Planning for Spontaneity

According to this opinion piece, planners must ease up on "big bang" planning--an approach centered around sweeping changes with fixed ideas of what the outcome must look like.

"But I wonder, why don't we look at our own cities with the same open eyes as we look at places like Mumbai or Medellín; searching not for failure and horror, but for potential? Is the unplanned city only valid if it's dense and dirty? Why don't we see our cities as legitimate landscapes from which we can build our future?

"The closest we seem to get to that possibility is in the form of ideas that might be called Big Bang Lite – where the ideal is reformation rather than complete reconstruction. In the case of suburbia the need for reform is justified by the need for sustainability. Fair enough. Yet the impression is that sustainability is being used as an excuse to invoke the ideals of Big Bang urbanism - the final picture is pre-determined, comprehensive, inflexible. When I see projects of this type, whether they are set out by New Urbanists hoping to bring urban densities to the suburbs, or whether they are offered up by those brave few who concede suburbia may be a creation of people who actually LIKE where they live, I cannot help but feel we are missing two important points.

First of all, that sustainability does not require density."

"The second point requires a little populist faith, but starts with the assumption that our cities are reflections of the people who live in them."

Full Story: Archinect Op-Ed: Big Bangs, Slums, and Suburbia



Form determines function

One line in this article makes the whole thing extremely suspect: "It seems likely that what is really important is not so much the actual form of our cities as how we live in them." Perhaps the author has missed out on reading many good studies over the past several years, but it's been shown pretty convincingly that form determines how we live in cities. Isolated, low-density, single-use suburbs require you to drive, so you drive. Higher density, walkable, transit-oriented mixed use areas require less travel, and much of the travel that is required can easily and efficiently occur on foot or by transit thanks to the neighbourhood layout. So guess what? People travel less, and when they do travel, they often travel on foot or by transit.

This is not to say that I don't agree with some of the things he says. As one recent Planetizen article stated, planning and developing tract-by-tract rather than building-by-building or parcel-by-parcel creates too rigid and artificial of a city. Perhaps the solution is designating and planning our main multi-use corridors and high-density nodes, and then letting piecemeal development take place within that context.

Form Based Codes

Good points. I would just add that, perhaps another solution is to use form based codes on the main corridors and high-density nodes. Use codes that require the general density and form that we want there, but that leave room for variety in the piecemeal development that follows.

Charles Siegel

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