Tag Archives: Urban Design

Tech Companies are Bad Urbanists, Can Learn more from Planning!

Allison Arieff, an editor of SPUR in San Francisco, writes about the challenges of tech companies’ increasing interest in city locations.  Looking particularly at the San Francisco Bay Area, she discusses how many tech companies are locating in cities, but as far too insular of entities.  Many, including Twitter, aren’t promoting street traffic because they offer so many urban amenities and shops inside their buildings while restricting access to only employees.

She sees the same phenomenon in suburban tech companies too.  Facebook has created a small faux urban area in Menlo Park with cafes, dry cleaners, and doctors offices in a sea of parking.  The area is only open to Facebook employees.

Smaller companies and start ups are being a bit more deliberate (partly out of necessity) to locate in areas that are part of neighborhoods and don’t disrupt the urban fabric.  Arieff notes the 5M Project as a good example of an integrated tech-neighborhood mixed use development.

Think About Community Assets Differently

After a recent visit to New York City’s High Line Park, I spent some time thinking about how communities could make similar transformative investments in public space.  In fact, in Philadelphia, at the Callowhill Reading Viaduct, a community group is working to renovate an elevated rail line into a similar park.

2013-10-05 13.35.27(Photo is The High Line Park, near the Standard Hotel and Chelsea Market)

The landscape design and beauty of the High Line have already been well documented, and many places do not have the resources to recreate the High Line.  Recreating very similar interventions may be difficult, impossible, or forced in other places.  The thinking and community visioning are possible everywhere though.

What communities can do is take a look at their community differently.  For many years, the High Line was an abandoned elevated rail that blighted the community, and some explored demolishing the structure.  Instead, a small group of visionaries saw a different future.  Many communities have some overlooked space or white elephant property that can be re-imagined and turned into an asset.    All it takes is creativity, vision, and hard work to implement the idea!


Thomas Campanella and the Death and Life of Urban Planning

I have been reading Reconsidering Jane Jacobs, edited by Max Page and Timothy Mennel and recommend the book as a companion and follow up to the classic Jane Jacobs works.

The final chapter of the book is written by Thomas Campanella, a professor of urban planning and design at University of North Carolina.  He notes how it is ironic that an assault on the profession has become a standard text.  He also notes that urban planners no longer think big and no longer work on making cities more livable and vibrant.  Instead he feels that the profession is mired in red tape and governmental regulation as well as being slowed by an oversensitivity to grassroots organizations that are largely self interested.

The chapter is compelling and worth reading.  I agree in general with many of the assessments, but I see things slightly differently.  Campanella ascribes the cause of the inoculation of the profession to a move away from physical planning because of the failure of urban renewal.  I instead see the decreased efficacy as a result of the profession’s move towards advocacy planning and specialization, which was famously encouraged by Paul Davidoff.  I will address a short history of planning specialization (and privatization) in a paper that I will give at the SACRPH Conference on Planning History in Baltimore in November, I will discuss the paper more in the future.

Campanella and I would agree that the horizontal nature of the profession makes it less effective.  Campanella calls for a return to physical planning as a way to increase the importance of the field.  Others have also called for urban planning to find a core value or skill to focus on.  Is it physical planning or is it something else, maybe sustainability or climate resilience?  Whatever that guiding principle is, the profession should have a frank conversation about its goals.  Maybe this essay is a good place to start.