Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Tackling Toronto

From Wednesday, September 21st - Sunday, September 25 I will be traveling to Toronto with my urban planning program. I have never been to this Canadian city, and am quite excited to get out of Ann Arbor for a few days. Perhaps I am even more excited to leave the U.S., even if it is just temporary. Since Katrina, there has been a perpetual media blitz and I need the break. I'll report my findings next week.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Look Back, To Look Ahead

Okay, I admit that my last post was a little more negative than normal. I wrote it after coming home from a bar and watching too many corporate media newscasts, which goes straight to your head. In the meantime, I have been reading several articles a day that deal with the Katrina crisis. Everyone seems to be positing their theories on what should be done with New Orleans, as if someone in yesterday's New York Times, or Washington Post hadn't already championed a similar argument. It's starting to get a wee bit redundant.

Personally, I have no grand vision for how New Orleans should build. Notice how I said should build. Last week I got a bit hasty and inferred that New Orleans should be left alone. It geographic location makes that impossible, and in a more calm and sober state, I realize that. However, I do have a opinion on a very basic city planning guideline that the city should follow.

Respect topography! All the buildings that were destroyed were clearly not occupying sites that were high enough in elevation. The buildings that did survive, the winds and the water, were in the historic French Quarter (thank goodness) and in the wealthy mansion strewn neighborhoods that are adjacent. This shows us two things: One, those who founded and built New Orleans were wise enough to plan the city around the most intelligent geographic position. They would have never built in locations that were so susceptible to such destruction. It's not smart, and its too difficult. Two, the rich will always occupy the best sites. Clearly, the wealthy in New Orleans were living in the best location, as their homes still exist. If New Orleans is to be rebuilt, it should only be done on land that has a fighting chance to survive another Katrina like disaster. Moreover, it should be reserved for those who are less fortunate and really had no choice but to live in poorly constructed and poorly sited houses.

The challenges that lay ahead for the New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, and the country are immense. This would be a great opportunity for a widespread planning effort based on traditional city building. The outcome could be a marvelous example for the rest of the country. It could display our country's resilience, and most importantly that we still have a modicum of intelligence left. Rumor had it that Andres Duany was meeting with the Mayor of Baton Rouge and the Governor of Mississipi. I'm not holding my breath, but this horrific tragedy could wind up becoming a positive if we re-learn a few basic planning principles. Let's look back and see what worked so that we can look ahead to a better built environment. New Orleans can be our crown jewel once again.

Friday, September 02, 2005


What sort of people are we?!

Let's be honest, Americans are a curious bunch. Our culture leads one to believe that we are on top of the world, but we are not. We think we have it made because of cheap oil, but we really don't. We love plastic bottles full of water, and think its "environmental and safe," but it is mostly environmentally destructive. Well, with Hurricane Katrina and its accompanying destruction, I hope that my fellow Americans realize that these sentiments are not only bunk, but that the U.S. of A is not as secure as most people think. In fact, I think that our country is about to enter some of the most serious geo-political situations in history. Why, you ask?

Well, mostly because the economic success of our entire country depends on a few certain regions that produce cheap labor and cheap gasoline. These regions are full of people who do not like us, and probably for good reason. I do not have to reassert Jim Kunstler's Long Emergency thesis, but it does seem as though everything he predicted is tragically coming to fruition. Drastic hurricane destruction, rapid hikes in gasoline prices, and speculative markets that provide energy to our suburbs is more than the reality, it is simply the future of America. Moreover, it is the future of most of urban America to wallow in the decrepit state that is the lack of planning in the "good old US of A." Because so many of our cities are based on the success of the automobile, we will be perpetually asking ourselves whether it was a good idea to put billions of dollars into the interstate highway system, and I'm sure the overwhelming majority of people will figure out that this has been a 100 year experiment that has failed.

Could we not see how urban America should grow in the future? Could we have not seen how important it is to look at regions as a whole? Where will the search for profit end, and the desire for the public good begin?! Do people realize that you can both make a profit and make marked improvements to our society? I don't have definite answers to all these questions, but I only hope that our fellow humans will take up the cause of planning for the expansion of human activity and interaction. Afterall, if we do not plan for life in public spaces, we are unfortunately planning for the ineffectual lack of social mobility, as urban space andpublic life are more than linked. If you are not connected to these issues, its time to wake up, and make certain that the planning for people space takes precedent over planning for individual interest, as we will all be the richer, and the wiser for it. Okay, that's my tangent for the day, but to get back to the issue at hand here....

Katrina has destroyed one of America's most historic cities, but most people are not thinking about the possibility of letting well enough alone. Man foolishly thinks we can once again conquer nature. We don't realize that we are OF nature, not above it. I would like to see New Orleans come back and thrive more than ever, but to be honest I think that sometimes you have to cut your losses and realize that those who believe that perpetually planning a city in that location were a few beers short of a six pack. As a result we are already beginning to see the effects of the Long Emergency, and its not pretty.

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