Why Is ‘Authenticity’ So Central to Urban Culture?

By Richard Greenwald
Published: January 31, 2013
theatlanticcities.com

One of the worst things you can publicly call someone today is a fake. The controversy surrounding Beyonce’s “singing” of the National Anthem at Obama’s inauguration demonstrates the point and shows, according to the Washington Post, “how confused our culture has become over its wobbly standards of authenticity.” We are, in a word, obsessed.

It is little wonder, then, that we seek out spaces, food, and clothes that affirm a sense of realness and rootedness. The more alike we become, the thirstier we are for perceived individuality. And in crowded cities, being an individual means being rooted in modern notions of authenticity.

Cases in point can be seen in almost every moderately hip or gentrifying city neighborhood. It is clearly evident in certain parts of Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Flea is in many ways an archetype for the consumption of modern, urban authenticity. The Flea features hundreds of vendors of antique furniture, vintage clothing, and crafts by local artisans. Part of its charm is its curation of things from the past (antiques and vintage clothing) and a hand-crafted and local present.

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Picturing 10 Urban Qualities Every City Should Have

By Charles R. Wolffe
Published: January 28, 2013
theatlanticcities.com

In recent months, architect friends have explained how several post-Recesssion projects focus sustainability goals on the end-user experience, rather than simply pursue  flagship “green” designations. It seems there is a commendable and renewed emphasis on the particular needs of building use, and, significantly,  the specifics of  a building user’s relationship to the surrounding urban area.

I see this as a tilt to the qualitative aspects of the urban experience—an approach I believe should stay as a lynchpin of evolving urbanism.

I find that when writing outside of the confines of my day job as a lawyer, I usually pursue these qualitative aspects. I like to emphasize the impressionistic and, essentially more ethereal, emotional “bookmarks” of experiences in cities around the world. By and large, these bookmarks recall modern expressions of traditional urban life. Together, they are a useful summary of evolving human experience in the city.

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Sustainable Urban Transportation Is at the Heart of a Greener Future

Published: January 24, 2013
Sustainable Cities Collective

By 2030, 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. To avoid an explosion of cars, which creates air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, congestion, and traffic deaths, new, more sustainable patterns of urban development are needed, with higher-density urban cores and “sustainable transportation systems at the heart of these places,” said Zanny Minton Beddoes, The Economist, before introducing World Bank Group President Dr. Jim Yong Kim and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at this year’s Transforming Transportation conference, which was co-organized by the World Bank Group and the EMBARQ program of the World Resources Institute (WRI).

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The Case for Shared Green Spaces

By Kaid Benfield
Published: January 14, 2013
theatlanticcities.com

A group of civic and architectural partners in Little Rock has developed a great concept for improving a declining neighborhood, incrementally increasing density, and applying advanced measures for storm water control at the same time. All this in a single-family, affordable infill development with first-rate design. No wonder it has won a slew of awards, including a 2013 national honor award from the American Institute of Architects for regional and urban design.

The project employs the “pocket neighborhood” concept championed by architect Ross Chapin – reducing the footprint of a group of smaller, single-family homes by sharing gardens and amenities that would occupy more land if duplicated for each individual house.  Chapin, who has worked mainly in the Pacific Northwest, gives his projects high-quality building materials and beautiful design features that respect their neighborhood settings. I’ve been a fan since before I knew the concept had a name, when I ran across his pioneering and lovely Third Street Cottages in Langley, Washington. I love incremental approaches to increasing density, in part because they seldom require major lifestyle changes and in part because their relatively harmonious design improvements can be somewhat easier to sell to suspicious neighbors inclined to distrust change.

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Does Human Capital Tend to Cluster in Center Cities or the Suburbs?

By Richard Florida
Published: January 14, 2013
theatlanticcities.com

It’s now conventional wisdom that human capital (what economists call educated people) is a key factor in the growth of cities and metro regions. Cities are engines of economic development, and the skilled people are the high-powered fuel that drives them.

Most studies of the role of human capital in regional economic growth track its effects on and across metro regions. But metros vary widely in size, shape, and spatial and demographic compositions; human capital doesn’t always cluster in the same places at the same densities. The revitalization of the urban center in cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, and others has fueled in-migrations of more skilled and affluent people. Other cities, like Los Angeles and Detroit, still suffer from the proverbial “hole in the donut” effect, with their more educated, higher income populations spread out across their suburbs while their urban centers lag.

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4 Examples of Powerful Placemaking

By Kaid Benfield
Published: January 7, 2013
theatlanticcities.com

A little-known but very interesting government agency, the National Endowment for the Arts, is quietly leveraging small amounts of financial assistance to make a big difference in helping communities across the country become stronger and more alive. Whether in Portland, Maine, Pendleton, South Carolina, the Kewa Pueblo in New Mexico, or another of the scores of locations that its Our Town program is assisting in all 50 states, the agency believes “creative placemaking” can strengthen “community identity and a sense of place, and help revitalize local economies.” I couldn’t agree more.

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The Case for Walkability as an Economic Development Tool

By Kaid Benfield
Published: January 4, 2013
theatlanticcities.com

A terrific street redesign is assisting economic development in a southern California community that has suffered from changing economic conditions but is nevertheless seeing significant population growth. This is a story of municipal foresight, excellent recent planning, and green ambition.

Lancaster is a fast-growing city of a little over 150,000 in far northern Los Angeles County, about 70 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Its population has more than tripled since 1980; it increased by nearly a third from 2000 to 2010. It is racially mixed (38 percent Latino, 34 percent white, 20 percent African-American) and, like so many fast-growing western cities, decidedly sprawling.  The satellite view on Google Earth reveals a patchwork pattern of leapfrog development, carved out of the desert. It is a city with a very suburban character.

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