorial Team: James Kehl, Rebecca Pasternack, Ciara Seymour, Sarah E. Smith, Andy Vann 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Got History?

Hawthorne & 50th (1936)
Aerial View of Portland (1936)
My fascination with history and place is no secret.  While i am intrigued with urban history in many forms, there's always a desire for a connection with the place you inhabit.  Typically this fascination comes via maps, which have been well documented, but the timeline of the past 150 years plus of Portland is worth a bit of investment.   For folks on the go, there's also an app that highlights historical site - prepared by the Architectural Heritage Center.  Also a new site, WhatWasThere, is a crowd-sourced version that allows folks to upload history photos of their places.

In addition, there are a number of other sources that augmented by a number of great resources that are provided by city and other historical society archives.  Each has some overlap but occupies a unique and often personal niche for the blogger and site owner - to scratch their particular history itch, and all make for some great information.

A veritable decoupage of historical imagery awaits at Portland History - a no-frills site that organizes images, postcards, and a few words - sorted into categories like streets, amusement parks,  A good shortcut is to go the site map, which gives some links to the categories - but just randomly moving around the site isn't a bad idea either.

Council Crest, the Dreamland of Portland, Oregon

Lost Oregon is a great example of an engaging history tour, albeit typically focused on architecture and riddled with some really bad theme ideas like this one.  The site is simple and delves into some more details about some of the areas, buildings, and locations - which augments what is somewhat visually based on other sites.

A spinoff of Lost Oregon writer is PDX: Then/Now which juxtaposes historic and current photos of buildings and places.  Some show destruction or evolution, and some, such as the Union Bank Building in Downtown, are eerily similar over 40 years later.

Vintage Portland is another site 'exploring portland's past', through "...photographs, postcards, illustrations, advertisements, etc. ... It’s not a history lesson, it’s not an architectural critique. It’s a forum for displaying photos of the city’s past, to show how we lived, what we’ve lost (for good or bad) through progress and just to enjoy some wonderful camera work."

I particularly appreciate the 'mystery' posts - which show a building, corner, streetscape - with a question to help find where the site is.  Sometimes it's to fill in a missing link to an archival photo, but other times it becomes more of a game.  The context over time is fascinating evolution - and really highlights the impermanence/permanence of the urban realm.  This shot of MLK @ Ainsworth from the north - replace Texaco with Starbucks (old fuel/new fuel?) and Gilmore with Popeyes (old grease/new grease?).

Cafe Unknown is a new one for me, but author Dan Haneckow pulls you in with compelling history (more text than other sites) along with some good images.  A recent post on Mark Twain in Portland is a good read, and some of the trivial pursuits are great - like Will- vs. Wall- for our fair river (which subsequently ended up 'Willamette') are nuggets of pure gold.  Haneckow is a true historical writer - with the requisite head shots of historical figures quoted... along with some really solid writing and research.  These walking tour images were pretty interesting finds - along with the story of a missing sculpture found.  This stuff is priceless - and firmly about our place.

Check all of these resources out - It is true - you will be sucked in for a few hours/days/weeks - and might come out forever changed.   I feel like a landscape or at least urbanism oriented history site wouldn't be a bad endeavor - if someone is inclined to collaborate - look me up.  But the caveat on these sites, and historical maps, photos, and primary materials - it's addictive.  Don't say i didn't warn you.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Essay in 'Atlantis' Magazine

I am happy to report that a recent essay was published in 'Atlantis' Magazine, which is published by Polis and collects writings that make "...the link between students, academics and professionals besides the Polis activities. This magazine is our medium to keep you as member up to date about everything going on in the urbanism & landscape architecture world.  The issue 22.4 discusses concepts around the 'Urban Landscape' and features contributions from a wide range of authors.

The essay "Land- 'scape' / Land- 'space':  Pedantic, Semantic or just Anagrammatic" is a tongue-in-cheek play on words that carries with it a more serious message.  The dialogue around landscape urbanism has been called pedantic, and the splitting of hairs could be dismissed, particularly by those uninformed and who disagree with the concepts, as mere semantics.  The anagrammatic is purely a place on words.  The content, revolving around an exploration of the terms 'landscape' and 'urbanism', and more specifically the parallels of the anagrammatic terms 'space' and 'scape' begin the discussion. 


Using definitions from JB Jackson's essay 'The Word Itself', the parallels between space and scape are delineated, as Jackson's cultural reading of landscape as "...a composition of man-made or man-modified spaces to serve as infrastructure or background for our collective existence.” (Jackson, Discovering the Vernacular Landscape, 1984)  This expands our idea of landscape beyond scenery and greenery to encompass a more broad understanding of 'context'. 

Urbanism is also investigated, starting with Wirth's 1938 essay 'Urbanism as a Way of Life' and tracing the divergence of urbanism as 'study' to that of action.  I claim we need to differentiate between the study of urban areas and the design and planning activities. This will allow us to operate in a shared space for dialogue:
"Thus study equates to urbanism (of which there can be many types of study), and practice equates to disciplinary modes and interdisciplinary contexts, such as urban design, architecture, landscape architecture and planning (of which there can be many types of solution). The distinction allows us to avoid binary argument because there are infinite types of study and methods of solving problems – each driven by the unique context. Dialogue and critique can still operate – but there will more transparency and it won’t be summed in an either/or proposition. The complexity of urban areas in our contemporary world is too immense for only one of two solutions"
The end along with a call for more clarity in writing about these terms, specifically the need for clear definitions when discussing terms.  We are too loose with terminology today, and the overall impact and reach of our discussion suffers from this. Whichever way you choose to interpret and intervene the urban conditions, there needs to be shared understanding of fundamental issues, because, as I mention: "In the end, no discussion or argument (binary or otherwise) is worth much if it happening around vague language..."

Comments and discussion, with clear definitions, always welcome.

Check out the entire magazine online here, or click to download a PDF of the article here.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Kerb 20 Seeking Submissions

Kerb is one of best journals out there for landscape architecture - and you can be part of their next issue around the topic 'speculative narrative'.  Here's the call for submissions:


Speculative narrative and the potential of imagination are important factors in creative production. It is considered that a multitude of small stories are the “quintessential form of imaginative invention” (source). 

Speculation through narrative offers an apparatus through which we may investigate the concept of ‘reality’. Immersed within our current understandings, speculation is influenced by our contemporary condition. In these fictional dispositions, the variables and constraints of ‘reality’ can be controlled, omitted completely or utilized as key motives for the foundations of new territories.

Speculative Narrative can be an exploration of idealistic scenarios, the fossilization of information, or the creation of fantastical realms.

This allows the model of design to move beyond problem solving, crisis management and project liberation from the constraints of our existence. The augmentation through speculative narrative, enables the reshaping of current processes, understandings and disciplines.

Speculative Narrative makes it possible to redefine ‘present’ and ‘future’. Kerb is an annual cross-disciplinary design publication produced by the RMIT University School of Architecture and Design in Melbourne, Australia.

Kerb is a progressive design journal focused on contemporary landscape architecture issues from an international and national perspective. Submit to: 4 May, 2012 and for more information regarding submission requirements please visit our website at or our Facebook page at

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Waterscape Urbanism

I was struck by a recent mis-use of the term landscape urbanism in this article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution on the need for climate change inspired floating homes.  Quoting  Thai landscape architect Danai Thaitakoo on the need for dealing with innundation.

"Climate change will require a radical shift within design practice from the solid-state view of landscape urbanism to the more dynamic, liquid-state view of waterscape urbanism," says Danai, who is involved in several projects based on this principle. "Instead of embodying permanence, solidity and longevity, liquid perception will emphasize change, adaptation."

While amphibious architecture is nothing new, and i agree that it will become more common in the future there are two points.  The first is minor - that of the mis-characterization of landscape urbanism as 'solid-state' and 'embodying permanence, solidity and longevity'.  If there's any flavor of urbanism that emphasizes change and adaptation, it's landscape urbanism - so i think there's a disconnect in that above paragraph.  Just saying.

Second, and more troubling, is the idea that we must react to climate change by building floating structures - rather than address the topic at hand.  It's similar in nature to dealing with semi-urban forest fires by designating fire-safety clearing zones of tinder and brush around houses, rather than looking at not building homes in these areas - or heaven forbid - letting them burn.  Or coming up with vertical farms due to our misguided agricultural subsidies and policies that make it impossible to grow a variety of food on terra firm.   

Its cause.  Not effect.  We spend way too much time on solutions to problems and calling it need-inspired innovation - rather than getting to the real root of the problems themselves.  May not be as press-worthy of sexy, but at least its real.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Guest Post: The Other Plane

The Porter House project by SHoP Architects doesn’t quite sit right with the eye. Greg Pasquarelli, one of the founding principals of the New York firm, gave a great lecture at the University of Washington last year in which he elaborated on the achievement of finding an innovative solution to the challenge of expanding the 1905 6-story condominium building. Rather than competing with the historic architecture, the new addition distinguishes itself with a modern zinc façade.


While the strategy seems logical, the image of the building is still daunting for the sole reason of what it visually implies. The new addition, though connected to the existing building below, starts to suggest a different kind of development, a different kind of cityscape where buildings start to layer on top of each other.  The phenomenon of air space and air space rights is not a new concept yet with the increasing density of our urban areas, it has become more relevant than ever. If the elevator was an invention that enabled us to build vertically, then can air space rights start to shift our infrastructure “plane” up as portrayed in the movie The Fifth Element?

The movement has begun. Whether it’s to trek through New York City on The High Line or to connect seven separate Linked Hybrids via skybridges in China, these projects offer a form of route alternate from the ground plane. The visual impact on the city’s skyline is hard to overlook and as a collective, they makes the vision of The Fifth Element city more plausible than ever. More significantly, air space rights provide a different lens in looking at some of the similar (but smaller scale) local projects. One can only start to imagine the unraveling of the vertical plane in Seattle.

Ji Shon is currently pursuing a dual degree in Master of Architecture and Master of Science in Real Estate at the University of Washington while working for the Neighborhood Design Build Studio. Upon graduation, she intends to combine the two fields and pioneer in bringing excellent design and responsible development in urban areas. She could be reached at for questions or comments.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Building a Bike Highway

The video of the presentation for GOOD Ideas for Cities is up, along with a nice write-up from organizer Alissa Walker from GOOD - so enjoy. Also check out some more detail, and download a PDF of the presentation over at the THINK.urban site.

Monday, February 20, 2012

GOOD Times in Portland

The recent event for GOOD Ideas for Cities happened last week in Portland, and generated some great dialogue.  I was also on one of the teams that presented.  A short recap.

:: custom notebooks by Scout Books
 "Each team was issued a challenge proposed by a local urban leader. At the event, the creative teams will present their solutions to their assigned challenge, and the urban leaders will join them onstage for a brief Q&A with GOOD Ideas for Cities editor Alissa Walker."  Teams included international talent from Wieden + Kennedy and Ziba Design, as well as local groups Sincerely Interested, THINK.urban, ADX, and the Official Manufacturing Company, all tackling some pressing (and not so pressing) urban ideas.

The event was held at Ziba's beautiful new HQ building in the Pearl District, and the sold-out event had some great people and conversations.  As you can see the packed house (including Mayor Sam Adams) is checking out Alissa from GOOD's intro, and had some great energy for the various groups.

:: image via Portland Mercury

My evolving side project THINK.urban, under development as a non-profit with fellow PSU Grad Students Allison Duncan and Katrina Johnston, was one of the teams, as mentioned above.  We've been slamming away on ideas for six weeks, and presented our ideas for world-class bike infrastructure, working from a challenge from's Jonathan Maus).

:: image via Portland Mercury 

As mentioned in a recap by Sarah Mirk from the Portland Mercury (check out the post for all of the ideas) - here's what we've been working on.
"CHALLENGE (from editor Jonathan Maus): How can we create a major new bikeway that helps make bicycling as visible, safe, convenient, and pleasant for as many people as possible? 
IDEAS (from PSU grad student nonprofit THINK.Urban):  Take a cue from Europe and build two-way cycletracks on Portland's biggest streets. The two-way lanes would be separated from cars on streets like Sandy, Broadway, and Hawthorne, by a grassy median. "Prioritize bikes on the same level as cars. People are tired of looking at Europe. We want to see these things here now."
We were really happy with the ideas that were developed, honored to be in such great company, and looking forward to seeing this new bike infrastructure take root.  More on the ideas will be posted at THINK.urban, and I'll link them back here when they do. 

GOOD times.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Shrinking Cities: Detroit's Agony (1990)

A clip that spawned a lot of conversation within our reading group, from 1990, Diane Sawyer reporting on ABCs Primetime Live, in a series called 'Detroit's Agony' - which looks at Mayor Coleman Young's legacy, and plays on Detroit as 'the first urban domino to fall...' [More after the video]

The shock of 'Devils Night', guns, drugs, and violence has changed to a different narrative in 20+ years, but not necessarily one that is any more positive - at least in terms of media coverage.  Is Detroit still the end of the road?  Is this just a continuation to the story?  Is what we are witnessing now is the continuation of the city as ruin?  Interesting history, if only one of the media itself and it's framing of issues both then and now.

Shrinking Cities: Sugrue Part I: Arsenal

Moving along with the Shrinking Cities readings, the first part of 'Origins of the Urban Crisis' by Segrue recounts the development of the City of Detroit around WWII as the 'Arsenal of Democracy' which made it one of the highest paying blue-collar cities in the US.  In the words of Segrue, "Mid-twentieth-century Detroit embodied the melding of human labor and technology that together had made the United States the apotheosis of world capitalism." (p.19)  This height of Fordist production makes the inevitable fall even more extreme.

::  'Criss Crossed Conveyors' from the Ford River Rouge Plant - Charles Sheeler (1927) image via Art History Archive

As mentioned, the visitors of today's Detroit marvel at the industrial ruins and disaster porn, but at the time, people flocked to the city to see the massive technologies and industrial might at work, and mostly "they stood rapt as the twentieth century's premier consumer object, the automobile, rolled off the assembly lines by the dozens an hour." (p.19)  It is hard to think of the spectacular model of modernity that Detroit once embodied, one that reshaped the city with a new form of 'industrial geography' which tied factories to suppliers and workers to homes with unprecedented efficiency.

:: Ford Assembly Line - image via Wikipedia

:: image via wunderground

The traces of grand boulevards from Woodward's L'Enfant-inspired plan of 1807 remained - fanning out in a radial pattern of wide avenues from the city center, which added to the idea of speed and efficiency that has characterized Detroit, and the automobile industry for decades.   Much like Los Angeles being the embodiment of the auto-centric city, Detroit is the perfect model of Fordist urbanism at work - not just in the factories - driven by mass-production along with high union wages, and the accessibility of the blue-collar worker to live in a single-family house of their own - with a dearth of any sort of apartment of multi-family housing to accommodate lower-income or those not wealthy enough, or white enough, to buy houses.

:: image via urban places and spaces

The focus on single-family houses led to perpetual housing shortages - particularly when combined with a history of official and unofficial policies that prevented blacks from obtaining housing.  Unlike many of the eastern cities where the geography was a patchwork of ethnic enclaves, Detroit was much more literally black and white, as Segrue mentions, "class and race became more important that ethnicity as a guide to the city's residential geography." (p.22)  While it was understood as a "City of Homes" for most, the influx of black workers from the South, who came in the 'Great Migration', were met with a consistent range of discrimination and violence, as existing residents perceived in-migration as a threat to their community, starting in the 1920s and continuing all the way through the 1970s.  As mentioned in Segrue:
"White neighborhoods, especially enclaves of working-class homeowners, interpreted the influx of blacks as a threat and began to defend themselves against the newcomers, first by refusing to see to blacks, then by using force and threats of violence, and finally establishing restrictive covenants to assure the homogeneity of neighborhoods."  (p.24)

There were some inroads to employment in good jobs around WWII, driven by a tightening labor market, the coalitions of unions and civil rights groups, and some federal policies, which made sure that "blacks made significant gains in Detroit's industrial economy during the war." (p.27)  There was still an undercurrent of racial tension, which played out in housing and employment, a continual topic that Segrue alludes to being a 'structural' racism that played out in Detroit, and were displayed in significant riots and other violence throughout the years, but that this didn't stop the influx of blacks coming into the city, leaving the Jim Crow south for something better.  It's debatable if Detroit was much better.

The Time Bomb

The availability and quality of housing was poor for blacks - driven by a number of social and policy factors.  While the New Deal had instilled a new ideology of opportunity for blacks - it had also instilled an ideology for current residents that the government would protect their property and the status quo.  Thus the competing ideals of opportunity and protection played out in Detroit, and although, as seen previously, some gains were made - the majority of the wins came in maintenance of the status quo and protection from the new waves of poor, black residents.

As seen in the map below, there were very specific segregated neighborhoods that were predominately populated by blacks - in particularly the original Paradise Valley and West Side Neighborhoods (which had been an areas for wealthy blacks that had deteriorated), along with the wealthier blacks in Conant Gardens and the more distant Eight Mile-Wyoming area, where they had land for gardens to grow food, which became for some pioneering blacks, "their one opportunity, as they saw it, to own their own homes and rear their families." (p.39)

:: image via city-data

The geography of race was perpetuated by the real estate community as well, who were actively involved in the exclusion of blacks from housing.  Another aspect was construction, with new houses rarely being built for blacks or in a price range that was suitable.  As Segrue mentions, in "1951, on 1.15 percent of the new homes constructed in the metropolitan Detroit area were available to blacks." (p.43).  Another major issue that shaped this geography in Detroit, and many other cities around the United States, was the concept of redlining.  Maps were produced by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, informed by local real estate brokers and lenders, to rate the neighborhoods in cities according to a scale from A (green) to D (red).  While ostensibly a methodology for determining investment risk, the process became a de facto method for exclusion, disenfranchisement, and continued disinvestment in the minority areas.

:: redlining Detroit - image via RG25

Black neighborhoods, even those with a small percentage of black residents, were given a rating of 'D', which was deemed hazardous and colored red (as seen in the unfortunately fuzzy map above, which shows significant portions of the downtown). I haven't been able to track down maps from Detroit - although they do exist for a number of cities - and tell as pretty sad tale of federally aided racism. The ratings kept out new loans for new construction or home repairs, furthering a cycle of disinvestment, as outlined by Segrue:
"Residents in areas rate 'C' and 'D' were unlikely to qualify for mortgages and home loans.  Builders and developers, likewise, could expect little or no financial backing if they chose to building in such risky neighborhoods." (p.44)
When you factor in restrictive covenants (the actual and implied), and the work of redlining along with real-estate industry maintenance of status quo, it equated to an impossible position for the largest growing population of residents in Detroit to get adequate housing, which further fueled tensions.  For a bit more context, here's a video about the Race Riots from Detroit 2020 offers a concise history on the topic:

The final element of the oppression of poor minority residents in Detroit came, as it did in many areas, through the disguise of urban renewal, in particular the construction of highways through 'slums' that cleared out substandard housing without replacing it with enough to handle what was lost, much less house the large numbers of new residents.  From Segrue:  "The most obvious problem with slum clearance was that it forced the households with the least resources to move at a time when the city's tight housing market could not accommodate them." (p.50)

This was exacerbated with landlords charging more rent (up to 35% more) for blacks for less housing, which, coupled with the lower wages and job opportunities, forced many to live in great numbers, and not have anything left over for maintenance.  This further degraded already deteriorating stock, which further declined, and continued the narrative that some whites believed - that blacks would destroy neighborhoods. The cycle continued.  Unlike some areas that built robust (if often misguided) public housing, the next chapter showed that Detroit, city of 'homes' had some similar issues with density, and a new-found Nimbyism which led to a slow provision of subsidized housing, which may have aided in softening some of the myriad impacts of the 1950s and 1960s.

Public Housing

The promise of the New Deal, in post-WWII era, was predicated on government intervention to solve the problems of the city.  One of those things was to provide adequate housing for the poor, whether this be true building of community and opportunity, or the more commonly wielded tool of 'social engineering' to make better citizens.  Through a number of acts, the US developed policy and funding for many types of affordable housing, complementing the already robust subsidies of single family home construction and highway building.

The trend toward 'modernist' totalitarian schemes emerged from this process of social engineering, embodied by the work of a group of professionals called the Citizens' Housing and Planning Council (CPHC), which took a mission of "improvement of the environmental conditions of Detroit's slums through the elimination of crowded, dirty, and substandard housing, and the construction of sanitary, well-lit, and well-ventilated public housing in its place." (p.61)  This type of rhetoric smacks of much of public housing projects of the era, which provides housing, as Segrue mentions, that has "ameliorative effects on living conditions and would modify the behavior and character of urban residents... Public housing would also uplift the 'morale' of urban dwellers," which could happen through "social and individual improvement through orderly planning and urban redevelopment." (p.62)

The problem in Detroit, was that nobody seemed to want public housing, as it was fought almost everywhere by both whites, unions, real estate agents, developers and even some established black residents.  The adjacency of even some black areas was problematic, and developers had to make deals with the FHA, such as the 1 foot thick, 6 foot high wall that separated the new development from the old - remnants of which still exist.  This sort of approach reinforced the FHA's official policy, not of true equality, but as mentioned by Segrue, even with some of the more enlightened bureaucrats, "a separate but equal philosophy." (p.67)

 :: Wall Separating Black from White - remnant - image via Detroit Fly

The official ideology of racial segregation couched in urban renewal also bled into the policies of the City Plan Commission (CPC), which continued the rhetoric of "an emerging program to create a totally planned metropolis, combining public housing with strictly regulated private development..."  and the group began using zoning to start "composing a master plan to guide city and regional growth... for the 'reconstruction of Detroit's 'blighted' neighborhoods'..." (p.68)  The use of condemnation and slum removal, and strategic placement of black neighborhoods aimed to 'clean up' areas and protect others from deterioration, but more often than not led to housing shortages for those most in need.

The contention over public housing locations was intense, with everyone agreeing that there was a chronic shortage, but no area wanting to be the location for housing to be built.  It is understandable, as the inclusion of black neighborhoods, even those Federally-funded, would place these areas in danger of redlining, meaning that value for those living nearby would degrade, and their access to money for improvements and new construction would be significantly decreased. Many planned projects, such as the Sojourner-Truth housing project in Northeast Detroit, which was a planned 200 unit development opposed by whites as well as existing, establish blacks.  The overt racism was sometimes couched in a patriotic fervor, "couched in the language of Americanism," as seen in the flags atop the blatant message below but also came with a hint of threatened violence, all with an aim, in the words of existing homeowners, to "preserve the racial and architectural homogeneity of their neighborhood." (p.78)

::  We Want Whites -  image via Detroit 20/20

:: Sojourner Truth Housing - image via Feministe 

The Federal government flip-flopped multiple times on location and type of housing - at one point within a two week period switching from black to white, and back to black.  The New Deal dichotomy of rights vs. existing protection was at play in many of these conversations as well, as mentioned by Segrue, while:  "Acknowledging the 'moral and legal right' of blacks to adequate housing..." existing residents countered that they "had established a prior right to a neighborhood which we have built up through the years - a neighborhood which is entirely white and which we want kept white." (p.80)  The government, with pressure from residents, unions, and other groups, implied redlining from real-estate agents, and continued white flight to the suburbs, often acquiesced to these demands, further creating a tension of high rent and little opportunity that continued to flare up in violence.

The venue of public housing debate became a political touchstone as well - with mayoral elections being decided not by the traditional means of party affiliation and union membership, but by black and white, specifically a candidates views of public housing.  This conflict, as Segrue mentions, of "politics of home" versus the "politics of the workplace" was another interesting institutional element that made Detroit a large city with very little public housing compared to many other US cities.

As we shall see in subsequent chapters, the racial and social strife had already taken a toll on Detroit, even before deindustrialization, and that loss of industrial might that made the city the Arsenal of Democracy, will continue to play out in racial division, housing, and employment.

Friday, January 20, 2012

To New Horizons

Oh the sick and twisted future... a film from General Motors in 1940 entitled 'To New Horizons' talking about the world twenty years later.  Yes indeed, "Man continually strives to replace the old, with the new!" 

Spotted on one of my favorite new sites - Copenhagenize.  Check it out.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Shrinking Cities: The Forgetting Machine

One of our supplementary readings for the Shrinking Cities group is the recent essay by Jerry Herron on The Design Observer entitled 'The Forgetting Machine: Notes Toward a History of Detroit.'  The author is from Wayne State and has been a resident of Detroit since the early eighties, so it avoids some of the outsider rhetoric, but he still differentiates himself as coming from out, not within.  Read his essay, as this is more of a 'notes on notes' take that is my reaction and parsing of his essay.  Worth a look.
 :: image via Design Observer

The idea of Detroit as a industrial powerhouse declining into a bastion of cliched ruin-porn makes it a much talked about as a cultural touchstone of the shrunken city phenomenon of the US.  Referred to by artist Camilo Jose Vergara and 'American Acropolis', the idea of preserving the 'ruins' as a tourist attraction, much like the Greeks, leads Herron discusses a similar relationship to the Roman ruins,  After commenting on the disinterest  by locals and the seeming paradox of outsiders being more fascinated by the city than those who occupy it, he turns this around as asks a powerful question:  

"who understands better what the place really means: the person who tries to remember it, or the one who lets it go?"

This becomes a fundamental dilemma surrounding a place that will never return to it's original state - but is not dead by any means.  I think of the lively energy of the contemporary city that I visited in the Fall, surrounding the 1000+ year old ruins of Rome and see a parallel in the larger lesson - that things always change, but the way we engage in that change, and in the sense of Detroit, the deterioration, tells much about us as a society.  As mentioned, the concept of what happens in Detroit isn't special per se, but for the fact that it is happening within a crumbling environment.  Thus as art, mentions Herron:  "things once tragic become beautiful — images for artistic appreciation — with the ravages of daily life being redeemed by photographic dignity."

I share the same fascination with the City of Detroit in images and through my visit and rumination since 2007 - and it puts me in the camp of the gawkers and outsiders, at least to the point where I peruse and am fascinated, but don't buy, the coffee table 'ruin porn' books like Detroit Dissassembled, and the newer The Ruins of Detroit (with an introduction by Thomas Segrue).  What is quoted by Herron from John Berger as 'mystification', where we distance ourselves from the actual phenomena at work - good and bad - and giving them a remoteness by making things art.

:: image via The Ruins of Detroit

The statements made by the photographs, particular referencing those in The Ruins, do not capture the essential rise and fall of Detroit, but seem to bask in the 'dead zone' shivering aesthetic of destruction, which leads Herron to posit:  "Perhaps the cliché-propagating idiom of ruin porn is so powerful that it simply takes over, duping otherwise intelligent artists into a tedious banality that not even the volume's pretentious scale and price can conceal."

So i know I shouldn't like the ruin-porn, but standing in the midst of it, in Detroit, is to experience first-hand the reality.  Perhaps it is somewhat less sanitized and 'framed' as in the photography, but the fact of it's very reality and other-worldly sense that this couldn't be happening, is part of what I think the art is trying to capture.  For me, it was summed up in the spectacle of the Michigan Central Station, which was one of the first massive ruins we encountered, and I still have a vivid memory of the experience (and no photos - i was literally absorbing and didn't think about taking a photo, which is rare).

:: image via Time

It's reductive, and it limits the stories behind the former beauty, and the nasty racial discrimination that was at work in the creation of something like the large Hudson's store on Woodward Avenue, captured in this image that shows the cutaway of the various departments inside the hive of mid-century activity which was vital to the "making of shoppers, like the making of citizens, was an essential function of both store and city, especially the city of middle-class arrivals made possible by the flourishing of modern industry".  This idealistic experience is another cultural ruin that no longer exists (as it was demolished by changes in commerce) - much like the building in which it used to happen.

:: image via Design Observer

The same fates, to a differing degree, befell many sites, like Hudsons, but the overlay of the old (ruin) and the new become something similar to Rome - a cafe right outside the Pantheon, or a gelato stand at the Colosseum... In Detroit, the Michigan Theater, for instance, was an architectural gem from the 1920s, which in the words of Herron was somewhat rudely transformed into a parking garage... "The old Michigan Theater is one of the most suggestive sights in the whole city of Detroit: neither an abandoned ruin nor a precious, restored fetish, but a working statement about making do with the past. The tenants of the offices adjacent to the theater threatened to move out unless they were provided with secure parking, so that’s what the landlord improvised out of the otherwise useless auditorium. And that is the genius of the place."

:: image via Design Observer

 As mentioned, the mechanism is based on the 'mystification', but is really what Herron calls 'site-specific forgetting' in which those people who occupy the city are intertwined within the processes of destruction - and it is not a binary question of one or the other side of a coin. 
"The ruin of urban space becomes a participatory drama: memory versus forgetting, the city dead or the city alive. The trick is seeing both at once, and comprehending them as equally true and mutually implicated."

Shrinking Cities - Readings

A class this term at Portland State involves a reading and conference on 'Shrinking Cities'. Led by professor Ellen Bassett, a group of a dozen students from PhD and Masters in Urban Studies and Urban and Regional Planning reading and discussing four diverse texts, along with a range of other writings on the subject. 

  :: Detroit Race Riots - 1967 -  image via Brittanica

Our first book is "The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit" by Thomas Segrue.  Originally published in 1996, this book has won a number of awards for history, and continues to provide an overview of the connections between racial and economic inequality as played out in the post-WWII urban landscape of Detroit.

Other books include Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City by Colin Gordon, Camden After the Fall: Decline and Renewal in a Post-Industrial City by Howard Gillette, Jr. and Small, Gritty and Green: The Promise of America's Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World by Catherine Tumber.

This is By no means a comprehensive overview of the subject, but the aim of the group is to discuss the social, economic, political, and spatial phenomena at work in a number of US Shrinking Cities, to better understand this issue.  Stay tuned for some thoughts over coming weeks, and if you have suggested readings to include, that would be very welcome.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Science of Pedestrian Movements

 An interesting article from the Economist on 'The Wisdom of Crowds' echoes much of the seminal research of William Whyte (City), Edward T. Hall (The Hidden Dimension), and others that have closely studied the behavior of pedestrians and other users of public spaces. The interplay of cultural habits that tells us to step right or left to avoid collisions on a busy street can lead to a certain inherent poetic 'choreography' when viewed. There are different theories on how these actions are coordinated, and the article focuses on new scientific methods for predicting and studying pedestrian movements. 

:: image via The Economist
 As Jane Jacobs mentioned in The Death and Life of Great American Cities this urban realm is likened to a ballet:
"It is a complex order. Its essence is intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance — not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any once place is always replete with new improvisations.”
It was interesting, in this context, to remember my recent travels to Europe, namely London, where traffic on the roads occupies the left lane, but as mentioned in the article, there is not a correlation between this and pedestrian movement. While they mention that London follows pedestrians on the right, that is an oversimplification, as it doesn't necessarily follow, at least in my experience. Many people follow the walking to the left, which is culturally learned in the UK, mirroring the driving, but the influx on many non-locals that have their own rules often leads this to degenerate into chaos. Thus there is not a typical rule of thumb - and you are therefore required to be much more actively engaged in the surroundings to navigate successfully.

London Pavement Parkings - (image by Jason King)
As mentioned in the originally referenced article, culture is less important in this process as is habit and repetition: "Mehdi Moussaid of the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, this is a behaviour brought about by probabilities. If two opposing people guess each other’s intentions correctly, each moving to one side and allowing the other past, then they are likely to choose to move the same way the next time they need to avoid a collision. The probability of a successful manoeuvre increases as more and more people adopt a bias in one direction, until the tendency sticks. Whether it’s right or left does not matter; what does is that it is the unspoken will of the majority."

The importance of this sort of study (sorry thought, as mentioned, this not a 'youngish field') has long been known in urban realms. It is being rediscovered by other sciences and disciplines (seems like everyone wants to study the city now!) such as physics, who are using modeling in the context of crowd safety, particularly in a more multi-cultural world, to better understand what has long been studied the old-fashioned way - by watching people in person or through video.

While thinking of people in similar terms of particles may be helpful, as people are governed by many rules - there is somewhat of a wildcard element in human behavoir as people act as "particles with a 'will'", doing sometimes unpredictable things and non-linear behaviors. The issues with modeling are obvious, when you take into account the sheer number of variables at play even in the most simple pedestrian-to-pedestrian interaction. The article mentions this in the context of a study between Indian and German pedestrians, where the direction is also complicated by cultural spatial rules as well:
"Trying to capture every element of pedestrian movement in an equation is horribly complex, however. One problem is allowing for cultural biases, such as whether people step to the left or the right, or their willingness to get close to fellow pedestrians. Trying to capture every element of pedestrian movement in an equation is horribly complex, however. One problem is allowing for cultural biases, such as whether people step to the left or the right, or their willingness to get close to fellow pedestrians. An experiment in 2009 tested the walking speeds of Germans and Indians by getting volunteers in each country to walk in single file around an elliptical, makeshift corridor of ropes and chairs. At low densities the speeds of each nationality are similar; but once the numbers increase, Indians walk faster than Germans. This won’t be news to anyone familiar with Munich and Mumbai, but Indians are just less bothered about bumping into other people."
It would be interesting to do a lit review of cultural spatial studies, building on the work of Hall, to see if these have been updated, and if we have learned anything new in the past 20 years, since The Hidden Dimension was published in 1990. The world has changed dramatically and is much more global, thus it makes sense that even this sort of revolutionary study, while still somewhat applicable, will have changed due to a changed world. This goes as well to updating Whyte's classic video studies of public spaces (i.e. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces), which are great but extremely dated and not reflective of a much more culturally rich society. A screen shot of one of the videos shows a different environment than what exists even 20 to 30 years later. This doesn't mean his data are any less relevant, but that we must continue to engage in further study to learn more.

A research agenda that looks at these phenomena, how we use spaces, how we react and incorporate multiple cultural viewpoints, and more is vital to our continual understanding of proxemics, pedestrian movement, crowd dynamics, and more. This can be done by incorporation of more scientific modeling of typically non-urban disciplines, such as the complex modeling processes in physics. It is, to me, much more interesting to envision this study through updates of the seminal urban research studies, which would be a worthy endeavor in our ever globalizing world and our constantly diversifying cities.

This post originally appeared on THINK.urban on January 05, 2012.

Anne Whiston Spirn Lecture in Portland

An upcoming lecture by Anne Whiston Spirn entitled Restoring an Urban Watershed: Ecology, Equity, and Design will be happening on Monday, January 23rd, from Noon to 1pm at the Portland Building, 1120 SW Fifth Avenue - Second Floor, Room C.  The brownbag is free and open to all.  Here's a synopsis.

The West Philadelphia Landscape Project is a landmark of urban design, watershed management, environmental and design education, and community engagement. Anne Whiston Spirn, who has directed the project for 25 years, will describe the story of the restoration of the Mill Creek watershed as a model for how to unite ecology, design, and community engagement to address social and environmental problems in low-income communities. Anne will also discuss her book, Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange's Photographs and Reports from the Field.
Anne Whiston Spirn is an award-winning author and distinguished landscape architect, photographer, teacher, and scholar whose work is devoted to promoting life-sustaining communities.  

Sponsored by:  
Urban Greenspaces Institute
Audubon Society of Portland
Portland Bureau of Environmental Services
Portland Office of Healthy Working Rivers.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Soundtrack for Spaces - Next Generation

I have discussed the concept  previous posts on the 'Soundtrack for Spaces', where I was making connections between physical locations in the landscape and the potential to imbue place with appropriate musical accompaniment.  These varied, but included looking at the Fleet Foxes as driving music in the Columbia River Gorge, the video customization for Arcade Fire's 'The Wilderness Downtown', and another video stitched together from Google Street View clips.

The ideas at the time were somewhat nascent, and sort of hinted at the concept of adaptable, location-specific music responsive to place.  This was reinforced by reading one of William Gibson's latest novels called 'Spook Country', which discusses the concept of 'locative media' within the storyline, which means media that is delivered "directly to the user of a mobile device dependent upon their location."  Another thread was a tale of games of location-specific 'Urban Pacman' taking place in Portland - using the game-friendly layout of Ladd's Addition as a container. 

:: image via Robot Mutant

An article from a few weeks back in the NY Times - "Central Park, the Soundtrack" takes this idea to an entirely new level.  Bluebrain, a musical duo have created.  The first of the series looked at the National Mall, and the second, of these 'locational' music pieces, 'Listen to the Light' provides an experiential soundtrack for Central Park.  From the Times article:

"As you walk, new musical themes hit you every 20 or 30 steps, as if they were emanating from statues, playgrounds, open spaces and landmarks... The themes layer over one another, growing in volume as you approach certain points on the map and fading out as you move away. It’s a musical Venn diagram placed over the landscape, and at any time you might have two dozen tracks playing in your ears, all meshing and colliding in surprising ways. The path you take determines what you hear, and the biggest problem with what the composers call a “location-aware album” is that you may get blisters on your feet trying to hear it all."
The Venn diagram looks something like this, and the tracks reference GPS coordinates.  A diagram or map of the overlay of different musical phrases, from the Bluebrain site:
You can get a taste for the 'classical' inspired work as well.

Central Park (Listen to the Light) - A New Location Aware Album by BLUEBRAIN from BLUEBRAIN on Vimeo.

Definitely check out the slightly longer 'making of' video for "Listen to the Light" for more detail on the technical aspects.  It is somewhat difficult to assess whether the piece is a success or not, divorced from context, but that might be the point.  For those of us who have a constant soundtrack going through our head - which hits shuffle based on a word on a street sign or a sight of a sunset, it does lead one to think that there many possibilities that we are just scratching the surface.

Another interesting example mentioned in the article was GPS Beatmap: Planet as Control Surface, which uses location-specific positioning to mash-up musical phrases based on where you are. Check out a video of this in action here:

GPS Beatmap from Jesse Stiles on Vimeo.

It's pretty exciting, even in these simple formats - and it isn't difficult to envision new radio stations that are location-driven, where users can select a genre, plug in headphones, and participate in an immersive, place-based experience customized to their own particular 

For more, check out ASLA's The Dirt post on Bluebrain here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Siftings: 01.11.12

"“All great art is born of the metropolis.” - Ezra Pound

 :: image via NY Times

A great little snapshot on urban serendipity from the NY Times that looks at the accidental 'curation' of spaces that the urban environment yields, such as the framed view from the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge.  Perhaps the uniformity of the grid is part of the magic, as the NYT also talks about the 200th Anniversary of the Manhattan Grid, along with the exhibition at the Museum of the City.  And speaking of paving here in Portland, local group Depave got some nice coverage on OPB for their continued work on rolling back pavement in the city.  As for making money on the urban agriculture and gardens - a study in Vancouver, BC finds that it is still a challenge to make a living wage farming, even in the city.  Perhaps we can lobby for urban farm subsidies?

:: image via Museum of the City

Nate Berg at the Atlantic Cities sums up Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne's year-long project to explore his city through its literature, and some of his conclusions on where we stand.  As quoted in the Atlantic article:
"“What the books have suggested to me,” Hawthorne argues, “is that we really don’t have – and need – a new framework for understanding the city at this moment in its history as it undergoes this transition.”
A review of his most recent reading of 'Los Angeles Plaza: Sacred and Contested Space' can be found here - which is an interested exploration of the role of space, and the role of social status, on the way we interpret urban histories.  Related, and probably not big news, but people are less enamored with the suburbs, and are re-urbanizing, in this case, Philadelphia along with living in more dense types of housing. 

:: image via

More on Occupy, with the recent flurry of Global and US occupations bringing into question the 'limits' of how public spaces are.  As mentioned in the story:
"The Occupy Wall Street movement showed there are often limits to how long one can stay in the town square of a “free” state to express one’s opinion. Various kinds of force were used to get people out of New York’s Zuccotti Park."
An interesting article from The Dirt on the $50 million!!!!! dollars of planning documents and designs for the Orange County Great Park, which has failed to yield much in terms of output.  It brings into question the time-scale on these massive endeavors, and how much needs to happen to create a 'park' in a traditional sense to satisfy some - while allowing space (and budgets) to evolve over decades.

:: image via The Dirt

Finally, a new competition from the Land Art Generator Initiative asks how renewable energy can be beautiful with a planned site at the Freshkills Park - which has a similar time-scale to the Great Park above.  And Freshkills may be an apt model for Mexico City, who is planning to close their massive landfill... And for the squeamish, a new report from the National Research Council changes the tune of reclaimed wastewater (aka toilet to tap) from a 'option of last resort' to a viable strategy that poses no more health risks than other sources.  Drink up!