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If we see cities as habitat for humans, what would be our favorite lair?

If we see cities as habitat for humans, what would be our favorite lair?

Posted by on Jun 11, 2015 in Urban |

“We know more about the habitats of Snow Leopards than we do about what works best as habitats for human beings.”
From the Danish documentary, “The Human Scale,” released in 2013.

Anyone interested in city planning and urban development will be both entertained and informed by the 1 hour 15 minute documentary, “The Human Scale,” available from Netflix.

The film is about the studies of Danish architect and city planner Jan Gehl as to what urban habitat works best for humans as a species, especially the best design for public squares to make us want to walk and sit in them.  The study of how to make cities more livable will only grow in importance, since already half of the human population lives in urban areas. By 2050, this will increase to 80%.

A particularly interesting insight from the film comes from the rebuilding of Christchurch, New Zealand, following earthquake damage to the city’s core district.  It was found that 6 stories is the maximum optimal height for a condo/apartment building.  Higher than that and the cost of construction must go way up because of the need for a heftier foundation (meaning much higher sales and rental prices).  Plus, people who live near the top of very tall buildings tend to travel outside less because it just is more trouble to get down and outside of the building.

The camera work is mesmerizing of life on the ground in a variety of cities, including:  New York, Melbourne, Copenhagen, and Chongqing, China.  Sure to spark conversation, this is one to put on your “watch” list soon.

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Want to better understand cities and how they actually work?  A few tips on some practical sources.

Want to better understand cities and how they actually work?  A few tips on some practical sources.

Posted by on May 28, 2015 in Urban |

1. Understand the key role of urban politics.

 Politics in cities, and by that I mean attention of elected officials to the will of a significant number of citizens, often can provide the spark for planning.  Building space in a city isn’t like building in space – planning rarely takes place in a pristine vacuum.

The book to read:  The Power Broker:  Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, 1974.  Available in paperback.  The transformation of an idealist into a get-it-done human bulldozer, and with it, the transformation of New York City neighborhoods and not always for the good, is a read one can’t put down.  Don’t let the number of pages put you off – the wisdom here is golden.

2. Try adding some reading in urban geography to urban planning.

 A generalist’s understanding of the distinction is that urban geography tells you how a city got to be the way that it is and how best to keep the existing civic infrastructure “gears” moving smoothly along with those who turn them.  City planning seeks to better arrange the pieces and spaces of the city to provide a more favorable board on which the players can build their lives.

A very good book to readUrban Geography, A Global Perspective.  Third Edition, 2009.  Available in paperback.

3. Keep up with the latest zoning and land use legal decisions – the courts literally “rule” in this area.

A must to readLaw of the Land blog on land use law and zoning.

4. Try a contrarian urban viewpoint from that heard from the typical Northeast & Northwest coasts.

 CityLab has its place, but sometimes appears slightly monolithic in its urban hipster viewpoint.  Believe me, this is not how the leaders of many cities think, perhaps especially in the growing Sunbelt.

Try instead some different knowledgeable observations from Southern California – in, but not necessarily of, Los Angeles.  Reading, especially anything written by Joel Kotkin, whose range extends to the usually overlooked Gulf Coast, is like turning the corner and seeing a completely new viewpoint that stands out from the often uniform (while still worthy of consideration) opinions of the planning community “establishment”.  There is nothing wrong with idealism in planning, but idealism seldom gets anything built.

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