Covering the Issues

Posted in Vol 13 No 4 by bsaab on November 4, 2010

Periodical Roundup

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The Atlantic, July/August 2010

Back to the future… Three billion people will move to cities in the next few decades. How do we avoid an explosion of urban slums while more effectively distributing aid? Economist Paul Romer sees the answer in the 12th-century Baltic coast and British-occupied Hong Kong. In "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Ending Poverty" (The Atlantic, July/August 2010), Sebastian Mallaby discusses Romer’s plan for "charter cities" — enclaves in which poor nations provide land while foreign governments provide organization; immigration is encouraged. Mallaby describes the concept as places where "dysfunctional nations can kick-start their own development by creating new cities with new rules." Madagascar was interested until the prospect of giving territory to foreigners forced the president out of office. Critics say that the reality is much messier than this neo-medieval, neo-colonial dream.

Foreign Policy, September/October 2010

Opposites attract… Foreign Policy (September/October 2010) also explores the rapidly urbanizing global future in a pair of divergent articles. In "Beyond City Limits," Parag Khanna suggests that the 21st century will be dominated not by nations, but by cities. In New York and Doha today, as in Cairo and Constantinople a millennium ago, "cities are the real magnets of economies, the innovators of politics, and, increasingly, the drivers of diplomacy." Though often criticized as the source of problems, cities may offer our best response to climate change and poverty. In "Urban Legends," Joel Kotkin argues the opposite. Taking aim at proponents of creative-class economies (as well as those who advocate that all density is good), Kotkin notes that "Athens and Rome didn’t start out as undiscovered artist neighborhoods," arguing that many urban cores are overpriced and overcrowded, and their energy use is underestimated. Instead, Kotkin argues for dispersion.

The New York Review of Books, June 24, 2010

Misunderstood Moderns… It’s the 90th birthday of the Bauhaus, so, naturally, it’s time for attention. (Can you imagine the 100th?) Martin Filler takes on the recent rash of Bauhaus books (five) and exhibitions (six) in "The Powerhouse of the New" (The New York Review of Books, June 24, 2010). Filler crafts a thoughtful and thorough "reassessment of this persistently stereotyped and often maligned powerhouse of modern culture." As he explains the famous school’s origins, aspirations, and revolutionary influence, he touches on the contributions of a few unsung heroes, tackling common misconceptions. It’s not all about Gropius after all.

Take a chance… "Bashing Architects with Lawsuit, as MIT Did, Kills Innovation" is the message from James S. Russell (Bloomberg, August 17, 2010). The associated negative publicity doesn’t help, either. Since most buildings can’t be fully tested until they’re built, construction sites become, in effect, laboratories for the exploration of new ideas. This risk-taking should be supported, argues Russell. Yet the most unusual designs receive the most attention and, too often, the increased scrutiny is not worth the possibility of bad press. In the case of MIT’s Frank Gehry-designed Stata Center, the lawsuit over leaks, mold, and cracking bricks was extremely well publicized, while its "amicable" resolution was kept secret. Sadly, the main lesson is to minimize attention by stifling creativity.

The New Republic, September 2, 2010

Public Space… What makes a great urban park? In "Park Here" (The New Republic, September 2, 2010), Sarah Williams Goldhagen explores that question by examining four recent projects: Chicago’s Millennium Park, St. Louis’ Citygarden, New York City’s High Line, and our own Rose Kennedy Greenway. Boston, sadly, is the cautionary tale, this "useless wind tunnel" of a median strip compromised because city officials never settled on a clear vision and never established a collaborative relationship with the state agency that created the Big Dig. Private donors did not coalesce into an effective leadership force, either; any real hope of innovative, exemplary design was killed by public process. Good design is a form of social justice, not a luxury, argues Goldhagen, as she attempts to uncover exactly why the other three parks are all popular successes and development catalysts. The spirit of Olmsted lives on.

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  1. […] Covering the Issues, By Gretchen Schneider AIA, LEED AP […]

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