Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities

Witold Rybczynski (left) is a respected scholar who writes about how cities came to be. His new book "Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities" (right) describes the evolution of ideas about city planning. It includes early planning ideas like "The City Beautiful", "The Garden City", "Broadacre City", and "The Radiant City" along with key players like Frederick Law Olmsted (Sr. and Jr.), Lewis Mumford, Jane Jacobs, Le Corbusier, Charles Mulford Robinson, Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright and many others.

More than writing a simple history, Rybczynski explores past ideas about urban planning to see what cautionary tales they hold for how we plan for the future. The twenty or thirty years following World War II beginning in the 1950s were disastrous for the reputation of city planners and cities across America. We made just about every mistake one could imagine. Rybczynski explores the aftermath of that time and what we can do to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

Decisions about how cities evolve are sometimes made consciously by planners and civic groups and sometimes allowed to naturally evolve based on the immediate market needs and desires of developers, landowners and politicians. We can learn a good deal about how to run a government or reform education by looking at what we have learned about how to plan cities. Rybczynski is skeptical of "visionaries" and sees a need for more organic development that doesn't have the "stamp" of a single design aesthetic.

The lessons we have learned will help to develop greener, mixed-use, heterogeneous down-town living with high densities but providing the liveliness and amenities we desire. They will make better use of water (rivers, shorelines), have active street life (not tunnels or skywalks), include parks, infill, and the integration of shopping, living, entertainment, and civic values.

Click on the heading above to learn more about Makeshift Metropolis and Witold Rybczynski.

No comments: