We appreciate Paul Goldberger’s essay in this month’s Metropolis, “Rose-Colored Glasses”. An excerpt:
What intrigues me is how little real curiosity about the present most futurists seem to possess. They miss its nuance and complexity. They seem to grasp none of the richness, not to mention the subtlety, of the way in which a vast range of social, political, technological, and aesthetic forces continually collide, collude, and play against one another to shape the direction of architecture. It’s harder to follow that complex process, of course, than to spin a fantasy out of a single aspect of the richly layered present. But the real allure of the future is in the very fact of its unpredictability, since we can never truly know how the multiplicity of forces at play today will interact with one another. Understanding the present is always the greatest challenge. When we can meet that, the future will take care of itself.
Seeing Like a State: Planning Gone Awry in the 20th Century
Cities tend to be complex organisms, Scott observes, so planners are constantly tempted to try to simplify their task:
the desire for comprehensive urban planning is established, the logic
of uniformity and regimentation is well-nigh inexorable. Cost
effectiveness contributes to this tendency… [E]very concession to
diversity is likely to entail a corresponding increase in administrative
time and budgetary cost… (p.141-142)
In Northampton, the simplification du jour appears to be a drive to segregate our open space to the periphery, while weakening greenspace preservation in the more urban districts where it is already scarce.
Planning Board Adopts Sustainable Northampton Plan (12/20/07)
are encouraged by language like “ensure that new development does not
degrade the quality of existing neighborhoods and mitigates traffic” and
“encouraging designs compatible with historic neighborhoods”. We are
concerned, however, about the reference to densities of 50 years ago.
Much has changed since then. In particular, women have far more jobs
outside the home, meaning more cars are on the road. By the same token,
more families have become too busy to dedicate an adult to shopping in
small amounts on a daily basis. If you’re buying 50 pounds of groceries
and supplies at a time, you’re probably going to prefer to do that by
car rather than walk or use the bus. Factors like these mean that a
neighborhood that had comfortable density in 1957 might be perceived as
congested with cars today.
Planners’ Assumptions about Future Household Size and Car Usage May Prove Wrong (4/7/09)
Northampton’s Planning Department observes that average household size
in the city has fallen from 2.86 in 1980 to 2.14 in 2007. They believe
this trend will continue:
Average household size (people per dwelling unit) will
continue to decline. This will be driven by decreases in average family
size, the number of children and number of “traditional” families, and a
corresponding increase in the number of child-free families,
child-delayed families, and especially empty nesters and senior and
frail elderly populations.
(Northampton Schools Strategic Planning: Demographic Background and Sustainable Northampton, 2008, PDF, 803KB)
What if, however, much of the past trend was driven by the enormous debt-fueled consumption bubble that dates back to the 1980s? There are signs that this trend has stalled or is even unwinding…