Certainly the geometry is far more complex in Zaha Hadid’s masterplan for Kartal-Penkik compared with Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin, however from my view they really come from the same paradigm of totalized masterplanning. Though Hadid (and Schumacher) do not use the cookie cutter strategy of Le Corbusier, I think that the overall effect on an inhabitant is actually quite similar of implimenting this strategy at this scale. Schumacher writes, “doubts may be experienced when confronted with the possibility of designing an urban field of up to 6 million square metres… with a single design team. Are we overstretching our capacity here? The answer is, no.” I would argue, at least in this case, that the answer is yes.
Many of Detroit’s abandoned homes have been claimed by local artists. This art movement not only uses unused spaces in a different way, but it is a great example of how an informal practice tries invoke a positive model for action, giving a reason for people to come back into the neighborhood.
1. “Do-It-Yourself City
Crises in government organization and economic development have led to a new emphasis on the self-organization of people in urban areas. Citizens are being challenged to take economic, social, cultural and urban development into their own hands.”
— Philipp Oswalt
“Since 2003,The Greening of Detroit’s has played a key role in our city’s emerging movement to achieve a ‘greener’ city while transforming the food system. Our accomplishments include working with our partners in The Garden Resource Program to provide farming resources and educational opportunities to over 15,000 urban gardeners of all ages each year in the cities of Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park, and operating multiple urban farms and nutritional education programs across the City.”
2. “Profiled City
Cities acquire a profile by building on their singular local strengths. This gives the urban transformation of shrinkage - at first a disintegration imposed by external forces - direction and contour. Conflict, crises, and difference can be catalysts for the development of new identities and local character.”
— Philipp Oswalt
“World’s Largest Urban Farm Planned for the City of Detroit”
Sacramento has many of the same qualities of the receding city as the examples given in the Oswaldt text. Within the past 10 years the metro area has seen both an explosion in suburban growth due to the housing bubble and similarly, one of the largest foreclosure rates in the country. Thus a shrinking in population and an inflation of empty properties. Similarly, the downtown area around the capitol mall while replete with financial towers has felt the effect of the economic downturn. Two massive holes in the fabric of the Sacramento grid mark the locations of abandoned condominium projects. The ‘Catalyst’ competition held in the summer of 2011 sought urban scale projects to serve as a starting point for a revitalization of both the region as well as this centrally located site. The winning entry by Atlas Lab sought to build upon the ‘natural capital’ of Sacramento as one of the nations most forested cities. In contrast to the proposals put forth by Oswalt, Thomas Lovejoy, while from a sustainability standpoint, asks how can a natural resources available to a region support its community. Thus adding possibly an additional component to Oswalt’s three-pronged approach.
Detroit is the prime example of a shrinking city in the rust belt of the United States. Since it was largely planned around the automobile, it was never very dense. However, the effects of deindustrialization and suburbanization have thinned out the population and reduced the tax base to such an extreme that many say that the former model of urban infrastructure is no longer valid. It has been suggested that a looser network of “urban villages” that are less reliant on centralized services may have to replace it. Meanwhile, some have taken advantage of the lack of density, most notably by seizing this opportunity for urban farming.
Phillipp Oswalt’s “Shrinking Cities” identifies through history several specific cases studies where cites have begun to decrease in size. His case studies are specifically chosen to highlight different factors that contribute to the down-sizing of urban centers. What is refreshing to see in Oswalt’s writing is his simple categorization of outcomes of urban shrinkage. He lays down a collection of “Concepts for Action,” which are short blurbs meant to ask provoking question through a specific lens.
Oswalt starts his section of “Concepts for Action” off with the following “If we agree with the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu that social space translates into physical space, it must be said that social problems are reflected in the crisis of physical space in shrinking cities. But that is not all. Not only are social constellations expressed in urban space, …but social problems are reflected in the conception of the models for action themselves (and their crises).”
It is very profound to begin to imagine the spatial manifestations of our society. Granted our priorities such as economy, order, commerce, and social interaction are played out in the planning of our cities to some extent, many of the forces that drive the growth of cities is less tied to the micro-scale of personal experience and interaction. Rather, a city grows often by the fueling of scientific discovery, industrial ingenuity, or macro-cultural forces. It is conceivable that there would be very different ideas of “social space” within a urban environment as the city proceeds through its lifetime. The trajectory of a city’s growth and decay has a huge effect on society and by connection the space in which that society resides in. As we move forward in to a new age of social interaction, our online realities will begin to have an effect on the physical space that we as a society carve out for ourselves in our urban environments. The case studies provided by Oswalt are all from time periods that had not yet experienced social media networking like our generation has.
Phillip Oswalt looks at various possible fields of action for how to deal with “Shrinking Cities”, or those cities that are or will be in decline. He defines the “Reinterpreted City” as: “Materials and buildings that are no longer used take on new functions through reinterpretation and reorganization. This helps save resources. Through the reforming of existing material, social transformation is assimilated culturally. A productive tension results from the difference between the given and the new situation desired. This tension provides new typologies, programs, and connections…”
Milwaukee, Wisconsin has seen a large decline from the post-industrial area, also identified in Detroit by Oswalt, and by the fact that much of the white population moved to the suburbs. This left a rich culture in the city core, also influenced by an abundance of German and Polish immigrants. Much of Milwaukee now can be seen as the “Reinterpreted City” with most buildings being repurposed and attracting a wide range of people, especially because it borders the yet-to-be revived Fifth Ward.
This series of questions stands out as a critical way of looking at Shrinking Cities. They also apply to the questions that we are asking of San Francisco, striving for different ways of thinking about dispersal and development:
“Can differences take a positive turn without fostering social polarization? Is urbanism conceivable without density? Can slowness itself represent quality? What role does property play in the use of space? Can unused spaces and materials be used in different ways? Are there informal practices that can be read as positive models for action? How do mentalities and identity crises influence urban space?”
I would add: Can decay and de-densification be productive? There are examples from nature of this:
Strangler Fig - grows up around a tree (which later dies) to form its own structure
Are there examples of cities that have regenerated themselves in the past? I can only think of ancient ruins - entire civilizations that “shrunk” until they disappeared completely.
Keller Easterling writes this intro to Pamphlet Architecture which contain well thought-out large infrastructural projects. She writes, “The environment grows or changes because of active forms within it - an elevator, spatial product, law real estate wrinkle, financial formula, network topology, material imperative, or persuasion. Like the surfaces, containers, and conduits that are active in the projects of this pamphlet, the forms are carriers of both geometry and protocol. They contribute deliberate tools for adjusting organizational constitution to render mixtures that are, for instance, homogenous, heterogeneous, monopolistic, oligarchic, open, relient, or recursive.”
In a world where disasters are increasing in our cities due to increasing population, etc, prevention or the design for these disasters is imperative. S+PBA designed an infrastructural element in Bangkok that accounts for rising sea level, flooding, and the need for increased housing in its form and breadth.