The North West is not South East

The title of this journal entry is intentionally blunt, yet it appears to warrant further repeating: the assigned north-western portion of our globe is not the south eastern portion of out globe. Different geography, different biodiversity, different climates, and different people. Similarities can be found between , all geographies, all biodiversity, all climates and all people but generally speaking they are different enough to assume that, just because something works in one area, does not mean it will work in all areas. This statement should not be understood as a proclamation that one area is intrinsically superior to another portion, although it probably can be twisted as such. Read ‘different’ as ‘different’ without any value assigned to one variation over another.

Yiftachel in ‘Re-engaging Planning Theory? Towards South-Eastern Perspective’ offers evidence of the point above in a conversation of ‘ethnicity, homeland, and planning’ as well as a summary of data collected on planning journals and where the subject areas are for scholarly literature, Anglo-America won out, but I think that there is another source that was overlooked that supports Yiftachel’s claim, early colonisation construction. I am most familiar with the colonization of Virginia so that will be my point of reference, but I am sure that evidence of this all over the globe exists. The English were unbelievably underprepared for building livable colonies in what became Massachusets, Virginia, and North Carolina in the early going. The thatched roofing common in England at the time proved to be, among other things, a breeding ground for insects in the new. Choices in location lead to settlements near brackish water breeding more disease. Traditional English crops died, in part, leading to periods of starvation. Finally, not knowing the geography of the region, often lead the colonists to begin building in areas at or below water lines amplifying issues of disease begun by poor water and insects bread in thatched roofs and poor water (James Town, Wikipedia). The colonies were not livable until there were conscious efforts to change how the colonies were built and resources collected that took into account the difference in climates and geography of the America as opposed to Europe.

Yiftachel argument for the inclusion of nonwestern source material reflects the desire to re-envision urban planning ideology in a modern setting, thus better planning in areas with non-anglo-European population(s). However, if the everyday engineering of one region does not work in another region, it should also be assumed that the larger ideological assumptions probably will not work either.  The colonists did not know that their roofs would bread insects that spread disease and would kill them and they also did not recognize the Powhatan Confederacy represented a larger local ideological framework that was different than the one they came from in England. This is not what Yiftachel was arguing at all, but it should be included in his argument because it represents how the different assumptions affect the environment in which people operate. One is very physical in its assumption, the other not as much. Both make the same argument.



He who controls the land, controls the universe*

*  in the spirit of this post, I borrowed and remixed this quote from Frank Herbert.

There are a few themes in this weeks readings that relate to how cultures borrow, steal, and remix their surroundings and exert control over marginalized populations. Steven Ward writes about how urban planners diffuse knowledge through different ways, most notably through colonialism. Yan Zhang and Ke Fang compare inner city development in China to urban renewal in the United States, and how the desire for economic prosperity drove China to pursue “mass-produced modernity.” Timothy Beatley points out that borrowing isn’t always a bad thing, and that the United States could learn a thing or two about sustainability from Europe.

Another theme in this week’s readings is identity, and what it means to be a native or to be part of a city. Oren Yiftachel wrote about Talinn, Estonia’s renewal after decades of Soviet occupation and its reaction to that occupation by marginalizing Estonia’s Russian population.

Ward writes about two types of diffusion: borrowing and imposition. Within each of these, there are several sub-levels wherein cultural elements combine with the participation of the indigenous people (synthetic, selective, and undiluted borrowing) and outright dominance of one culture over the other (negotiated, contested, and authoritarian imposition).

It would be easy to look at Ward’s typology of diffusion and think that borrowing is positive while imposition is negative. But borrowing still represents a dominance of one culture over another. Ward suggests that the United States is a synthetic borrower but his article is written with a modern bent. Before there was urban planning as a field and a practice, there was merely just conquering and settlement. We rarely see Native American influences in our planning. The United States has a history of pushing unwanted people away to a forgotten and unwanted piece of land, only to return to take that land and repeat the cycle when it’s advantageous to do so. Yiftachel writes that this kind of dominance, particularly when there is an ethnocratic component, represents the dark side of planning, where a dominant group uses economic and police oppression to stifle the desires of others. The United States has a long history of subjugation and continues to diminish other cultures through its policies, planning, and exclusivity.

One recent example is the Dakota Access pipeline, which would carry crude oil through across the Bakkan region in Western North Dakota, through South Dakota, to Illinois. Native American tribes say the pipeline has destroyed sacred lands and burial grounds, and will create pollution and cause other harm to the environment. Environmental groups have joined their protest and there has been violence as police have tried to quell the resistance.


Protesters at Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. – The Guardian

The built environment and our modern way of business stretches beyond what we see in our own neighborhoods. The massive conglomerate that is building the pipeline represents oil and energy interests of many wealthy people and those people pump money in their local economies and influences cities. As the week’s readings show, benefits to some people always come at the expense of others.

Ward writes that “countries where planning has been externally imposed often, though not invariably, have underdeveloped civil societies.” Whether or not it’s true that countries that have experienced colonial rule were “underdeveloped” those who are doing the imposing on native people have a responsibility to avoid excessive tampering and dominance.

Because many countries have a history of being colonized, their built environments reflect those influences. For example, the city of Hanoi in Vietnam shows extensive French influences. The French thought the Vietnamese city was disorganized and chaotic and sought to apply their specific brand of order. Even though the French preserved many aspects of Hanoi’s culture, they were still conquering and imposing their influence through elaborate, gilded buildings.


The Hanoi Opera House with its obvious French influences. – CityLab

These influences extend to a country’s food and even where its people go when they leave. Globalization means that eventually, there is some kind of reconciliation between the past and the present, and a move towards the future. Hanoi has accepted the French influences and has kept most of the buildings the French built during their colonization. These influences have gone beyond France and Vietnam; as Vietnamese immigrants reached the United States, they spread far and wide, adding to the local landscape with businesses and cultural centers. New Orleans now has approximately 12,000 Vietnamese residents, who found a taste of home there because of their shared French influence.

I forgot to post about Ms. Faroll Hamer’s visit to class a couple of weeks ago, but if she’s still reading any of these, I wanted to express my appreciation that she worked so hard to build the Braddock Road and North Old Town area into such a great place. I spend a lot of time there because Oronoco Bay Park is one of my favorite parks in Old Town and I occasionally take classes at the Torpedo Factory’s Art League annex. It’s a good example of what makes Old Town such a wonderful place to be.

A Vision of the Future City

What image emerges as the sun shines on the future city for the first time?  How will urban planning find the path to get there?  Theories presented by Timothy Beatley, Joel Kotkin, Edward Glaeser, and Scott Campbell led me to the postulation of a new paradigm, the diamond model.  Joel Kotkin suggested the “world cities” of today are exhibiting signs that they have entered their twilight years, but Edward Glaeser reassures us that the concept of the city is enduring.  So the time to begin planning a model replacement city has reached us.  Timothy Beatley evidenced that measurable progress towards sustainability goals depends on significant changes in our established routines.  We need to leave behind the frame of our grandparents’ Oldsmobile or great grandparents’ Model T or in a number of cases our great, great grandparents’ carriages to create the opportunity for real change.  Bite sized progression towards oil-free and net-zero sustainability goals will remain elusive in the absence of drastic change.  We will not get there by attempting to fit a new chassis to legacy framework.  Is the planner’s triangle put forth by Scott Campbell enough to achieve this change and maintain homeostasis?  In this last blog of the semester, I will present some on my thoughts in light of ideas presented by these authors.

In the article titled “The Urban Future” Joel Kotkin put forth the premise that cities follow an established lifecycle pattern.  Communities urbanize around needed goods or services and then evolve to promote secondary goods and services; ultimately they progress to sustaining themselves as cultural and entertainment centers for their last period of time (Kotkin).  If we accept this pattern, then we need to look carefully at the number of cities which have evolved into their last trimester.  What action should we take for those cities?  Edward Glaeser evinced that the city remains a viable construct for pursuing goals held in common by most societies in our world (Glaeser, 1996).  However, is life support for the great cities the best course of action for the generations to come?  We should take the hard earned lessons from these eminent cities and shape the birth of a new generation of world cities.

What lessons can we apply going forward?  Scott Campbell derived a fundamental planning model to illustrate the relation between three key aspects which have challenged planners and determine the success of cities.  The goals and tensions between social justice/equality, environmental protection, and overall economic stability offer a basic framework to shape planning for the future city (Campbell, 1996).  However, given the prevalence of conflict and forecast of continued severe environmental challenges brought on by climate change, I suggest the model planning framework for the future city should take the form of a diamond by adding two additional points to Campbell’s triangular model.  Those points would consist of security and resiliency.  Using that model as a lens through which to examine current constructs of society the areas affected by and related to the future city could be more fully understood.  In the U.S. this could suggest the lack of relevancy of some state lines.  Under the diamond model, the megaregion would become a more appropriate geospatial basis of governance.  Shifting to a megaregion paradigm for statehood would clarify the relationship of resources and infrastructure essential to maintaining the equilibrium of the diamond model. This would facilitate the planning and execution of projects to address systems in a holistic manner.  Planning at both the city and regional level would use the diamond model to plan and prioritize efforts.

So what makes existing cities obsolete under the diamond model?  Timothy Beatley partially answered that question in his article titled “Planning for Sustainability in European Cities.”  In that article he provided numerous examples of strides European cities realized in the struggle towards sustainability.  A commitment to substantial change in established routines and processes constituted the key commonality among the sites he studied (Beatley, 2000).  Yet retrofitting an existing chassis inevitably results in less potential gains compared to those associated with a purpose built chassis.  I postulate that this would have become lucid if Beatley considered other parameters associated with the cities which he studied.   The deleterious impact to the goals at the other vertices of the diamond and the stresses they would create to the equilibrium would demand a purpose-build chassis as a more beneficial option.

So how should we start down the path?  In the U.S., the Federal Government could establish a concept city anchored by very economically stable government administrative functions.  Creating a diamond city in the piedmont region of Virginia would simultaneously explore the new-city concept and improve the resiliency of the D.C.-Boston megaregion by decongesting the critical transportation spine.  From the ground up, the city could be designed for net-zero energy consumption and oil-free transportation.  Only mass transit, pedestrian, and bike infrastructure would link areas within the city.  A high speed rail would create a link to D.C. and rental cars would offer access to other areas.  A heavy tax levied on all commuting traffic would reward use of high-speed rail.

The time has come for us to plan replacements for many of our great cities if we want to create the platforms which enable future generations to succeed.  I suggested a diamond model as a planning methodology that would allow planners to maintain a homeostasis among the five critical objectives facing societies across the world, today.  Evaluating conditions across the U.S. through the perspective of the diamond model would also suggest the megaregions as more relevant geospatial determinants of governance than states.  We will not achieve real change through baby steps.  Now is the time to plan to leap forward.

Beatley, Timothy. 2000.  Planning for Sustainability in European Cities: A review of Practice in Leading Cities. The City Reader

Campbell, Scott. 1996. Green Cities, Growing Cities, Just Cities?  Urban Planning and the Contradictions of Sustainable Development

Glaeser, Edward L. 1996. Why Economists Still Like Cities. City Journal, Vol. 6. No. 2, pp. 70-77

Kotkin, Joel. The Urban Future. The City Reader.

Best Professional Advice Ever

Ms. Hamer’s talk was enlightening and entertaining. I appreciated her advice from her experience in local government, they reflected a planner’s great committment to place and that is something I want to have wherever I find myself practicing. The points that struck me the most was her advice around finding a job: choose your boss wisely and know the path to how things get implemented. Researching internships and jobs is very overwhelming for me, but these two points have given me an empowering perspective.

Planning Thoughts inspired by Farrol Hamer

I immensely appreciated Ms. Hamer’s candor in presenting the joys and challenges she experienced as Director of Planning for the City of Alexandria, VA.  The magnitude of engagement in the planning process by the Alexandria community threaded throughout the discussion.  Ms. Hamer conveyed an impression that this interest formed a key aspect of urban planning, and that impression aligned with that conveyed by the Planning Commission during the monthly meeting in October 2016.  However, the Alexandria planning process and the procedural aspects of the planning commission meeting, at best, only offer the community a level of participation equivalent to placation on Sherry Arnstein’s ladder of community participation (Arnstein, 1969).  The community lacks a vote and their elected representatives appear quasi-removed/protected from the decision making process by an appointed planning commission.  I wonder if a level of partnership could be realized by eliminating the planning commission, making the director of planning an elected position with an enduring term of six years, and increasing the size of the Department of Planning and Zoning staff.  The community would hire the director of planning via election to represent them in the planning process and that director of planning would provide recommendations directly to the elected officials instead of an appointed group.   

Arnstein, Sherry. (1969). A Ladder of Citizen Participation. Journal of American Institute of Planners, Pages 233 – 244.

Thank you, Ms. Hamer

I really appreciate that we had Ms. Hamer speak to our class. It was a great opportunity to get exposure to local politics and real world planning. On the topic of community engagement, one of my takeaways is that planners need to be creative to encourage public participation. One good example is breaking a large group into several small groups to collect more voices in the dialogue. I think this idea of changing the rules of communication is pretty neat. Also, I would keep in mind that a good relationship with the community is the key to move projects forward, especially in a tight-knit community.

As Ms. Hamer mentioned, there are many people not comfortable with changes in their neighborhood, thus growth always parallels with controversy. In this situation, the art of communication is very important. First, planners need to become good listeners and make civic groups feel heard in the planning process, even don’t agree with them. Second, smart planners need to know how to phase the problem or question to achieve the planning goal.

I have questions about affordability of urban living and DC height limit for a long time. It was really enlightening to hear about Ms. Hamer’s insights on the trend of high-rise construction and housing crisis. She mentioned that the least expensive way to increase affordable housing is actually to rehab the existing houses instead of creating new high-rise buildings. That inspires me to explore more about this topic and what would be a good intersection to apply my studies in historic preservation and urban planning to research.

Thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom, Ms. Hamer!

Thanks Ms. Hamer

I thought Ms. Hamer had a great presentation on her experiences in the planning field. I have enjoyed seeing many peoples different outlooks on the careers and the many professions within planning. I particularly liked that she had such a different background in landscape architecture before ending up in planning and ultimately as planning director. She had may interesting topics and she had such a passion for the field that I thought made it very exciting to listen to. She had a lot of great stories/examples in addition to her own work and experiences. For example, mentioning the 16th street divide in DC or her opinions on high rise construction and new construction. Also, she had an interesting position on developers and I have to find that article she had written.

My biggest takeaway was when she talked about how to deal with people, whether its local residents or a client. It is important to listen and hear people out, acknowledging their ideas even if you disagree. She also mentioned about working with people, and realizing and anticipating what certain people maybe want or are expecting. It was a great presentation and I want to thank her again for her time to come talk to us.

Chris Guyan