Going National: Urban Issues and the Public Debate

With four-fifths of Americans living in urban areas, we are a nation of cities, yet this is not the narrative you’re likely to hear in our national political conversation. As a result, urban policy doesn’t get the debate it deserves. But as U.S. cities change and evolve, it may finally be time for urban issues to become something that both parties care about.

In media reports and stump speeches, you’ll hear that true American identity resides in the heartland, on Main Street, in our farms and small towns—and in our ubiquitous suburbs. The suburbs are the political battlegrounds where the parties vie for attention, so it is no surprise that suburban issues, like the price of gasoline, get a voice, while more “urban” concerns, like public transportation or infrastructure planning, get short shrift.

A recent op-ed in The New York Times by Kevin Baker, titled “How the G.O.P. Became the Anti-Urban Party,” gives a great history of how this perceived bifurcation between cities and the rest of America came to be, why it is problematic, and why its days may be numbered. Continue reading

Norwegian National Tourist Routes + Abalimi Urban Agriculture Win Topos Jubilee Awards

The 20th Anniversary of Topos brings two special awards for very different projects in planning and design. Both awards were presented at the landscape Biennial in Barcelona, September 29th: The first goes to Per Ritzler from the National Tourist Routes Agency in Oslo; the second went to Christine Kaba and Bridget Impey from the voluntary association Abalimi Bezekhaya (“Farmers of Home”), an urban agriculture and environmental action project.

From the Topos editors:

The Norwegian National Tourist Routes

Recognized in order to highlight the Norway (a state “actively promoting and commissioning architecture on a significant scale”), as well as question whether or not it is responsible to encourage more car-based tourism, Continue reading

The Call For A Post-Informal Landscape Urbanism

“There are an estimated 200,000 informal settlements around the world. Moreover, one of every three urban dwellers currently lives in informal settlements, otherwise (and wrongly) known as ‘slums.’ What is the future of the city after the influx of informal settlements?”

There are an estimated 200,000 informal settlements around the world similar–and sometimes much worse–than La Moran, in Caracas Venezuela (pictured above).

“Post-Industrial” is widely regarded as the primary condition that appears throughout much of Landscape Urbanism literature in its attempt to reformulate contemporary city-making following the industrial booms of the past centuries. While it is important to recycle, re-use and reconsider sites of this nature, it is also important to consider other “post” conditions and projects.

Landscape Urbanism has to move on from defining what it is to what it can do; from theory to praxis, from book to built. Instead of being limited to the endless task of defining and arguing for the relevance of its initial conceptualizations, it is the job of designers to find new areas onto which this new approximation can have a successful implementation. Through this thinking, we can find other “post-” conditions, one of which has an immense sense of urgency and potential in today’s world: “Post-Informal”.

Population Growth and City Projections

Four years ago, the world reached a significant milestone: 3.3 billion human beings live in cities, making this planet’s human population predominantly urban. Yet, the importance of this milestone is not just that an ever-growing population lives in cities, but how they live in cities. One of every three urban dwellers currently lives in informal settlements, otherwise (and wrongly) known as “slums”. Informal settlements are usually characterized as poor areas that come about outside the margins of any legal urban planning, usually constructed by means of self-help housing that tap into the existing services and infrastructures of the city. This urban phenomenon should be regarded as one of the most important characteristics of modern urban development because of the impact it has on landscape, environment, social components, existing cities and infrastructure. Continue reading