Archive for the 'cities' Category

Geographers on postmodernism [I]: introduction

November 7, 2009

In the last 20 years geographers have taken the lead in drawing up spatially-informed theory (notably Lefebvre) to analyze cities, both contemporary and historical.  They have been at the forefront of what many see as a “spatial turn” in the social sciences.  At the moment I’m reading three books from this “space”; the three are, in chronological order (which is clear and significant):

  • David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Oxford [England]: Blackwell, 1989).
  • Edward W Soja, Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places (Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell, 1996).
  • Michael J. Dear, The Postmodern Urban Condition (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2000).

The three make an excellent set:  all analyze the present city (bearing in mind that Harvey’s book was published 20 years ago) in relation to postmodernism.  None questions that we are now postmodern, that there has been a broad cultural and intellectual shift since the 1970s, rooted in the social upheavals and transformations of the 60s.  However their positions toward that state of affairs are quite distinct.

What interests me most is that in taking on the large and contentious topic of “the postmodern city” these geographers must also at least sketch the modernism that preceded it.  Read the rest of this entry »


Technocratic Design

November 2, 2009

Somewhat frightening that my first post was linked to from a serious urban design and planning blog, La Ciudad Viva, based in the Andalusia region of Spain.  I guess they didn’t realize I’m only a grad student who hasn’t even told his friends about his blog yet!

But whether I like it or not, Manu Fernandez linked to my post on Charter Cities from his commentary Ojalá el desarrollo urbano fuera tan sencillo.  Something like “If only urban development were that simple” … my thoughts exactly.  With the help of a little machine translation I can get a sense of his argument, and it’s obvious what he’s getting at where he quotes me on el diseño tecnocrático.

That got me thinking about technocratic design, and a man often associated with, or blamed for it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Inertia in Urban Form and Modes of Occupation

October 10, 2009

Matthew Yglesias describes the cycling-friendly city of Copenhagen and how it got to be that way:

Back in the 1970s there were a substantial number of cyclists in what I guess you would call the “pre car” mode where people ride bikes because the country is too poor for everyone to afford a car. Then came the oil crisis and driving got even more expensive. And alternative policies started to be explored where for the first time the country started consciously trying to encourage bicycling. And the policy was never really dropped. So you have lots of cyclists which creates a constituency for more infrastructure which leads to more cycling which creates a constituency for more infrastructure.

He sees something similar, or at least the potential for it, in New York and D.C.  This cycling example exemplifies a dynamic of change that is to some degree inherent in the built environment.  His term “path dependence” sounds a little too rigidly causal, though.  Not a path so much as a field of ongoing interactions – between social and cultural norms, economic facts, political actions, and the physical form of the built environment.

I would especially emphasize the last.  Read the rest of this entry »

Charter Cities: Call me Skeptical

October 5, 2009

Economist Paul Romer has worked up an idea he calls “charter cities” and put up a web site about it.  Also described in this interview.  Something like an economic free-trade zone raised to the full-blown status of a city.  The main distinction is an express intent to import workers from underdeveloped parts of the world, and this based on the theory that what they need is a modern physical and social infrastructure.  As he puts it, in an optimistic present tense,”Charter cities let people move to a place with rules that provide security, economic opportunity, and improved quality of life.”

I have at least two questions off the bat.  Read the rest of this entry »