“Fuzzy Math” Call For Essays: How Do We Actually Measure Cities?

Parking Lot In Las VegasWhat is the language of measuring cities, landscapes, or human behaviors? Urban Omnibus put forth a call for essays on “Fuzzy Math,” inviting writers “to infuse the quantitative language that pervades environmental understanding with narrative, theory, history, or humor.”

Beyond the metrics we already use to measure our cities, what are we missing? What ways can we quantify and measure actions, behaviors, politics, engagement, economics, and life in a city? What unseen dimensions and spatial parameters are critical for well-being (or quirkiness) within a city?

“Meanwhile, the cost of some of what we consume in cities – like real estate – is reflected in its price structure, yet a lot of it – like parking, parks, or pollution – is not. Even if the environmental benefits of urban density are starting to be understood, an accepted calculus of a city’s externalities remains far from precise, subsumed in a metaphorical language of carbon footprints or numerical valuations like LEED.”

“So let’s put it in personal terms. How do you measure your behavior: In rent? In square feet? The number of laps run around the park? MetroCard swipes? Brand of lightbulb? The distance food travels to end up on your plate? What are urban public goods – drinking water, open space, public access television, fireworks displays – worth to you?”

Deadline: Friday, March 22nd, 5:00PM EST.
See the call for submissions at Urban Omnibus.

Exploring Philadelphia Landmarks: At Olin, A Look At North Broad Street Development

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The stately Divine Lorraine rises ten stories above Broad Street.
Originally designed in the 1890s, it closed in 1999 and now sits vacant.

Once upon a time, elephants paraded into the Metropolitan Opera House and the Divine Lorraine stood regally ten stories above North Broad Street in Philadelphia. A fantastical quality remains in these two buildings that has outlasted entertainment trends, housing fashions and urban shifts that led to the general decline of the surrounding neighborhood and the near demise of these two landmarks. I had the opportunity to explore these iconic structures on a tour led by Hidden City Philadelphia and learn about their storied pasts and aspirations for the future.

Divine Lorraine Dining Hall

The White Company, a Cleveland-based automobile manufacturer, held its Annual Dealers Banquet at the Hotel Lorraine in 1922. Photo Courtesy Philadelphia Free Library.

The Divine Lorraine is a Philadelphia legend, if not for its striking architecture than for its resilience. Continue reading

Las Vegas and the Downtown Project: A Photo Tour

Last week, Tech Cocktail and the Downtown Project invited a small group of tech entrepreneurs, innovators, and city enthusiasts (like Landscape Urbanism) to take a look at the projects and grounds of the new Downtown Project area in Las Vegas. I also gave a quick 10-minute talk on questions about the future of cities (forthcoming), but in the meantime, here’s a visual assortment of photographs from both the city-at-large as well as the downtown areas, generally.

Greater Las Vegas: Residential Patterns (and Aerial Photographs)

Flying in from San Francisco, here’s a couple of photos of the cityscape from the airplane window:

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Looking towards the airport and the strip, offset in the background. One of the main visual characteristics of Las Vegas is the desert landscape and the mountains surrounding the flat, tan lands. Note the patchwork of development in the foreground and the scattered suburban developments. 

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Residential suburban housing is an easy pattern to pick up from an aerial view: organized, repetitive, single-colored rooftops.  Continue reading

Exploring Philadelphia’s New “Penn Park”

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to stop by Philadelphia and the University of Pennsvylania’s new Penn Park, a 23-acre waterfront park woven in between more than five different infrastructural systems and multiple-level land locks. Previously the site of the   post offices’ land, the site stood as unused acreage between Penn’s campus and the Schuylkill waterfront. Surrounded on all sides by Amtrak, light rail, local rail, the highway, and the upper and lower decks of local Walnut Street, the site was not an easy place to access.

While a student at Penn, the site looked like this image (from the Penn Connects website, 2008):

In just a couple of years, the University has transformed the waterfront area into a set of public and private fields, complete with several ramps and bridges that connect the multiple levels together. An overview of the project (via Michael Van Valkenburgh‘s website):

The rest of the photographs are from a walking tour through the project–I walked through it from the Walnut Street entrance (adjacent to the freeway on ramp). The following photographs are all from my camera, December 2012.

Walking onto the site from above, a view from the Walnut Street Bridge: Continue reading

If The Lights Went Out: The Dark City

What would happen to our great cityscapes if the lights went out? If electricity, candles, and other generated light sources were rendered null? Photography Thierry Cohen created a series of cityscape images that render the city at night under just the light of the stars.The art process for creating these images is quite complicated– as DVice describes: “Cohen visited deserted places that are situated at the same latitudes of the featured cities. With shots of starry skies from the wilderness in such places such as the Mojave and the Western Sahara, he superimposed them across the matching cities.”

Shanghai.

Tokyo. Continue reading

The City Is Here For You To Use: 100 Easy Pieces [Adam Greenfield]

“We find ourselves at a moment in history in which the nature of cities, as form and experience both, is under pressure from a particular class of emerging technology. The advent of lightweight, scalable, networked information-processing technologies means that urban environments around the world are now provisioned with the ability to gather, process, transmit, display and take physical action on data.” 

So begins Adam Greenfield in a post on December 3rd, with 100 thoughts on the future of the city as we continue to navigate the intersection of technology, form, urban space, and the overwhelming amount of data available about the future of cities. This essay–or rather, not an essay and also not an outline–but a series of 100 major propositions that serve as the basis for Mr. Greenfield’s future work on things he observes “at the intersection of emerging networked information technologies with urban place.”

We’re so intrigued by the essay that we’re reposting (with permission) the one hundred points, in their entirety, on Landscape Urbanism. You can read the original post here–and we must admit that we are certainly looking forward to the book’s creation.

By Adam Greenfield, reprinted with permission for Landscape Urbanism. 

The City Is Here For You To Use: 100 easy pieces

1. We find ourselves at a moment in history in which the nature of cities, as form and experience both, is under pressure from a particular class of emerging technology. The advent of lightweight, scalable, networked information-processing technologies means that urban environments around the world are now provisioned with the ability to gather, process, transmit, display and take physical action on data.

2. As a result, that which primarily conditions choice and action in urban places is no longer physical, but resides in an invisible and intangible overlay of digital information that enfolds the physical city. That is, our experiences in such places are no longer shaped exclusively, or even predominantly, by our physical surroundings, but by the interaction of code and data.

3. While it is impossible to know for certain just how much of the activity going on around us on any given street is there as the explicit result of a network sounding, it is clearly both a nontrivial and a growing percentage. Continue reading

Imagining Cities That Can Save the Planet: Carbon Zero, by Alex Steffen

Landscape Urbanism recently met up with Alex Steffen to talk about his latest book, “Carbon Zero,” which was just published on November 27th, 2012. The self-proclaimed “little book” looks at the current condition of our growing–and urbanizing, and warming–planet, and calls for a radical re-imagination of what our city futures could look like. It’s a blueprint, a warning, and a strategic call-to-action for our global urban leaders to take (radical, imaginative) steps towards a more resilient future. 

The following two excerpts are from the book’s introduction and overview (emphases added); the full book is on Amazon, here.  

Carbon Zero: Imagining Cities That Can Save the Planet, by Alex Steffen (Excerpt)

1. Our Urban Future

Humanity is already an urban species, with more people living in cities than in the countryside. By the middle of the century, we will likely have as many as 9.5 billion people living on the planet, with 70%–75% of us (around 7 billion people), demographers estimate, living in cities themselves, and 95% or more of humanity living within a day’s travel of a city. By the 2050s, the overwhelming majority of humanity will be participating in urban systems of health care, education, communication, commerce, and government that only a few decades ago were limited to the “developed” world. Continue reading