New recognition of the health and safety benefits of parks is changing how the public and leaders view green spaces.
Central Park in New York City generates $1 billion in economic benefits annually. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
For generations, parks were viewed simply as an amenity, a way to beautify a city. Whether they were planned for gardens, sports, or picnicking, parks were rarely seen as central to public safety and health. But that is beginning to change.
As cities around the world continue their growth, the role of parks is shifting. Parks are no longer seen as something nice to have, but rather as a vital system within the city’s overall network of infrastructure. These hard-working public spaces are probably the biggest untapped resource for cities in this century. Why? Livable, sustainable cities must balance density with open space for the health of their residents, their environments, and their economies.
From physical and mental health, to economic development, to resilience and sustainability, parks offer myriad tangible benefits. New York City’s parks, which attract more than 130 million visits a year, model those benefits to the world. For example, our parks are crucial to the city’s resiliency efforts: NYC’s shoreline parks in the Rockaways and Coney Island are being rebuilt since Hurricane Sandy to withstand rising sea levels, storm surges, and to protect waterfront communities. And thanks to our collaboration with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, our parks have become sites of crucial green infrastructure like rain gardens and storm water-collecting bioswales.
Alongside their environmental benefits, parks have demonstrated time and time again their ability to stabilize communities and drive economic development. According to the Trust for Public Land, well-maintained parks add 15 percent to the value of homes within 500 feet. Our experience in New York bears that out. For example, in under a decade the world-famous High Line has brought more than two billion dollars in new real estate investment to the surrounding community –an enormous return on investment for a $153 million park. An older but well-loved landmark can also drive value: Central Park generates $1 billion dollars of economic benefits annually.
Now we’re working to bring the benefits of well-maintained parks to all New Yorkers, with our $285 million Community Parks Initiative, which will completely rebuild more than 60 historically underserved parks across the five boroughs.
New York is the city I know best, and I am proud of the progress we have made. But as I have traveled, I have seen many cities begin to take parks seriously as part of their urban infrastructure. Houston’s Buffalo Bayou Park, for example, was created a century ago to control the flooding of local waterways and to provide a recreational area for the city. Now, it is one of the nation’s finest urban parks –and a core element of Houston’s water management infrastructure. On the other side of the globe, Singapore’s spectacular Gardens by the Bay not only offer Singaporeans an awe-inspiring new public space, but they are built to clean and filter water and cultivate biodiversity of flora and fauna.
Lawmakers, designers, and planners the world over are learning that well-designed, well-maintained open spaces makes cities work. As our urban centers become more dense, let’s make sure that our investments—and innovation–in city parks matches their importance in our lives.
OCPG member, and videographer Aurelio Ocampo (Red Sky Productions – www.RedSkyPro.com), recently released this brilliant short video on the Downtown Oxnard Vision Plan Charrette process. Aurelio clearly and beautifully documents the Charrette event that took place over a 5 day period in January of 2016. Enjoy!
Innovators at summit brainstorm ways the city can further transform itself
BY BETTINA BOXALL
Photographs by KIRK MCKOY Los Angeles Times
COLUMNIST STEVE LOPEZ, from left, architect Brian Lane, Wendy Greuel, commissioner of the L.A. Homeless Service Authority; Tanya Tull, president of Partnering for Change; and Mike Alvidrez, chief executive of the Skid Row Housing Trust, discuss homelessness.
LONG BEACH Mayor Robert Garcia shares information about the changes his city is undergoing.
TULL advocates for rent subsidies and so-called tiny houses as solutions to the homelessness crisis.
DEBORAH VANKIN and Paul Schimmel talk about arts and culture in urban development at the future of cities event at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Schimmel says L.A. needs to improve pedestrian areas.
When Michael Maltzan visited Los Angeles in the 1980s with a group of architectural students, he was comfortable in a way that many of his fellow travelers were not.
L.A. conveyed the same low-density, car-friendly vibe that he grew up with in the Long Island suburbs — the sense that “you could just go,” he recalled Friday.
Los Angeles, in some ways, still clings wistfully to that identity even as it grows up instead of out, builds light rail instead of freeways and transforms its long-neglected downtown into a cultural center and home to tens of thousands.
The challenges and promise of that transition were the focus of discussion at the Los Angeles Times Summit on the future of cities, held at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
“I think there’s a psychological change,” said Maltzan, the founder of Michael Maltzan Architecture. There “is more anxiety, fear around development,” than decades past, when L.A. just kept pushing out and out.
Now the city is folding back on itself, ind the boundary pushing has to come by way of architecture and innovative infrastructure projects that wire density into commercial thoroughfares without overwhelming neighborhoods, he said.
Instead of a bridge having one use, it can be equipped with solar panels to generate electricity and collect stormwater — as Maltzan has proposed for a reimagined Arroyo Seco Bridge in Pasadena.
“For me that’s the future of infrastructure,” said Maltzan, whose firm designed the One Santa Fe apartment complex in the downtown Arts District and the Sixth Street Viaduct that will span the Los Angeles River.
Paul Schimmel, partner at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, said the international arts gallery found its inspiration in the past, in the form of a more than century-old flour mill in the Arts District.
“It was really the space,” that allowed his firm to transform the building into an enormous gallery space that is fast becoming a community hub with its courtyard and restaurant.
For much of its modern history, Los Angeles was obsessed with private space — the joys of a backyard, a single family home and a solo drive down an open freeway.
But now there is a hunger for walkable public areas, a need that is reflected in plans for the Los Angeles River corridor, downtown’s Grand Park and the popularity of neighborhoods like the Arts District.
“We’re returning to a sense of community,” Schimmel said, adding that the city needs to improve access to pedestrian areas.
“Maybe do a little work on the streets,” he said wryly.
As to whether $6 coffees and upscale apartment construction were driving artists out of the Arts District, Schimmel said he suspected the neighborhood was too expensive for artists before the arrival of bars and restaurants.
But the transformation was much slower than he expected. “In the early ’80s I thought it would be the next Soho,” he said.
“People love the idea of what it was” — a gritty creative community, Schimmel said. Though some of the grit has been scrubbed off the downtown arts scene, “it seems to have roots,” he added.
Moreover, the messy sprawl of the L.A. Basin still offers plenty of relatively cheap industrial space that artists can turn into studios, Schimmel said, citing moves to warehouses in the Interstate 10 corridor.
He also suggested it was time for Santa Monica, an arts incubator in the 1970s and 1980s, “to make its next big move … This is a community that needs to step up again and take the leadership it has in the past.”
Other panelists discussed a more disturbing change in the Los Angeles landscape: the explosive growth in homelessness.
In 1980, people were not living on the streets, said Tanya Tull, founder and CEO of Partnering for Change and an expert in family homelessness.
“Just about everything we’ve done” to address the homeless problem nationally, Tull said, “we’ve done wrong.”
Funneling most funding into supportive housing for the mentally ill will not end homelessness, she argued. “We cannot build ourselves out of this.”
Rather, Tull said, rent subsidies are critical to countering the spiraling cost of housing in Los Angeles that has driven families and individuals to the streets and kept them there, sometimes for years.
She also said local government should be more open to nonconventional housing, such as the “teensy” apartment units San Francisco is experimenting with.
“Don’t you think it’s better to have a tiny apartment than a tent?” Tull asked.
Brian Lane, a principal of Koning Eizenberg Architecture, which designs affordable housing projects, argued that L.A. needs to shed the notion that a neighborhood always equals single-family homes.
The city has “miles and miles” of single-story commercial strips that can be rebuilt with greater density and create neighborhoods around transit hubs, he said.
Sam Polk is a former hedge-fund trader on Wall Street who is working on another shortage — healthy fresh food in poor city neighborhoods that he calls “food deserts.”
Polk founded the nonprofit Groceryships, which does educational outreach to improve eating habits in parts of the city dominated by fast-food restaurants.
He also co-founded Everytable, which prepares meals in a central kitchen and then sells them to go in storefronts.
The prices vary according to what a neighborhood can afford.
Someone living in South L.A., for instance, pays $4 for the same meal that costs a buyer $8 on the Westside.
“Healthy food is a human right,” Polk said, pointing out that it simply took some innovative thinking to develop the Everytable business model.
In perhaps the most optimistic prediction uttered at the Summit, he declared: “We are on the verge of becoming one of the great cities of the world.”
Once blighted and overlooked, these small streets are transforming into community and sustainability hotspots.
An art walk art walk through Seattle’s Nord Alley. (mirastories)
The alley is dark no longer.
In the United States, these almost-accidental spaces between buildings have existed in a sort of limbo: not quite streets, but still thoroughfares; not private, but not public enough to feel protected; backdrops to crime, or filled with trash heaps.
But as cities grow increasingly strapped for space, neglecting these narrow streets is no longer a viable option. Cities from Los Angeles to Baltimore to Seattle are rethinking their alleyways and transforming dead ends intointo places of connectivity and productivity.
A brief history of alleys
In other parts of the world, the size or location of a thoroughfare did not dictate its utility in the same way it did in the U.S. Daniel Toole, an architect and blogger at Alleys of Seattle, previously told CityLab that in European cities like Paris, Rome, and Barcelona, beautiful alleys are vital pedestrian passageways. In Kyoto and Melbourne, they’re retail hubs.
Even the names alleys are called around the world, Toole said, suggests their different functions: in Japan, they’re calledroji, or “little street”; in Australia, they’re “laneways,” suggesting, to Toole, a more pedestrian-friendly figuration.
However, in America, Toole said, alleyways were specifically set aside as infrastructure. Originally conceived as service access to buildings, they were a place to conduct activities considered unfit for the main street—hence today’s association with garbage collection. “It’s really messy,” Toole said. Imagine loading docks for construction, piled-up trash, exposed gas conduits.
The case for transformation
For places that were meant to be unseen, alleys take up a not-insubstantial amount of space. A 2011 report by Mary Fialko and Jennifer Hampton, graduate students at the University of Washington*, found that in Seattle, there are 217,000 square feet of public alley space downtown, 85 percent of which are underused. The report estimated that reinvigorating alleyways could increase the number of total public space in the city by 50 percent.
Alleys, too, are vital players in a city’s overall ecosystem. As the need for cities to rely on more sustainable approaches has become more pressing, the proliferation of trash and flooding in alleyways has come to be seen not only an aesthetic blight, but an environmental one.
And as Daniel Freedman of the Los Angeles Sustainability Collaborative says, there’s a lot of crossover between sound environmental practices and livability. Revitalizing an alleyway creates an opportunity to introduce green infrastructure, but also, Freedman says, it invites the surrounding community to collaborate on improvements and make use of the space.
Across the U.S., cities’ approaches to their alleyways have been varied and specific; at their core, however, are fundamental practices that can be considered and applied universally.
The “green alley” approach
In 2006, Chicago took stock of its 13,000 alleys—among the country’s vastest—and saw a problem. Decades previously, most of the city’s 3,500 acres of alleys were paved with impermeable asphalt or concrete, and stormwater drained through grates at the center. As those systems fell into disrepair through lack of maintenance, flooding became commonplace.
In response, the city pioneered the Chicago Green Alley Program, among the first in the United States to bring sustainable building practices to a network of alleyways. According to Gizmodo, over 100 of the city’s alleys have since beencovered with permeable surfaces that redirect stormwater into the ground and away from Chicago’s “overtaxed” sewer system, reducing flooding and recharging the surrounding soil.
A privately funded initiative in Detroit has taken a similar approach. Peggy Brennan of the Green Garage told Gizmodo that Detroit’s resulting Green Alley incorporates permeable surfaces and gardening space, and has transformed a space once filled with mattresses and hypodermic needles into a community gathering place.
Los Angeles expects that a new network of green alleyways will help the city meet its goal of increasing stormwater capture to 50 billion gallons by 2035; currently, the city saves 8.8 billion gallons annually, The New York Timesreported. The newest alley in the network centered in the city’s South Park neighborhood is projected to capture 700,000 gallons per year.
Making space for the community
In Baltimore, the issue was trash. Leanna Wetmore, the community coordinator for the Baltimore Waterfront Parternership’s Healthy Harbor Initiative, had been trying to figure out a way to engage the local communities in her organization’s goal of having a fishable waterway. “But it’s hard to talk to people about clean water in our city, when there are a million other important issues,” Wetmore says.
So she decided to focus on the garbage pileup in neighborhood alleys. The trash that piles up there filters down through the storm drains and into the harbor; getting the community on board with getting rid of the trash, Wetmore thought, would bring people together and start to free up the water. The Healthy Harbor Initiative’s Alley Makeover Program brings communities together to clean up their alleyways, then implement some “small, cheap improvements that reset people’s expectations of what an alleyway can be,” Wetmore says. Through a $30,000 grant from the Rauch Foundation, 20 alleyways in six neighborhoods are now covered in murals and artwork; they’re filled with block parties and cleared of trash.
Seattle decided in 2008 to clear its alleys of dumpsters, moving instead to a trash-bag collection model of waste management. The same year, theInternational Sustainability Institute (ISI), based in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood, partnered with Gehl Architects on a survey of downtown Seattle’s public spaces, which identified the newly dumpster-free alleys of Pioneer Square as a a potential asset. Pioneer Square, says Liz Stenning, the public realm director for the Alliance for Pioneer Square, had fallen on hard times: it was mostly devoid of retail, office workers left after closing hours, and the streets were quiet.
Inspired by the feedback from the Gehl report, ISI cleaned up the alley adjacent to its office, and hosted a party. It was a rainy night, Stenning says, and the festivities weren’t much more than a local musician and some folding chairs, but people stayed. Since then, ISI has partnered with Stenning’s organization, the Alliance for Pioneer Square, to revitalize alleyways throughout the neighborhood; they now play host to anything from projecting World Cup games from the back of a U-Haul truck, to cat adoptions, to revolving art installations. “We were just trying to do things that change people’s perspective on being in an alley,” Stenning says.
The next frontier for retail
It wasn’t long before local businesses caught on. In Pioneer Square, Back Alley Bike Repair opened its doors in 2011 onto the 700-square-foot Nord Alley; independent restaurants have moved in and capitalized on the 15 or so revitalized passageways as outdoor seating areas.
When it opened in 2012, the East Cahuenga Alley in Los Angeles swiftly drew crowds. The brainchild of a member of the Hollywood Business Improvement District, the plan for the lane—once known as “Heroin Alley”—re-imagined it as a pedestrian space filled with outdoor dining and an artists’ market on Sundays. The Los Angeles Sustainability Collaborative compiled an extensive report on the space, Freedman says, to “put a spotlight on what happened in one community, to show what could be possible for others.”
Though Freedman’s organization focuses primarily on the Los Angeles area, the success of the East Cahuenga Alley model has radiated out to other cities. The Z Block office and retail development is slated to open in Lower Downtown Denver next year; the developer on the project told The Denver Post that the alley bisecting the site was as much a focus as the buildings themselves. While previous alley activations in Denver were limited to one-offs, the Z Block alley will play permanent host to a distiller, a chocolatier, a coffee-bean roaster, and an ice-cream shop, all of which will open out onto the small street.
Historically, Freedman says, urban alleyways were often places of dangers or sources of shame. But in the places where these spaces have been revitalized and repurposed, there’s a particular delight in their new use. The success of these projects, Freedman says, “shows how it’s possible to take a space that was once a liability, and turn it into a resource.”
It’s easy to understand why cities will leap at the opportunity to invest in new structures: “Starchitect”-designed buildings, from the Santiago Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum to Brooklyn’s undulating Barclays Center, could add an iconic image to the cityscape and garner positive media buzz.
However, such massive public investments in permanent structures (what I’ve dubbed “concrete culture”) are bad deals and bad policy for urban economic development. Once the hoopla fades, cities can be saddled with millions in debt and mixed results. Take, for example, Charlotte’s NASCAR museum. Built in 2010 at a cost of US$160 million, the facility has not met attendance projections and, according to the Charlotte Observer, is losing $1 million a year.
Given the economic costs and risks, why do museums, stadiums and other “concrete culture” receive such a privileged place in urban development? After spending the past 10 years conducting research on the topic, I’ve found that this privilege should end; as an alternative, cities should champion music festivals as a cheaper, adaptable way to bolster urban communities.
From 1990 to 2010, over 100 sports stadiums opened across the country. Economists have long argued that these are dreadful public investmentsfor myriad reasons: they’ve been shown to stall economic growth, become underused eyesores and fleece local taxpayers. Billionaire sports team owners profit immensely from sports stadiums and – in many cases – don’t spend a dime on their construction.
While museums and performing arts centers are often nonprofits, they require cobbled-together funding from a variety of sources, ranging from corporate philanthropy to federal, state and local governments. These, too, have come at a cost. The University of Chicago’s Cultural Policy Center found that a whopping 725 arts and cultural facilities were built in the U.S. from 1994 to 2008. Construction didn’t just greatly outpace demand; it also overextended public resources. Though they cost over $15.5 billion to build, only 12 percent of the cultural institutions that were surveyed for the report saw increases in attendance.
Museums, stadiums and other permanent structures purport to revive deteriorating parts of the city. In some cases they do. In other cases, rosy expectations aren’t met. Museums struggle in recessions, while stadiums like Washington, D.C.’s Washington Coliseum and Houston’s Astrodome are left derelict. The New York Times notes that, with the NFL’s St. Louis Rams’ relocation to Los Angeles, St. Louis dodges a fiscal bullet by not having to sign a bad stadium deal. The city wins by losing.
Meanwhile, invasive “mega events” like the Super Bowl, the Olympics and the World Cup can be economic and cultural calamities for their communities as well. Economist Andrew Zimbalist’s book “Circus Maximus” notes that, beyond prestige and perhaps some tourist revenue, these events create concrete cultural infrastructure that monopolize scarce real estate, leaving spaces underutilized for decades.
A cheaper, more equitable path
There is a cheaper, more equitable path toward creating culturally vibrant cities, one that requires less public funding and much less steel and glass.
Festivals, both big and small, are becoming a more prominent feature of our cultural landscape. These events range from small street fairs to extravagant events that inhabit a city’s downtown area for a long weekend. They include Austin’s massive South by Southwest (SXSW), Boston’s smaller Jamaica Plain Music Festival, Manhattan’s mainstream Governor’s Ball and Brooklyn’s two-day AfroPunk Fest.
Music festivals have become popular for three reasons. First, musicians and music labels are eager to perform live to offset declining record sales. Next, today’s music fans are seeking out more and more live performances. And third, municipalities – in an era of intense urban branding and competition for tourists – are becoming amenable to developing music- and event-friendly policies.
Unlike permanent stadiums and museums, festivals are nimble; they’re able to switch venues and change up programming if necessary. They’re also much more inclusive. Many are free to the public, utilize existing public spaces and cultural assets, spark interactions among community members and nurture positive images of urban areas, especially neighborhoods that might need a boost.
A model for the 21st-century city
Recognizing the value in cultivating events, cities like Nashville and Austin have learned to promote a festival-friendly environment over the last decade. Both cities established entertainment zones that balance relaxed noise ordinances with affordable, mixed-use housing. At the same time, these cities champion their distinctive character and communities by embracing their festivals as “signature events.”
These cities have made it easier to hold cultural events by streamlining the permitting process and allowing public parks to be used. Even their city halls have designated offices devoted to culture and music that wield bureaucratic influence and act as liaisons with local arts organizations. Some cities have even established a new position: night mayor.
In New England, a burgeoning scene of club owners and musicians congregate each year at Newport’s Jazz and Folk festivals, where they leverage local resources to attain international notoriety. Up-and-coming musicians have a voice in the festival’s planning as members of the Newport Festival Advisory Board. They can also influence resource distribution by directing fundraising to targeted local groups.
Replicating these successes can be challenging. Research has indicated that festivals sometimes exclude local residents, and many events become vulnerable to overcommercialization. Brands, for example, often flood the visual landscape of these festivals. When I began conducting research at the Newport Folk Festival, it was the Dunkin’ Donuts Newport Folk Festival, and nearly every surface of the facility seemed to be sheathed in corporate pink, orange, and brown. (The festival has since become a 501c3 nonprofit corporation, and now brands have a more muted profile at the event.)
Carefully articulated policies around short-term events need to highlight community input and assessment, including greater representation of marginalized groups.
Some might wonder if it’s worth investing in something that leaves after only a few days. But the impermanence of festivals is a feature, not a flaw. Festivals are adaptable, using spaces that might otherwise go unoccupied, and they can act as platforms for existing local artistic groups.
A conversation with Jonathan R. Wynn on his new book, Music/City.
From Coachella, Glastonbury, and Stagecoach to Governors Ball, Lollapalooza, and Ultra, music festivals clearly play a role in the economies of cities. They bring in huge numbers of tourists and revenue, attract large audiences, create significant platforms for musicians, and help to build city brands.
In his new book, Music/City: American Festivals and Placemaking in Austin, Nashville, and Newport, Jonathan R. Wynn—a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst—explores the rising “festivalization” of our culture. (Disclosure: I liked an early version of the book so much, I agreed to blurb it.) Wynn estimates there are now some 250-plus music festivals in the U.S. alone, which run the gamut from popular to niche genres. His book, however, focuses on three of the most iconic music festivals—Austin’s South by Southwest, Nashville’s Country Music Association festival, and Newport’s long-running Folk Festival, where Bob Dylan famously went electric.
In preparation for Music/City, Wynn developed his own participant observations by visiting these cities and festivals and conducting over 100 interviews with musicians, festival promoters, city leaders, and more. To delve deeper into his findings, I talked to Wynn about music festivals and what they mean to cities.
Your book centers on the “festivalization” of cities and society. How big of a phenomenon is “festivalization,” and what seems to be driving it?
Spectacles in cities have ancient roots, from seasonal rituals to exhibitions of corporal punishment. Festivals have likely been around just as long. However, there does seem to be a newfound need for cities over the last three decades to offer consumable experiences: short term events often drawing heavily from the images and cultures of local communities. Festivalization is the idea that urban placemakers develop event-based cultural policies in response to increasing post-industrial consumption, urban tourism, intense inter-city competition, and place branding. I argue that the success of festivalization is in the impermanence of events: Ephemerality is a feature, not a flaw.
Why choose to focus on three music festivals in three cities? What is special about these three, and what in particular can we learn from them?
Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles are three exceptional American cities, with robust economies and a surfeit of culture. I was interested in comparing a triad of slightly smaller metros and their festivals because they seemed very different in their histories, culture, and senses of place. (Austin is the 35th largest metro in the U.S., Nashville is 36th, and Providence—which incorporates Newport—is 38th.) At the same time, these cities were each working to leverage their local cultural communities into distinctive signature brands. Many cities can learn from the successes and missteps of a mid-sized city like Nashville as compared with the more unique and complex cultural economies of a place like Chicago.
You note that certain types of music are deeply rooted in certain cities—blues in Chicago, jazz in New Orleans, country in Nashville, and so on. But from what I can tell, only a few festivals reflect the musical history and tradition of their city. To what degree do festivals showcase local artists as opposed to big name bands and acts?
Many festivals try to be of two minds in regard to local versus national acts. Marquee-level headliners draw outsiders and sell tickets, while local talent keeps a festival symbolically tied to place. (Booking local acts has a more practical function: they cost less.) Music can be deeply rooted, sure. But music is also wondrously mobile and adaptable. Jazz, for example, moved from Harlem to Shanghai with ease. Similarly, there might be something valuable about the Chicago Blues Festival—some would call it authenticity. But is that event truly better than a more intimate, yet less rooted, Blues festival in a place like Calgary? I wouldn’t say so.
It’s often said that there is little money left in selling recorded music, and that musicians either live or die on the road. How do festivals fit in with this broader shift in the music industry?
Musicians, record executives, talent bookers, and festival organizers all told me that festivals, with their sizable guarantees, serve as “anchors” along a tour. Interviews with mid-career and up-and-coming musicians repeatedly highlighted another key feature of festivals: They are opportunities to win new fans and, importantly, gain national or even international media attention. High-paying festivals might allow a band to book gigs in smaller venues in the hopes of broadening audiences in new markets.
You talk about three kinds of festivals—“citadel” festivals like Coachella, which consolidate events within a single space; “core” festivals like Nashville’s CMA Fest, which span convention center sports stadiums, large and small music venues, and include both paid and free events; and “confetti” festivals like Austin’s SXSW, which span multiple venues across a city. It would seem to me that a confetti festival might be the best kind to showcase a city.
In the book, I try to highlight the costs and benefits of each. “Confettied” festivals like Pop Montreal or Fête de la Musique creatively embed events in curious and varied places. Such a pattern of activity increases accessibility and spontaneous and unscripted interactions, but might lack the large media impression of a more focused event. Conversely, a “citadel” festival has the potential for high impact, high visibility, and manageable risk, but also lacks accessibility. The “core” festival might be the “Goldilocks” of the three, being neither “too hot,” nor “too cold” by holding smaller, more intimate events as well as higher profile spectacles.
Your book focuses on the connection between music festivals and city-building. Who are the local groups that push for music festivals? Are they the same boosters and growth coalitions that argue for stadiums and tax breaks? Or are they part of the arts and cultural establishment, i.e. the board members of the symphony, arts, and ballet?
Festivals arise due to different constellations of actors, and flourish or fail thanks to a variety of factors. Newport’s Jazz and Folk festivals were founded by wealthy benefactors and managed and sustained by a strong-willed impresario from Boston, George Wein. That case might best echo the cultural boosterism you are thinking of. Ticket sales and corporate sponsorships, more than wealthy benefactors, support the other two events I studied. The CMA Fest (once called ‘Fan Fair’) was founded and is maintained by the country’s first genre-based trade organization, the Country Music Association, after fans kept infiltrating their annual DJ convention. A few of Austin’s local alternative media and music people founded SXSW as a way to encourage label reps from Los Angeles and New York City to come see local musicians. Then there are festivals that use public funds, more like Canadian or European festivals: Chicago’s Blues Festival and Seattle’s Bumbershoot (which started as the “Mayor’s Arts Festival”).
It’s no secret that festivals bring their own set of problems to cities: traffic congestion, garbage, drugs, crime, to name a few. At times, this can lead to conflicts between festivals and neighborhood groups. Which cities and festivals are best at dealing with this? What are the best ways to cope with these inevitable tensions and conflicts?
When a young man drove through a SXSW crowd in 2014, it refueled arguments over the excesses and scale of the festival. SXSW developed some strategies for dealing with the unintended consequences of their success. For example, they recently offered free concerts with high-profile acts across the lake and away from the smaller venues. This reduced the pressure on the business-side of the festival, lessened congestion in the downtown area, and “gave back” to the community.
Concerns aren’t just logistical. There is often apprehension over what these “signature events” can and should represent. Nashville’s festival is a great example of this: In interviews, local bluegrass and folk musicians bristled when I asked about the CMA Fest because it showcases a relatively narrow view of what country music is, and in so doing obscures the more robust music scene in “Music City, U.S.A.,” which includes alternative rock (e.g., Black Keys, Jack White) and a large Christian music industry.
You argue that music festivals are often better at revitalizing communities than other kinds of initiatives. “Festival programming,” you write, “can more fluidly respond to the changing needs of the city, its residents, and the audience that attends.” I’m sure our readers will want to know more about this.
I compare contemporary festivals to two similar cultural forms. The first is the “mega event” like the Super Bowl, the Olympics, and the World Cup—most of which are economic and cultural calamities for their communities. The second is what I call “concrete culture”: the museums, performing arts centers, and sports stadiums. A report from the University of Chicago’s Cultural Policy Center notes that our construction of such institutions over the last few decades has far outpaced interest. I propose that events like festivals, so long as they are sufficiently responsive to their communities, are much better investments due to their comparatively low cost and high malleability. One way to ensure this kind of responsiveness is significant public funding of the events, as they do in Canada and Europe.
You argue that festivals are collective, placemaking events. Some festivals like Burning Man even erect temporary cities. What forces in our culture and society are behind this desire for community and place?
The drive towards connection and co-presence is certainly deep in our social unconscious. People love sharing experiences and seeing performances. I’ve seen even the most cynical music executive become spellbound by a great performance set in place. The recorded music industry, as you mention, is in trouble, but musicians will always perform, and people will always be there to listen.
At the end of the book you argue that festivals are part and parcel of an age-old human inclination for “occasions.” Whether it is a wedding or a music festival, these are rituals that people not only participate in, but remember, recall, and talk about long after. Why are festivals such an important part of our occasions today, and what does this mean for cities?
Occasions are transcendent, wherein people become more than themselves either in celebration or in anger. They become effervescent landmarks in memory. In my book on tour guides in New York, I suggested that our stories about cities are a series of events, like pearls on a string. More than anything else, I would say that we think about cities through those effervescent experiences.
A new study zeroes in on the relationship between arts organizations and the economic and cultural diversity of New York City neighborhoods.
The role of the arts in city life is a hot-button issue among urbanists. I have long argued that street-level arts and cultural scenes signal the diversity and economic vibrancy of cities. My own Bohemian Index has linked artists, musicians, writers, designers, and entertainers to innovation and high tech industries, and I have often highlighted the connection between vibrant music scenes and startup cultures in cities and urban neighborhoods. But others disagree, arguing that arts and culture simply flourish in already wealthy places. Still others contend that arts have an even more perverse effect, ultimately leading to higher real estate prices, gentrification, and the displacement of working class and lower income residents from their neighborhoods.
A new study from Nicole Foster and James Murdoch III at the University of Texas at Arlington and Carl Grodach at Queensland University of Technology adds to our understanding of the role of arts in cities. The study conducts a detailed empirical examination of the connection between arts organizations and key measures of neighborhood diversity and economic advantage or disadvantage. To get at this, the authors use extensive data on nonprofit arts organizations collected by DataArts*, which they compare to data on neighborhood diversity (by race, income, and industry) and indicators of neighborhood disadvantage (based on unemployment and the share of people below the poverty line and on public assistance) from the U.S. Census.
Where the arts concentrate in New York
Have a look at the map below, which charts the location of over 250 new nonprofit arts organizations established in New York City between 2000 and 2010. The concentration of these organizations in Manhattan is overwhelming: The borough is covered in black, indicating a higher presence of neighborhoods with 6-10 or even 11-20 organizations.
The map is in line with existing research that says that the arts tend to cluster in wealthy neighborhoods—in this case, those predominately located in Manhattan. The borough is, after all, the economic and financial center of one of the world’s most powerful cities and houses a preponderance of the city’s creative industries. It’s also home to New York’s most affluent residents and highest housing prices, stretching in some places into the tens of millions of dollars.
Some argue that Manhattan has become so expensive that artists, galleries, and arts organizations are being priced out. Meanwhile, Queens and Brooklyn have a mixture of 1-2 or 3-5 organizations per neighborhood. That’s less than Manhattan, but far more than the Bronx or Staten Island, which have only a small group of neighborhoods with a select few organizations.
Characterizing the New York arts scene
The figure below depicts the location of new nonprofit arts organizations based on economic advantage or disadvantage, as well as neighborhood diversity along race, income, and industry lines. As the chart shows, the majority of these organizations are located in neighborhoods with relatively low levels of disadvantage, moderate racial diversity, high diversity of income, and a high diversity of industries.
Two thirds of new nonprofit arts organizations are located in neighborhoods with moderate to high levels of racial and income diversity, according to the study. Interestingly enough, although more of these organizations prefer neighborhoods with lower levels of disadvantage, the preference for disadvantage was fairly evenly distributed from “least” to “high.” Furthermore, roughly three quarters of new nonprofit arts organizations are located in neighborhoods with a diverse industry mix alongside urban amenities.
Overall, the study finds a positive correlation between new nonprofit arts organizations and the diversity of industry (.43). There is a much more modest correlation between new nonprofit arts organizations and income, while the association between these organizations and neighborhood disadvantage is not statistically significant. Ultimately, the study finds that new nonprofit arts organizations in New York City are attracted to and located in neighborhoods with a mix of finance, creative, tech, and media industries. While these arts organizations can be found in neighborhoods with various levels of diversity, they are less likely to be located in disadvantaged or struggling neighborhoods.
This again helps to explain the large concentration of non-profit arts organizations in Manhattan. In addition to being the most affluent borough and the metro’s economic hub, Manhattan offers the easiest access to cultural amenities like museums, theaters, and performances. It makes sense that nonprofit arts organizations would want to locate there.
The importance of local-serving organizations
Next, the study considers the effects of these non-profit arts organizations on their immediate neighborhoods. How do arts organizations ultimately affect the diversity or economic conditions of the neighborhoods they are located in, if at all?
To get at this, the study conducts a regression analysis of the connections between arts organizations, neighborhood diversity, and the change in the economic conditions of neighborhoods. This analysis also includes measures of talent, concentrated poverty, levels of immigration, and types and conditions of housing. Finally, the study looks at how two types of nonprofit arts organizations—those that are locally-focused and those that engage a broad national or international audience—are connected to neighborhood diversity and economic conditions.
The study finds that these two types of arts organizations have different effects on their neighborhoods. On the one hand, arts organizations that serve broad audiences are associated with lower levels of economic disadvantage over time, but only in neighborhoods that are already racially diverse. On the other hand, when the authors factor in income, they find that local-serving organizations help to reduce economic disadvantage in neighborhoods with the least diverse incomes (which also number among the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods).
Here the authors note that the presence of local-serving organizations may help to create neighborhood identity, attract the creative or high-tech industries and amenities that spur development, and ultimately counter neighborhood disadvantage. They also suggest that such organizations can play an important role in improving economic conditions without displacing current residents. Although the arts are often said to spur gentrification, local-serving organizations are more likely to enhance an existing community rather than price out longtime businesses and residents.
More importantly, the study finds that local-serving organizations can be particularly beneficial in areas of concentrated poverty. From 2000 to 2010, over 75 percent of diverse, low-income, highly disadvantaged neighborhoods with new local-serving organizations saw reductions in their levels of disadvantage.
A focus on diverse, disadvantaged neighborhoods
Ultimately, the study finds that nonprofit arts organizations are attracted to relatively advantaged neighborhoods with a mix of creative, finance, tech, and media industries and moderate levels of racial diversity. And yet these organizations do the most good in disadvantaged, even more diverse neighborhoods that lack this kind of industry mix.
Here the study suggests that New York may benefit from creating incentives for nonprofit arts organizations to locate outside the core of Manhattan into these kinds of neighborhoods. In fact, it’s precisely these diverse, disadvantaged communities where art and artists contribute the most to the city’s economic and social fabric by building community, bolstering neighborhood identity, and spurring innovation and economic development.
A Best Book of the Year according to Planetizen and the American Society of Landscape Architects
Jeff Speck has dedicated his career to determining what makes cities thrive. And he has boiled it down to one key factor: walkability.
Making downtown into a walkable, viable community is the essential fix for the typical American city; it is eminently achievable and its benefits are manifold. Walk-able City―bursting with sharp observations and key insights into how urban change happens―lays out a practical, necessary, and inspiring vision for how to make American cities great again.
Everyone is calling for smart growth…but what exactly is it? In The Smart Growth Manual, two leading city planners provide a thorough answer. From the expanse of the metropolis to the detail of the window box, they address the pressing challenges of urban development with easy-to-follow advice and broad array of best practices.
With their landmark book Suburban Nation, Andres Duany and Jeff Speck “set forth more clearly than anyone has done in our time the elements of good town planning” (The New Yorker). With this long-awaited companion volume, the authors have organized the latest contributions of new urbanism, green design, and healthy communities into a comprehensive handbook, fully illustrated with the built work of the nation’s leading practitioners.
“The Smart Growth Manual is an indispensable guide to city planning. This kind of progressive development is the only way to fully restore our economic strength and create new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete in the first rank of world economies.” — Gavin Newsom, Mayor of San Francisco
“Authors Andres Duany, Jeff Speck, and Mike Lydon have created The Smart Growth Manual, a resource which not only explains the overarching ideals of smart growth, but a manual that takes the time to show smart growth principles at each geographic scale (region, neighborhood, street, building). I highly recommend [it] as a part of any community participant’s or urban planner’s desktop references.” — LocalPlan.org
Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change
In the twenty-first century, cities worldwide must respond to a growing and diverse population, ever-shifting economic conditions, new technologies, and a changing climate. Short-term, community-based projectsandmdash;from pop-up parks to open streets initiativesandmdash;have become a powerful and adaptable new tool of urban activists, planners, and policy-makers seeking to drive lasting improvements in their cities and beyond. These quick, often low-cost, and creative projects are the essence of the Tactical Urbanism movement. Whether creating vibrant plazas seemingly overnight or re-imagining parking spaces as neighborhood gathering places, they offer a way to gain public and government support for investing in permanent projects, inspiring residents and civic leaders to experience and shape urban spaces in a new way.
Tactical Urbanism, written by Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia, two founders of the movement, promises to be the foundational guide for urban transformation. The authors begin with an in-depth history of the Tactical Urbanism movement and its place among other social, political, and urban planning trends. A detailed set of case studies, from guerilla wayfinding signs in Raleigh, to pavement transformed into parks in San Francisco, to a street art campaign leading to a new streetcar line in El Paso, demonstrate the breadth and scalability of tactical urbanism interventions. Finally, the book provides a detailed toolkit for conceiving, planning, and carrying out projects, including how to adapt them based on local needs and challenges.
Tactical Urbanism will inspire and empower a new generation of engaged citizens, urban designers, land use planners, architects, and policymakers to become key actors in the transformation of their communities.
The Congress for the New Urbanism views disinvestment in central cities, the spread of placeless sprawl, increasing separation by race and income, environmental deterioration, loss of agricultural lands and wilderness, and the erosion of society’s built heritage as one interrelated community-building challenge.
We stand for the restoration of existing urban centers and towns within coherent metropolitan regions, the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs into communities of real neighborhoods and diverse districts, the conservation of natural environments, and the preservation of our built legacy.
We advocate the restructuring of public policy and development practices to support the following principles: neighborhoods should be diverse in use and population; communities should be designed for the pedestrian and transit as well as the car; cities and towns should be shaped by physically defined and universally accessible public spaces and community institutions; urban places should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology, and building practice.
We recognize that physical solutions by themselves will not solve social and economic problems, but neither can economic vitality, community stability, and environmental health be sustained without a coherent and supportive physical framework.
We represent a broad-based citizenry, composed of public and private sector leaders, community activists, and multidisciplinary professionals. We are committed to reestablishing the relationship between the art of building and the making of community, through citizen-based participatory planning and design.
We dedicate ourselves to reclaiming our homes, blocks, streets, parks, neighborhoods, districts, towns, cities, regions, and environment.
We assert the following principles to guide public policy, development practice, urban planning, and design:
The Region: Metropolis, City, and Town
Metropolitan regions are finite places with geographic boundaries derived from topography, watersheds, coastlines, farmlands, regional parks, and river basins. The metropolis is made of multiple centers that are cities, towns, and villages, each with its own identifiable center and edges.
The metropolitan region is a fundamental economic unit of the contemporary world. Governmental cooperation, public policy, physical planning, and economic strategies must reflect this new reality.
The metropolis has a necessary and fragile relationship to its agrarian hinterland and natural landscapes. The relationship is environmental, economic, and cultural. Farmland and nature are as important to the metropolis as the garden is to the house.
Development patterns should not blur or eradicate the edges of the metropolis. Infill development within existing urban areas conserves environmental resources, economic investment, and social fabric, while reclaiming marginal and abandoned areas. Metropolitan regions should develop strategies to encourage such infill development over peripheral expansion.
Where appropriate, new development contiguous to urban boundaries should be organized as neighborhoods and districts, and be integrated with the existing urban pattern. Noncontiguous development should be organized as towns and villages with their own urban edges, and planned for a jobs/housing balance, not as bedroom suburbs.
The development and redevelopment of towns and cities should respect historical patterns, precedents, and boundaries.
Cities and towns should bring into proximity a broad spectrum of public and private uses to support a regional economy that benefits people of all incomes. Affordable housing should be distributed throughout the region to match job opportunities and to avoid concentrations of poverty.
The physical organization of the region should be supported by a framework of transportation alternatives. Transit, pedestrian, and bicycle systems should maximize access and mobility throughout the region while reducing dependence upon the automobile.
Revenues and resources can be shared more cooperatively among the municipalities and centers within regions to avoid destructive competition for tax base and to promote rational coordination of transportation, recreation, public services, housing, and community institutions.
The Neighborhood, The District, and The Corridor
The neighborhood, the district, and the corridor are the essential elements of development and redevelopment in the metropolis. They form identifiable areas that encourage citizens to take responsibility for their maintenance and evolution.
Neighborhoods should be compact, pedestrian friendly, and mixed-use. Districts generally emphasize a special single use, and should follow the principles of neighborhood design when possible. Corridors are regional connectors of neighborhoods and districts; they range from boulevards and rail lines to rivers and parkways.
Many activities of daily living should occur within walking distance, allowing independence to those who do not drive, especially the elderly and the young. Interconnected networks of streets should be designed to encourage walking, reduce the number and length of automobile trips, and conserve energy.
Within neighborhoods, a broad range of housing types and price levels can bring people of diverse ages, races, and incomes into daily interaction, strengthening the personal and civic bonds essential to an authentic community.
Transit corridors, when properly planned and coordinated, can help organize metropolitan structure and revitalize urban centers. In contrast, highway corridors should not displace investment from existing centers.
Appropriate building densities and land uses should be within walking distance of transit stops, permitting public transit to become a viable alternative to the automobile.
Concentrations of civic, institutional, and commercial activity should be embedded in neighborhoods and districts, not isolated in remote, single-use complexes. Schools should be sized and located to enable children to walk or bicycle to them.
The economic health and harmonious evolution of neighborhoods, districts, and corridors can be improved through graphic urban design codes that serve as predictable guides for change.
A range of parks, from tot-lots and village greens to ballfields and community gardens, should be distributed within neighborhoods. Conservation areas and open lands should be used to define and connect different neighborhoods and districts.
The Block, The Street, and The Building
A primary task of all urban architecture and landscape design is the physical definition of streets and public spaces as places of shared use.
Individual architectural projects should be seamlessly linked to their surroundings. This issue transcends style.
The revitalization of urban places depends on safety and security. The design of streets and buildings should reinforce safe environments, but not at the expense of accessibility and openness.
In the contemporary metropolis, development must adequately accommodate automobiles. It should do so in ways that respect the pedestrian and the form of public space.
Streets and squares should be safe, comfortable, and interesting to the pedestrian. Properly configured, they encourage walking and enable neighbors to know each other and protect their communities.
Architecture and landscape design should grow from local climate, topography, history, and building practice.
Civic buildings and public gathering places require important sites to reinforce community identity and the culture of democracy. They deserve distinctive form, because their role is different from that of other buildings and places that constitute the fabric of the city.
All buildings should provide their inhabitants with a clear sense of location, weather and time. Natural methods of heating and cooling can be more resource-efficient than mechanical systems.
Preservation and renewal of historic buildings, districts, and landscapes affirm the continuity and evolution of urban society.
The Ahwahnee Principles for Resource-Efficient Communities, written in 1991 by the Local Government Commission, paved the way for the Smart Growth movement and New Urbanism. These principles provide a blueprint for elected officials to create compact, mixed-use, walkable, transit-oriented developments in their local communities. Cities and counties across the nation have adopted them to break the cycle of sprawl. If you like the newly emerging downtowns across the nation – full of people, activities and great public spaces – that’s the Ahwahnee Principles in action.
Existing patterns of urban and suburban development seriously impair our quality of life. The symptoms are: more congestion and air pollution resulting from our increased dependence on automobiles, the loss of precious open space, the need for costly improvements to roads and public services, the inequitable distribution of economic resources, and the loss of a sense of community. By drawing upon the best from the past and the present, we can plan communities that will more successfully serve the needs of those who live and work within them. Such planning should adhere to certain fundamental principles.
All planning should be in the form of complete and integrated communities containing housing, shops, work places, schools, parks and civic facilities essential to the daily life of the residents.
Community size should be designed so that housing, jobs, daily needs and other activities are within easy walking distance of each other.
As many activities as possible should be located within easy walking distance of transit stops.
A community should contain a diversity of housing types to enable citizens from a wide range of economic levels and age groups to live within its boundaries.
Businesses within the community should provide a range of job types for the community’s residents.
The location and character of the community should be consistent with a larger transit network.
The community should have a center focus that combines commercial, civic, cultural and recreational uses.
The community should contain an ample supply of specialized open space in the form of squares, greens and parks whose frequent use is encouraged through placement and design.
Public spaces should be designed to encourage the attention and presence of people at all hours of the day and night.
Each community or cluster of communities should have a well-defined edge, such as agricultural greenbelts or wildlife corridors, permanently protected from development.
Streets, pedestrian paths and bike paths should contribute to a system of fully-connected and interesting routes to all destinations. Their design should encourage pedestrian and bicycle use by being small and spatially defined by buildings, trees and lighting; and by discouraging high speed traffic.
Wherever possible, the natural terrain, drainage and vegetation of the community should be preserved with superior examples contained within parks or greenbelts.
The community design should help conserve resources and minimize waste.
Communities should provide for the efficient use of water through the use of natural drainage, drought tolerant landscaping and recycling.
The street orientation, the placement of buildings and the use of shading should contribute to the energy efficiency of the community.
The regional land-use planning structure should be integrated within a larger transportation network built around transit rather than freeways.
Regions should be bounded by and provide a continuous system of greenbelt/wildlife corridors to be determined by natural conditions.
Regional institutions and services (government, stadiums, museums, etc.) should be located in the urban core.
Materials and methods of construction should be specific to the region, exhibiting a continuity of history and culture and compatibility with the climate to encourage the development of local character and community identity.
The general plan should be updated to incorporate the above principles.
Rather than allowing developer-initiated, piecemeal development, local governments should take charge of the planning process. General plans should designate where new growth, infill or redevelopment will be allowed to occur.
Prior to any development, a specific plan should be prepared based on these planning principles.
Plans should be developed through an open process and participants in the process should be provided visual models of all planning proposals.
Authors: Peter Calthorpe, Michael Corbett, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Moule, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Stefanos Polyzoides Editor: Peter Katz, Judy Corbett, and Steve Weissman
Cities everywhere are facing similar problems – increasing traffic congestion and worsening air pollution, the continuing loss of open space, the need for costly improvements to road and public services, the inequitable distribution of economic resources, and the loss of a sense of community. The problems seem overwhelming and we suffer from their consequences every day. City character is blurred until every place becomes like every other place and all adding up to No Place.
Many of our social, economic and environmental problems can be traced to land use practices adopted since World War II. In the late 1940’s we began to adopt a notion that life would be better and we would all have more freedom if we planned and built our communities around the automobile. Gradually, rather than increasing our freedom, auto-oriented land use planning has reduced our options. Now, it takes much more time than it used to carry out our daily activities. We must go everywhere by car – there is no other option. We must take a car to the store for a gallon of milk, drive the children to Little League practice, even spend part of the lunch hour driving to a place to eat. And as roads become increasingly clogged and services further from our home, we spend our time as anonymous individuals waiting for the traffic light to change rather than chatting with friends at the corner store or playing ball on the lawn with the neighborhood kids.
Rather than designing towns so that we could walk to work or to the store, we have separated uses into homogeneous, single-use enclaves, spreading out these uses on ever-increasing acres of land. Housing of similar types for similar income levels were grouped together. Retail stores were clustered into huge structures called malls, surrounded by endless acres of parking slots. Businesses imitated the mall – creating “business parks”, usually without a park in sight, and with people working in clusters of similar buildings and parking spaces. At the same time, public squares, the corner store, main street, and all the places where people could meet and a sense of community could happen were replaced by the abyss of asphalt.
Even people are segregated by age and income level. And those who cannot drive or who cannot afford a car face an enormous disadvantage. In the words of Pasadena’s Mayor Rick Cole, “there’s a loss of place, a loss of hope, and it’s killing our souls.”
The effects of single- use, sprawling development patterns are becoming increasing clear. And, with that has evolved arealization that there is a better way. Towns of the type built earlier in this century – those compact, walkable communities where you could walk to the store and kids could walk to school, where there was a variety of housing types from housing over stores to single-family units with front porches facing tree-lined, narrow streets -these towns provided a life style that now seems far preferable to today’s neighborhoods. Thus we have seen an increasing interest in a number of concepts that would bring us back to a more traditional style of development and a style of planning that would be more in tune with nature including “neotraditional planning”, “sustainable development”, “transit-oriented design”, the “new urbanism”, and the concept of “livable” communities.
In 1991, at the instigation of Local Government Commission staff-member Peter Katz, author of the New Urbanism, the commission brought together a group of architects who have been leaders in developing new notions of land use planning: Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Stefanos Polyzoides and Elizabeth Moule, Peter Calthorpe, and Michael Corbett. These innovators were asked to come to agreement about what it is that the new planning ideas – from neotraditional planning to sustainable design- have in common and from there, to develop a set of community principles. They were then asked how each community should relate to the region, and to develop a set of regional principles. Finally, they were charged with defining how these ideas might be implemented by cities and counties. The architects’ ideas were drafted by attorney Steve Weissman into a form which would be useful to local elected officials and provide a vision for an alternative to urban sprawl. A preamble, topics of specific ideas, community principles, regional principles and implementation of the principles was presented in the fall of 1991 to about 100 local elected officials at a conference at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite. There they received both a highly enthusiastic response and their title- the Ahwahnee Principles.
The community principles define a community where housing and all the things needed to meet the daily needs of residents are located within walking distance of one another. They call for returning to historic population densities around transit stops to provide the critical mass of people and activities in these areas needed to make transit economically viable. They call for housing which provides places to live for a variety of people within a single neighborhood instead of separating people by income level, age or family situation.
The Ahwahnee Principles state that development should be compact but with open space provided in the form of squares or parks. Urban designer Michael Freedman describes this as space-making rather than space-occupying development. Rather than surrounding buildings in the center of unusable landscaped areas (space-occupying development), Freedman says we should use buildings to frame public space (place-making design).
Freedman holds that to plan for more livable communities, local government officials must understand the human scale – that is, the basic relationship of people to the environment in which they live. In neighborhoods, for example, we must recognize the relationship of the house to the front door to the street. In doing so, we will create the sorts of places which bring people together and create a vitality, a sense of community. By framing open space with buildings which open onto it, there are more eyes to look upon the area and that creates places that feel more safe. And with that design solution comes more compact development – development which has less costly infrastructure requirements, and development which is more walkable and more easily served by transit.
Further, the principles call for an end to the monotony of contiguous, look-alike building by separating each community with a well defined edge, such as an agricultural greenbelt or wildlife corridor, so that we can actually see where one community ends and another begins. From a transportation standpoint, one of the most important principles is that all parts of the community should be connected by streets or paths – no more dead end cul de sacs, fences, or walls which prevent us from going directly from one point to another. Narrow streets, rather than wide streets, are recommended because they help slow traffic and make it safer for pedestrians and bicycles. Narrow streets also create more attractive, more people-friendly neighborhoods and shopping districts.
Finally, the community principles call for more resource-efficient land use planning – the preservation of the natural terrain, drainage and vegetation; and the use of natural drainage systems and drought tolerant landscaping and recycling. They ask that buildings be oriented properly, (as required by the California solar rights act) so that they can take advantage of the sun for heating and natural breezes for cooling.
The regional principles call for the land-use planning structure to be integrated within a larger network built around transit rather than freeways, with regional institutions and services located in the urban core. A perfect example of this can be found in the City of San Jose where city planners chose to locate a new sports stadium in the downtown area, close to several rail stops rather than off a freeway. The surrounding restaurants and shops are benefiting from the increased number of passers-by before and after games, and freeway travel is not as clogged as it otherwise would have been.
The architects noted that regions should be distinct from one another rather than fading into one another as they largely do today. Each region should be surrounded by a wildlife corridor or greenbelt and the materials and methods of construction should be specific to the region. Santa Barbara and Santa Fe come forward as two excellent examples of communities who have followed these principles and who have realized that there are economic as well as aesthetic advantages of doing so. Both of these cities have implemented strict design guidelines for their downtowns which preserve the historical architectural styles of their regions. Because these cities have retained a very special and distinct sense of place, they have become highly popular both as places to live and as tourist destinations.
The implementation strategy forwarded by the planners is fairly straightforward and simple. First, the general plan should be updated to incorporate the Ahwahnee Principles. Next, local governments should take charge of the planning process rather than simply continuing to react to piecemeal proposals.
Prior to any development, a specific plan or a precise plan should be prepared based on the planning principles. With the adoption of specific plans, complying projects can then proceed with minimal delay. The developer will know exactly what the community wants. There should be no more costly, time-consuming, guessing games.
Finally, the architects put forth the most critical principle of all, “Plans should be developed through an open process and participants in the process should be provided visual models of all planning proposals.” Without involving citizens from every sector of the community, including developers, the political viability of a new plan may be limited. Citizens must be getting what they want and care enough to be vigilant about it so that the plan cannot be changed by a single property owner with a self interest.
But the stability of planning policies is not the only advantage of citizen participation. Bringing together citizens to create a common vision for the community has more benefits than just the creation of a good plan that will be upheld through time. The process itself can create a sense of community and an understanding between previously warring factions.
However, it is difficult for citizens to visualize what a new planning scheme is going to look like after it is built if they see only a one-dimensional sketch or read about the plan in a six-inch thick planning document. There are a number of techniques which have been developed to address this problem. The visual preference survey, where participants are provided an opportunity to express their likes and dislikes through judging slides, allows citizens to actually see concrete examples of their options. Another useful technique is computer simulation where the visual results of a physical plan can be created on the computer. Another method involves taking participants on a walk through their own town to determine which portions of the community look good and function well and which do not.
Implementing the Ahwahnee Principles
The concepts embodied in the Ahwahnee Principles are being implemented by cities and counties throughout the nation, with most of the activity occurring on the east and west coasts. In Pasadena, the participation of 3,000 residents from all sectors of the community resulted in a general plan with a guiding principle which states, “Pasadena will be a city where people can circulate without cars.” The plan lays out where growth should occur – primarily along light rail stations and in neighborhood commercial areas within walking distance of residences. The city is now preparing specific plans to guide what that growth should look like. One of the projects, a mixed-use housing development near a downtown rail stop, is already complete.
In San Jose, the City has produced, under the guidance of citizen advisory groups, a total of four specific plans for infill sites in various parts of the City covering a total of almost 1,000 acres. Their goal is to assure that new development will occur as compact, mixed use neighborhoods located near transit stops. The City of San Diego has adopted “Transit-Oriented Development Design Guidelines” for the purpose of redirecting existing patterns of building within the City and helping reduce the community’s dependence on the automobile. The planning staff has completed the first public review draft of a comprehensive zoning code update that will create zoning designations to implement the guidelines.
In Sacramento, Walnut Creek, Santa Barbara and San Diego, city officials have broken new ground by siting new shopping malls downtown, near transit, rather than off a freeway. The benefits include both a new surge of economic activity for downtown businesses and a reduction in auto use and the associated negative air quality impacts. The California Air Resources Board has noted that over 60% of the people arriving at San Diego’s downtown mall, Horton Plaza, arrive via transit or walking.
Developer-proposed, large-scale, new development is also reflecting the influence of the Ahwahnee Principles. The one-thousand acre, Playa Vista infill project in Los Angeles will include the preservation of 300 acres of wetlands. As it is designed now, the development will feature moderately-dense housing built small neighborhood parks. Large offices, small retail stores, restaurants, grocery stores and small telecommuting offices will be integrated, allowing residents to walk when they go to work, shop, or go out to dinner. A bicycle and pedestrian esplanade will link the town with the beach. Rialto’s Mayor John Longville is working with the developer of a 3,000 acre development near the Ontario airport to incorporate the concepts of the Ahwahnee Principles in that project.
With the assistance of urban designer Michael Freedman, the City of Cathedral City is no longer focusing solely on density and the control of uses as a means of guiding their future growth. At a joint meeting of the city council, planning commission, and architectural review committee, Freedman presented the Ahwahnee Principles and the key role of local government in future planning and general plan development. Cathedral City adopted the Ahwahnee Principles by resolution and has started to incorporate them into their general plan. With only 50% of the city built out and development plans on the table, the city council acknowledged the importance of having planning guidelines. An innovative city in the desert region, Cathedral City understands that the best way to deliver good planning principles is to work both with the community and the building industry to develop a comprehensive strategy of planning more livable neighborhoods
Even the US government has embraced the Ahwahnee Principles. Architect Peter Calthorpe reports that the planning concepts outlined by the Ahwahnee Principles have been written into a guidance document recently published the federal government. Calthorpe was a coauthor of the document, Vision/Reality produced by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for local government officials interested in applying for Community Development Block Grant program and other funds.
A number of city planners believe that if they can just solve the problem of traffic, they can solve the major problems of their cities. Yet the simple needs of the automobile are far more easily understood and accommodated that the complex needs of people. The Ahwahnee Principles outline a set of ideas for planning more livable communities built for people, not just cars, and provide a vision for an alternative to urban sprawl. This new vision will lead to neighborhoods where people no longer live in a house with an isolated rear yard. They will live in a home with a comfortable relationship to the street which is part of a neighborhood. Tree-lined sidewalks with narrow streets will induce cars to drive more slowly. Children will be more safe when they play in the neighborhood and the sense of community will add a feeling of security. When they need to go to school, to the store, or to baseball practice, children will be able to walk or ride a bike rather than being dependent on someone driving them there.
The top down, traditional planning of yesterday is no longer an acceptable means of making cities. The people served must be involved. When people come together and openly discuss their visions for the future, a sense of community will result. Bringing citizens into the process of developing and revising the general plan will also result in new development which both serves the needs of the community and is used and respected by the residents it serves. To make better, more livable cities, local governments must take charge of the process of planning while involving and utilizing its bet asset, the people who work, live and play in our communities.
About the Architects
The architects who gathered in 1991 to develop the Ahwahnee Principles are all internationally known for their inspirational work and innovative ideas. Peter Calthorpe, is one of the leaders of the “New Urbanism” movement and was cited by Newsweek Magazine as “one of 25 innovators on the cutting edge.” Michael Corbett, a former Mayor of the City of Davis, has received international recognition for his design of the resource-efficient Village Homes development in Davis, a project often cited as the best existing example of sustainable development in the world. The husband-wife team of Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, made headlines with their wildly successful Seaside development in Florida and have become highly acclaimed architects and planners of neotraditional communities. Stefanos Polyzoides is an associate professor of architecture at the University of Southern California. He and his partner, Elizabeth Moule, are the architects of Playa Vista in Los Angeles, a model application of the Ahwahnee Principles.
The Oxnard Community Planning Group advocates for visionary practices in planning, design, and development that will lead to a more livable and prosperous city.
The Oxnard Community Planning Group envisions a city that grows wisely, preserves farmland and open space, drives smart economic development, welcomes vertical density, cherishes our past, and boldly anticipates our future.
The Oxnard Community Planning Group believes in a city that works to meet the needs of all our residents: young, old, people with disabilities, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists; even people who don’t go anywhere. We strive to be open-minded, welcome thoughtful discussion, and are willing to invest our time and efforts towards bringing these beliefs into being.
Oxnard’s little leftover flyover (East Channel Islands Blvd) can become a wonderful South Oxnard park and civic amenity.
The OCCTIP consultants are suggesting that the city demolish the East Channel Islands Blvd bridge. The Oxnard Community Planning Group would like to see the flyover bridge become a South Oxnard park. Different from but not unlike the amazing High Line in NYC.
Our little leftover flyover can become a great South Oxnard civic amenity. Go Oxnard.
Of course it won’t look like the High Line but with excellent local landscape design it can be a winner. Let’s have a competition for the design of the park. When the city is a bit more flush – it might consider a small stipend to offset costs to several world class landscape architectural and urban design firms to design us a little world class city park. Wouldn’t that be sweet?
With a little imagination and quality design we can have our own version of the High Line. A park for bicycling and walking connecting neighborhoods – A New Vision for Oxnard.
In May (2013), the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, a protected bike & pedestrian trail connecting some of Indy’s most popular cultural institutions, had it’s long-awaited public coming out with a ribbon cutting and celebration. It could be the biggest bicycling infrastructure achievement in North America and yet it’s still practically a secret. Hopefully after experiencing our Streetfilm, that will change.
As you’ll see it runs eight fantastic miles through the heart of the downtown and features beautiful stone work, green landscaping and bioswales for containing stormwater runoff. There is great signage and design with an eye for maximum safety. In many places along the trail, parking and/or a car travel lane was converted to fit the lanes in. But most importantly, the trail features ample room for both cyclists and pedestrians (most of the time in separate environments) to move about in a major city whether they are commuting, exercising, running errands or just going for a afternoon jaunt.
It’s fun and very safe and people of all ages using it. It’s the kind of thing Gil Penalosa’s 8-80 Cities organization preaches to the world.
Across the U.S. we have cities such as NYC, Chicago and San Francisco doing tremendous work installing many innovative miles of protected lanes with inexpensive materials. Although the Cultural Trail cost quite a bit, it’s nice to imagine that in the near future we’ll want to make these lanes more permanent and rideable. And for that we need not look to Europe, we can go check out Indianapolis.
Note: Please don’t miss our associated Streetfilm on Indy Mayor Greg Ballard AND a short looking more in-depth at the bioswales and storm water management system along the Cultural Trail.
For those that love cities and especially Los Angles – this is a feast for the eyes.
This is the city-wide follow up to my aerial exploration of downtown Los Angeles from last year (vimeo.com/101231747). And much like with downtown, I continue to be awe struck by how much of this vast city I have partially or completely overlooked before undertaking this video. And like most voyages of discovery, I’ve realize there’s so much more to find.
Packing it all into one short-form video has been nigh impossible and much didn’t make it for safety, privacy or simply because I couldn’t make it 30 minutes long! Notably missing are: LAX Theme Building, both Gettys, some Lautner homes, numerous beautiful buildings, the Gabba gallery, many murals that vanished before I got to them, and much of downtown featured in last year’s video.
Droning For Good
With all the controversy about drones, it’s important to remember that they can be (and often are) used responsibly. As with many emerging technologies, the laws struggle to keep up and we must employ a common sense approach to their use that is respectful to community, safety and the law.
My Drone Protocol
– Avoid busy periods, rush hours, special events, etc.
– Avoid sensitive areas or anything that can be misconstrued without prior permission.
– Avoid crowds. Small groups only from the periphery with ground spotters and two-way radios.
– No flights near airports, TFR areas and restricted airspace (FAA class B, C, D).
– Be prepared for local air traffic below 400ft including awareness of helipad locations.
– Operate at or below roof lines to assure separation from air traffic.
– Avoid “loitering” next to residential homes and apts.
– Respect residential areas for quiet and right to privacy.
– Eliminate any material that inadvertently reveals someone in a place of privacy.
For queries regarding my aerial filming, please contact me by email, email@example.com.
All of us treasure our time in outdoor spaces. So why do we devote so little of our attention to their design?
As a designer in the site-furniture industry, I am always curious about the value people place on the outdoors. I like to ask people I meet to describe a great city like New York, Chicago, or Paris and what they most remember about being there. Or I ask them, if they won $25,000 to spend on a dream vacation, where they would go and what they would do. Their fond memories of a celebrated city or an escape into the wild often have little in common, except for one thing: Their most memorable and meaningful experiences almost always revolve around the outdoors.
We have studies showing that people tend to be healthier and happier, and can enjoy longer lives, in areas where they have access to nature, including green urban spaces. Outdoor spaces are some of the least expensive to create and can pay some of the highest returns on investment—in terms of community life, health and wellness, and the generation of economic activity in surrounding areas. As more people—from young professionals to retirees—move back into cities, green public spaces and vibrant streetscapes are often cited as key factors for attracting residents and businesses.
Despite this, we do not give outdoor spaces the same value and financial support that we give to buildings and interiors. We calculate the square-foot dollar value of buildings and interiors but don’t do the same for a square foot outdoors. We have not made a strong business case for designed outdoor spaces—we can and should be making this case. I also believe that design and innovation in public and privately owned outdoor space is lagging—and the first step to address that challenge is to better leverage the skills and talents of landscape architects, the professionals best prepared to design them.
In collaboration with landscape architects and other design professionals, all of us in the site-furniture industry can elevate awareness and promote greater investment in outdoor spaces that create memory and meaning.
This is a time in human history when landscape architecture has something really important to say. We should listen. Landscape architects practice a discipline rooted in holistic thinking. They understand the natural environment, the built environment, and the interface between them. And they are ideally prepared to take leadership in shaping outdoor spaces and framing public awareness about them.
Recent high-profile projects such as the High Line and Millennium Park have achieved placemaking of the highest order, and the star landscape architects responsible for them have captured public attention. But there is a whole legion of talented, inspired landscape architects out there who should also be at the center of envisioning and designing outdoor space.
This is also a time when industry can play a constructive role. Those of us who provide the site elements that help shape and activate these spaces need to do our part, and I’m excited about taking on that challenge, researching methods to make the case for the return on investment for well-designed outdoor spaces measured in terms of community, identity, well-being, environment, and dollars spent. I am focused on driving innovation with new types of scalable solutions that go beyond the standard litter bin, bike rack, and bench, to help people enjoy great outdoor experiences. The outdoors starts only a half-inch outside the door, so we need new ideas for spaces adjacent to buildings. We also need to integrate technology in public spaces, but in ways that respect the special qualities of the environment.
I am excited by the work and believe that, in collaboration with landscape architects and other design professionals, all of us in the site-furniture industry can elevate awareness and promote greater investment in outdoor spaces that create memory and meaning. We can make a real difference in the urban landscape that is our future.
Kirt Martinis the vice president of design and marketing at Landscape Forms, leading the company’s creative teams for product development, marketing, and marketing communications. Martin is an award-winning industrial designer, and previously directed design activities at Turnstone, a division of Steelcase.
A new exhibit at the AIA New York Center for Architecture examines the changing function of parks and other open urban centers.
There’s a bit of a house-of-mirrors quality at Open to the Public: Civic Space Now, at the AIA New York Center for Architecture in New York City’s Greenwich Village through September. From the outside, at LaGuardia Place, you peer in and see an umbrella-capped hot dog stand, a Citibike, and a wrap-around mural of Times Square. Step inside, and you’ll find the perfect backdrop for a selfie that makes it seem like you’re on the crowded steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is an exhibit about public space, in a public space, with public space outside, all around. This reflection on an essential ingredient of cities requires a moment of orientation.
The very notion of public space, a subject largely reserved for design professionals until about a decade ago, is a hot topic today. The threshold event that pushed it into popular consciousness was probably 2011’s Occupy Wall Street encampment in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park—a privately owned public space, just to add another level of complexity. Worldwide, the protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo that year also underscored the connection between place and public discourse, with all the mobilization power of social media mixed in. In recent years, the practice of guerrilla urbanism—taking over parking spaces or entire streets for mini parklets, spontaneous art displays, and chair bombings—has further changed the definition and understanding of public space and its function.
Cities are the story of the century, as New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman noted at a Radcliffe Institute lecture earlier this year, and public space is central to civic health. All of this new attention to the design and character of public space is thus quite welcome, but there are all kinds of thorny questions marbled in: rules and regulations, free speech, access and equity. Is the pedestrian zone of Times Square mostly for tourists? Who are the best new public spaces actually being designed for? A park is no longer just a park; as a stage for the theater of public life, it’s become more complicated.
The AIA New York exhibit attempts to make sense of its subject by organizing public space into three basic categories: congregation, circulation, and contemplation. The latter is perhaps the easiest to understand: The serene new Four Freedoms park at the tip of Roosevelt Island on the East River in Manhattan, a completion of a design by Louis Kahn, is open to anyone who can get there.
Anyone who walks the sidewalks of New York realizes how much of the city’s life is played out in public. The way that space gets used can seem accidental as much as intentional, from the High Line—the infamous transformation of an elevated railway into a linear park—to the benches at either end of the planted medians along Park Avenue. The steps of the Met were probably not specifically designed to accommodate the hundreds of visitors who hang out there every day, but that lingering has become a signature of the place.
No curator can cover everything in one show, but if this exhibit has one shortcoming, it’s the lack of recognition of guerilla or tactical or pop-up urbanism. From San Francisco to Dallas to Portland, Maine, that’s really where the action is lately regarding public spaces. It might have also been interesting to delve into the latest cutting-edge thinking on shared space espoused by such thought leaders as urban designer and movement specialist Ben Hamilton-Baillie, who takes former New York transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan’s Times Square model a step further by removing all traffic lights and warning signs. The implementation of the Dutch concept of the woonerf, which prompts a blending of automobile, bicycle, and pedestrian movement, turns streets into a new kind of public realm based on eye contact and common courtesy. The resulting ballet is seen in such places as Poynton and the Seven Dials intersection in England.
The exhibit looks back as well as forward, and includes the recently rehabilitated McCarren Pool, a New York City public works project of Robert Moses. And when you walk out of the center, the sometimes tortured history of placemaking is all around. The high-density towers of urban renewal are right across the street; the gardens and ground-floor shops of the Washington Square Southeast development are reasonably active. Then of course there’s Washington Square Park to the north—a public space functioning about as well as any urbanist could imagine. The park’s fountain is working (thanks to a private benefactor, the Tisch Foundation), people strum guitars, kids run every which way, and the park’s famed monumental arch lords over everything.
Nearly a half-century ago, Jane Jacobs fought Moses’ proposal to run Fifth Avenue through the greensward. Back then, nobody was openly talking about free speech or democracy movements or whether homeless people should be allowed to congregate there. It was more about mothers and strollers. But it was contested space, as so much of public space in the city was. And remains.
Top image (clockwise): Times Square photo courtesy Francisca Sumar, CityBike photo courtesy Stephen Mallon, Brooklyn Bridge Park photo courtesy Julienne Schaer, Bronx Community Garden photo courtesy Landgarden.
In Los Angeles, MOCA is modeling how institutions with huge collections should be thinking: Move artworks into underserved communities.
Everyone should be thrilled that the Underground Museum in Los Angeles is screening 7 Fragments for George Méliès. It’s an animation installation by William Kentridge, a fantastic artist, but that’s not the reason people should be pumped—or not the only one. No, what’s so great about 7 Fragments is that it’s a Museum of Contemporary Art show—featuring an artwork from the Museum of Contemporary Art collection—that’s not on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Let Carolina A. Miranda explain. In the Los Angeles Times, she details the unlikely collaboration between the Underground Museum and MOCA that has made 7 Fragments possible. MOCA is one of the most visible visual-art institutions in L.A., if not the nation. The Underground Museum, by comparison, is invisible.
“For the next three years, the Underground will feature a series of exhibitions, curated by [founder and painter, Noah] Davis, that will be drawn from MOCA’s permanent collection—placing important works of art in a largely working-class black and Latino neighborhood at the heart of Los Angeles,” Miranda writes.
There isn’t a city in the country that wouldn’t benefit from such a program: a non-museum space for showcasing museum-collection works. There isn’t a museum anywhere that couldn’t use to expand its reach and viewer base. A farm league for museum exhibitions and curators would do the entire art world some good. Experimental satellites are an idea whose time has come.
Around this time last year, Miranda was writing about the effort by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and other leaders to lure a museum to the city that would house the art collection of George Lucas. Several cities—namely Chicago, San Francisco, and L.A.—were locked into a downward spiral to see who would give away the most to secure Lucas’ support. Miranda wasn’t on board, namely because Lucas’ art collection sucks. Against the prevailing sentiment (or at least the mayor’s), she launched the #WhyLucasNOTinLA campaign.
Arguably, L.A. has enough museums as it is—as do many cities. Over the past two decades, the nation as a whole has undergone an extraordinary cultural building boom. As Joanna Woronkowicz, D. Carroll Joynes, and Norman Bradburn explain in Building Better Arts Facilities, most large metropolitan statistical areas have erected new facilities within recent years. During one narrow window (2000–2002), 87 percent of MSAs with a population of 2 million or more launched new cultural buildings. About one-third of small MSAs (population 500,000 or fewer) did the same, per a report by authors for the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago.
Not all of these projects have served cities well. For one thing, the costs for building museums, theaters, and performing-arts centers increased during the boom leading up to the collapse of the dot-com bubble. While those costs have since relaxed (more recent data aren’t available), the costs for building museums outstrips almost any other kind of building project. And in the wake of the recent recession, the construction industry as a whole is smaller, meaning construction costs in the U.S. are rising.
But there’s an argument to be made for launching satellites instead of adding expansions no matter what the cost of construction is, especially with regard to contemporary art. Any museum you care to name has more artworks than it can ever show and a challenge in reaching various communities—any museum.
The answer is right there: Take the artworks out of storage and put them into those communities.
While it might sound obvious in an era that has seen restaurants have to seriously compete with food trucks (and even launch their own), museums haven’t quite learned to see past the brick and mortar. The Museum of Modern Art boasts some 200,000 works of art in its collection, but instead of reaching further into New York City—the way it did when it absorbed MoMA P.S.1 in Queens in 2000—the museum is betting hard on its tourist-trap mall location in Midtown.
For most museums, the situation is even bleaker, since most of them can’t claim a P.S.1 of their own. Fortunately, the Underground Museum and MOCA in L.A. have shown the way: Hungry curator, disused space, underserved community, untapped artwork. There is no major city where this won’t work. There is no museum that can’t make bread with this recipe.