Urbanffffinds: The Movie

Well, not really. Actually, not at all. Maybe sort of? Whatever, it's a longer variation on a theme.

Urbanffffinds will not run as a regular feature anymore on Where. But, thanks to Marcus, there will be a constantly-updating feed of architecture and urbanism imagery over at Where's new FFFFOUND! account! Occasionally, there will be Urbanffffinds features to promote the page, which can now be found in the sidebar at left. But I encourage you to add the page to your feed reader for a steady flow of excellent urban imagery.


UPDATE: the full Urbanffffinds catalog has been added, mostly in order, and with only a few permanent losses (stupid broken links!), to Where's FFFFOUND! page. Peruse away!


The Worst Cities...?

While Monocle and Forbes and everyone else in the mainstream media argues about what cities are the best to live in, Where was recently introduced to a site that's coming at urbanism from a slightly different perspective. Worst-City.com is home to what appears to be an entirely subjective (and often absurd) list of the sixty worst cities to live in on the face of the earth. The intro paints a pretty accurate picture of what to expect from the rest of the site:

"The world is very, very, very big. There are some wonderful places on its surface. Fabulous sun-kissed beaches with miles of golden sands. Wonderful mountains with crystal steams cascading down into tropical paradises. There are also some horrendous cities populated by a subculture of thugs and gangsters. Sadly this website is about the latter locations. Here you will discover some of the most vile and violent places to leave. So read on and be prepared to be shocked."

The list ranges from the obvious (Chernobyl, Brazzaville, Baghdad) to the completely befuddling (Paris, Seattle, Barcelona), and takes a whack at everything from Milwaukee to Bangkok in between. The site is filled with bons mots like "When it was built most Parisians hated the Eiffel Tour - that's why they named it Eiffel - means Awful in French!" and is entertaining as long as it's read with several large grains of salt and a hefty suspension of disbelief. All in all, it's a mind-bending international adventure that's worth a lazy afternoon.

Enjoy the ride...




WalkScore has taken their delicious color-coded walkability maps, previously covered on Where, national. The results are...well, a bit disappointing. Perhaps I'm the only one, but I'm getting a bit tired of seeing rankings that use central city populations to determine the sample cities when metropolitan populations are far more important in determining the stature of an urban area. It makes little sense that Jacksonville, Tucson, and Oklahoma City make the cut for such rankings while St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh -- the central cities of much larger, more important metropolitan areas -- are left out because they've lost population to suburbanization.

This methodology has been a minor annoyance to me for some time, but the oversight seems particularly egregious in the case of WalkScore's ranking since it punishes densely-built urban centers for falling victim to exactly what the site is supposedly working against, and rewards cities that inflate their population counts through annexation and suburban deveopment patterns. The end result is a bit embarassing, with the overall city scores dropping under 70/100 points before you even get past the top ten on the list. Average everything out and the US gets a big fat F for walkability in its cities.

While there's a long way to go for Americans to become a more pedestrian-minded people, the idea that only a handful of our major cities are walkable is a bit absurd, and seems more like a misrepresentation than useful information. While it certainly shows the damage that suburbanization has done to our cultural understanding of urbanity, it says little about the actual state of walkability in America.

And that's too bad, because the maps look great, and the idea behind the rankings is a good one. If real estate is about location, the mantra for academic study should be "Execution, execution, execution."


Creative Density

A trailer park, inserted neatly into a long central lot on an oversized block in Bangor, Maine. It looks a bit like a zipper, no?

The Outquisition and Urbanism Camp

Prolific greenblogger Alex Steffan wrote a post last weekend about an idea spawned during a late-night coffeetalk with the equally prolific and fantastic Cory Doctorow (which sounds like maybe the most thoroughly awesome way to spend a weeknight, ever) that Doctorow dubbed "The Outquisition." The idea is grand and audacious in just the right way, and the comments that follow the initial post are well worth a read. But this post is about an offshoot inspired by a footnote in Steffan's post.

The dynamic e-duo's Outquisition involves sustainability-minded urbanites trekking out to failing suburbs and shrinking cities around the world, bringing with them innovative, site-specific solutions to the slew of new problems being brought on by the collapse of the oil-based economy. In his litany of suggestions, Mr. Worldchanging mentions "running holistic programs for kids" as a possible method of green evangelism. This re-ignited an idea I'd been going over a few months back: urbanism camp.

There are all kinds of camps for kids. There are outdoor adventure camps, sports camps, art camps, and plain old-fashioned away-from-home summer camps, with their crafts and campfires and capture the flag tournaments. Kids learn a lot at camp; not only do they build social skills, they are able to hone their interests and be exposed to new activities and ideas. With families increasingly looking at cities as a solid alternative to suburban picket fences, it seems like camp would be the perfect way to teach kids how to appreciate the urban environment.

Indeed, life in the city is very different from life in the suburbs for a youngster. A city-focused camp could feature games that took advantage of urban neighborhoods, sneaking in lessons about street safety amidst the fun. Trips to different neighborhoods, museums, community centers, parks, and public spaces could not only expose kids to a variety of subjects, but also introduce them to the many different creative outlets provided by a dense urban core.

This poses all sorts of interesting questions; architecture, public space, sustainability, diversity, mass transit -- can these things be entertaining to an eleven-year-old? It's kind of fun to ponder. Maybe someday, somebody will actually come up with an affirmative answer.

Urban Sandboxes

CEOs for Cities recently relayed an interesting story from USA Today that has some interesting implications for older, depressed urban centers as Gen Y and the Millennials gear up to make their mark on history:

Tulane's applications almost doubled from 17,572 pre-Katrina to 34,100 this year. As one Loyola's vp of enrollment told the paper, "Students know they are coming down to have an adventure. It's a great time to be part of something... the rebirth of a city."

NOLA and other struggling burgs -- think Detroit, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Baltimore, or even smaller cities like Canton, Reading, and Flint -- together provide a unique opportunity in their hard times. These are the urban sandboxes, the cities that present young people trying to prove their mettle with the opportunity to do so in new and interesting ways. Desperation breeds innovation out of necessity.

Previous generations have tried and blundered efforts to turn Rust Belt and Northeastern cities back into growing, productive urban hubs. We now know that stadiums, riverwalks, and high-end condos have a limited (if any) effect on cities. What is encouraging about the surge of interest in New Orleans is that the challenge of repairing the city is so blatant, and so thoroughly un-glamorous (try as Brad Pitt might to change that).

Perhaps this is an early sign that the next generation of urban innovators gets that top-down, aesthetic-focused efforts aren't what improves a city; indeed, the "fix downtown and the neighborhoods will follow" theory is proving itself to be pretty weak over time. Could the interest in the Big Easy mean that tomorrow's civic leaders are now planting the seeds, as college students and recent grads, for a reversal of this process?

Besides -- if Millennials can fix Detroit, the "Greatest Generation" mantle may be up for grabs.

(Photo from Flickr user Alex Summer. The original full-sized color version can be viewed by clicking the photo.)


Digital Density


Dense concentrations of people = dense concentrations of information. Will the NIMBYs of the digital city complain about websites that ruin the character of neighborhood infoclouds? Or perhaps block new sites from launching because they displace smaller, scrappier sites with more interesting content? Will the artistic streetpunks and art insurgents of tomorrow be carefully and sneakily grafting their tag onto Flickr images?

Is the future of urban activism electronic?


This looks encouragingly familiar...

Kotkin Kabob'd

On principle, Where does not link to any article containing Joel Kotkin's canned, willfully ignorant whinnying about how cities suck and suburbs are, like, totally awesome, bro. But Where does link to Bill Fulton's skillful and thorough skewerings of said whinnying. In fact, it does so with great aplomb.

And now I'll stop writing about this blog as if it's a sentient being.


Colbert on Skyscrapers

"We need to build big buildings with high asses and huge tits!"

Architectural commentary at it's most entertaining...possibly ever.



Parks, Public Space, Political Theater, and a Picnic

The Village Voice reports today about a recent event led by one of Where's favorite American provocateurs, Reverend Billy. The Rev led a lively picnic-cum-protest in New York's Union Square, one of my all-time favorite urban public spaces, which is apparently under the threat of having its lovely Neoclassical pavillion turned into a private restaurant. While I'm not at all opposed to public-private partnerships as an option for reviving parks and public spaces in need of the funding and attention, the idea that one of the most popular and attractive parks in the country's largest city (which also happens to be one of its richest) needs privatization is absurd. Which leads to the conclusion that privatizing any part of it would only be done out of greed or incompetence. Let's hope this idea dies on the vine, eh?

(Photo from Flickr user safety dawn!. The original full-sized color version can be viewed by clicking the photo.)