December 25, 2006

Until 2007

This photo-collage was created by mav, our Wishing Quilt organizer. The spirit of the day captured in the photographs is symbolic of the season - friendship, wishes, memory making, and sharing. Wishing you a Happy New Year and success in your endeavors - both individual and collective. For more on the Wishing Quilt, read The quilt, a neighborhood metaphor.

December 17, 2006

Theoretical origin of "local ecology," part 2 : case example

In the fall of 2004 I wrote a prospectus outlining the idea of "local ecology." You can read part 1 : theory here. Part 2 is presented below. The methodology and conclusions will follow. My concern...is with a planning typology that will address how people view and relate to the urban environment. The typology I propose is based on spatial properties but differs significantly from physical models like new urbanism. In new urbanism, there is an over-reliance on design to dictate behaviour. The theory of new urbanism holds that the “right” physical environment will erase social inequalities. In a counter to the new urbanism argument, Fainstein (2003) stated that the production of the "right" environment appeals to a certain "community" that is not inclusive; this community does not achieve true social dynamism. Civic engagement and social networks cannot be fully achieved through a pre-arrangement of space. Relationships are forged through interactions around visceral experiences and reinforced through “face-time,” that is small and constant exchanges. An example of this idea of small-scale space production is the housing studio organized by Jacqueline Leavitt of UCLA. Leavitt and her students were retained by the Nickerson Gardens housing project tenants’ council to survey tot-lots and laundry services and prepare a financial and design report (Perry 2003). The parents formed a cooperative consensus to focus on the tot-lots and laundry: "of all these issues, the ones that commanded the attention of the residents and convinced them to contract with professional planners to somehow help them bridge the gap between the policy-making administrators, architects, and planners of the Housing Authority of Los Angeles and themselves were tot-lots and laundromats" (Perry, 183). The residents of Nickerson Gardens conducted the surveys themselves and Leavitt et al. presented the information to the housing authority as a physical design and a fiscal plan. It is worthwhile to note two important factors of this project. The residents focused on small-scale spaces: tot-lots and laundromats. Additionally, the leaders of the residential councils collected information from the residents thus reinforcing and creating relationships. Perry noted that the "(social) production of a safe and comfortable home (space)" was more important then the larger physical issues that were cited by Leavitt in her report (Perry, 183). The success of this initiative was based on an identity associated with and organized around a specific place. References Fainstein, Susan S. 2003. Page 183 In Campbell, Scott and Susan S. Fainstein, editors. Readings in Planning Theory. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. Perry, David C. 2003. Page 156 In Campbell, Scott and Susan S. Fainstein, editors. Readings in Planning Theory. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

December 13, 2006

Livable (traffic-calmed) streets

The bike-through (Derby and Mabel) The concept of "livable streets" was developed by Donald Appleyard between the 1960s and his death in 1982. Although his seminal study was conducted in San Francisco, the City of Berkeley has incorporated Appleyard's findings in the design and provision of traffic calming infrastructure. Having lived most recently in Boston where neighborhood traffic is calmed by the nature of the city's "cow path" street network, the presence of Olmstedian parkways and boulevards, and the ubiquitous one-way street, I was intrigued by the novel infrastructure present in Berkeley's neighborhoods, beyond the usual one-way street, cul-de-sac, and speed bump. I set about to photograph all the neighborhood traffic calming devices, including diverters. These are the designs I have found thus far. (If you know of a type that is not shown here, please send the location in an email.) The rotary (Ellsworth and Russell) The straight-away (undergoing decoration, Wheeler and Ashby) The half-way (Lorina and Russell) The triangle (Deakin and Webster) The diagonal (Blake and Fulton) The (classic) speed bump For the history and ongoing development of traffic calming in Berkeley, see the City of Berkeley Transportation Department website.

December 10, 2006

Another list : neighborhood history projects

Hayes Street, Hayes Valley, San Francisco Here are a few neighborhood (and city) history projects I like. Invincible Cities, a Camden, NJ and Richmond, CA photographic project by Camilo Jose Vergara Museum of Chinese in America based in NYC Officer's Row at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Shrinking Cities like Detroit The Living New Deal Project based in California

December 9, 2006

The theoretical origin of "local ecology"

In the fall of 2004 I wrote a prospectus outlining the idea of "local ecology." I will present it here in four parts : theory, case example, methodology, and conclusion. Theory The intersection of ecological and social systems in cities is the framework that I use to shape my thinking about the restoration of local greenspaces. Restoration, as I define it, is laying claim to a space and transforming the social and ecological cultures that exist within and around that space. In other words, cooperative place-making can be effective in establishing healthy relationships within communities; residents working together towards a common goal are more than a mechanism for developing community feeling (Francis 1984). It is a chance to involve people with the land: to form persistent bonds through daily interaction in a local space. It is an opportunity to reinstitute the idea of making a “claim,” of becoming a steward. In general, urban greenspaces are narrowly defined and typically include parks, plazas, and trailways. I would like to expand the definition of urban greenspace to include front yards, community gardens, street-trees, alleys, balconies, and rooftops. A healthy social system supports the long-term maintenance of our urban greenspaces. The localEcology paradigm is nested in the idea that the process of claiming our local environment can not only foster healthier social relationships, but can, in increments, change the face of the city and the way the city is perceived by city dwellers. Sandercock notes that ordinary urban landscapes have the power to nurture public memory and in many neighbourhoods, this power is largely untapped. The incremental accretion of small steps forms a cluster of ecological and social systems that blend in/outward. Wendell Berry supports the idea that “good land” has to be earned through virtues like justness, kindness, generosity, and honesty. He recognizes that these are social values but argues that these values have ecological consequences. In addition, Smith argued that all elements of planning, even most of the social concerns, are anchored upon or affected by the way in which land is used. But we have lost our “land ethic”: the idea that the earth and its ecological systems support our physical and emotional lives. Our contemporary city forms have negatively altered our interactions with neighbours. Modernist planning has constructed our city spaces through a scientific and mechanical lens. We need to revise this mode of planning, not by creating a naïve utopia, but rather, by reconstituting a trust between the land and people. But how do we create a new planning typology that reconnects urban people and land? There are numerous studies that document the social and ecological benefits of “nature” in urbanized areas. This research is generally only applicable to residential landowners (suburban lots), municipalities (parkland and other traditional public open/green spaces) and corporate and university campuses, and not to urban smallholders. Urban smallholders (after Waters-Bayer 1989) are city residents who own small lots or have limited access to land, and often weaker social networks. The new planning typology—locally sustainable land management—will be created and maintained by smallholders. The greenspaces that are accessible to smallholders typically comprise our city streetscapes —front yards, street trees, community gardens, balconies, and rooftops. These spaces are multi-functional; they are urban locales, where smallholders can create functional green and social spaces. Within urban areas, individual patches of greenspace contribute to the intricacy of a city’s ecology. Habitats not traditionally viewed as corridors e.g.: gardens, may act as wildlife conduits in urban areas (Szacki et al. 1994). Furthermore, the true importance of “corridors” may, in fact, lie in extending areas of habitat rather than acting as a corridor per se (Dawson 1995). But many streetscape designs hinder ecological dynamism—common practices like salting sidewalks damage tree roots and installing tree grates provides limited access to soil/root zones. In addition, some streetscapes are monocultures with a lack of understorey layers—a tree farm vs. an (urban) forest. There are often inadequate growing spaces above and below ground, a lack of frontage to support yards and balconies, and underutilized rooftops and alleys. “Vacant” (see Corbin 2003) land is removed from the public domain, public green/open spaces are privatized, and community gardens and other community managed spaces have insecure use rights. Locales can be spaces for cultural expressions of “being green”. Here, being green, is defined as providing spaces for basic natural functions (habitat, growth and decay, phenology) and “green city” concepts (energy balance, stormwater attenuation, and air filtration). Social function can be enhanced through interactions at a local/street level. People become aware of each other and the actions of others as they view and relate to their local spaces. There are many cultural variations of using local knowledge for small-scale land management. How can we strengthen community capacity for sustainable greenspaces? How can we engage the individual or a group of individuals to create ecologically functioning greenspaces while valuing cultural perceptions of “nature near” (after Richard Neutra) and building social networks to sustain these systems? Urban planning theory has evolved from modernism to postmodernism, as a change from a master narrative created by the state, to the integration of physical city building, democratic participation, and mediation between capital, labour, and the state (Beauregard 2003). Contemporary planning’s many paradigms include the communicative model which addresses moral issues reminiscent of nineteenth century planning (Fainstein 2003) and focuses on mediation among stakeholders, new urbanism which relies on physical form to create social integration, and the just-city model which strives to integrate capitalist and social economies in a spatial relationship based on equality. References Francis, Mark, et al. 1984. Community Open Spaces. California: Island Press. localEcology is a proposed planning typology, an approach to influencing the ecological character and social content of our cities through active participation in the creation of greenspaces. A typology of human/nature. Sandercock, Leonie. 2003. Page 403 In Campbell, Scott and Susan S. Fainstein, editors. Readings in Planning Theory. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. Berry, Wendell. 1982. The Gift of Good Land. New York: North Point Press, pages 271 – 272. Smith, Herbert H. 1993. The Citizen’s Guide to Planning. Chicago, Illinois: Planners Press, page 83. Waters-Bayer, 1989. Smallholders definition modified from rural agricultural research; smallholder defined as resource-poor farmers, i.e. persons who derive their livelihood mainly from agriculture and have very limited access to land and capital (Waters-Bayer, Ann. 1989. Participatory technology development in ecologically-oriented agriculture: some approaches and tools. Agricultural Administration Network. Overseas Development Institute. London). Szacki, J. et al. 1994 and G.M.A. Barker 1997. Cited by Young, Christopher H. and Peter J. Jarvis. 2001. Measuring urban habitat fragmentation: an example from Black Country, UK. Landscape Ecology 16: 643 – 658. Dawson, K.J. 1995. Cited by Young, Christopher H. and Peter J. Jarvis. 2001. Measuring urban habitat fragmentation: an example from Black Country, UK. Landscape Ecology 16: 643 – 658. The declaration of vacancy or emptiness erases important dimensions of a site: natural processes and characteristics above or below the scale of conventional perception, cultural history or meanings that may not have a physical presence, and systems that are not recognized as having immediate functional purpose. Corbin, Carla I. Vacancy and Landscape: Cultural Context and Designed Purpose. Landscape Journal 22(1): 2003, page 12. Title of a collection of late essays by Richard Neutra’s in which according to Leslie Dick, he deconstructed the architectural dichotomy between inside and outside. Neutra believed that the nature should enter the domestic space. Beauregard, Robert A. 2003. Pages 108 – 121 In Campbell, Scott and Susan S. Fainstein, editors. Readings in Planning Theory. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. Fainstein, Susan S. 2003. Page 190 In Campbell, Scott and Susan S. Fainstein, editors. Readings in Planning Theory. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

December 4, 2006

The quilt, a neighborhood metaphor

I am a member of the Wishing Quilt collective. We recently met for the second time - some to finish their first squares, others to begin their second. The goal is to make six quilts. To our first gathering, we each brought remnant fabrics, whole garments, and wishes. Several of the women had experience making quilts. Most of us had sewn before. One woman brought several books for inspiration. As a group we decided that each woman would stitch a 2' x 2' square and at the end of the day we would "pin them up." l: my 1st square (first iteration) r: mav's 1st square (ibid.) My square is inspired by Carl Hall's paintings of the Pacific Northwest and a summer trip to the Central Coast of California. A year ago, three other quilters and I enrolled in a course on the neighborhood landscape. The quilting practice reminds me of the neighborhood idea. Like a neighborhood, a quilt is the product of individual and collective action. Yes, a quilt can be made by an individual. But like barn raising, many quilts are made cooperatively and support positive reciprocity.

December 3, 2006

Revisiting The Neighborhood Unit

Lewis Mumford (1954) described the neighborhood as a natural phenomenon. He cited the development of New York neighborhoods like Chelsea and Greenwich Village despite "the undifferentiated rectangular plan of Manhattan, a plan contrived as if for the purpose of preventing neighborhoods from coming into existence." Like Suzanne Keller (1968), he argued that one's neighbor is someone who lives nearby. (Both Mumford and Keller emphasized the variety and intensity of relationships between neighbors as a significant element in defining the neighborhood - Mumford's "neighborliness" and Keller's "neighboring" or "neighbor role.") Mumford contrasted the naturalness of the neighborhood with the planned neighborhood unit : a unit that would now exist, not merely on a spontaneous or instinctual basis, but through the deliberate decentralisation of institutions that had, in their over-centralisation, ceased to serve efficiently the city as a whole. This "neighborhood unit" concept developed by Clarence Perry in 1929 and detailed in the Regional Plan for New York of 1929 has been an organizing principle for the redevelopment of urban areas and the development of the suburbs. The unit has also been applied outside the U.S. Writing about the 1948 Nairobi Plan, Donald Freeman (1991) noted that Bahati, Ofafa, and Mbotela, among other neighborhoods of Nairobi were designed according to the neighborhood unit concept. These neighborhoods were designed "to house about seven thousand people, and each unit with its own school, dispensary, playing field, and beer hall." However, by 19171, the concept had been drastically altered. In some neighborhoods, like Pumwani, the population had risen to 30,000 people, a density of 153 people per acre. The neighborhood unit has also been used in the former USSR, at least a neighborhood unit was proposed for the town of Angarsk. According to A. I. Tarantul (1962), the unit would be 68 acres, with a population of 6000 (or 90 people per acre), a school for 920 children, and a footpath network connecting the residential area to the school (similar to Radburn, NJ). Like proponents before and after him, Tarantul asserted, the concentration of the service buildings in the community centre of the neighbourhood unit creates conditions for intercourse and contact between the inhabitants, and assists the fostering of the collective spirit which is the characteristic mark of our society. Previous posts in The Neighborhood series Ode to the neighbor(hood) (October 9) A city of neighborhoods (September 11) Why do fences make good neighbors? (July 30) What types of institutions make a neighborhood? (June 20) Jane Jacobs' neighborhood (June 17) Nora Ephron on "the sense of neighborhood" (June 16) The Neighborhood Unit (April 9) Neighbor, neighboring (February 2, 2006)