Day 21 : Synthesis. GEOG 442. Synthesis. Leung: “Synthesis is about matching user needs and land supply within the framework of the public interest. It involves creative thinking and critical evaluation” (p. 167).
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Leung: “Synthesis is about matching user needs and land supply within the framework of the public interest. It involves creative thinking and critical evaluation” (p. 167).
There are several different kinds of plans that do this – policy framework plans, land classification plans, urban land use designs, and development management plans – each more detailed and prescriptive than the last.
All types of plans contain five elements: purpose, information, analysis, synthesis, and implement-ation, along with consideration of siting and sizing issues.
Regardless of its type, “a plan is a statement of policies of what the community wants to do with its land, and how these community goals are to be achieved.. It is a document with words and graphics,” and usually contains:
a background study on user needs, land supply, and the various contexts in which the matching needs to occur;
a summary of background findings and a statement of goals and public interest issues;
the proposed policies (e.g., land use, development, transportation, and any special issue areas). These can be presented in terms of land use, geographic area, or both. (For more detail, see p. 168.)
a statement on implementation, either control or action-oriented. (For an example, see Nanaimo’s Official Community Plan at: http://www.nanaimo.ca/residents/ index_inside.asp?id=311&parent=19&sub_collection=68.)
Underlying all plans there is an explicit or implicit notion of the good city or community. There have been a number of philosophies in this regard.
Modernism- most closely associated with Le Corbusier and with the principles of the Congrés Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM), as expressed in the 1933 Athens Charter. (Read the excerpt on pp. 169-174; what do you think?)
As Leung notes, modernism has been criticized in both theory and practice. His own view is that modernism contributed to making cities far more pleasant and healthy places to live, but he also notes that the modernist “status quo has become complacent and lazy and, when challenged, defensive. For some people, modern planning has become planning by the rulebook, with the rules being hopelessly out-of-date.”
Leung, wrongly so in my view, classifies Kevin Lynch and Christopher Alexander with the modernists. I believe they harken back to a pre-modernist school of thought, and forward to post-modernism.
Principles of the good city from Lynch include:
-vitality (supporting the health and well-being of the residents): On one level, our cities are far more health-ful, but on another level, sprawl is beginning to be blamed for declining physical fitness and growing air and water pollution levels, not to mention climate change.
-sense (the degree to which a city has visual structure and a sense of place): Clearly, sprawl is leading to the phenomenon of “Anytown, North America.”
-fit (congruence between environment and activities): Arguably, cities are providing a better fit for cars than for people. This dimension is also supposed to relate to adaptability. Modernist buildings and spaces are not as adaptable for new uses as pre-modern buildings were – for instance, rowhouses and warehouses.
-access (the ability to reach other people, activities, services, and places, etc.): With its separation of uses and low densities, sprawl is making this more difficult – especially for children, seniors, people with mobility issues, and those without cars.
-control (users’ control over provision, use, and management of spaces and activities): Outside of our own homes, the built environment is largely out of our control, and the kind of control that Jane Jacobs (re Greenwich Village) talks about has largely been lost.
Christopher Alexander has his own principles (see A Pattern Language and A New Theory of Urban Design).
Incremental growth (size, mix of sizes, and mix of functions): growth should occur in small chunks (‘increments’) that are respectful of what’s already there [think downtown Nanaimo];
Attention to the growth of larger wholes- every intervention in the built environment should heal the city and foster the creation of the greater whole [ditto];
Buildings and developments should integrate well- i.e., should be based on an existing sense of place [ditto];
Creating positive urban spaces- buildings surrounding public spaces, not spaces surrounding buildings;
The layout of buildings should be internally and externally coherent- for instance, one should know where the entrance is, and the principal feature of a house should not be the garage [think also Granville Island and its Public Market];
Relating structures and details to larger and smaller wholes or ‘patterns’- his idea is that good architecture – that which maximizes human and ecological well-being – has always manifested itself in the form of “patterns” or gestalts.
Each pattern fits into the larger and smaller patterns above and below it: “no pattern is an isolated entity. Each pattern can exist in the world, only to the extent that it is supported by other patterns: the larger the patterns in which it is embedded, the patterns of the same size that surround it, and the smaller patterns that are embedded in it.” This also relates to the creation of nodes.
An example would be how the coffee shop (Java Hut) in the library contributes to the positive functioning of the interior and exterior spaces of that particular node on campus. In Alexander's view, each intervention in the built environment should seek to be contextual, rather than free-standing; it should seek to heal and “complete” that which surrounds it.
“This is a fundamental view of the world. It says that when you build a thing you cannot merely merely build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, and more whole; and the thing which you make takes its place in the web of nature, as you make it.”
New urbanism is the most prominent of the new doctrines to challenge modernism. It consists of sub-movements, such as Traditional Neighbourhood Development (TND), led by Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), led by Peter Calthorpe.
It is probably no coincidence that the first meeting of the Congress of the New Urbanism (CNU) was in 1993 – the 60th anniversary of CIAM meeting in Athens. It sees itself as a similarly comprehensive movement, with a similarly comprehensive program. However, it seeks to restore and build on what it feels modernism destroyed.
New urbanism features a very strong emphasis on urban design, which deals with the relationships between buildings and the public realm (streets and open spaces) and how they fit together as a whole, including their aesthetic arrangement. (For details on the specifications for TND and TOD, and a comparison of representative TND and TOD communities, see pp. 177-178).
New urbanism faces a number of challenges: consumer preference for low-density suburbia; dominance of cars and an auto-oriented built environment; a restrictive culture of planning and zoning; an increasingly privacy-seeking public; and concern about the safety of alleyways and lanes, which are a key feature of new urbanist design.
There are many criticisms of new urbanism. Some feel that new urbanist communities are too homo-genous and ‘white bread’ though, as Leung points out, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has been incorporating new urbanist principles into inner-city redevelopment projects.
Others feel that too many projects are greenfield (‘new suburbanism’?), but Doug Kelbaugh responds that one has to build where the opportunity exists and that, with greater acceptance, new urbanism will move into all settings and improve on its record.
Leung questions the affordability and sustainability of what he calls ‘designer suburbs’ – that only mainly elites can afford to live in them, and that their greater density is compromised by their generous quotient of green space, making them just as low density in net terms as traditional suburbs.
He also feels that new urbanism is fueled by a nostalgia for a simpler, more community-oriented time that may be irretrievably lost.
Whatever the weaknesses of modernism and new urbanism, it is important to remember that they represent paradigms that were, and are, attempting to come to grips with the challenges and problems of their respective eras' built environments.
There is always a danger when a paradigm is treated as a dogma, when it pretends to have all the answers for all situations. This leads to inflexibility, and an unwillingness to learn from other schools of thought or points of view.
There is also a danger, with both paradigms, of elitism – that the experts know best and will impose their viewpoint on everyone else.