The Architectural Future Is Terrible | The Awl

Earlier today…

These concerns inspired the dream of the arcology, which gripped SF writers for decades. A self-sustaining city-state is the simplest way to deal with generation ships, post-apocalyptic societies, climate change and the future of overpopulation, after all. And Mussolini even kind of tried it, with the planned city EUR, so it must be a good idea.

Paolo Soleri gets credit for the term. Since 1970, the architect has been building Arcosanti, which is really more an “experimental town” (an “urban laboratory” in their words) than an arcology. If you’re ever driving from Flagstaff to Phoenix, then 1. definitely stab yourself for doing that and 2. check it out!

Magazines like Wired love to identify COMING-SOON arcologies that are under construction. Or “under construction.” These are all Very Shareable Photogenic Things that the Internet loves. How are all these projects doing? Turns out: not very well. LET’S LOOK TOGETHER.

The Architectural Future Is Terrible | The Awl

Mayor Daley’s Fence Inspectors haven’t discovered this alley yet

Probably because the lot is owned by the Hyatt, and the Pritzker family can’t afford to clean up their property.

Developed in SwankoLab for iPhone using Jerry’s Developer and Larry’s Developer

After issuing only one fine for a landscape ordinance violation from 2005 until 2008, the city issued 51 in 2009, according to records from the Department of Administrative Hearings. The city meted out $29,000 in fines to businesses last year for landscape ordinance violations. Ninety percent of the violations cited a lack of the required fencing.

Deadlines for putting up fencing were phased in by area. Other parts of the ordinance require trees, hedges and screening of stored trash.

This alley has been this decrepit for several years, but I think the Hyatt purchased the lot in 2006 or 2007, and obviously they have higher priorities than urban beautification.

Turning a blind eye part two
Turning a blind eye, part two.
Another view of the fence and little shack of a lot owned by the Hyatt. Small businesses get fined by the City for eyesores like this; big corporations, not so much.

Houston versus Chicago redux

Apparently, The Economist interviewed some Social Systems Architect and Houston booster by the name of Tory Gattis who claimed that Houston’s metropolitan area would soon surpass Chicago’s metropolitan area, but Mr. Gattis goofed, and really meant to say Philly. Cecil Adams corrects him in his usual manner:

Crowne Plaza at Night

My aim here isn’t to run down Houston (well, not my main aim), but simply to point out that it’s in a different stage of development from Chicago. Chicago was a boom town a hundred years ago; Houston is a boom town now. Like a lot of other Sunbelt cities, Houston is currently experiencing double-digit population growth; metropolitan Chicago, like many more established urban areas, is growing at single-digit rates. That’s not a problem; it’s what you’d expect. The real issue in Chicago and other older urban areas in the century just past was whether the central city would be able to stabilize once the fat years ended. For a long time in Chicago that was in doubt — between 1950 and 1990 the city proper lost almost a quarter of its population. After that things leveled off. Although some parts of town continued to decline, others boomed, downtown in particular — its population increased almost 40 percent between 1970 and 2000 and is now around 165,000, larger than any other Illinois city except Aurora. So I wouldn’t worry too much about Chicago’s lack of dynamism.

The more interesting question now is how well Chicago, Houston, and other U.S. cities are preparing for the future, when life is going to be way different due to rising energy costs. This is a vast topic I won’t attempt to explore now; I’ll just say you’re probably going to have an easier time of it in Chicago — at least in the city proper. That’s because the central city is becoming more densely built up, and thus supports better (if still inadequate) public transit. Chicago’s density as of 2000 was about 13,000 per square mile, and many neighborhoods are much higher — the Near North Side is approaching 50,000 per square mile. Houston’s density in contrast is about 4,400 per square mile. When gas prices were low that didn’t matter much (although traffic congestion in Houston is notoriously bad). But prices have increased sharply and will rise more due to growing worldwide demand once the economy recovers. Largely for that reason, U.S. transit usage in 2008 rose to its highest level in 52 years, while driving declined. Some cities are better equipped to handle this shift than others. However dismal you may think CTA service is, transit in Houston is worse. The city is belatedly attempting to rectify matters by building light-rail lines, but it’s so spread out there are limits to what can be done. Suburban Chicago is also thinly populated and faces a similar dilemma. Infill housing construction in the city of Chicago, on the other hand, has become a growth industry — city residential building permits accounted for just 7 percent of the metro total in 1990-1995 but 40 percent in 2007. Greater density will make it easier (not easy) to improve Chicago transit, which Lord knows could use it. Houston? Good luck.

[Click to continue reading Straight Dope Chicago: Will Houston soon make Chicago the fourth city?]

I’ve never resided in Houston, but I have spent enough time there over the years to know that it would never1 be on my list of top 1000 cities to live in. Chicago has its problems and weaknesses, but they are piddling compared to the weaknesses of Houston.

From Mr. Gattis’s blog:

Housing repossessions are still very rare; the state budget is still in surplus even as California and New York teeter on the edge of bankruptcy. Unlike those fellow states with large populations, Texas levies no personal income tax, and with almost unlimited space on which to build, its houses are big and affordable.

All this has brought people flooding in and made Texas America’s fastest-growing state. Net domestic inflows have been running at around 150,000 people in recent years, whereas California and New York have seen net outflows. Next year’s national census is expected to show that flourishing Houston has replaced struggling Chicago as America’s third city (an unfortunate error, as we are expected pass the Philadelphia metro in 2010, but it could be decades before we pass Chicago as either a city or metrosee here). Of the ten largest cities in America, three are in Texas.

[Click to continue reading Houston Strategies: The Economist special report on Texas and TX vs. CA]

What More Can I Say

Again, fast growth is not always a plus2, and living in a city where one can walk or take public transit to places is infinitely better than having to drive a car3 everywhere.

  1. at least in its current state []
  2. just ask former Wall Street darlings like Enron and Global Crossing []
  3. and get stuck in traffic []

Sidewalks are Symbols

dying embers of the sun
[full version on black is here]

Personally, I only feel at home when I’m living in a neighborhood that has sidewalks. Other than when I lived out in the boonies of Ontario, most of my life I’ve been lucky enough to live in urban environments, and I’m happy with that choice. The suburbs are wastelands. Enrique Peñalosa agrees with me:

Deborah Solomon – Q: As a former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, who won wide praise for making the city a model of enlightened planning, you have lately been hired by officials intent on building world-class cities, especially in Asia and the developing world. What is the first thing you tell them?

ENRIQUE PEÑALOSA: In developing-world cities, the majority of people don’t have cars, so I will say, when you construct a good sidewalk, you are constructing democracy. A sidewalk is a symbol of equality.

Q: I wouldn’t think that sidewalks are a top priority in developing countries.

The last priority. Because the priority is to make highways and roads. We are designing cities for cars, cars, cars, cars, cars. Not for people. Cars are a very recent invention. The 20th century was a horrible detour in the evolution of the human habitat. We were building much more for cars’ mobility than children’s happiness.

Q: Even in countries where most people can’t afford to own cars?/

The upper-income people in developing countries never walk. They see the city as a threatening space, and they can go for months without walking one block.

Q: Isn’t that true here in the United States as well?

Not in Manhattan, but there are many suburbs where there are no sidewalks, which is a very bad sign of a lack of respect for human dignity. People don’t even question it. It’s the same as it was in pre-revolutionary France. People thought society was normal, just as today people think it is normal that the Long Island Sound waterfront should be private.

[From Questions for Enrique Peñalosa – Man With a Plan – Questions for Enrique Peñalosa – Mayors – Bogotá, Colombia –]

Alleys and sidewalks, the yin and yang of urban life. [More alleyways]