James S. Russell's blog

James S. Russell is the architecture critic for Bloomberg News.

Island Urbanism: Teasing Out the Unique

Whether kissed by trade winds in Hawaii, home to dozens of unique cultures in the Caribbean, or scoured by Nor’easter’s off the coast of Maine, islands are magnetic to burnt-out urbanites but tend to be tough places for natives.

I was a guest not long ago of Fernando Menis, an architect who has built an international reputation from Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. It’s not easy to be true to a unique place – as he aspires to be – when what works locally doesn’t always “translate” in the globalized and image-driven world of architecture.

City of the Future: Houston?

Thanks to Planetizen, I found “Opportunity Urbanism,” a report that posits Houston as “an emerging paradigm for the 21st century.” (There's a related op-ed here.) The report, regrettably, is a manifesto as empty as the title -- which Kotkin clearly hopes will become a catchphrase. So why is it important?

Madrid’s Alternate Suburban Universe

Houston or Holland? The rapidly growing suburbs of Madrid uncomfortably (and instructively) amalgamate some of both. I was lucky to receive a recent tour from David Cohn, a long-time colleague and 20-year resident of Madrid; Sylvia Perea, a post-doctoral student and, until recently, an editor at the journal Arquitectura Viva, and Emilio Ontiveros, a young architect of the local Research Group on Social Housing.

Hipness a Heavy Hitter in Philly's NoLI

The corner café on North Second Street in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia aspires to Euro-style café culture though it lines a little-trafficked street of row houses showing every year of their century and a half of existence, and faces a vast empty, chain-linked block where a brewery once stood.

Who Pays for the Subprime Lender Meltdown?

Scrambling to grab that elusive “American Dream” of homeownership, millions plunged into the subprime mortgage market to build wealth through appreciation (if not speculation). Pundits cheered as the ownership rate crept up, lauding the pluck of aspirational minority and immigrant families.

There’s a reason it is called subprime, though. Lenders offered a smorgasborg of loan “products,” but the bottom line was that they are all very costly for the borrower – often entailing adjustable-rate surprises in the 30 percent or higher range.

The End of People Power Planning?

Thousands of New Orleanians have participated in planning their post-Katrina future – likely more than in any single American city-planning effort, ever. Unfortunately, the New Orleans experience definitively demonstrates the limits of orthodox community-focused planning, the kind that has been neighborhood-based and consensus-driven.