One can argue that any object, item, space, and certainly city can be viewed by others in different ways based on that individual’s past. But what about the present; a realization of what you are experiencing based on the current conditions. Does what exist, should exist?
I often wonder if all cities should be shaped like Rome; a city that is enormous yet walk-able with all paths, traversed with linking plazas that lead to monumental icons; Utopia. Many major cities now look as merely a cemetery of parts; buildings, street grids, and parks creating a city-scape of cluster. Even an individual condo unit within a building can be looked at similarly to a microscopic level. This is due to evolution, program, and constraints which altogether create elements that limit possibility. Evolution is the duration of time from initial planning, implementation, then essentially to what exists today. What comes out of this is the program that must be dealt with.
Political figureheads have used their hierarchy to mold their cities into something that would give themselves more power. Hitler’s megalomaniacal ideas to reshape Berlin is maybe the most explicit. I believe if he were to draft a plan for New York City at the time of his reign, he would likely have a large avenue running North and South, leading through Central Park and terminating at a government headquarters structure. This of course would be where he would give speeches as hundreds of thousands would gather in the park to hear his dictations. Yet today, our leaders focus on backing developments that produce tax revenues. In addition, most projects are halted due to community boards, landmarks preservation, zoning and financial issues. The World Trade Center site exemplifies how the private developer faces this epitome.
If I were planning a new development located on the Brooklyn waterfront before it became industrial chaos of transport and manufacturing, I would have likely looked at Venice as an ideal model to plan from and maybe even Chicago or Paris. Regardless, I would look into relationships between people, community, culture, access, and preserve the proximity and views of Manhattan island. Strategically placed low rise housing units would have lined the rivers edge, linked by water taxis like a necklace. Yet, if I was commissioned to look at the same project today, I would better study infrastructure access and create more efficient means, soil contaminants, zoning requirements, codes, permitting, etc. to find out what all limitations are.
Unfortunately, most of today’s cities built by planners, architects, and visionaries are confined by rules, regulations, and many existing obstacles. All working on their own project/plots, without input or knowledge of what can exist at a larger scale of the community holistically; a master plan for today. Hence, they are faced with the challenge of essentially expanding upon an existing city that does not meet the needs of current conditions, yet the era of it’s creation was practical. Robert Moses was a mastermind in developing links from the city to suburbs. For years, automobiles used his direct links to get from point A to point B. Today his visions are now plagued by trucks, traffic jams, constant reconstruction, and pollutants due to emissions. I find it ironic how one can layout a highway to connect the city to the furthest point of the suburbs in efforts to allow city dwellers to migrate, yet I wonder if he was thinking of connecting the suburbs to the city when the suburbs became overdeveloped; destiny of what exists today. The elements of the modern day car and suburban sprawl can best be to blame for this corruption.
Edmund Bacon theorizes about the city as a living organism. Urban structure can be defined by the creation of something predicated on it’s surroundings and effects it will have on existing and future conditions. Who is making these predictions, and what happens if they are wrong? Economic conditions have strained communities, and continue to force people out of their cities to environments where they do not want to live. In time, what will be left behind are abandoned high-end waterfront towers and developers will soon be drained dry. During the building boom which started years ago, maybe we should have been thinking about large plots filled with cheap prefabricated habitats equipped with sustainable options, rather than pricey mortgages and stainless steel appliances. Yet today, we continue the era of constructing super-skyscrapers for foreign investors to park their money and locals continue to move elsewhere. We continue to face economic impacts, infrastructure corruption, traffic congestion, abundant taxing, pollution, energy insufficiency, overcrowding, building safety regulatory issues, etc.
Urbanism is the study of cities, their geographic, economic, political, social and cultural environment, and the impact of all these forces on the built environment. Urbanism is also a species of urban planning, focusing on the creation of communities for living, work, and play. Urbanologists distinguish urban areas from rural areas by their higher population density. They maintain that the difference in population entails a difference in the social and political order as well. The basic concept of an elemental refers to the ancient idea of elements as fundamental building blocks of nature. In the system prevailing in the Classical world, there were four elements: fire, earth, air, and water. Today, in terms of environment, these elements would include global warming, economic conditions, regulations/government, and migration to name a few.
Urbanism is universal. All environments are made up of the same essential parts; Elemental factors shall be fully understood and incorporated, urbanism shall be relevant for streamlining rapid growth and future expansion, and the needs of those who will occupy and/or dwell within should drive the fundamental design principles. Let this not be forgotten so as to transform existing chaos into urban oasis', ensure new developments are conceived properly, and our environments truly satisfy the needs of the people.