“Common Ground in a Liquid City” Essays in Defence of an Urban Future

Author: Matt Hern
ISBN: 9781849350105
Release Date: December 30, 2009
Publisher: AK Press

Core Contentions — 1. An ecological city has to be organized around cities, living compactly. 2. In a liquid air a when people, goods, and capital are sloshing over the globe we have to turn cities into comprehensible places that everyday people can inhabit actively. Not interested in turning cities into villages or collections of villages — exactly the wrong way to imagine a city — but cities need to be full of solid, distinct, and comprehensible places. You can have magic and possibilities of the city while building it around local vitality, self-governance, and neighborhoods. 3. City building leadership cannot fall to experts, bureaucrats, or planners. Cities made by accretion: bit by bit, rejecting master plans, letting the place unfold. Cities need engaged citizens and governance structures that actively encourage them. Won’t accept neoliberalism or global capitalism as de facto arbiters of who gets access to the good life. Up to us to contest and offer alternatives to the market as the allocator of land, housing, and resources in our society.I am in favor of unpredictability, serendipity, messiness, and walkable dense cities with their histories visible. I am in favor of vernacular and organic planning, an absolute minimum of car traffic, small neighborhoods, street life, street vendors, street music, and street food. A self governed city that can rise beyond disciplinary institutions and governmentality– a city run by citizens, not experts.
Manuel Castells speaks of the — dual city — with some people connected to the — space of flows [digitally based living and employment and capital] and other people connected to — space of places [shut out of opportunities that neoliberalism provides]. I think it is a myth that an egalitarian city must be excessively regulated and boring.
Christopher Alexander speaks of a living city — not run by bureaucratic planning or rampaging developers but growing by 1 million decisions made by people on the ground.
[Allowed to unfold with 1 million decisions is what is called suburbia — SS]
Vancouver has no interest in seeing Stanley Park in its original state. What is being restored is a simulacrum of a natural state, a clean and tidy version of nature. 20% of the parks trees were wiped out. Stanley Park is as much a construction as the concrete and glass buildings downtown. The third-largest urban core Park in North America with 8 million visitors annually and central role in marketing the city.
Vancouver has more high-rises per capita than any other city in North America. It actually has a mid rise skyline with the height generally only 90 to 130 m with the highest at 200 m — Shangri-La.
A developer can turn five times the profit on a condo as compared to an office tower which is why commercial development lags.
Is density the holy grail of contemporary urban entity? The simple answer is pretty much yes. If you can densify all good things will flow from there: there will be enough population to support public transport, more people will walk and fewer will drive, you’ll get concentrations of services, and urbanity will flourish. Prof. Rybczynski — it has to do with density, above all. This puts lots of people together in one place, keeps walking distance relatively small, and makes walking interesting.
Make no mistake; densification is going to mean lots of people giving a certain amount of space up – but boo-fucking-hoo.
Christopher Alexander — piecemeal growth is a necessary condition to hold this.
There are more artist per capita in Vancouver than any other city in Canada.
The more rules, the more regulation, the more attempt to govern people’s conduct the less chance as city has a really emerging both metaphorically and actually. I’m not making an argument for allowing the market to run free: in fact what I’m really getting at is sort of the opposite. Planners should set up the conditions for development to become locally generated, then stay out of the way and prepare to be surprised.
David Beers — as Peter Calthorpe used to tell me — it’s better than suburban sprawl.
So much of new urbanism comes off flat because it tries to interpret public space as primarily an aesthetic question.
Larry Beasley — all the places we love for their public spaces were all stiff and awkward at one time too.
Jane Jacobs — as a sentimental concept, — neighborhood — is harmful to city planning. It leads to attempts at warping city life into imitations of town or suburban life.
Las Vegas is the perfect postmodern storm. The place is profoundly disorienting — it is placeless, faceless, and timeless.
The Smart growth trajectories in Vancouver and Portland both point toward cities where privilege is accentuated by sustainability and marginalization is compounded by isolation.

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