Once more, the streets

December 10, 2010 at 11:06 pm | In johnson street bridge, land_use, street_life, transportation, urbanism, victoria | 4 Comments

While I promised myself, for sanity’s sake, to forgo paying attention to city politics, the City of Victoria‘s endorsement last night of a transportation proposal has me back at square one. Meaning what? Meaning I’m scratching my head, wondering what’s in the water around here.

The endorsed plan – proposed by BC Transit – would do a couple of really bizarre things that strike me as undesirable. The plan involves putting either rapid transit trams or rapid transit bus lines along Douglas Street, which is the city’s main north-south street corridor. Douglas Street is actually part of the Trans Canada Highway – further north, outside the city core, it becomes the highway. But in the city itself, it’s also just another main street that runs parallel to Victoria’s two other main north-south arterial roads, Government Street on its west and Blanshard Street on its east. At Douglas Street’s southern terminus you find Beacon Hill Park’s Mile 0 and the Terry Fox Memorial, site of many tourist moments. Before reaching the park, Douglas Street traverses Victoria’s Central Business District. As it provides an artery for the city, Douglas Street has four traffic lanes (two north-bound, two south-bound). There is on-street parking along much of Douglas Street’s downtown stretch, albeit on alternating blocks and sides of the street; and there are several blocks where no parking at all is allowed because bus service is heaviest here.

In the proposed plan, all on-street parking would be eliminated. Traffic lanes would be reduced from four to two, running side-by-side along the street’s western edge. Along the east side of the street, there would be two side-by-side tram or rapid transit bus lanes, one heading north, the other south, again: side by side. In the middle of the street would be a two-lane bike path.

Here’s  a rendering, as it appeared in last night’s (and today’s) Times-Colonist online:

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I’m already getting into arguments with friends over this one. Some of my friends applaud the plan and point out that this is not new, and that BC Transit has been working on this since 1995.

To which I say, “it’s still a pretty shitty plan, sorry.”

I’ve never seen a tram arrangement like this, and really can’t understand why (in the case of this illustration) the south-bound tram should be orphaned away from pedestrian access. The only pedestrian access is via the sidewalk, and in this case the south-bound tram is removed from the sidewalk by a north-bound tram lane. I suppose if the trams don’t stop very often, you can build fancy stations to accommodate riders having to cross the tram tracks, etc. But shouldn’t the point downtown be that you have really frequent stops?

Nor do I get the logic of a bike lane down a median. In this scenario the cyclists will have to fight with cars and trams if they want to reach the curb/ retail frontage. That makes no sense. Maybe it makes sense for cyclists who don’t want to stop and are going to keep going until they reach …somewhere. But what if it’s a cyclist who’s hopping from one downtown store or venue to another? I guess he or she will be infringing on the pedestrian’s sidewalk space – and that always has the potential for trouble.

What I really dislike about this plan is how it suggests that if we could only get everyone into their proper slot (into the bike lane in the median, into the tram lanes side by side, into the car lanes side by side, and into the sidewalks – separated by an ocean of other transportation options) – if we could only get everyone to stay in their place, we could “solve” urban transportation issues. I’m not averse to that approach in areas where it’s imperative to clear the path for 50 to 60-kilometer per hour travel, but in a downtown, that’s not where (or how fast) we want to go.

I can’t help but think that rapid transit and cars are doing relatively well in this plan, but that pedestrians and cyclists aren’t. They latter two groups are asked to move like the former two: in straight lines, without stopping in any sort of way that could hold things up, without meandering, without trespassing or “jaywalking” – “jay-riding”? – into the other lanes of traffic. I don’t think that’s very urban. In every real city, pedestrians are constantly taking back their streets through everyday acts of disobedience: dawdling on the sidewalk, hitching bikes to parking meters (oops, I forgot we’re not even going to have parking meters under this new plan!), jaywalking, clustering, gawking, sitting around… Anything and everything in addition to “moving along” in an orderly fashion.

I dislike the extreme tidiness of this plan. There’s no mess here – probably because everyone is in their place. (And heaven help the poor fool who steps out of line…)

It looks suburban.

Finally, a word about the sad fate of the Johnson Street Bridge: those of us who fought to save the bridge suggested that one lane of the three traffic lanes on the current bridge should be given over to “multi-modal” transportation (read: bike lanes etc.). We were told by the rabid pro-replacement councilors around the table at City Hall that it would be impossible to reduce this tiny tiny bridge’s lane capacity from three to two. And yet these same councilors yesterday gave their assent to reducing the city’s main arterial road from four lanes of traffic to two, for a stretch of more than two kilometers. The hypocrisy staggers me.

Addendum: See also my post, Congestion is our friend (on, among other things, Gordon Price‘s talk on Motordom [<–slide deck on SlideShare]). From that slide deck, here’s an image (#26) of what an urban street (Commercial Drive in Vancouver) can look like – note the parked cars and general urban “mess”:

Do green and make green

October 11, 2010 at 10:45 pm | In architecture, green, housing, land_use, real_estate, vancouver, victoria | 1 Comment

There are times, I think, when having a tumblr (vs a blog) would be cool – then it would be enough just to post, free-standing, the smack-down that Peter Busby (“one of Canada’s leaders in green architecture”) gives Bob Rennie (“the influential Vancouver condo marketer who is the last say for many developers on what will sell”).

In this conversation recorded by Frances Bula, Busby and Rennie have just started talking about Victoria BC’s Dockside Green:

Mr. Busby: It [Dockside Green] did not make money because it was priced competitively against non-green product. Dockside was competing against buildings that weren’t trying to do anything in terms of green, so [the developer] didn’t get much of a premium in the marketplace for his green features. And that came out of his profit. And that’s why the project’s dead right now. And that’s why we have to have improved building codes. They must pay for a better envelope. Everything else is greenwash. If you don’t make a better building that performs better, you’re just putting green fuzz on buildings. (source)

I’m not heartened by reading Busby’s assessment of Dockside Green (that it’s “dead”), but he is so right to talk frankly to the marketer. I’ve been to developer luncheons – where there actually were developers who did real green projects – and their marketers (whom I spoke to as well) couldn’t get the facts, or push them into the marketplace. And I have no doubt that by the same token there are plenty of developers who continue to convince the moneybags and the marketers that it’s not possible to do green and make green.

I’d like to start something in the space between their arguments – work on retrofitting existing housing, for example. So much work needs doing there.

In case that Globe and Mail article link goes dead, here’s one to CTV News, which carries the same interview/ text.

n.b.: I do appreciate Bob Rennie’s last (literally) word:

Mr. Rennie: I’ll be there. But we can’t just tell the consumer to pay more. This has to work for them and, if it doesn’t, they aren’t going to buy it. They’ll move somewhere else, out of Vancouver. And, in the end, that’s what we have to look at, not just what rich people in the city are willing to pay for.

He gets it from the marketing p.o.v.: it’s no good if what you’re doing drives people away. Getting more people into your city is actually a good thing (something that too many people in Victoria absolutely do NOT get, sadly).

Authenticity, sweet confection

September 29, 2010 at 11:23 pm | In authenticity, heritage, land_use, politics, victoria | 1 Comment

Another passage from Erve Chambers’s Native Tours (which I mentioned in Monday’s post) struck me today. I agree with Chambers’s thinking, and want to relate it to the City of Victoria’s maneuverings around heritage and tourism. But first, Chambers (I’ve added several emphases in bold):

We need to ask at this point whether there are any criteria by which we can usefully differentiate the authentic from the inauthentic. From my perspective, any such criteria would have to support the idea that authenticity is possible under the conditions of modernity. I remain unconvinced that the real is a thing of the past, or that the past was at any time more real than the present. Accordingly, my sense of the authentic is that it occurs under conditions in which people have significant control over their affairs, to the extent that they are able to play an active role in determining how changes occur in their actual settings. In this view, all cultures are dynamic by their very nature. Resistance to change is as much an act of deliberateness as is the will to adopt new customs and practices. Authentic cultures might not be able to predict their futures or to act in a wholly independent manner, but they have the wherewithal to play a significant role in participating in these processes that will shape their lives. In this respect, a community that has the ability to decide to tear down all its historic buildings in order to construct a golf course for tourists is more authentic than is another community that has been prohibited by higher authorities from doing the same thing in order to preserve the integrity of its past. This might seem like an extreme example, and its outcomes might not be to our liking. All the same, it reflects upon my suggestion that without significant degrees of autonomy, any notion of authenticity is meaningless. (pp.98-99)

There is always discussion in Victoria about whether or not our tourist image is “authentic.” One way for the city’s politicians and heritage advocates to make the case for authenticity in general (although it’s linked to tourism-authenticity specifically as well) is by promoting the city’s architectural heritage. Since a lot was ripped out in the heady days of “urban renewal” (which lasted well into the 1970s here) we don’t have that much of it left, but we have a few blocks in Old Town and Chinatown where some fine, small old buildings managed to survive. (The fine, large old buildings got the chop and stand no more: they were replaced by not-so-fine, small new buildings. Weird, but true.)

Part of our tourist image is that we’re quaint and 19th century – read: white 19th century, which is further refined to mean British. After all, the city is named for Queen Victoria, who in turn represents an era and a place and an empire. So that’s our tourist image.

Is it authentic? Hardly. The Olde England mythos was fabricated out of whole cloth during the city’s various economic slumps, when some people realized that tourism could save the city, now that sealing and whaling and various other get-yer-hands-dirty industries had dried up.

But our built heritage is supposed to be authentic.

What happens, though, when politicians and planners repress the citizens’ autonomy? As Chambers put it so convincingly: no autonomy, no authenticity

Case in point: the City of Victoria prevented Rogers’ Chocolates from altering its store interior. The Rogers family, owners and generations-long stewards of the heritage building on Government Street, were losing business (mostly from tourists) because their store interior is tiny. They wanted to push one wall back by 6 feet or so, annexing a storage space that lay behind the wall. The interior would have been fully preserved, the moved wall would simply have been moved and the space slightly enlarged.

The heritage advocate politicians went crazy, as did the heritage planners, and the city undertook the unprecedented step of slapping some kind of heritage designation on the building’s interior (this was a first), effectively preventing the owner from making the planned change. The owners in turn took the city to court and won their suit – if I recall correctly, something on the order of $650,000 in damages.

I suppose one could argue that taking the city (us, the taxpayers) to court and getting damages is evidence of lingering autonomy on the part of the heritage business owner. But I’d argue that the city (“higher authority”) effectively denied autonomy (“ability to decide”) to Rogers’ Chocolates, and thereby in one fell swoop ensured that “any notion of authenticity is meaningless” when it comes to the heritage of this building. Because the people who are the stakeholders and who should be able to decide were denied autonomy, the city has made that heritage inauthentic.

Some “higher authorities” seem to like it like that, even though it yields inauthenticity. Personally, I think it’s too high a price to pay.

Worse than Katrina? Anti-density bombs over Detroit

September 28, 2010 at 11:25 pm | In cities, futurismo, land_use, politics, scandal, social_critique, urbanism | Comments Off on Worse than Katrina? Anti-density bombs over Detroit

Caught a Sept.23 post by David Byrne today, Don’t Forget the Motor City (found via a tweet by Richard Florida). Byrne writes:

This is a city that still has an infrastructure, or some of it, for 2 million people, and now only 800,000 remain. One rides down majestic boulevards with only a few cars on them, past towering (often empty) skyscrapers. A few weeks ago I watched a documentary called Requiem For Detroit by British director Julian Temple, who used to be associated with the Sex Pistols. It’s a great film, available to watch on YouTube, that gives a context and history for the devastation one sees all around here. This process didn’t happen overnight, as with Katrina, but over many many decades. However the devastation is just as profound, and just as much concentrated on the lower echelons of society. Both disasters were man-made.

That film Byrne references – Requiem for Detroit – occupied a chunk of my evening. It’s truly haunting – unbelievable, except it’s true. (The link Byrne gives goes to Requiem for Detroit in 10-minute segments; the link above goes to the entire 1hr.16min.45sec. film – not sure how that was uploaded to Youtube, but I hope it stays up).

Byrne includes this photo, a google maps overview of a couple of “city blocks” in Detroit today …no density, hardly any houses (most have been razed, the city is trying to “shrink” itself), a sorry accompaniment to the more frightening destruction that has taken place in other areas:

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I believe it was in his 1740 essay The Anti-Machiavel that Frederick the Great wrote that the Netherlands, with its small land mass but large population of educated citizens, was far richer than Russia, with its vast but sparsely populated land mass – a population furthermore kept in servitude and ignorance due to a feudal system that enshrined serfdom.

People – engaged, educated, integrated – matter more than machines or raw land. Looks like land use policies (racist) and factory practices (automobile production) came together to make Detroit turn into 18th century Russia instead of Holland.

Dirty Wall Project: slums and cities

September 24, 2010 at 11:59 pm | In cities, guerilla_politics, housing, ideas, innovation, land_use, local_not_global, philanthropy, street_life, urbanism, victoria | Comments Off on Dirty Wall Project: slums and cities

I saw an amazing photograph in the temporary gallery Ryan Kane of the Dirty Wall Project has set up on Fort Street.

The photo is one of many that Kane is selling to raise funds for his venture: it’s a flat, saturated, picture-edge-to-picture-edge frontal view of one small piece of a slum in Saki Naka bordering the rail line. Its complexity makes Where’s Waldo look minimalist.

Monday Magazine published an interview with Kane last month. An excerpt from the introduction:

You’ve heard of guerrilla gardening and guerrilla marketing, but what about guerilla volunteering? The concept to “see a need and fill it” without worrying about paperwork, bureaucracy or religious bias is exactly what 28-year-old Kane Ryan strives to do with his one-person, not-for-profit organization called the Dirty Wall Project. Ryan just recently returned from India where he was working in the slums of Mumbai, organizing health camps, distributing tarps for the monsoon season, funding emergency surgeries and building a school for the children living in the Saki Naka slum community, among other initiatives. All of the money he raises—75 percent of which comes from here in Victoria through fundraising events, private donors and by selling his travel photography—goes directly to the Dirty Wall Project. Ryan pays for his own travel, food and accommodation out of his own pocket by working odd jobs during the months he returns to Victoria. The Dirty Wall Project is proof that one person can indeed make a difference. (source)

If you’re in Victoria, make sure you get to 977A Fort St (formerly Luz Gallery).

I can’t find an online version of the photo that grabbed my attention this afternoon. Here’s a substitute, which hints at the complexity:

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Visit Ryan’s site, or check out his photo book, Dirty Wall Project (on Blurb). See a need and fill it, make a donation.

On re-reading Biophilic Design: Taking Love to the Street

August 7, 2010 at 11:49 pm | In cities, FOCUS_Magazine, green, johnson street bridge, land_use, leadership, local_not_global, nature, victoria | Comments Off on On re-reading Biophilic Design: Taking Love to the Street

Since I’m fuming in a conversation over on Facebook about the City of Victoria’s Department of Engineering (which seems to me benighted), I was reminded of my 2007 article, Biophilic Design: Taking Love to the Street (the link goes to the Scribd version).

Not to sound too much like I’m tooting my own horn, but that was such a good article, and such a great idea – and it was instantly shot down in a committee meeting of council without so much as a second thought by then-Director of Engineering Peter Sparanese, who told Councilor Pamela Madoff that the scheme floated by me in the above-linked article would be too expensive: as far as anyone could tell, he quoted a $12million price tag seemingly on the spot – amazing, how quickly that particular variation of a Class-C estimate materialized…

In the Director of Engineering’s mind, it was seemingly more expedient to build yet another paved road, …and that’s exactly what happened. And how did the Director get his way? By conjuring a figure that was 3 times more expensive ($12million) than what his conventional fix would cost ($4million). No one ever questioned him on how he came up with his numbers, and from what I’ve seen he has been given free rein ever since: “…Coun. Helen Hughes pointed out the last time the council looked at the project [to fix the View and Vancouver Street intersection] the cost was estimated at $1.55 million, less than half the $4,080,000 of the latest estimate.” (source) and let’s not forget how mercurial the Department of Engineering’s financial estimates regarding the Johnson Street Bridge refurbishment and/or replacement have been…

That this city has no imagination is something I’ve suspected ever since, and my suspicions have been proven again and again in every twist and turn regarding the Johnson Street Bridge fracas – where the only imagination shown is in quoting increasingly bizarre budgets for either option.

For the record, here’s my August 2007 article in full:

“Biophilic Design: Taking Love to the Street”

We know that regular exposure to nature is good for us, and yet we perfect designs that keep nature out, sometimes even erase our awareness of it. Protected from nature, we control and limit our exposure – we stay warm in winter, cool in summer, which affords us greater productivity and increases our comfort. Like most people, I’m happy to enjoy central heating and storm windows. But an over-armored life isn’t ideal, either. Think of dinosaurs or giant turtles next time your car has you imprisoned in a traffic jam or your office window won’t open because that would disturb the air-conditioning.

Today’s eco-conscious designers point out that excessive barriers to nature produce lowered quality of life as well as boring, mediocre built environments. But designing with nature, they argue, contributes to health, creates excitement, and even fosters love. Love of nature, termed biophilia by E.O. Wilson, refers to a deep-rooted need “to experience natural habitats and species.” Wilson’s colleague Stephen Kellert writes of biophilic design: a conscious bent to design access to nature into what we build in cities. It’s a mandate that can shape buildings, parks, …and streets.

Earlier this spring, the City asked for the public’s input at several Parks Masterplan workshops. Planners wanted to know how we use parks, and where we might create new ones. During one workshop, there was an electric moment when a participant suggested turning part of View Street into a linear park. She noted that traffic volume on Fort and Yates (both one-way arterials) is heavy, while it’s relatively light on View. While still allowing cars, the city could nonetheless create a linear park – which would function as a badly needed beautification project, too – and, she added, let’s incorporate exercise stations for seniors.

View crosses Vancouver Street, already blessed with an unparalleled canopy bestowed by majestic chestnut trees whose massive trunks suggest outdoor sculpture. Under the trees, wide grassy boulevards suggest to the many pedestrian commuters that here, indeed, is an urban park – or should be. The intersection of View and Vancouver is sinking, however, and presents a major engineering conundrum. But this problem could become an opportunity.

As we know from Jennifer Sutherst’s research (“Lost Streams of Victoria,” map, 2003), that intersection is built on what was a wetland fed by seasonal streams and rainwater run-off. The wetland in turn fed a stream that coursed along Pandora (accounting for Pandora’s odd bend, between Douglas and Government): the stream marked the boundary between Chinatown and “white” Victoria. It was treated badly even in the 19th-century (apparently turned into an open sewer), was soon contained, put underground, paved over. Its remnants still drain into the Inner Harbour.

Sutherst’s map shows the wetland directly at View and Vancouver. Today, its asphalted surface is impermeable, while drainage codes mandate that run-off from roads and neighbouring buildings diverts to storm sewers, versus flowing back into the marsh. Consequently, the now-hidden wetland is drying up, and as it dries, its layers of peat shrink and compress, causing the roadbed to sinks. To “fix” that problem, we’ve in-filled additional layers of asphalt, making the surface even heavier – and contributing to increased compression of the underlying stratum.

It’s in many ways a classic vicious circle, and a lesson in living peaceably with micro-ecosystems. In effect, by building yet another protective barrier between nature (the wetland) and us, we have also paralyzed the wetland’s hydrological functioning. If the land were a body, what would the wetland be? Perhaps kidneys, absorbing fluid, treating it, discharging it. By putting impermeable asphalt over that natural organ, we’ve desiccated it, and now it’ll cost a pretty penny in engineering surgery.

Since we have to throw money at it anyway, what if we did something truly innovative to that diseased organ? What if we practiced biophilic design to restore its ecological function – and gained a unique urban focal point in what could be a fabulous linear park project? Imagine, for example, an intersection with a permeable steel-grid “road-bed” suspended slightly over a daylighted wetland, the latter slowly restored to full hydrologic function. In the restoration field, daylighting typically refers to excavating and restoring a stream channel from an underground culvert, covering, or pipe. In the case of the View/Vancouver wetland, it would more appropriately refer to removing an impermeable surface, and planting appropriate vegetation that allows the wetland to resume its normal function as a water filter. Restored urban ecology also provides both an educational tool for stewardship and an aesthetic community amenity.

The art-technology-engineering challenge lies in marrying restoration with normal urban functioning: traffic (automotive and pedestrian) has to flow. But consider the value that could accrue for Victoria with a project like this. If Dockside Green, locally the symbolic heart for sustainable development, attracts worldwide attention, perhaps a brilliantly restored kidney could turn a few heads, too.

A glance across the threshold

August 4, 2010 at 10:43 pm | In architecture, land_use, real_estate | 2 Comments

A while back, I read A. Alfred Taubman’s Threshold Resistance: The Extraordinary Career of a Luxury Retailing Pioneer. As I noted on my LinkedIn Reading List Update,

An unusual book by an unusual individual: A. Alfred Taubman is a real estate developer (who has been accused of “malling” America); an art collector; former part-owner of Sotheby’s; a family guy; philanthropist; major booster of Detroit (Detroit!); …the list goes on. At times I wondered whether I’d like Taubman if I met him; other times I was sure I would. He writes like an Everyman – he is, however, anything but an Everyman. It makes for an interesting tension in reading the book: Taubman makes you understand his world (sort of), even if its self-made-man tycoon-ishness remains outside your grasp. There’s a lot to learn here, about how developers think, what makes them tick, and why-and-how urban and suburban development issues are definitely two-edged swords.

What that means – in a nutshell – is that I learned a lot from reading Threshold Resistance and recommend it.

Today I had to look up the book online and thus came across Alfred Taubman’s site and blog. Tremendous energy – he doesn’t stop. For example, this fall he’s teaching a course at Lawrence Technological University on architecture and real estate (ARC 5732, “Land Economics/The Architecture of Development”). His post lists the guest talent he lined up: Rafael Vinoly, Eugene Kohn, Michael Graves and Kenneth Walker.

Agree or disagree, it’s hard not to be awed by Taubman’s energy and drive. And whatever position you take regarding development – urban, suburban – you need to understand how key individuals who are unique and visionary (even if you don’t agree with their vision) approach the matter.

If ARC 5732 were available online, I’d audit it.

Cities as contested space(s) of theory

August 3, 2010 at 9:46 pm | In cities, land_use, urbanism | Comments Off on Cities as contested space(s) of theory

Continuing from yesterday’s post about Urban agriculture readings, here’s another interesting FastCompany article about cities: David Harvey’s Urban Manifesto: Down With Suburbia; Down With Bloomberg’s New York. This one deals with what could perhaps be called a kind of reverse urbanization – turning the city into a glossier, less heterogeneous place – one that, shorn of its rough edges, resembles a suburb.

To get a great sense of where David Harvey‘s critique is coming from, watch the animated version of his The Crisis of Capitalism lecture (Harvey’s theory is impeccable, and the animation really drives it home: must see). Concepts like spatial fix will make sense in interesting new ways, and connections between society of the spectacle and great resets will come into sharper focus.

At the same time, I’m not convinced that cleaning cities up has to equate to (bad) gentrification or capitalist pacification of the masses via spectacle. See a couple of my bookmarks – noted here (scroll down to find the remarks by Benjamin Hemric) and here – about gentrification (in particular as excoriated by Sharon Zukin’s recent book Naked City) for alternate takes.

Clearly, though, close reading of the urban landscape is making a comeback (or maybe it never went away). It reminds me of TJ Clark‘s reading of Paris – familiar territory indeed.

Interestingly enough, one of Clark’s arguments about the Parisian banlieues (suburbs) was that they, in the 19th century, were heterogeneous and rough (unfinished) looking, very unlike the city itself, which – as spectacle – was being “finished” (surfaces became all-important) and thus appeared smooth and perfectly enticing (read Baudelaire‘s Eyes of the Poor, eg. – or listen to The Cure‘s How Beautiful You Are, which is based on Baudelaire’s poem).

But are we now saying that the suburbs are homogeneous and smooth, and that their infernal smoothness is displacing the “grittiness” or heterogeneity of the true urban core? …And if so, is heterogeneity getting the “spatial fix treatment,” by being now found only in some mega-slum or shanty town in the so-called third world?

That’s not something I want to believe, not that what I believe makes any difference.

Urban agriculture readings

August 2, 2010 at 10:16 pm | In cities, just_so, land_use, urbanism | 1 Comment

Not sure what to make of this: New Urbanism for the Apocalypse (in FastCompany, a mag perhaps better known for technology and bright & shiny things, not for in-depth urbanism or for agriculture…). Not a new article (published May 2010), but focused on Andrés Duany, a founder of New Urbanism, who is fed up by how New Urbanism has been popularized (as a panacea?), and who (according to the article) now argues that it’s dead.

We should instead be cultivating our gardens. Urban gardens, that is. Turns out that mammals garden, but dinosaurs don’t:

“New Urbanism has been so successful that it has a lot of dinosaur DNA. The honchos are on board — you’ve seen them here. They want us to join them. Do we want to run among the dinosaurs, or among the mammals? I want to be is among the mammals.” (source)

Agriculture – more specifically: FOOD – is at the root of it. The New New Urbanism, it seems, is agrarian urbanism.

I do have a problem with this. My mother grew a lot of our family’s food – not as a hobby, but because we were poor and we needed to eat. There was a certain magic about her version of square-foot-gardening (ok, more like three-square-meters-gardening!), but I also remember that it was a sh*tload of work. I cannot imagine wanting to do that kind of work, day in and day out. Full stop.

So I did a double take reading this:

Duany conceded growing food is hard work, which is why his agrarian communities would still end up hiring Hispanic laborers to do the dirty work. But “you don’t pretend they don’t exist,” he said in a particular utopian moment. “The people who grow the food must be known to the kids. And they’re the ones who actually know what they’re doing — they know how to build buildings and they know how to grow food.” The money to pay for them — and for the farms — already exists in developers’ landscaping budgets. Stop building golf courses and start building farms, in other words. “We have American cheap labor, too,” he said. “Ourselves, except we’re spending it on ornamental bushes.” (source)

…Right …ok… Hispanic laborers? Really? And Uncle Juan and Auntie Juanita will be …what? Sort of like Tom and Jemima?

Given that the article segues seamlessly from here to James Kunstler (who has made a nice living of late lecturing us about the coming apocalypse derived from oil-dependent cars and the possible upcoming need for horse-drawn carriages as he flies around the world in oil-dependent airplanes to make his living lecturing us about… eh, is this getting circular yet?) I left the page grumpy.

I happened also to have been reading about a friend of mine whose father has some ideas of his own about agriculture. Her father’s ideas derive from what looks like a very different ideological starting point, which makes me wonder about how different ends of spectrum can curve and meet. I’m not dissing the importance of agriculture and food – just saying it’s a well-encrusted (ideologically speaking) subject, and maybe, whenever we bring it up, we need to know all the paths that lead to it from the past. Just so we, you know, have an idea of how we’re mapping the paths from it that lead into the future.

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