|November 26, 2013|
The Changing American City: Part 3Building on the idea of walkability as a key to a successful future for the American city as discussed in Part 1 and 2 of this series.
By: Tom Johnson
Historically, architects have played a significant role in shaping the American city. Today's cultural shift to reshape the urban fabric of the American city provides another opportunity for significant change, and our profession is especially positioned to affect this change. Architects intricately study a building's use from the perspective of the people using the building. No building type is exempt. The building's design evolves from the people inside of it.
One of the most critical aspects of the city of the future is that it must be designed for people. While this may sound like a truism, in the latter half of the 20th century, too much emphasis was placed on how to get cars to move through cities. As a result, the experience of being a pedestrian in a city suffered greatly. The city of the future will place far more importance on mass transit and bicycle infrastructure. Some cities have existing "bones" for transit infrastructure, but in places that don't, improved bus lines and rapid transit are great ways to improve intra-city mobility.
Public parks and plazas are often the first thing that comes to mind when considering public spaces, but there is a public arena that is often overlooked that may prove to be even more critical: STREETS. In total, a city's streets are actually its largest public space, as former NYC Planning Director Jeanette Sadik-Khan is fond of point out. Creating streetscapes that facilitate human mobility, but also encourage human interaction is vital to creating a city that people will want to be in. Furthermore, these streets will be safer places for children, creating an environment where all generations feel welcome. There is an opportunity to reimagine what the city should look like for its users – the people. As architects we do this all the time for individual buildings, but there is a tremendous opportunity for us to take an active part in shaping the built environment on a grander scale. We won't simply think about how does one individual building look and function, but how does it fit into and add to a great urban fabric? How does this building affect not only its intended users, but all citizens of the city?
|November 15, 2013|
The Changing American City: Part 2As we discussed in
By: Tom Johnson
The city of tomorrow cannot simply be a retrofit of the city of the past. While it is true that retrofitting may work for select cities, (notably a great deal of cities in the Northeast, where we are) it is not a model that can be replicated around the country. Replacing a dilapidated three-story structure with an expensive new high rise on one block may create flashy marketing material but it often doesn't do much to restore the city as a whole on its own. And while density does tend to create interesting, walkable environments, as Penalosa points out (see Part 1 of this series
|November 4, 2013|
The Changing American City: Part 1Spurred by population growth, the United States is about to begin an unprecedented era of city-building. Over the next 50 years the U.S. will have to build 70 million new houses, according to Enrique Penalosa, a thought leader in smart urban planning and transportation systems who recently authored an article on the future of the American city in Urban Land magazine – but where, how? Will we continue to be influenced by the trends of the 20th century or create a new type of American city?
By: Tom Johnson
During the 20th century, the suburb became the predominant mode of living as people left cities en masse, particularly after World War II. This trend reached its tipping point in the 1990s with the creation of 'drive til you qualify' exurbs built on the premise of cheap land and transportation costs. Recently, the pendulum has begun to swing back in the opposite direction; there is a generational shift that has seen young people as well as empty nesters moving closer to urban centers.
I think what is really important about this trend is not that it simply reflects a change in where we live, but also a change in values. Much as the suburbs of the latter half of the 20th century were seen by many as a place to live out the 'American Dream' of home ownership and a safe place to raise a family, cities are no longer viewed as simply 'places', but as a means to a way of life. "The kind of urban structures created over the next few decades will have profound consequences in terms of quality of life, environmental sustainability, economic well-being, and even happiness," Penalosa writes. From ancient Greece to the Renaissance period in Florence, and Detroit of the late 19th century (to name just a few examples) cities have always been incubators for growth, and studies have shown that even in an age where technology makes telecommuting and working from practically anywhere possible, people prefer to live and work around other people in, well, interesting places.
What this means is that there is a very good chance that the built environment of the United States will look vastly different in 50 years. Architects have long had a tradition of involvement in shaping cities, from Hippodamus' plan for Miletus, to Daniel Burnham's Chicago and Le Corbusier's Plan Voisin. Building the next generation of American cities is an extremely exciting and unique opportunity for this generation of architects, and in Part 2 of this series I will take a look at some of the ways architects can take advantage of this opportunity.
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