I recently watched this talk on TED.com, one of my favorite websites, and really wanted to talk about it, but was busy with my big regions project, so I put it off and I’m finally getting around to it. This talk comes from Ellen Dunham-Jones, one of the founding members of the Congress for the New Urbanism. Her talk is fairly fast-paced and covers a lot, mostly focusing on the problems with the suburbs and how they can be addressed by urbanising the suburbs. The information here is great.
This is one of two TED talks that is strictly focused on New Urbanism. The other is much less academic and much more bombastic. James Howard Kunstler explains why the suburbs are ugly, and why if we keep building them, we will have a country not worth defending. Very funny and highly entertaining. Although I will warn the Mormon folks, there is some harsh language.
There are many, many more talks on TED that relate to cities that aren’t strictly related to New Urbanism, but are still very much worth your time. You can find all these other talks here. I would highly recommend the talks by Majora Carter, Jaime Lerner and William McDonough, although they are all great. I would also recommend watching whatever new talk is on TED every day regardless of topic, like I do.
This article by epic angryman James Howard Kunstler did not disappoint in its bluntness or disgust for suburban development. He begins by commenting on the current state of California’s rail connection from Los Angeles to San Francisco, saying that taking it from its current dismal state to a state of high-tech semi-functionality isn’t going to help a state which is essentially bankrupt. He advoates simply taking it back to the system it ran on in the 1920’s, when it had frequent, dependable service that traveled at over 100 mph. This would theoretically be less expensive and more efficient than the state’s current plan, but it’s not tech-sexy enough for California. He goes on to criticize airport architects–“commercial aviation is toast (we just don’t know it yet). We’re back in the $70-plus a barrel-of-oil aviation death-zone for airlines.”–and French President Nicolas Sarkozy for planning on expanding Modernist tower development, which Kunstler has repeatedly attacked as unsustainable and just ugly, which many would agree with. He goes on to describe his visit to CNU 17, where he comments on the shift from better greenfield development to infill development, smaller scales, local food production and other ideas that are in line with the current sense of scarcity. In his words:
To put it bluntly, the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) is perhaps the only surviving collective intelligence left in the United States that is producing ideas consistent with the reality. They recognize that our survival depends on down-scaling and re-localization. They recognize the crisis we will soon face in food production, and the desperate need to reactivate the relationship between the way we inhabit the landscape and the way we feed ourselves. They recognize that the solution to the liquid fuels crisis is not cars that can run by other means but on walkable towns and cities connected by public transit.
As anyone who has checked out my books list can tell, I’m a big fan of Kunstler, and I’m glad to see that he’s still going at it.
Matthew Haggman reports on the devastation facing the Miami suburbs. Subdivisions are being abandoned half-finished, with weeds growing on the vacant lots and vagrants living in the unfinished homes. Some homes have lost almost 80% of their value. The city core, on the other hand, has lost about 30% (which could be expected in an area with a lot of tourists and snowbirds). They quote noted New Urbanist Victor Dover, who says that the fallout is indicative of a change in values, where the baby boomers are wanting to downsize their living space and the millennials are wanting to be closer to the center of action at downtown. James Howard Kunstler, in his book “The Long Emergency,” hypothesizes that many cities in the future will be surrounded by a ring of abandoned suburbs as the country is re-urbanized. Local suburban developers see this as a hiccup, and think the system will return to what it was. We shall see.