It's that time again, folks. The weekend is here at last, and it looks like it might actually be a nice one in Chicago. If you're supposed to get crappy weekend weather, these links might actually be useful!

ITEM ONE: Mayor Daley wants Chicago to host the Olympics in 2016, but there are a few hurdles left to clear. Unfortunately for him, many of them happen to be the Windy City's citizens. (Via No Land Grab.)

ITEM TWO: The first Jane Jacobs awards are given to two urban innovators in New York.

ITEM THREE: The best book this year about San Francisco? SFGate thinks it's "The Suburbanization of New York".

ITEM FOUR: Wired features an article that serves as a great follow-up to yesterday's post on the Dawn of Digital Urbanism. (Via The Map Room.)

ITEM FIVE: This is even better -- an imagined glimpse of geo-blogging DC, Berlin, Dubai, Mumbai, and Torino in 2017. (Photo credit to Wired.)

Adios, compadres. Have a great weekend.


The Brewhaus

When was still living in Milwaukee, I got a call from my roommate one afternoon. A mutual friend of ours had founded a photography club, and he had somehow managed to befriend the security guard of the Pabst Brewery complex and convinced him to let the club tour the old Pabst Brewhaus. The roommate wanted to know if I wanted to come along.

A bit of background: for those who don't know, beer is kind of a big deal in Milwaukee, historically speaking. The city was once the largest German city in the world after Berlin, and the German Beer Barons who built the city's legendary breweries -- Miller, Blatz, Schlitz, and Pabst are the best remembered -- were major celebrities in their day. Many of their elaborate Flemish mansions still stand. And while microbreweries are nearly as ubiquitous as corner bars in the Brew City, Miller Brewing Co. is the only one of the historic brewers left (Pabst still exists, but brewing operations have been contracted out to Miller).

The Blatz and Schlitz complexes have both been converted into residential and office complexes. Pabst's 20-acre complex, however, which sits isolated on a hilltop at the far northwestern corner of downtown, remains empty. With its great smokestack, gothic spires, and the huge red "PABST" lettering that hangs from a skybridge connecting it to a neighboring structure, the 1872-vintage Brewhaus is an imposing landmark on the skyline.

Did I want to come along on a tour of the building? Of course I did. A year and a half later, the complex is finally being rehabilitated and sold off piece by piece in a unique historic preservation redevelopment by Zilber Ltd. While I'm ecstatic to see this fabulous complex so carefully brought back to life, I will probably always remember the Brewhaus as it was the afternoon that I first went inside: broken, decrepit, and devastatingly beautiful. The following photos were taken with an older digital camera (an Olympus D-380, I think) that I've since managed to lose. I couldn't use the flash and had no tripod, so there's a bit of haze in some of these...whether or not that adds to or subracts from the images, I will leave the decision up to you. And so...

(Click the thumbnails for full images.)

The Brewery

Zilber Ltd.

The Dawn of Digital Urbanism

Blog Like You Give a Damn put up a great post last month on recent advances in online urban cartography (like Google's über-controvertial Street Views) and how these new digital reinterpretations of the world are moving us toward William Gibson's vision of cyberspace as a physically inhabitable place. From BLYGAD:

"Unlike the cyberspace that Gibson describes in [his book] Neuromancer:

'...a graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding...' (69)

this new cyberspace will be much more familiar to us. It will look and behave in ways we understand - dangerous because the line between real and virtual will be that much more hazed. As the possibilities for exploration, learning, and knowledge building expand - so too will the potential for surveillance, misuse, and abuse."

Cyberspace is Shangri-la for the internet generation: a mythic miracle of a place that we are sure exists just over the horizon, within a whisper's length of our grasp. Each person has their own idea of this place painted in their mind, but I think the truth about an inhabitable Cyberspace is that it will be very much like Gibson's fantastical vision. It will also be very familiar to us, as BLYGAD predicts. In fact, our physical reality is already merging with its virtual counterpart. For, as the hyperconnectivity brought on by the rise of the internet becomes integrated into the urban fabric, understanding of one's physical environment is becoming more inextricably tied to one's understanding of the web itself. The melding of the physical and virtual (cyber) worlds is already taking place on both ends, with each side moving quickly toward the other. Eventually, of course, they'll meet somewhere in the middle.

We can see this trend online as the "clusters and constellations of data" described by Gibson are being harnessed to create a sort of digital urbanism, recreating various aspects of the physical world for Cyberspace. Akamai recently launched a tool -- Visualizing the Internet -- that has been described as a weather report for the web. Meanwhile, an online art project called We Feel Fine (profiled in the June issue of Metropolis) mimics the richly frenetic atmosphere of a busy public space without actually replicating any of the recognizable features of physical places. If the aforementioned Google Street Views is representational digital urbanism, We Feel Fine is the presentational version, capturing the essence of public space in a wholly new way, reorganizing the traditional tokens of public spaces (trading visual diversity for emotional diversity) into a "place" that could only exist online.

Good old-fashioned bricks and mortar urbanism, meanwhile, is getting a digital overhaul as handheld, web-enabled devices and wireless internet for laptop users takes the edge off of some this system's perennial problems. I'll take any chance I can get to highlight Urbanspoon, a site that catalogs every restaurant in several major US cities (DC was recently added), aggregates reviews from major websites, allows for user ratings and reviews, and provides neighborhood breakdowns via kickass "nighttime" maps that show the locations of all of the cities' eateries. Finding a great restaurant has never been so easy. Another genius web service, recently covered on Springwise, is MizPee, a San Francisco-based service that allows users to access a list of nearby public restrooms, eliminating one of the chief drawbacks of pedestrianism.

As cities become more digitally enabled, they are also starting to bleed together. Geographic constraints have been removed from art and culture in the same way that they were from commerce. Even street fashion has crossed over into the digital realm. As the David Report...well...reports, cities across the globe will be represented in "Street Clash," a blog where the tragically hip artkids from dozens of cities will go head-to-head in an effort to determine which city has the ultimate street style. The irony of this is that, while individuals can rep their hometowns in a token sense, they are still independent human beings free to change their geography at any time. That is to say that what is happening here is the formation of an international street style, as a handful of people cannot be representative of an entire urban population. Hipster fashion has been globalized. Whether this is good, bad, or just hilarious is still a question mark.

As BLYGAD's post points out, the transition of the physical world into the Cyberspace of the future could open a Pandora's Box of new social, ethical, and safety concerns. Pittsblog reported yesterday on a proposal from the city of Pittsburgh for a massive urban surveillance system. Mike Madison, who writes the blog, had this to say: "Hopefully the public will respond...to the proposal's Benthamite implications...It's one thing (though it's not necessarily a good thing) to be watched when you know that you're being watched. It's something else entirely -- and rarely a good thing -- to be watched all the time, when you don't necessarily know it" (emphasis his). Madison then asks the age-old question, "who will watch the watchers?" This, I think, will be the most fundamental challenge of Cyberspace: in a universally connected world, the unwatched watcher has more power than ever, as they will have unprecedented access to the masses.

As the internet becomes increasingly ubiquitous and reality moves toward the virtual, the emergent Cyberspace will almost certainly take on an urban form -- though it remains to be seen whether it will lean more heavily on the physical or virtual world. Either way, geography will become less and less binding as cities learn to connect in ever more complex ways, and we will likely come to understand urbanism as something very different from what it is now. Shangri-la is upon us.

(Photo from Flickr user 3views.)

New Urban Cartography (Blog Like You Give a Damn)

Visualizing the Internet (Akamai)

We Feel Fine


Mobile Loo Locator (Springwise)

Street Clash (David Report)

The Pittsburgh Panopticon (Pittsblog)


Uno, Dos, Tres

Three little things that I've been meaning to get around to:

First, I've added the following blogs to the Otros Blogos linkroll: dezeen, PartIV, The Cool Hunter, The David Report, Blog Like You Give a Damn, Spacing Wire, anArchitecture, and last but not least, Citynoise.

Second, while it's not topical and thus would not fit in the Otros Blogos section, The Happiness Project is a really great blog that I enjoy enough to shamelessly plug on my own. I've been waiting for something place-related to link to, but none has come along, so screw it. What bad can come of promoting a blog where every Wednesday is Tip Day? None, I tell you! None!

Third, I found out last Friday that Where has been added to the Planetizen Radar, which was exciting. If you don't already, check out their awesome aggregator that serves as a hub for all things online related to architecture, planning, urbanism, real estate, transit, et al. In the meantime, I will try to figure out how to add one of their buttons to my sidebar here...

That is all for this evening...I was planning a post on Digital Urbanism, but that will have to wait as I have a friend in from out of town. See you tomorrow!


Review: The City of the Future Exhibit

I mentioned in last week's edition of Weekend Reading that I'd be making my way down to the Museum of Science and Industry here in Chicago to see the City of the Future exhibit that displayed the winner (Chicago's own Urbanlab) and finalists from the History Channel's competition of the same name. Which I did.

I'm assuming, since this competition was centered around the US' three largest cities, that the exhibit will travel to New York and LA following its time at the MS&I (which ends on October 7th and features the finalist from each city and all of the Chicago entrants.) I have to rely on assumptions because it's next to impossible to find anything about the exhibit on the web -- it's not even mentioned on the museum's site, nor the History Channel-hosted site of the competition. While one might find such a lack of coverage to be a bit strange in an age of ubiquitous online publicity, I think that I have a pretty good idea as to why the exhibit is a bit quiet.

It is categorically awful.

I should start out by saying that I'm moderately idealistic about architecture- and planning-related exhibits, especially at publicly-funded museums like MS&I. I have this silly idea in my head that these exhibits should communicate the ideas they are intended to express in a way that can be comprehended by someone with absolutely no background in architecture or planning. I'm all caught up in the idea that museums are places for sparking dialog, for creating interest, for broadening horizons -- in other words, they're places of inspiration. I know, I know: how droll.

While the different competition entrants vary in the plausibility and originality of their ideas (checkered results are to be expected in a contest, after all, in order for there to be a winner) the true failure of this exhibit lies in its curatorial execution. The entry room plays a brief History Channel-produced video about the contest in which the people behind the finalists from all three cities (Urbanlab in Chicago, Eric Owen Moss in LA, and ARO in New York) talk about their proposals, and there is plenty of bland introductory text on the walls -- not to mention a few plugs for sponsors IBM and Infiniti. This setup fails to build much excitement (much less block noise from the corridor from flowing into the exhibit.)

Upon entering the main exhibit room just past the video kiosk, the visitor is greeted, to their right, by Garofalo Architects' competition entry. The model is a mildly interesting collection of images housed in plexiglass boxes, themselves organized into a skyline set in the familiar city grid. What this is supposed to represent, exactly, is lost to the casual museum-goer. The panel describing the entry is so vague that it could easily be mistaken for part of the generic ramblings in the antechamber. This, unfortunately, is more standard than stand-out. While Valerio DeWalt Train, Protostudio, and Dirk Denison Architects' proposals all wind up as focal points on the sheer strength of their creators' ability to communicate their ideas through their models and their own text, most of the other entrants fall short of accessibility due to an utter lack of adequate explanatory text. It is no secret that contemporary architecture favors the abstract when it comes to model-building; my annoyance with this fact aside, responsibility here fell to the curators to communicate the ideas behind the obtuse constructions on display. This was unfortunate.

The true mark of success for a public exhibit is the reaction of the people who are viewing it -- not in the sense of a positive reaction giving the subject merit or value, but in the sense of it provoking some kind of reaction, positive or negative. That being said, the general atmosphere at the City of the Future exhibit was that of confusion. The room was filled with people wandering about, utterly nonplussed. There were plenty of screaming children at the two tables of blocks that allowed the museum to deem the exhibit "interactive," but of the adults in the room I only heard a few speak. "So this is the city of the future, eh?" one asked. His partner responded, her disgust nearly palpable, "What is?"

This was easily the most disappointing aspect of the exhibit. Architecture and planning are both fields that are commonly viewed by the public as aloof and, often, as "the enemy." Planners scatter communities to replace beloved neighborhoods with stark and stale utopian visions. Architects are a major group within the artistic elite that cannot help but roll their eyes at the mere hint of a question about their brilliant design. These tropes, of course, are exaggerations (we hope.) Unfortunately, the opportunity provided by this exhibit for people within these fields to engage the public and generate excitement about the future has been totally lost. And that's a damn shame.

In the end, Urbanlab's proposal of a series of eco-boulevards that would "close Chicago's water loop" by allowing the city to recycle all of its wastewater was the clear and rightful winner of the competition. As was the case with Valerio DeWalt Train et al, Urbanlab's model and other visuals communicate enough about their ideas to actually be inspirational (though panels describing the winning concept again fall short of adding to the experience.) But in the murky sea of the City of the Future exhibit, this proposal looks even better by comparison. So while it does little to improve public opinion of or interest in planning, architecture, and the future of these fields, perhaps this exhibit is not, as I opined earlier, a total failure. Perhaps its accidental success is in its ability to highlight all the more brightly one truly brilliant concept.

The Museum of Science and Indusry

City of the Future (History Channel)

Weekend Reads (ArchitectureChicago Plus) (contains hard-to-find images of the Valerio DeWalt Train proposal.)


Dispatches from a Post-Water Chicago (Pruned) (from whence I jacked the above image...I am not sure from whence they jacked it.)


WEEKEND READING: June 16-22, 2007

This week kind of flew by. That's a good thing, though, so please don't mistake that last sentence for a complaint.

ITEM ONE: I'm a bit late in posting this entertaining piece about a real(ish) State of Mind at the Venice Biennale, but it's worth the read.

ITEM TWO: Attention all green dreamers -- the race is on to build the first "Living Building," as reported by CEOS for Cities. Perhaps living glass will help?

ITEM THREE: Another place-y linkgasm over at growabrain.

ITEM FOUR: Trying to get from here to there (with here being a gridlocked freeway and there being an airport)? Check out this brilliant little nugget of entrepreneurial ingenuity.

ITEM FIVE: Placekraft is taking on a new Chicago-centric mapping project based around the ephemeral "art world."

ITEM SIX: The Breuer tower in Cleveland covered in the first Where post has become rather ubiquitous. Even the NY Times thinks so.

ITEM SEVEN: An absolutely side-splitting Onion article about large-scale neighborhood redevelopment and the people who try to stop it.

Enjoy your weekend! I'll be checking out the Future Cities exhibit here at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, so watch for that to show up in a post next week.

(Photo from Flickr user John Drain.)


A True Alternative

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Newton's Law is one of the few scientific maxims that I can recite, verbatim, years after my last science class. It's concise, it's eloquent, and it applies to so much more than physical or chemical reactions in the way that Newton described. Urbanism is the perfect example, I think.

Which came first -- the town or the city? That's actually a pretty easy question to answer, but there has been a constant push-and-pull between rural and urban places over the course of human civilization. At different times, with different demographic groups, one or the other is en vogue. But not recently; of late, we have been plagued in our building and planning practices by an intense mediocrity, a society-wide indeciciveness. What we want, of course, is the best of both worlds: the convenience, community, and culture of the city, and the peace, privacy, and pastoral scenery of the small rural town. What we've wound up with is suburbia: the best of nothing.

I don't talk much about towns here; this is an urbanist blog, after all, and I am an avowed urbanist. However, I think that small towns play a very fundamental and almost completely overlooked role in the creation of successful cities. Towns are the yin to the city's yang; the genuine, 180-degree counterpoint to urbanism. Let's be honest: cities aren't for everyone. For cities to thrive, there is a need for an equally viable rural alternative. Perhaps the most insidious facet of the suburbs' assault on society is the way in which they supplanted the small town as the alternative to the city. Racial segregation, auto-oriented sprawl, pollution, social tension, congestion -- all of these are well-discussed, very popular arguments against suburbia. But more than anything, the suburbs have caused generations of people all over the world to grow up in places that are neither here nor there.

A new study out of Pennsylvania yesterday illuminates the slow but steady recovery of that state's rural areas over the past three decades. While a decrease in unemployment and an increase in income are both seen as good signs, the report emphasizes the need for a comprehensive economic plan for the state's rural areas, which hold 28% of its population. With the growth of the internet-based economy, more and more people are finding it possible to live and work wherever they choose. This puts rural areas like Pennsylvania's at a crucial point in their economic history. These areas must begin to reclaim their rightful spot as the true alternative to the bustle of city living.

From the Pennsylvania report: "[T]he state must move beyond antiquated smokestack chasing economic development policies and invest, on a regional basis, in key rural industries with potential for growth. In much of rural Pennsylvania, these assets include natural beauty and tourist destinations, town centers, a powerful sense of community, and, in some places, colleges and universities."

While I agree with this statement, I also think that it aims too low. The need for small towns and rural communities is not simply to draw tourists from sprawling metropolitan areas, but also to convince these visitors of their supremacy over the suburban environment as an alternative to urbanity. So yes, focus on the natural beauty, the town centers, the powerful sense of community. But don't pitch them as tokens. Pitch them as elements of a truly equal and opposite lifestyle.

Rural Pennsylvania at an Economic Crossroads Says New Keystone Research Center Report on Trends Over Last Four Decades

UrbanOhio.com (Photo credit)


Three Months!

That's how long Where has been around, folks.

When I started Where, I read quite a few posts on blogs all over the 'osphere about the "three month mark." Apparently, blogs are like dogs -- they age much more quickly than humans. I'm not sure what the ratio is for dog years to human years, but for a blog it seems that three months is some kind of milestone. Still, as a human I am not as quick to learn, so I'm still figuring out all of this blogstuff, but in an attempt to make friends with the natives I'll take part in local custom and say "yay" and do a little happy dance. It feels weird and preemptive, but I'm going on the wisdom of elders here.

So here's the deal. As Where is three months old, I think I'm allowed to say that this blog will not go the way of so many before it and disappear into the cyber netherregions, and now you're not allowed to say "yeah, sure, we'll see" in that ominous way that everyone talks about everything in these oh-so-cynical times. I've slowed down a bit since the postapalooza that was the first month (chalk it up to fresh-out-of-the-gate hubris), but the post frequency is stablizing and I'm getting into a groove.

I make all of these optimistic, swaggering assertations to say this: if you like this blog, go tell someone about it or stick up a link somewhere. Spread the word, share the love, all that good stuff. Or -- better yet -- go post a comment or two. In exchange, I promise never to bust out with an unwieldy, mildly-desperate-sounding "Hey, tell your friends!" post again.

But I gotta try it once, right?


The Sensual Experience

I've been reading it for just over a week and already completely enamoured with Spacing Wire. The most recent post from this fresh, thoughtful Toronto blog piggybacks nicely on Friday's post on dreamscapes. In it, Adam writes about Allan B. Jacobs' 1985 book Looking at Cities, which suggests (among other things) that walking is the best way to experience a neighborhood.

Re-purposing a Jacobs quote used in Adam's post: "Walking allows the observer to be in the environment with no barriers between the eyes and what is seen. The sensual experience — noises, smells, even the feel of things — is a real part of walking. There is more than you can take in: sights, sounds, smells, wondering what it might be like to live there, what it used to be like, and much more. It is an exciting, heady business."

So here's the part where several recent posts all fall together. The (Still) Made Hereseries looked at ways that neighborhoods could promote themselves effectively. So to follow up on that, how does a neighborhood convince visitors to return -- or, better yet, relocate -- once they're there? How do you make the walk worth the while?

Guerilla gardening, or just gardening in general, is one way. While urban front yards are miniscule compared to their suburban counterparts, they can greatly enhance both the house they front and the surrounding neighborhood when used effectively as a compact, colorful garden. In neighborhoods without yards, other assets can be highlighted. For an architecturally rich area, a group could post free audio walking tours as mp3s online. Ethnic or cultural enclaves could set up cross-promotional networks between businesses and organizations that add to the neighborhood's cultural cache. This could both strengthen the local business community (hopefully visually) and encourage pedestrians to continue exploring other spots that add to the local flavor.

There are plenty of ways to make a neighborhood exciting and fun to explore, which is the key to attracting people from other parts of the city (and beyond.) They key is to get visitors to slow down and take the time to experience what Jacobs refers to as "the sensual experience" of the place.

(Photo from Flickr user toshimaguy.)

Looking at cities (Spacing Wire)

Looking at Cities (the book, @ Amazon)


Urban Dreamscapes

I've been contemplating the idea of dreamscapes a lot lately and wondering how they relate to the existing urban environment. There isn't really an established idea, culturally speaking, of what a dreamscape is, so the topic is fairly malleable. The official definition explains the dreamscape as "a dreamlike, often surrealistic scene," though I think that refers more to paintings and other artwork. I'm more interested in how the same ideas used by the fine arts crowd manifest themselves in the designed urban environment.

Urban design and architecture are perhaps the most relevant artforms, in terms of daily life. This is by no means a knock against the fine arts, but it is an inarguable truth that buildings and city plans are works of art that we encounter and interact with almost constantly. The downside of this is that, through their relevance, buildings and neighborhoods become incredibly mundane, far moreso than a painting or drawing ever could. So to find a dreamlike or surrealistic scene in your immedeate surroundings is next to impossible, because even intentional dreamscapes become so common as to be taken for granted.

Take, for example, Lincoln Park in Chicago. The Windy City is notoriously flat. Yet along the lakefront north of downtown, where the landscape should be at its most elevation-challenged, you will find gently rolling hills covered in grass, trees and, of course, statuary. This geological aberration is by design, planned out by landscape architect Ossian Simonds in the 1860s. Simonds followed Prairie Style design maxims that led him to carve out a whimsical dreamscape in a no-nonsense city that valued right angles and evenly-distributed commercial districts. Chicago is still one of the most utilitarian cities you'll find in on Earth (in terms of layout), but over time the curvaceous landscape of Lincoln Park has become an accepted fact of the urban environment that fails to surprise as, assumedly, it once did.

Cities are rife with these forgotten urban dreamscapes; places that used to thrill and excite now serve as pleasant surroundings for pedestrians and joggers. The ironic thing about dreamscapes is that, while those that are created become unremarkable, some of the most unremarkable places by design can be infused with intense meaning and mythical importance in an urban environment teeming with people. I read this week about a project in Singapore that aims to "build a collective memory of the magical spaces in [that city]." They describe a magical space as "a place that holds memories and emotional treasures. It could be ANY place, ANY where." This concept takes the idea of a dreamscape and tweaks it a bit. A magical space is a place that is dreamlike or surreal because of a personal experience, not a careful design. This is the sort of idea that reinforces the "cities are places for people" way of thinking; approaching the city as a place filled with tiny, almost imperceptible magical spaces transforms even the most annonymous of neighborhoods into dreamscapes filled with emotional artifacts and spiritual alcoves.

A post by the L-Arch geeks over at Pruned provides an important piece of my frame of reference, here. After accidentally typing "Utak" into their Google Maps search for Utah, Pruned discovered a landscape in a practically uninhabited area of Russia dotted with long strings of mysterious horseshoe-shaped mounds. Their reaction? "Lest someone tell us that they are simply defensive fortifications or ordinance storage bunkers or outdated meteorological instruments or the beta test site of Bush-Putin's Transcaucasian missile shield or Michael Heizer's Complex Four or ancient auroral observatories -- don't! Better to speculate than to be told the truth, right?"

In the end, this seems to sum up, better than anything I can think of, why exploring urban environments is so exciting. When we walk around new neighborhoods or in new cities, we are promised nothing but the unexpected. Even if a place seems familiar, it is completely new. Even if we find nothing odd or abnormal or even terribly interesting, everything corner we turn has the potential to shock and awe us. And if we are lucky enough to find some strange, magical place -- if we do manage to stumble upon a real, honest-to-goodness dreamscape -- isn't it better to speculate than to be told the truth?

(Photo from Flickr user evanembee.)

The Magical Spaces Project (Five Foot Way)

Uta(h)(k) (Pruned)

WEEKEND READING: June 9-15, 2007

It's been a slow week here at Where, I know. I've been fighting a massive case of writer's block. But there will always, always be weekend reading!

ITEM ONE: This past week, I came across a great Toronto-based blog called Spacing Wire. Follow the link to read their post about a community planning initiative, then check out the archives.

ITEM TWO: Greg Smithsimon talks about segregation masquerading as diversity in the Big Apple at Interchange.

ITEM THREE: Kiplinger's takes those frivolous city lists to a new (and rather epic) level, beating several dead horses in the process.

ITEM FOUR: Some great tips for building a modern community over at CoolTown Studios.

ITEM FIVE: A thorough examination of poverty and efforts to combat it over at Urban Planning Blog.

ITEM SIX: Inhabitat shows off what might be the coolest fence ever created. (Pictured above.)

ITEM SEVEN: Eikongraphia returns after a brief hiatus with not one, but two posts about Vienna. (Read #2 here.)


(Still) Made Here: Support

The last of the three subtrends of (Still) Made Here has a much more straightforward connection to urbanism. Support is about "the importance of community...[and] supporting one’s neighborhood, one’s city, one’s region, to regain a sense of place and belonging and to safeguard future access to the special and original, vs. the bland, the global and the commoditized." What the Trendwatching.com folks are talking about here is brand loyalty, with geography as the brand.

A big part of creating an attractive public identity for a neighborhood involves canceling out worries about the perceived hassles and drawbacks of urban life. One of the main complaints about urban life (and suburban life as well) is that traffic and congestion will make life more difficult. While city governments can encourage walking and transit usage all they want, this is not enough. Creative solutions must be found to make life at least seem simpler.

Pop to the Shops, which is covered more thoroughly in the TW report, is one of these such solutions. This online service allows residents of select cities in South Wales to shop at small local businesses for fresh food and other products and have them delivered straight to their door. On top of chipping away at perceived congestion problems by eliminating a shopper's time spent traveling to and from the grocery store while simultaneously raising the quality of the food they are eating, this service rather brilliantly taps into the story component from the previous subtrend. Even after the novelty wears off, living in a neighborhood where fresh produce and milk are delivered to your doorstep every few days still earns bragging rights. In other words, it's something that people will tell their friends about, and something that their friends will then look for themselves.

Support for independent, locally-owned businesses has always been a part of urban life. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs described patronizing the shops that were owned and operated by her neighbors. Neighborhoods are only as strong as the communities that are formed within them. Communities, then, are joint ventures between groups of people who live within close proximity to each other to make something beautiful out of their surroundings. Again, I'm getting overly clinical, but if you consider all of the people in a community to be partners within a joint venture, it becomes easier to see why stengthening ties between the residential and commercial interest-holders is a vital part of creating the kind of place where people want to be.

People take to local stores. Coffee shops, restaurants, convenience stores -- all of these things become very important (if taken-for-granted) pieces of their neighborhoods' urban fabric. This happens because no one is going to brag about their neighborhood Starbucks or McDonald's. Well, I suppose there are probably exceptions to that rule, but I'd be willing to bet that the number of exceptions is by no means large enough to create buzz around a city neighborhood. So to promote local businesses in any way -- especially by helping them to compete with global conglomorates by connecting them to their customers through the internet -- is to improve the health of the neighborhood overall.


To sum up this little exploration of the (Still) Made Here trend, I've paraphrased the questions posed by TW's editing team to entrepreneurs to make them more applicable to the marketing/public perception problems facing many urban neighborhoods. These are questions that, I hope, can be used by neighborhood groups to examine what people like about their neighborhood, how to tell its story in a captivating and compelling way, and how to get that story out there, into the proverbial ether. "Asset-based" planning has been a part of the planning vocabulary for a while now. The next step is to realize the potential of the intangible -- the cultural story of a place -- to neighborhood revitalization. And so:

Who might enjoy knowing more about our neighborhood, and would be interested in accessing our neighborhood's history, from an eco or ethics angle? How could we embed our cultural story to the public's perception of our neighborhood?

Is there an opportunity in creating a bold statement piece (manifesto, etc.) or turning an aspect of our neighborhood's current reputation into a distinctly local play, including a compelling local story? Who can we partner with to help us highlight this part of our neighborhood's story?

Can we promote unique and obscure local businesses, helping our neighbors to tell our cultural story to others in a more compelling way? Should we create new and/or innovative services that do this, if many local businesses are similar to those found in other, nearby neighborhoods?

(Still) Made Here (Trendwatching.com)

Pop to the Shops

Part I: Eco and Ethics

Part II: Story and Status


WEEKEND READING: June 2-8, 2007

I liked the format last week, so I'm going to stick with it. I really don't need to babble as much as I've been doing anyway. And so:

ITEM ONE: The LA Times covers the debate over what should happen to the swath of Griffith Park, the city's largest open space. Should it be returned to its natural state or become even more people-friendly?

ITEM TWO: Perfect City's unconventional take on the Vancouverism phenomenon that questions its validity as a global model (which it is certainly being promoted as.)

ITEM THREE: It's like Urban Planning Idol, with Pinocchio and his deviant donkey-child friends as the judges! NY Maagzine covers the five designs for Governor's Island...all of which are cool. (Perhaps the losers could help out in LA?)
(Found via StreetsBlog)

ITEM FOUR: Bird to the North reps the awesome Karrie Jacobs' column at the awful Home & Garden. In the darkness, a spot of light...

ITEM FIVE: Good stuff over at Planetizen on the social benefits of mass transit and density. (Also: check out the article by the APA's Mark Hinshaw linked to early in the post.)

ITEM SIX: Pruned's Favorites folder 'sploded.

ITEM SEVEN: A post at BLDGBLOG lead me to discover the absolute coolest vdeo in the history of YouTube. You will think so, too. Trust me.


(Still) Made Here: Story and Status

While yesterday's post examined the (Still) Made Here trend from the Eco and Ethics angle, today's looks at another subtrend that Trendwatcher.com's editors call Story and Status. In their words: "An obvious example of the link between locality and story/status is the perception of location-specific quality."

Location-specific quality is hardly a new concept in urbanism. However, it is most commonly used to attract tourists. Think about the French Quarter with its penchant for decadence, or Temple Bar's hybrid cultural/drinking scene, or Ginza with its blinking, frenzied energy. The previous references are to New Orleans, Dublin, and Tokyo, respectively, though the fact that you most likely didn't need clarification there speaks to the success of these places in positioning themselves as authentic and unique. But places like these can sell their story with minimal effort; they are veritable monoliths. Perhaps they just got lucky, but that's neither here nor there. What other neighborhoods must figure out is, "how can what is already here or has been here in the past help this place to become better in the future?"

In TW's report, the first part of Story and Status is titled "Inspiring global production trends: quality made here." The case studies include high (percieved) quality goods made by companies such as Ermenegildo Zegna and Rolex. These companies operate smaller factories or workshops, overcoming the challenge of higher production costs for skilled labor and materials by charging much higher prices than the competition for their product because they have earned a reputation for quality. So if we set up an analogy where neighborhoods are the factories and workshops, and a distinct "sense of place" is the product (I admit this is a cynical way to view communities, but bear with me), then the high production costs are the ills associated with aging architecture and infrastructure.

City neighborhoods are already status symbols in most places. If you live in Los Angeles, for example, you can identify yourself as being from The Valley, Hollywood, or Watts and get completely different reactions. By associating ourselves with a certain place, we are associating ourselves with the cultural story that has been created about that place, and that cultural story is the quality that will allow a place to overcome its challenges. To increase investment in a community, neighborhoods can focus on the most exceptional aspects of their local culture (which can be just about anything) in order to craft a favorable cultural story. And in a society where "individuality is the new religion" (credit TW) it seems that marketing a neighborhood's most unconventional aspects would be the best way to go about promoting it.

Here, though, we come to the problem of gentrification and one of its most infamous side-effects: culture drain. When neighborhoods become popular for their distinct local culture, the fear is always that scads of yuppies, hipsters, and other fad-crazed demographic groups will invade, price out current residents, install a Starbucks and a Gap, and erase the culture that made the neighborhood popular in the first place. It's Chinatown as "CHINATOWN". Also: it's gross. Also also: it has happened far too many times already.

The second part of Story and Status is "Purchasing ingredients for a story." And this, I'm afraid, is where I'm at a loss for compairisons. City neighborhoods cannot go out and purchase a unique history (though they can work toward creating one in the future by fostering progressive and creative communities. Keep Austin Weird would be one famous example of this sort of long-term planning.) Instead, cities must do what is commonly referred to as Asset-based Planning, taking, as suggested above, existing assets and positioning them as engines for neighborhood revitalization.

The "Purchasing ingredients" section does provide this interesting quote: "[We've] seen a rising interest in the truly different, the obscure, the undiscovered and the authentic. These new status symbols thrive on not being well known or easily spotted. They don't tell a story themselves, but require their owners to recount the story." So unconventional neighborhood features, then, can be used to either puff up a place's civic reputation or can be kept vague and slightly mysterious in order to give residents a sort of edge. (This would certainly explain all of that whining New Yorkers do about how they miss the good old days, when getting mugged was part of the daily routine.) Or whole neighborhoods could, themselves, be the quietly tucked-away spots that provide residents with secret satisfaction (though I'm not sure how you'd pull that off.) Either way, this concept seems to provide a way for neighborhoods to sidestep the culture drain process while still improving their local communities. As for how that would all play out, well...

Again, I ask: any ideas?

(Photo from Flickr user Anole.)

(Still) Made Here (Trendwatching.com)

Keep Austin Weird

Evaluating neighborhoods in terms of assets of all kinds (Rebuilding Place...)

Part I: Eco and Ethics

Part III: Support


(Still) Made Here: Eco and Ethics

More and more of the world's consumers are moving to cities in what is now being called -- by everyone including your grandma -- the "Urban Age," concentrating buying power at an unprecedented scale. As this process takes place, one of the great challenges that central cities face is how to market themselves. Die-hard urbanites and suburbanites aside, what can make the difference between city and suburb for many consumers looking to rent or buy a home in hyper-mobile metropolitan regions is the perceived "authenticity" of a neighborhood. This term means different things to different people, but in this case it usually refers to a high level of historic building stock, independent business, quality public space -- factors that create that ephemeral phenomenon we call "a sense of place."

Over at Trendwatching.com, the new buzz phrase for June is "(Still) Made Here." This most recent report (from one of the coolest sites on the web) describes "the comeback of all things local, all things with a sense of place, and how they're surfacing in a world dominated by globalization." The editors of Trendwatching (TW) break this economic phenomemon down into three parts; this week, I'll take a look at how each of these applies to city neighborhoods and the cultivation of authenticity.

The first of (Still) Made Here's subtrends is Eco and Ethics. The report cautions entrepreneurs to "expect consumers' desire to find out about the origins of a product to become a given." While TW's examples deal mainly with small-scale products -- especially food and clothing -- the concept can be used to market places as well. Life-story labels are the most visible manifestation of this movement, as they provide consumers with the backstory of how and where a product was produced, and how it got to the point of sale. In neighborhoods, then, the question becomes: how do we tell the story of a place in a highly visible and easily accessible way?

Many cities have already begun the process of branding their neighborhoods. Streetlight banners (like the one pictured above) have practically become a requirement for revitalization efforts. Some neighborhoods even have slick websites put together by merchants' groups or neighborhood associations. Neighborhoods in cities all over the world have succeeded in building reputations as attractive, livable places; but, when renewal and growth are based purely on economics, neighborhoods are highly succeptible to fads and changes in public opinion. Life-story lableling for places, then, is one way to increase brand longevity. This type of marketing maneuver could be achieved in a number of ways, from websites to community bulletin boards and everywhere in between. The most important part of the process, though, is to organize and present the neighborhood's history in a way that distinguishes the place as authentic and unique.

I have read, in the past, about suburban "town centers" (that even ickier name for lifestyle center malls) that fabricate entire backstories to create a sense of history (or, depending on your perspective, to justify historicist architecture.) Urban neighborhoods have a leg up on these places in that history is often a major factor in determining the authenticity of a place, and many cities are already bursting with it. This leads us to the concept of what TW calls "taking back production." Cities are incredibly vital, living things. They are constantly changing, so the marketing of a specific neighborhood must be a careful balancing act, promoting the history of a place while allowing the community that inhabits it to continue evolving in a way that encourages that urban dynamism. The only people that can properly brand and market a neighborhood, then, are the people who live there.

Neighborhood promotion has the potential to become a major asset-building operation as a way of bringing new people and investment to a place. More importantly, it has the ability to greatly increase community cohesion and cooperation at the same time (which, in an upward cycle, could also become part of the draw of the neighborhood.) Not only would the process of organizing a neighborhood history require neighbors to get together to share stories and skills, it would also get people thinking about the place that they live in different ways. It would put the public realm into very sharp perspective and, hopefully, draw communities together with the common goal of making their neighborhoods healthier, happier, more livable places to...well...live.

So how can all of this be achieved, in a practical sense? Even if a neighborhood's history and community are eloquently and concisely presented on a website, how does this translate to the physical landscape? Markers for local landmarks? Posters on lightpoles? Sidewalk chalking? These all seem like tired ideas, I know. What are some more innovative ways that a neighborhood could get the word out? I know this blog's readership is still small, but speak up! What are your ideas?

(Photo from Flickr user ashleyniblock.)

(Still) Made Here (Trendwatching.com)

Part II: Story and Status

Part III: Support


The Carnival of Cities - Summer is Festival Season!

We start off this week in Seattle, where Mary Jo of The Seattle Traveler has compiled a list of upcoming festivals for her city. Even for those who don't hail from the Emerald City, it's a great reminder to check out local happenings...it is the festival season, after all!

Going to San Antonio's Jami writes this week about a trip to the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch, where she had some close encounters with freakishly large birds and a gaggle of goat-like creatures.

Jul at This Non-American Life writes about, ironically, an American city this week: Gatlinburg, the kitch capital of Tennessee. Airbrush art, anyone?

And on to my own home turf: Chicago blogger Praveen has written a great post at My Simple Trading System about the many interesting nomenclature evolutions in the greater "Chicagoland" region.

Another Chicago blog, Everyone Needs Therapy, features a post this week about armies of cicadas and women in pink.

The Junky's Wife down in Charlotte laments her city's lack of a real cultural scene. She also describes her dream business: a tattoo parlor/community art center hybrid. Sounds like an unconventional -- but pretty thoroughly awesome -- third-place type establishment.

Jaz at Wicked Winter waxes poetic this week about "Grand Canyon National Park, the power of natural places, and the need to travel".

The San Diego Beat's Carole has put together a summary of D5: The "All Things Digital" conference. Much is made of the Steve Jobs-Bill Gates dual appearances...sounds like a clash of the titans if ever there were one.

The Silicon Valley Blogger's post at The Digerati Life about the price of preschool will likely make your jaw drop. It's all about numbers; in this case, the fact that there are too many of them in the "price" column.

We'll have to hop the Pacific for this next one: Liz of the Christchurch Tour Guide has put together a very visual post about an installation at -- or rather, on -- the city's art museum. It appears that the building's gothic columns have been gift-wrapped by Korean artist Lee Joong Keun!

Thanks to all of the bloggers who participated in this week's Carnival here at Where. Thanks also to Home Turf Media for allowing this blog to host the Carnival, as well as for all of the behind-the-scenes work that went on. Finally, make sure to check out Argentina's Travel Guide, which will be hosting next week's Carnival. You can send your submissions for that event by using this form.


WEEKEND READING: May 26-June 1, 2007

This week, Where features Speedy Weekend Reading! It's also pretty much Solid States this week...sorry, Entire International Community.

ITEM ONE: Kazys Varnelis writes about the difference between the social structures of Los Angeles and New York and wonders which is more future-forward. (There is also a link to lots of great anti-Hipster stuff at Time Out NY.)

ITEM TWO: On Common Ground brings us this lovely pdf doc about the Pros and Cons of Gentrification.

ITEM THREE: Pruned gives a belated shout-out to the kickass UrbanLab proposal for Chicago that won the History Channel's City of the Future competitiopn a few months ago.

ITEM FOUR: Josh at Built Environment Blog put together a great e-tour of Brooklyn that really gives you a strong sense of the area. (I love this kind of writing.)

ITEM FIVE: Planners in Pittsburgh's South Side Flats neighborhood (which rocks, for the record) made the interesting and innovative decision to include fourth- and fifth-graders in the process of revising the neighborhood plan.

ITEM SIX: In a follow up to a previous Where post, Washington DC continues to struggle with the question of whether or not to re-examine its height limit.

That's all for me for this week. Happy Friday!