Category: Blog
| May 16, 2010 | 8:43 am | Introductions | Comments closed

Hello, I am Ryan Baxter. I am a sophomore in             
the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College and
I expect to graduate in 2012. I am heavily
considering declaring an Urban Studies major, as I
thoroughly enjoy learning about cities and their
I have lived in New York City my entire life and
believe it is the greatest place on Earth. I have
attended Hunter for the last sixteen years;
beginning my formal schooling in Hunter College
Elementary School’s former nursery school. I
graduated from Hunter College High School in 2008.
I took Urban Studies 101 with Professor Larson.
I have also taken an honor seminar, with Professor
Marcotullio. In addition to your class, I am taking
Urban Studies 403.09: Changing The Face of the City
with Professor Larson and Urban Studies 102 with
Professor Moses.
I am still seeking my ideal vocation, however I
would like to build things, either on the engineering
or architectural level.

“Mumbai’s Shadow City”
| May 3, 2010 | 5:31 pm | 5/4/2010, Blog, Uncategorized | Comments closed

“Mumbai’s Shadow City,” by Mark Jacobson, tells the story of the largest slum in India, Dharavi, located in Mumbai. This slum serves as an example of urban planning in poor countries, and illustrates the problems that come along with it.

Dharavi is resident to one million people, who squeeze into an astonishingly dense area of 18,000 people per acre. It is also one of the most diverse places in India, due mostly to its history of being converted from a swamp for fishermen into a residential area. People from all around India  moved into the slum over time, making it full of regional and cultural differences. One of the biggest issues in this slum appears to be hygiene and access to resources, for many places are without plumbing and electricity. Additionally, the very low ratio of bathrooms to residents makes this slum both unhygienic and very public. Due to the lack of resources provided by the government, a “land mafia” has arisen in the slum, offering to provide the missing water and electricity to the residents who need them. This clearly illegal activity is the result of the government’s inability to provide the people with what they need; as a result, residents (both legal and illegal) are at the whims of these mafia bosses for their basic necessities.

Despite obvious density and resource problems, Dharavi has spirit and emotion, and retains a deep connection to its residents. This is due to its long history and the presence of several generations who have all grown up in the same town, many times in the same house. For example, the potters, known as the Kumbhar, have garnished respect from all of Dharavi’s residents over time, and have established themselves as a cultural phenomenon of the region. Other dwellers have given character to the slum through “recycling” efforts; i.e. melting down materials, such as plastics, found in garbage for a variety of other purposes. The region is generally well-known for its spirituality, in addition to its geography, and has come to be one of the most important areas for low-income residents in India.

Dharavi is important from an urban planning perspective because it presents a problem between the desires of the government and the will of the people. Recently, the Indian government has made plans to destroy all of the current “informal housing” in the slum and erect new high-rise apartments that would allow all residents to have 225 square feet, in addition to a private bathroom. In addition to this government housing, private companies will be allowed in to build more luxurious housing for those who can afford it. The theory behind these changes in Dharavi is that India cannot become the world economic power it is seemingly destined for if at the center of its financial capital, Mumbai, is a slum with a million residents. It is not only an eyesore, says the government, but an inhibitor to the rise of India as a superpower. Additionally, Dharavi seems like a good place for developments because of its geography – it is located in the center of Mumbai, adjacent to two rail lines, and is very clsoe to the  BKC, a “global corporate enclave.” Essentially, the government is trying to create a middle class in this currently low-class region. In the past, India has neglected to create middle-income housing, and restricted its residents to upper-class and lower-class housing. Therefore, as many of the successful residents are economically above living in a slum, middle-income housing can foster a middle class in Mumbai, where it is desperately needed.

While these plans are seemingly wise for an area overridden by hygiene and crowding problems, many of its residents are against it for economic and emotional reasons. For example, in the article, we are introduced to Amit Singh, a resident of Rajendra Prasad Chawl. Amit is against the plans for redeveloping Dharavi, mostly because his family has benefited from its conditions – they own a 400 square foot home (larger than the home he would get under the new plans), and run a business from it that earns them over 1,000 rupees a month. The family has no desire to change their “informal housing” situation, and no economic incentive either. Others, such as Tank Ranchhod Savdas, believe that Dharavi in its current state is actually more American (and, therefore, better in the eyes of many Indians) than it would be if reconstructed. Dharavi has been extremely good to his family, allowing them to own a 3,000 square foot home and a bustling pottery business/workshop. His experience stresses that hard work and success can, in fact, lead to a better lifestyle, even in the slums of Mumbai. Other people are against the project for the simple reason that Dharavi has been their home for so long. It is filled with history and culture, and makes up a big part of who the people are. Some, like the potters, even believe that it is their land, not the government’s to do with it what it wants. Although the government of India has denied these claims to ownership, the example emphasizes the degree to which the people are connected to their home and workplace.

Other concerns about the project to rebuild Dharavi stem from negligent management of previously rebuilt parts of India. Many places that have undergone such procedures leave with nothing but dilapidated buildings, many times sans electricity and water, and hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Even if the residents move back into their homes, the government’s incompetence forces them to go back to their “land mafia” for the necessities they need, but are once again without. The planner of the current project in Dharavi, Mr. Mehta, may also be seen as incapable or naive. For example, when asked where people would park when coming to a cricket game in what will be a 120,000-person stadium, Mehta was stumped. It seems this management is the kind that dreams big, but may not have its feet on the ground concerning the realities of the space. The disconnect between the Americanized Mehta and the rest of the Dharavi community has also led to a distrust of the man. How can someone unrelated to an urban space tell its residents what is good for them? The lack of connection Mehta has with Dharavi leaves him unable to empathize with its residents, perhaps. He may never know what it feels like to lose a home that encompasses so many people and businesses, and that has been around for so many generations. It is this sticking point that makes Dharavi special, and irreplaceable in the eyes of many people.

The example of urban planning in poor countries set by Dharavi highlights what is sure to be a problem in any part of the world – the fight between the government and its vision, and the will of the people. Countries often times seek to improve certain areas without ever thinking what it might be doing to the community at large. This can be witnessed here in New York, where the debate on Harlem gentrification is a hot one. People will always feel close to their homes, and be hesitant to make such drastic changes. However, it is important to also consider the manner in which these changes are made. For a place like Dharavi, where hundreds of thousands of people will be moved into likely inefficient and incomplete homes, change can be harder. The government’s reputation is bad concerning this policy, and certainly needs reorganization. However, for areas that have proper organization, thoughtfulness, and sensitivity, change may be welcome. Of course, this is much easier when the economic benefits of such change are easy to see. Even so,  an unwilling people make urban planning a much more difficult challenge. If home is where the heart is, the battle to redevelop home may prove to be longer and tougher than once thought.

Infrastructure and Transportation
| May 2, 2010 | 10:28 pm | 4/20/2010 | Comments closed

In this reading, Kenneth T. Jackson, Edward Soja, and Mike Davis all examine the concept and evolution of “the city” from three different angles. Jackson’s examination was more general and external. He took a look at how the introduction of the automobile revolutionized the city as a whole. He not only addressed how it affected the city in the most obvious way (transportation) but how its presence influenced infrastructure, business, and the entire human experience of what it meant to be in the city. Soja approached it by taking a particular model, Los Angeles, and delved deep into its layout and spoke of how it is essentially the prime example of the evolution that Jackson was talking about. Finally, Mike Davis took a look at a modern day Los Angeles from a social perspective rather than an infrastructural one.

Reading Jackson’s passage puts the grandness of the American automobile movement into some perspective. One gets the sense that the automobile embedded itself so deep into American culture that it became a component of a countryman’s identity. The entire country, including its hubs of industrialization and commerce, was catering to the automobile and if you owned one then that sense of freedom and power was far greater than any experience the world had previously had to offer. Not only was it single handedly responsible for the upstart of hundreds of new industries (i.e. drive in movies and restaurants, filling stations, motels, shopping centers, etc.) millions of new businesses, and trillions of new job opportunities, but it even affected how Americans shopped for the most treasured entity of almost any society, the home. The garage and driveway became a very important factors when it came to purchasing a house. As the importance of the automobile grew in the American psyche, the garage evolved. Until it finally became the sort of “house next door” structure that it is today. The concept that the car needed to be cared for and sheltered was behind the implementation of this structure.

Edward Soja’s piece on Los Angeles was another attempt to scale down something of great ginormity, the city of Los Angeles. Encompassing an area that fits within a circle that has a 60 mile circumference all linked together by a complex web of highways located in its center, LA is undoubtedly the automobile city. His section titled “Outerspaces” gives the reader a sense of the design he is trying to reveal. Essentially, the city is a whole lot of unrelated galaxies with a dowtown core of prisons, City Hall, office buildings, a library, a courthouse, a cathedral, an arts center, and a historical park. According to Soja even an article in the Los Angeles Times dubbed it “A City Divided”.

Soja’s piece actually goes hand in hand with the Mike Davis section because it seems to be the very layout and infrastructure that Soja is describing that directly correlates to the homogeous clusters that Davis speaks of. Cities built within a more confined space and whose various locations are easily accessible to a universal public transportation system (i.e. New York) make it slightly more difficult for such clusters to form. This stems from the fact that every area is easily accessible to the other and this makes way for diverse interaction. It also slightly alleviates the sense of paranoia that Davis talks about that accompanies this sort of isolation model. In theory, since everywhere is easily accessible to everybody, this takes away the concept of the “intruder”. This makes the sort of fortresses that can be found in upper class Los Angeles unnecessary. Also degradation and street crime in the inner city is theoretically more escapable if it is not isolated in dispersed little clusters.

Governors Island’s Future
| May 1, 2010 | 8:21 pm | 4/27/2010, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Situated in the savvy New York Times Center building was the all important “Arts Forum,”  featuring Leslie Koch, president of the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation, sponsored by the not-for-profit organization called Alliance for the Arts. This was a very informative presentation for the public and especially the constituents of Governors Island (such as resident artists, emerging artists, lovers of this vacation spot) because it delineated not only the progress Governors Island has seen in the last 4 years but also the master plan for the future.

The title of Ms. Koch’s presentation was “Governors Island: Creating New York City’s Newest Playground for the Arts,” unveiling the nature of activities and programs prominent on this island. From sculpture-making events to art galleries and music concerts to dance festivals, this island is a perfect venue for the arts. However, the developers of Governors Island refuse to stop there. In their master plan, they strive to include a greater variety of activities to attract New Yorkers. For example, this summer they are planning an event around unicycles and other carnival-related acts.

It was interesting to note that the audience of this event was an adult population in their late 20’s to their early 50’s who were either artists, education leaders, or ardent fans of this beautiful island. Following Ms. Koch’s presentation was a reception where I had the great opportunity to meet and chat with these creative constituents of Governors Island. A theater artist by occupation and a lovely person by nature, Mary Tiery has been involved with Governors Island since its early beginnings. She is one of the many talented residents who puts up theater plays for visitors of Governors Island and is in the process of securing her place again to present her play called, “Women at War.” Another lady I met was Jane Rubinsky, a writer and editor who worked for Julliard Performing Arts School for 15 years. Coincidently, her father was in the Coast Guard and so lived on Governors Island. She is now currently putting together a proposal for a newsletter for the New York Harbor School that is being shifted from Brooklyn to Governors Island. She is intrigued by the school’s focus both because of her dad’s nautical path, her own love of the water, and  her longtime involvement in education.

I am really glad I had the chance to attend this wonderful event because not only did I get to know what is potentially in store for the future of Governors Island but also got to meet amiable artists who are creative and friendly. I am really looking forward to visiting this island this summer since it’s really a diamond in a mine that the city of New York is finally polishing.

Planning in Poor Countries
| May 1, 2010 | 3:52 pm | 5/4/2010, Blog, Uncategorized | Comments closed

Dharavi is one of many slums in India and around the world. It is characterized by noise, crowds, poor infrastructure, lack of modern plumbing, and pollution. One of many, Dharavi has been chosen as a focus because it is in the geographic center of Mumbai, a rising financial center in India that one day hopes to rival the US and Chinese economies. If Mumbai hopes to achieve this, then it must eliminate its slums. The slums house a large number of the poor, which when compared to the few wealthy residents who live in certain luxurious neighborhoods, emphasizes the lack of the middle class in Mumbai. A robust middle class is necessary to fill the workforce of any financial powerhouse city. This lack of middle class is reminiscent to the situation in the South Bronx, where poor residents have no power to represent themselves and thus are forced to accept their living conditions. However, New York City is already a financial center, and there is no political urgency to redevelop the South Bronx.

Mark Jacobson, author of “Mumbai’s Shadow City” deems the redevelopment of Dharavi from slum to modernized city important because it will be an example for other slums’ redevelopments. Any issues that impede progress for redevelopment will usually be present in other slums. Furthermore, any remaining problems after development has occurred will most likely be present in the transformation of other slums worldwide.

It is not the most heavily populated slum, for certain Mexican and Pakistani inner cities rival Dharavi in size. According to Jacobson, Dharavi is the spiritual and psychological center of Mumbai, although he does not provide evidence to confirm his claim. However, planners have targeted Dharavi because of the existence of two railway lines that would facilitate the commutes of future working and business classes. Additionally, the Banda-Kurla Complex , a group of offices for globally-known companies, already exists in Dharavi. Their presence rationalizes converting Dharavi into a financial hub. Finally, throngs of poor people are not supposed to be found in the centers of cities.  Although, Jacobson did mention the exception of inner cities such as Harlem. The existing transportation and financial Complex give Dharavi an advantage because it is less work for planners to consider—provided that the resulting inner city can be easily built around this existing infrastructure.

One thing that Dharavi is unique for is all the diverse industries that are present: tannery, textile, and pottery. The issue of accommodating certain industries after redevelopment seems troublesome. The potters, known as Kumbhars, are opposed to upgrading the slum to a city. They believe the land belongs to them. However, the repeal of the Vacant Land Tenancy Act in 1974 has taken away the Kumbhars’ right to live on the land. Yet, their industry is slowing down as younger generations are becoming merchant seamen and computer specialists. Additionally, their pottery kilns are producing black smoke that is affecting nearby Sion Hospital. Pulmonary patients are adversely affected by the factories’ noxious fumes. In this case, it seems that preference to stay on location would be given to a public health center rather than industry, unless plans are made to relocate the hospital. This predicament illustrates another planning dilemna: when two facilites are conflicting with each other and cannot both stay, which one must move? The diminishing power of the pottery industry is certainly not a selling, persuasive point for the potters.

However, Kumbhars believe they are safe from the reaches of redevelopment. After the Kumbhars had a meeting with Mukesh Mehta, architect and city planner, each party left with a different impression. The Kumbhars did not seem devoted to cooperation because when asked if they would participate in a census, a beginning step to redevelopement, a representative responded “We’ll think about it.” However, Mehta was feeling upbeat after the encounter, confiding in Jacobson that the Kumbhars seemed willing to fill out the census. This lack of mutual understanding between residents and planners is another important factor in the redevelopment of slums.

Mehta’s plan to redevelop Dharavi has also been presented to the proper authorities and pre-approved. His plan consists of relocating 57,0000 families into high rises that have indoor plumbing and elevators. The private firm that will construct this building for free will then have permission to build high market value property on remaining land, which will yield a healthy profit. Approval of such plans would normally require 60 % of the residents’ votes. However, the government is in charge of this plan, and as such deems that the only way progress will be halted is if there are sufficient resident complaints during a 30-day complaint period. However, the number of complaints necessary was not specified. Bypassing typical protocol in order to develop, and therefore overlooking resident input to a certain degree, does not constitute a healthy development process. This holds true especially when there is resident opposition.

Residents of Dharavi are against opposition. They point to earlier attempts of redevelopment that have failed. For instance, one attempt left the willing residents in half-finished houses without a steady supply of water or electricity. Besides, they currently guage their present housing as superior to the proposed housing. One resident, Meera Singh, relates that she receives 2,100 rupees monthly from rent. If she moved to the high rises, she would be losing money on a monthly basis, to pay for elevator and other fees. Moreover, she would have more square footage in her current slum residence than the new apartment high rise. The promise of indoor plumbing is not too appealing. It seems like a waste to use so much water for one person, according to Dharavi residents. Also, the quality of these proposed high rises comes to the forefront. Will they be similar to the apartment building pointed out by the Kumbhars, which was presentable at first but became dilapidated after lack of maintenance? Reluctance to pay money from their own pockets, when they currently do not have to, and awareness of a decreased living space in the high rises, inhibits residents from accepting the plan. There is suspicion considering that “everyone in Dharavi had their own opinion about how and why the plan was concocted to hurt them in particular.”

Perhaps this suspicion is not irrational. After all, politicians have been known to displace constituents after representing them for years. One such political decision resulted in 300,000 residents being displaced after their slum was demolished. However, politicians are typically against slum renovation. They want to keep slums intact, so their voters are kept intact. Otherwise, some voters will relocate if slums are redeveloped, decreasing the politicians’ power. This highlights another impediment to progress: political opposition.

Slum redevelopment seems ideal but it runs into various roadblocks: resident and political opposition, lack of understanding between planners and residents, and needing to relocate or accommodate existing industries in the new city. The cities that are chosen for this complex process are pinpointed for a reason. Considering Dharavi, it could be because of existing train lines, existing financial complexes, government willingness to bend the rules to implement redevelopment, and prime location. Hopefully, it will prove easier to take advantage of these existing benefits and build a modern inner city, rather than rebuilding a slum that does not have any useful initial factors to accommodate.

By Patricia Paredes

Response: “Dharavi, Mumbai’s Shadow City” (May 4)
| April 29, 2010 | 2:13 pm | 5/4/2010 | Comments closed

Mark Jacobson’s article, “Dharavi, Mumbai’s Shadow City” exposes the various issues involved with planning in poor countries. Dharavi is a slum in the center of the city of Mumbai. Some, though incorrectly, refer to it as the “largest slum in Asia.” Half of the city’s 12 million residents live in “informal housing,” in which up to 18,000 people reside per acre. It lacks many public services, such as water and electricity. The lack of personal toilets is one striking example. As such, the residents are at the mercy of “land mafia,” who control the water and electricity. Additionally, there is a huge gap between the few very rich and the mostly poor. There is no middle class, which is evidenced through the housing situation. Despite the hardships, however, locals call it home, and it has diversity as well as a unique character, whether emotionally, spiritually, or historically. For instance, nothing is simply garbage in Dharavi; they recycle every object in order to make it useful.

Because of its lack of a middle class and public services, planners, specifically Mukesh Mehta, an architect and urban designer who studied in America, are trying to change the situation. His goal is to reclaim the slums and develop a middle class via housing. Since the slum is “choking the life out the city,” improving conditions will allow India to become a consumer society in competition with China, and more specifically, Mumbai can surpass Shanghai as a major metropolis. His plan involves dividing Dharavi, the target because of its center location, into 5 sections. Non-resident investors will develop each section so that approximately 60,000 families can move into high-rise housing. Each family will be allotted 225 square feet with indoor plumbing. At the same time, private firms, given incentives, will develop housing sold at market rates.

While the plan may seem relatively benign, there are several problems, leading to a mixed response by residents. First of all, many are wary and skeptical of the plan because of previous let-downs. For example, houses were taken down near Dharavi Cross Road 8 years ago, and its residents are still living in an incomplete building without permanent water and electricity. Further, others believe that Mehta is out of touch with the needs and wants of the community; this idea is furthered by the fact that he is relatively “Americanized.” For example, he talked of building a golf course, which residents regard as not only unnecessary, but undesirable. Third, Mehta has found that the government often undertakes what is referred to as “slum perpetuation” because they get the votes they need from that region. They then do nothing to change slum conditions. Finally, and perhaps most important, many are insulted by the fact that Dharavi is even deemed a slum in need of improvement. As one resident puts it, “this land is ours,” and according to words from another, “we deal with what is.” They do not want to move to Slum Rehabilitation Authority constructions or be displaced from the place they call home.

Obviously, then, planning in poor areas is very problematic. While improvements and changes are often necessary in order to improve the quality of life for its people, not everyone sees it quite so simplistically. Even the best-intentioned planners, as Mehta seems to be, do not always know what is best for the residents of a town they haven’t lived their whole lives in. The situation is worsened when the planners appear to be outsiders, as Mehta is with his American ways. For instance, as he drives away with a “chauffeured car,” how can those lacking even a toilet completely trust his opinions? They question how much he really knows or cares about their community. On the other hand, though planning should ideally come from the residents themselves, sometimes it is virtually impossible, especially when all seem to be so skeptical of and reluctant to change. When this is the case, planners from the outside appear to be the only viable option. Ultimately, “expert” planners should try to work with community residents to form and implement the best plan possible, taking into consideration the needs and wants of the people. With a keen awareness and attention to the community, compromises can be made to improve the lives of the public without disregarding their attitudes and beliefs.

Readings for 4/27 Class
| April 27, 2010 | 12:24 am | 4/27/2010, Blog | Comments closed

In “The Neighborhood, the District, and the Corridor,” Duany and Plater-Zyberk describe their ideal visions of neighborhoods, districts and corridors, all functional aspects of a given city in their view of New Urbanism. They place most focus on what elements are necessary for an ideal neighborhood, perhaps because it is the most expansive of the three. According to Duany and Zyberk, the key elements in developing a successful neighborhood are small size, diversity, inclusion of edges, and the presence of a center. They state that the optimal size of a neighborhood should be about a quarter of a mile, or five minutes at comfortable walking space from edge to the center of a neighborhood. They state that a neighborhood should contain a mix of various activities, and have them be accessible to ensure that youth and elderly can utilize the area without having to rely on others to bring them places. Housing options within the neighborhood should also be diverse, having various options to suit different income levels. According to them, edges may vary in characteristics, often based on whether the neighborhood is more urban (likely having an edge composed of some sort of man-made infrastructure) or if it is more rural (likely having a natural edge such as a forest, or some kind of land used for cultivation). Edges are not even always a necessity for a neighborhood, but a center however, is. A neighborhood’s center should be the location of its important, necessary buildings such as a post office and town hall. The center should be a public space that also includes commercial businesses and workplaces, although taking certain other things into account this might not always be the case. In general, they believe that public space should be a priority within neighborhoods. Duany and Zyberk discussing districts and corridors at a much lesser level of depth. Districts should serve a primary function, but also include the diverse activities of a neighborhood to support that district’s primary function and the importance of public space. Corridors are natural or man-made divisions that serve as partitions between various neighborhoods and districts. The plans that they outline in the article serve to develop compact, fully functional areas that are accessible enough to limit, or cut-down, on the necessity of using a car as a primary mode of transportation.

In “Planning Sustainable and Livable Cities,” Wheeler explores the concept of sustainability in relation to urban planning and development during a time when the concept was still a relatively fresh idea. He explains that the themes involved in the issue of sustainability include concern for long-term effects of urban development, maintaining the health on the natural environment, and maintaining the livability of the area for the residents. Some of the specific issues Wheeler cites as being in need of improvement are using land in more beneficial ways that maximize its potential, increasing accessibility to frequented places, cutting down on the amount of transportation used to travel to such places, finding ways to reuse and prevent waste/pollution, maintaining and restoring natural resources around us, increasing community involvement in the efforts of achieving sustainability, and other ideas along these same lines. Wheeler explains that in order to achieve these visions of sustainable cities, these issues need to be addressed in established planning processes so that the solutions are integrated going forward. Actually executing the changes is the most difficult part of the plan for sustainable cities.

In “The Uses of Sidewalks: Safety,” Jacobs discusses the function of streets and sidewalks as a definition of a city’s safety. Jacobs points out that cities are not just defined by a larger scale, but by the increased density of its residents. Since there is such a high density within cities, everyone becomes a stranger, increasing the overall sense of danger, and also eliminating the controls on acceptable behavior that are present in smaller areas where everyone knows one another and fears becoming the victim of gossip or judgment. Jacob says that a safe street is made by three elements: a clear distinction between public and private property, a sufficient amount of people watching the street, not by law enforcement, but by residents that have clear views of the sidewalks, and continuous use, adding to the idea of safety in numbers, as well as increasing the appeal for residents to people-watch, and contribute to the eyes watching over the street. The last element of the three is the most difficult to achieve since people will not use streets that they have no use for, as well as people will not watch the streets without reason. One solution to this problem is to ensure that there are a significant number of public places (such as delis, bars, etc) along streets to make them of constant usefulness to people, ensuring population. This then causes the businesses to become additional eyes on the street as they worry about the safety of their own businesses, which as public areas become related to the safety of the sidewalks outside.

In “Green Urbanism and the Lessons of European Cities […],” Beatley explores the idea of green urbanism, or “building cities in harmony with the natural environment.” Beatley discussed the various ideas involved in this idea of sustainable city planning, despite it’s being unclear, and states that many of the ideas involved are becoming more clear and solid through modeling after European concepts and efforts. Some of these major ideas are working to reduce the ecological footprint of cities by planning and developing within more limited means, increasing and incorporating more nature into urban makeup, and making use of urban output so that so that it does not just become waste (basically closing the loop of cradle to grave processes to become cradle to cradle). The article goes on to cite examples of ways that European countries have successfully promoted and achieved greener urban societies and explored how the United States might be able to follow in such footsteps. Some of these examples include sustainable transportation, policy that promotes greener transportation and discourages less green modes of transport, incorporating more ecology into the city itself (as I mentioned before), utilizing sources of renewable energy, getting people involved (both groups to support the efforts, and businesses and individuals by providing incentives for green practices). Beatley also discusses the importance of enforcing policy and regulation for sustainable cities to be a successful goal to achieve.

Sustainability and Public Health- Noa Krawczyk
| April 24, 2010 | 12:49 pm | 4/27/2010 | Comments closed

This week’s readings by the authors Jacobs, Duany and Zyrberk, Beatley, and Wheeler, all focus on ways to improve urban areas. This is very relevant to our current final projects, as we are working towards improving neighborhoods by attempting to solve essential problems found in them and make more efficient use of the land and resources they offer. These four articles consider a very wide range of issues of urban planning and living, including community safety and satisfaction, transportation and accessibility, efficient and economic land use, and the sustainability of the natural world and ecosystems. To do this they often compare American living environments and their problems to more efficient European cities and their planning practices as proof of the potential to improve the quality of life and future of American cities. All the authors were firm believers in the superiority of dense cities over spread out suburbs (Lakshman, I thought you would enjoy this) and were very optimistic about the possibility of improving them. What I found most interesting was that the authors addressed how largely culture comes into the way a city is planned and its patterns of development. When looking to improve these living areas it is therefore crucial to define and emphasize social values of the community and to plan towards a sustainable future that will satisfy both the population who lives there and the well being of the environment.

In “The uses of sidewalks: Safety,” Jane Jacobs emphasizes the significance of high density and crowdedness for the safety of a community and a healthy and happy living environment. She writes that if a city looks interesting and attractive it is because its streets look interesting and attractive, and that people thus value a city based on the quality and safety of its public streets and spaces. Jacobs constantly compares urban areas to suburban ones, emphasizing the superiority of cities and the drawbacks of extended and unpopulated suburban spaces. A central point is that unlike in suburbs, in cities you are constantly surrounded by strangers and it is therefore crucial to create an environment where one feels comfortable among so many people one doesn’t know. I completely agree with this remarkable phenomenon in cities like New York, where I can walk around Manhattan, crossing hundreds of people a day, and never once feel uncomfortable among such a large group of strangers. Jacobs discusses how the more crowded the street, the safer it is and the more people are likely to come to it as people love to see people and not empty space, which I couldn’t agree more with. Yet while I personally would choose to live on a loud and crowded street over a peacefully quiet one, I am not convinced that this is necessarily more of an attractive living environment to everyone, and many people would still prefer to live in a more quiet and slow moving area.

Andres Duany & Elizabeth Plater Zyberk, in their article “The Neighborhood, the District, and the Corridor,” discuss the concept of ‘new urbanism’ to increase urban patterns of interaction and decrease the dependence on cars for mobility. Like Jacobs, these authors disapprove of suburban living practices, and emphasize that cities are no longer dangerous and polluted environments that they used to be when people first began moving out to suburbs. They focus their planning on the concepts of the neighborhood, the district, and the corridor, and for each define their ideal vision for what they see is the most satisfying and efficient living environment. A central argument of theirs is that dependence on cars in suburbs reduces the ability of children and elderly to travel within a community, decreases human interaction, and also highly pollutes the environment. They therefore strongly encourage efficient public transportation plans that will allow for everyone to be able to access and reach different places. Additionally, Duany and Zybrek highlight the importance of community interaction on the street, promoting more walking public spaces where people can meet and interact with each other much more often than they would by sitting in their cars on empty roads and high ways.

In “Green Urbanism and the Lessons of European Cities,” Timothy Beatley uses the example of several European cities and planning practices to prove the point that it is very viable and possible to work towards both a happier living community and more sustainable and ecologically friendly energy use. Like the above authors, Beatley constantly compares urban and suburban life, speaking about how European culture values the importance of cities and crowdedness over largely separate living communities like in American suburbs. An ideal element of European cities he speaks about is its efficient transportation methods. With faster trains, more bike routes, and larger walking spaces, European cities allow for more community interaction and accessibility to more places. Additionally, public transport largely reduces the pollution exerted from the excessive car use in the United States. Beatley also focuses on the green planning practices of these cities, showing that with the support of the government and public, it is indeed possible to find economic alternatives to wasteful energy use and their replacement with more friendly and renewable energy sources. A very valid point, however, is that all these great aspects of European cities including their social interaction and activeness, and their high value on urban life and dense population are all embedded in historical and cultural values of many European communities. The question is if the American population has the interest in adopting European patterns or if the car-culture and wasteful practices of the Americans is culturally embedded and will not necessarily be willfully changed.

Lastly, Wheeler writes in “Planning Sustainable and Livable Cities” about sustainable urban development and the significance of long term planning for the wellbeing of the community as well as the human and natural environment on the long run. He begins by defining the different conceptions of sustainability and the struggle to agree on what it means to plan for the wellbeing of the future. He also emphasizes the importance of ‘livability’ and again addresses the question of how to improve the quality of life for people in the present and in years to come. Wheeler, as the other authors this week, also focuses on pedestrian satisfaction as a way to improve community and decrease environment pollution and destruction. He reviews in detail the central problems that are needed to be addressed in long term future plans: While each problem should be addressed on its own, solutions must take in all of the different urban issues at the same time make sure not to worsen other important factors affecting urban life. Wheeler, too, writes about the cultural aspects that often compromise long term planning for social and environmental wellbeing such as capitalist values that tend to focus on creating short-term profits as opposed to addressing larger social issues more difficult to grasp.

Although the issues discussed in these four articles are far reaching and complex to address, I agree with these authors completely that it is crucial to be optimistic and plan towards an ideal vision of long term improvements. While not all the problems will ever be solved completely, we can hope that with time we can work towards improving urban areas and the quality of life for the people and ecosystems that inhabit them.

Infrastructure and Transportation
| April 20, 2010 | 11:46 pm | 4/20/2010 | Comments closed

In the readings assigned this week, Edward Soja, Mike Davis, and Kenneth T. Jackson look at several different elements that have influenced urban development. Edward Soja looks at the Los Angeles area as defined by a 60-mile radius. He divides Los Angeles into its component parts and explains why Los Angeles is such a successful industrial nation. Davis however takes another look at Los Angeles by looking at the social struggle present in the community. He shows the horrors present in post-industrial Los Angeles defined by the inequalities of race, gender, and income. Jackson steps away from Los Angeles and describes how the advancements of the automobile affected the development of infrastructure.

When looking at Edward Soja’s systematic division of Los Angeles, his analysis shows that the city has many contradictory elements that do not hinder its success. Soja describes how the area is fragmented but maintains a strong center core. Though military bases, Indian reserves and wild Condor Refugees seem to divide the geography of the city, its success is still recognized by its strong centre. Soja shows that despite the fragmentation of its geography, the city still exhibits characteristics of urban theory such as radial development as seen in Downtown Los Angeles. By separating and reducing Los Angeles into its components, Soja shows how Los Angels maintains itself as an urban center.

Mike Davis looks at Los Angeles as well, but he looks into the racial and economic divide that alter the infrastructure of the city. Davis emphasizes how class struggle creates physical barriers that exacerbate the segregation in the community. Gated private developments and private guards establish boundaries between the people in Los Angeles that symbolically act as fortresses that separate the different races and classes. Wealthy elites are protected within these gated communities while violence and crime exist at the borders. Such communities alter the city structure and reduce public space in attempt to “reduce contact with the untouchables.” Such private developments isolate the elites and establish physical boundaries of race and class.

In Kenneth T. Jackson’s work, Jackson analyzes how the automobile changed the infrastructure of homes, businesses and roads. With the advancement of automobiles, cities had to take on physical changes to accommodate new vehicles. Roads were the first to change in which they became paved but highways also developed. Along with roads and highways, homes also started integrating the car into their design. The garage and paved driveways were two features that these new homes had. Not only did private homes change, but public facilities did as well. Schools and restaurants for example had to build new parking lots. Jackson described the many changes the automobile had on infrastructure but he also mentioned that it decreased the density in urban centers. Automobiles gave individuals mobility, and contributed to urban sprawl.

Ignacio Contreras- Infrastructure and Transportation
| April 20, 2010 | 8:11 am | 4/20/2010 | Comments closed

This week’s readings from Edward Soja, Mike Davis and Kenneth Jackson, discuss the different kind of perception the Los Angeles area brings to them. Edward Soja, a professor of geography at the University of California, shows pride in the many military and economical hubs that are present within a sixty-mile circle, with its epicenter being Los Angeles. Mike Davis deems that the modern Los Angeles has created a virtual wall segregating the poor from the rich. Kenneth Jackson, finally, looks disapprovingly at the automobile culture of America, and cites the Los Angeles area as the best example of how the culture evolved the area.

Edward Soja created a sixty-mile circle, encircling the downtown Los Angeles area. He points out that within that circle, many important military bases that present that have served to drive forward the Los Angeles economy. He calls the Los Angeles area as the “premier industrial growth pole of the twentieth century,” taking note that no one thinks of Los Angeles as an industrial center, because of its association with oil, oranges and films. He takes exceptional pride of the downtown area of Los Angeles, full of history, significance and diversity.

Mike Davis sought to show the insecurities of rich people living in the Los Angeles area were both subtle and displaying. From the signs from Los Angeles’ Westside that say “Armed Response!” on neighborhood lawns, we can see how these people seek to protect their properties and communities, such as the “obsession with physical security systems.” But he also suggests that architecture, the planning of buildings and developments have segregated the city by further dividing the poor and rich. The “death of what might be called the ‘Olmstedian vision’ of public space” is what brings about this separation or in other words open, public space. The free beaches, luxurious parks and “cruising ships” were replaced with malls, art centers and gourmet strips. The problems of street violence fond in South-central Los Angeles are thus self-contained in strict boundaries. The vision of having a place to relax from the everyday city-life conflicts is being eroded slowly, according to Davis.

Kenneth Jackson explains how the automobile culture has transformed America over the course of the decades, and its influence over suburban America. The histories of the garage, drive-ins, driveways, motels, interstate system and gasoline stations are all tied in with the American love for cars. The Los Angeles area to him seemed ideal to represent the overall product that resulted from the automobile culture. He mourns the idea that commercial centers replaced the mom and pops stores in the corners, how high schools now needed parking lots to accommodate students who now drive to school, and ensuing drive-in society as seen in fast food restaurants. He states that the area does not have commutation focus as in New York or Chicago, but that it is made up of a conglomerate of suburbs. He calls the region a centerless city.

The different perspectives the three writers have taken on Los Angeles or the greater Lower California region are greatly different. The readings from Mike Davis and Kenneth Jackson seemed to have a notion of regret in which they wished things could have played out differently. For example, Mike Davis states how, “The universal and ineluctable consequence of this crusade to secure the city is the destruction of accessible public space.” It seems that the appeal of the automobile culture has faded away, as noted in the eyes of Kenneth Jackson, who show us that the number of gasoline stations has decreased, and that many commercial structures are now obsolete as of 1985. It is in no doubt that the automobile developed the landscape of the infrastructures in the Lower California region (the motels, commercial centers, the garages, driveways, etc). But it seems that the movement to move away from that culture is beginning with Kenneth Jackson and Mike Davis.