Josh Stephens's blog

How Smart Are 'Intelligent Cities'?

Most trends are fleeting, some of them mercifully so. Some last no longer than a Lady Gaga wardrobe change. But urbanism is still, by and large, a leisurely exercise, so it's no wonder that planners still embrace fashions on a nearly generational basis. It often takes that long just to see if something works. Or not. 

So, while Gaga would inspire us to attach telephones to our heads and light our bustiers on fire, planners who ascribe to the principles of smart growth are still rhetorically swaddling cities in the urban equivalent of flannel. For better or worse, this age may finally be coming to a close. Don't cry, Monster.

ULI's Odd Notion Of 'Global Excellence'

I write this blog from the concrete cradle of Nokia Plaza, an urban space so wondrous that the global arm of the Urban Land Institute has bestowed upon it one of five “2010 Global Awards for Excellence." In winning such a distinguished award, you’d think that developer AEG would have invited the Laker Girls and be pouring Champagne for an ebullient crowd here in one of the world’s great public spaces. Except they’re not. In fact, I’m pretty much alone.

I don’t suppose the pigeons are carrying Cristal underwing?

Campaign Fundraising Holds City Hostage

I wasn't even in Los Angeles yesterday, and for once I'm glad. Everything from my Facebook feed to the morning headlines told me that traffic on the Westside yesterday afternoon was so awful that only a parade of obscenities accompanied by words like "cluster" and "show" would have sufficed to describe it. Hardened locals were driven nearly to tears behind the wheels of their unmoving cars.  

The president was in town.

Christmastime in the City

Even more so than usual, few people will be receiving buildings as gifts this season.  They're too expensive, you can’t return them, and, notwithstanding Barbie’s Dream House, they probably won't fit under your tree.  But still, this Yuletide affords ample opportunity to take stock of the works that have arisen in this most momentous of decades. 

Mixing It Up at RailVolution

BOSTON -- If you've ever studied the bar menu at Trader Vic's then you know about such wonders as Tropical Passion, Moku Nani, and the Potted Parrot. Each is made of a unique but secret blend of dark rum, light rum, spiced rum, tropical juices, and of course "subtle flavorings."  But by the time you'd realize that the only real difference is the glass they come in, you're too probably drunk to notice--or care. 

Minus the palm fronds, the RailVolution conference is much the same.  

Voices In The (Urban) Wilderness

Anyone who has picked up a greeting card, coffee mug, or calendar in the past 100 years or so can recognize the sentiments of any number of great American environmentalists: Whitman and his yawp, Thoreau and his deliberateness, Frost and his serene decisiveness. We know the exhortations of Carson, Leopold, Emerson, and Abbey. John Muir, John McPhee, and Barry Lopez are known to have taken a few strolls through the chestnuts. 

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