What Color is Your Favorite Architect?

Oh joy, thecolorof works for architects, too! There are some fascinating results--so many, in fact, that you'll have to travel beyond the jump, as I don't want them mobbing the Where homepage, heh.


What Color is your City?

I found thecolorof.com this evening (via Curiosity Counts), which layers recent images from Flickr sharing a common tag over each other to create swatches that resemble abstract impressionist paintings. Naturally, I spent a bit of time trying out various cities. Many wind up very similar--red/gold on the bottom, bluish on the top--which I'm guessing has something to do with the preponderance of skyline photos. But the results for some are spot-on, and even downright gorgeous. A few favorites:

What color is your city?


The Upside of Shrinking

Photo Credit
Last month, Newsweek produced a list of "dying" cities in the US with "bleak" futures based solely on population loss over the past few decades. For the Love of Cities author Peter Kageyama made quick work of the dismantling of this rather lazy list over at The Infrastructurist: "As human beings," he notes, astutely, "we stop 'growing' in our early 20s, yet we hardly think of a 25-year-old as dying — still, at a cellular level, they are dying in the same way that these cities are dying. Losing population is not the same as losing hope, losing purpose, or losing life."

The loss of population does not guarantee a continued slide toward obsolescence. Conversely, an influx of educated creative types does not necessarily result in an economic boom. Everyone has the potential to be creative, but not everyone is cut out to start (and successfully run) a business. The entrepreneurial spirit is something that needs to be sparked, and then cultivated. On the list of things that can serve as that spark: watching an exodus from a place that you love. In the above-linked Burgh Diaspora post, Jim Russell shares a story about Doug Dwyer, a former First Data employee who chose to stay in Boulder when his employer moved to Atlanta. The decision to stay required Dwyer to "think like an immigrant," and he has since founded a company, Mocapay, that employs 20 people.

When it's possible for the upwardly mobile to leave, those who stay behind by choice are bound to be more invested in their cities. These passionate people are some of the greatest assets that a city can have, and the fact that there are fewer other people around inherently makes it more likely that these passionate residents will bump into each other, share ideas, and perhaps start something exciting--as long as shrinkage is managed through smart urban planning to maintain some level of density, and to preserve downtown areas as places of economic and intellectual exchange. Especially when large areas begin to empty out, it's important to think about how to encourage interaction.

In a recent promo video for the new book Living in the Endless City, Saskia Sassen was asked what makes a city successful. She answered that "It’s their incompleteness that gifts them their longevity. A city does not become obsolete." Population loss does not equal death: it's just part of the process of rebirth.


When Street Art Is More Than Street Art

Photo credit
Some clever artist has plastered a series of stylized yellow protractors (or are they bridges?) around Pittsburgh, each with a (presumably) sequential number from one up into the hundreds. Apparently it's the talk of the town--so much so that, in a move truly worthy of the adjective "Keystone," the city's cops are trying to track the mastermind down so that they can charge him with a felony for property damage. In an awesome act of digital defiance, a blogger who was writing about and mapping the bridges has deleted the posts, refusing to allow his blog to be used by the authorities to bring down this gem of a project.

Moving past this dramatic and still-unfolding plot to the project itself: the simplicity of this project is a total joy. Talk about augmented reality these days focuses on digital applications, and it's so easy to forget that there are some very low-tech ways of re-framing the way that people experience the urban environment. In this project, the instigator has used some simple plastic decals and super glue to turn the entire city of Pittsburgh--already pretty fun to wander around thanks to its undulating topography and erratic street grid--into a game platform. As you chase around looking for all of the protractors, you wind up exploring the city, leaving no nook or cranny un-scanned in your quest for detection dominance.

This Pittsburgh project highlights the fact that you don't need mad app-development skillz to augment your city. While tech allows us the opportunity to tweak the urban experience in new wasy, a bit of ingenuity and some art supplies are all you need to re-engage people with the cityscape. On that note--if anyone else knows of some similarly clever interventions in other cities, please share!


Splashy Times Square Satellite View

Woke up this morning to discover new Google Earth satellite imagery of Manhattan, complete with the fully-pedestrianized & mural'd Times Square. Great light too, Midtown usually looks so dark on G-Earth. Three cheers for Janette.

UPDATE: Just realized you can also get great views of a few other ped plazas. Click the thumbnails for full-sizers:

Union Square (with Greenmarket in full-swing!):

Madison Square Park:

(Also: whoever gets rid of these #$&#% borders that magically insert themselves around images on this blog when I've tried everything I can think of to turn them off wins a prize.)


On Stolen Towns, Cities as Brands, and Public vs. Private Visions

Image by Flickr user philipbouchard
Revisiting a few posts that I wrote for Next American City a couple of years ago via more recent news items:

From Neighborhoods as Brands (March 2008):  
Think about places in American cities that have a special cultural power.  Now export them to a brownfield site one or two thousand miles away...New Orleans’ French Quarter could become one of America’s most popular exports.  There could be one in Shanghai, one in Jakarta, one in Abu Dhabi, one in Zagreb, and another on the outskirts of Khartoum.  These would not be theme parks, but fully-populated, 24-hour neighborhoods selling a lifestyle of jazz, street dancing, and easy living.
More recently, Der Speigel brought us news that Chinese officials have surprised residents of the Austrian town of Hallstatt by deciding to copy the entire town back east, brick for brick. Jokes about China's lasseiz faire attitude toward Western copyrights (particularly those of the intellectual variety) got tired years ago, but this latest news feels like a fresh pain. UNESCO is, hilariously, trying to determine the legality of this--as if they'll have any power at all to stop the copy from being built. What can be done?

In a country where they're building cities faster than they can fill them, it hardly seems surprising that a few would borrow heavily from existing, well-loved places, and Spiegel notes the existence of a scattering of Euro-themed suburbs near Shanghai. But while it's one thing to choose to export a place, seeing developers--from any part of the world--up and jacking a whole town should raise eyebrows. Imagine people on the other side of the world eating in a clone of your favorite restaurant, living in the bizzarro version of the apartment just above yours, listening to the kids playing handball in a counterfeit of the park outside your side window.

Then again, try as they might, Starbucks' store designers can't make a London shop feel that different from one in Chicago. That is to say, the places that we inhabit in globalized cities are already feeling like copies of copies. If the Hallstatt story has anything to teach us perhaps it's that it's better for cities to get out in front of this trend and start marketing their strongest neighborhoods to Chinese developers as blueprints. Within China itself, developers are starting to market entire neighborhood types within the same cities--what Ad Age Global refers to as "Cities in a Box." Better for Boston that those developers specialize in Beacon Hills instead of Bunds...assuming, of course, that Boston can be involved somehow.

All of this raises the issue of whether or not the people who inhabit a place have any inherent right to its built form. Indeed, it raises the issue of whether or not a place has a right to itself, in many ways. So I'll re-pose the question from that original NAC post: In the glocalized world, does any place belong to any one group, or does everywhere belong to everyone?


Also, from A Vision For Detroit (April 2010):
If there is the political will and the financial might in Detroit to privately fund a light rail line (which would take a miracle in almost any American city, much less one with Motown’s reputation), there should certainly be enough energy to create a broad, forward-thinking vision for the region to tie various initiatives together into a narrative that the whole city can rally behind.  Detroit has everyone’s attention; now it’s time for the city to decide what story it’s going to tell.
Now, just over a year later, the WSJ is reporting that all is not well in the Motor City, as the Bing administration wrestles with the Kresge Foundation to determine whose job it is to plot that storyline. The city says that it appreciates Kresge's cash, but can do just fine developing the vision to guide its own revitalization, thank you. Kresge begs to differ, with its suburb-based president Rip Rapson arguing that new ideas from outside the entrenched political system are desperately needed.

No matter which camp you fall into, it's certainly a fascinating read. With Kresge pulling out of critical projects like Detroit Works and the M1 light rail line, it may behoove Bing to acknowledge that Detroit's record, when it comes to city-led revitalization projects, leaves something to be desired; ceding a bit of control might not be the worst thing to ever happen to the city. You could call Kresge's new-found reticence fickle, or even extortive, but if the foundation doesn't believe that the city's long-term plans will allow their investments to have a lasting impact, they have every right to withhold.

That's not to say that citizens shouldn't have a say in what happens to their city, and Kresge would do well to be as clear as is humanly possible about what it is they'd like to see happen in order to build public support. Being a private foundation does not absolve you of responsibility to communicate with the public whose lives you'd like to improve. 2¢ from an outsider.


Thinking Before You Market Can Have Beautiful Results

Natalia from Polis has already nerded out on the potential for apps to collect use-pattern data to aid urban planners as illustrated by the recent Nike+ 1000 Runs mapping project. Personally, though, I’m more excited about this as a social ad campaign than as an urban planning tool. It’s a pretty ingenious way of encouraging participation: it taps into Nike’s passionate base and invites their participation, using the individual pieces collected to create something new and pretty cool (and quite lovely) which, in turn, encourages more people to use the product in question. Thoughtful marketing is always fun to see, especially when it’s social (which begs the question: is it even possible to be thoughtful without being social in 2011?)

Oh, and let’s not forget the mega-bonus that it’s rooted in the pedestrian experience of the urban environment, which is always nice to see from suburb- and auto-centric Madison Ave. Round of applause.