What City Shall We Build?

A very interesting post by Rob Holmes of Mammoth about the proper place of urbanism:
The master planner — whether a new urbanist, a landscape urbanist, or modernist — refuses to confront the exigencies of the city, both good and bad, preferring to imagine an idealized condition (which, when constructed, is much more likely to trend towards dystopia than utopia).
Although he doesn't use the words exactly, Holmes is calling for a kind of humility in urban planning that is as yet lacking, even (or especially) in the utopian aspirations of our new urbanist saviors.

Take, for example, the glut of mixed retail/residential complexes just west of downtown Los Angeles. The idea is noble but most of the buildings are far from inspired. And 1100 Wilshire, perhaps the most interesting looking of all the new construction in that area, is the least urbanist--the building literally sits upon a pedastal (the parking garage) surveying the city, at once a sculpture and an observation tower. The tag line for their new-age-easy-listening-electronica-soaked website is "Live Above LA."

It's true that we need to rethink the city--a Los Angeles full of 1100 Wilshires divorced from the world but dependent upon its resources is not a pretty vision of the future--but this does not mean that in order to save Los Angeles we must destroy it. Too often, what is considered to be "wrong" with Los Angeles is also what is wonderful about it. For instance, low density creates pockets of affordability unthinkable in Amsterdam or Manhattan. This affordability, in turn, creates the cheap rents, large spaces and large amounts of free time that lets artists take risks. At the same time, if the megalopolis continues to widen its gyre at this rate, the center cannot hold.

Again I am reminded of MOS' plans for turning strip malls into renewable energy cells. Likewise, Holmes' entreaty to use "tactical insertions aimed at altering the city through the modification of flows of capital, people, goods, services, water, etc." seems like an inspired idea. For in the end, cities are invited, not invented.

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