Save Our Modernism!

"Architecturally, New Orleans is perhaps best known for its Creole cottages, shotgun houses, and the mixed-influences of the French Quarter. But there is a small yet important concentration of Regional Modernism in the Big Easy and local Modernists are doing their damnedest to preserve it. Let’s just hope its not too late. Currently facing the biggest threat are 30 area schools built during the 50s — 29 of which are slated for demolition or land-banking..."

Where's friend Jimmy over at Life Without Buildings is leading the blogosphere side of a charge to save a collection of Modernist public schools in the Crecent City. If you're at all interested in modernist preservation, I'd suggest you make your voice heard. There's less than a month left until the decision regarding the fates of these buildings is made.


Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty

The big bloggy day with the unfortunate acronym is fast approaching, and Where will be participating again this year. On October 15th, 2008, thousands of bloggers around the world will post on the subject of poverty in an effort to raise awareness and, as the BAD website says, "change the conversation." Where has a bit of a surprise planned, so if you haven't already, make sure to add this blog to your feed reader of choice!

Blog Action Day 2008 Poverty from Blog Action Day on Vimeo.

Hickenlooper on Biden

I've got my doubts about Barack's veep choice, but this quote from Denver mayor John Hickenlooper gives me hope. Perhaps, as is very, very possible with the contemporary media, Biden's big mouth has overshadowed wise policy. Let's hope that's the case.

At any rate, here's what Hickenlooper had to say yesterday:

"From the point of view of a big-city mayor, I think Barack Obama couldn't have picked a better vice-president. Joe Biden has been at the forefront of a lot of urban policy issues - the governor was just talking about his domestic violence legislation. He has consistently shown that you don't throw money at problems, right? You come up with solutions, and they you measure your investment, you measure your outcomes. He will be very warmly received by the mayors of this country."

(From, Via)


3000 Broadway

Sure, all major cities look big and dense at their cores. But how do they compare a bit further out? Where's got some (admittedly loose) comparative urbanism for ya's today: aerial images of the address 3000 Broadway in America's nine largest cities -- #10 San Jose has no like-named street. (For the record: Philly's is from 3000 Broad Street, and Dallas' is from 3000 Broadway in the suburb of Garland, since the address does not exist in The Big D proper).

New York City, NYLos Angeles, CAChicago, ILHouston, TXPhoenix, AZPhiladelphia, PASan Antonio, TXSan Diego, CADallas, TX


Holy Futuristic Automobiles, Batman

Ok...if they can make cars look like that (and not chow down on the environment to get from A to B), I'll give up my bike and start driving again, and stop complaining about how cars uglify the urban environment. I still want wider sidewalks, though. Walking will never go out of style.

Which reminds me...

Forgive the slightly vapid post, but the future is looking mighty sexy right about now...

(Both found via Core77)

Air Show

It's Air Show Weekend here in Chicago, which means the US Air Force's Blue Angels are "practicing" overhead for the next few days. "Practicing," of course, translating to "flying so ridiculously low and fast over one of the most densely populated areas in the country that the noise they make sets off car alarms and makes pictures tilt on their wall hangars."

Seriously, who thought this up?

Any thoughts on urban air shows? They're a blast to watch, but really...do they have to practice over the 'hoods for three days? Listening to the roar of the jets flying overhead, I feel a bit on edge...I have to wonder if an event like this has some sort of subtle psychological effect on people.


Energie Tales

Like Fairie Tales, only a bit less connected to reality!

Case in point: Discovery News, today, brings us this report on a competition between several teams of researchers to find a way to turn car exhaust into an energy source. Sigh. Where will it end?

It may well be that recycled car exhaust winds up being a genuinely useful source of energy. I won't dispute that (nor do I have any sort of scientific background to back up such a dispute if I were to try). But doesn't it seem like the things that "researchers" are trying to cull fuel from keep getting more and more...far-fetched? Every time you turn around, there's another story about another mundane, thoughtless bit of waste from our society's daily workings that just may be the source of energy to rescue us from oil dependency! It's getting to be a bit hard to believe any of it.

What's next? A plan to collect dead skin cells from under the blades of used razors to create a biomass engine for powering Las Vegas? Or perhaps an ingenious discovery that shed cat hair is ten times more efficient, when burned, than gasoline if mixed with a teaspoon of the sludgy goop left in the drain-catch after you wash the dishes?

I can see it now: millions of people toss out their dishwashing machines (which will then be melted down to be used as another recycled fuel source involving dead fish and broken Tickle-Me Elmos), and buying cats. The cacophony of feline mating calls fills wealthy enclaves as neighbors cross-breed their pets in an effort to get enough kitty-biomass to get the Beamer to work and back. Driving to the grocery store for more cat food, you see a man hunched over a large, frantic Tabby, combing frantically as the cat claws the air; "Come ON, Patches! Goddamnit, I need to get to WORK!"

Or maybe ethanol will save us all. Oh, excuse me while I go fix my eyes. I just rolled them so hard that they got stuck that way...

Edit: I realized just after posting this that it contrasts pretty sharply with this post back in June. Oh well...chalk one up for fatigue.


Dear India: You do not need your own Dubai.

I can't be the only person who's bored to death with videos like the one here, screenshot'd above, for the Nanocity deveopment north of New Delhi, can I? Obviously, the presentation, with its sweeping aerials and zooming close-ups of crystalized placeholders for buildings is intended to impress.

And yet.

After Masdar, and the Palm Islands, and that insipid Koolhaas Death Star development, these "impressive" videos have become mundane, commonplace. There is the slight tweak to the trope, in this case, of the development's being located in India. Still, knowing what little I do of India's wild and dynamic culture, the change of location actually generates more disgust for the project. Here is a sanitized, plagiarized version of Next Generation Urban Density™ for yet another developing country.

The most irksome thing about these kind of developments is that they completely ignore existing infrastructure. Why not propose a radical rethinking of actual New Delhi neighborhoods by drawing on Indian cultural and building traditions? Dubai is a lost cause, but India has no need to go down this road. In twenty years these generic ecocities are going to look like 1960s housing projects in the US look now: like a terrible, horrible, no-good very bad idea. Building an eco-city from scratch is like burning down your house to get the kitchen stove lit.

So a plea to Indian developers and financiers looking to develop their cities in the coming decades: Dubai is not a model. It is a warning sign. Take heed.


You Have to Earn It

(Cross-posted from the Neighbors Project blog)I'm moving out of my current apartment at the end of the month. When I go, the next people to live here will be paying literally almost twice as much as I currently pay in rent. My neighborhood -- on the border of Wicker Park and the Ukranian Village in Chicago -- is being gentrified. I feel weirdly responsible, even in my leaving of the place. Since I don't have any control over the management company, I'm not really doing anything, per se; but as it turns out, that's exactly the problem.

Moving to a new neighborhood does not guarantee that you will be welcomed into the existing community -- especially when the neighborhood in question is going through large-scale change. I was reminded of this fact this morning while researching today's Neighbor News post. I came across this story from Pittsburgh, where a team of young urban farmers has created a working farm in one of the poorer areas of the city, bordered by one of its most infamous ghettos, The Hill. One of these people articulated quite nicely the idea that first got me involved with Neighbors Project last fall: "We're aware we didn't grow up in the Hill," she said. "We have to earn a place here."

When anyone, young or old, moves to a new neighborhood, they become agents of change. There will be things that we make worse for some people, and things that we make better for others. Few people can claim to wield the power of a developer or city councilman; indeed, our impact on a new neighborhood, as individuals, is small, but it is still important. The choice that we are each presented with is: will I merely pass through this neighborhood, or will I earn a place here?

I'll let you in on an embarrassing little secret: I never really earned a place in the community that I'm moving away from. I had originally intended to stay longer than I'm going to wind up staying, so I'd just assumed I'd get more involved in the future. I heard about neighborhood meetings and saw people out on their stoops, but I was always in a hurry. Even working closely with a group like Neighbors Project, it was easy to feel too busy to engage with my own block.

And now I can't help but wonder if, had I gotten to know the people living around me, I might have been able to find a way to keep my apartment affordable. Maybe one of my neighbors has a relative or a friend moving to town, and I could have re-signed my lease and subletted the apartment. It's a pretty fruitless line of thinking, really, since the past is the past and the rent has already been hiked. Still, it's disturbing to see how much impact a lack of effort can have, and it's made me remember why it's important to slow down and engage with my surroundings.

When you move to a neighborhood, and are immersed in a new community, remember that doing nothing within that community is doing something.


I wrote this post recently for the blog of Neighbors Project, a nonprofit that I've become more and more involved with since I first reported on it a year ago. I've been working for NP over the summer and recently joined the National Board of Directors, and I figured that, since I can put a little of the blame on NP for the lack of posts on Where, I'd cross-post to share a bit of what I've been up to. As for Where, there are big changes on the horizon. More on that later. For now, get out and earn your place in your neighborhood.

Chicago Prints

Found some spectacular art prints of Chicago landmarks while poking around on Etsy today. If you see one you're interested in purchasing, click on the image and it will take you directly to the seller's page.


A bit of color...

Tonight's storm in Chicago:

And, oh god...Tokyo is on Google Street Views...