Hi, and welcome back to Sunday reading. Starting off here is an interview with one of my favourite urban observers, Christoper Hawthorne with the Los Angeles Times. Hawthorne has been actively documenting the transformation Los Angeles has been going through over the last decade. Hawthorne has framed the story in a historical perspective calling the current era, the ‘3rd Los Angeles’. Here he is interviewed by Jon Christensen for Boom magazine.
Mayor Garcetti recently talked about this as being a “hinge moment” in the city’s development. That idea that the city is navigating this transition has become part of the popular, broader discussion about the city. But the more that I wrote and thought about the history of Los Angeles, it occurred to me that a lot of the elements that we’re struggling to add—whether it’s mass transit, places to walk, more ambitious public architecture, innovative multifamily housing, or more forward-looking city and regional planning—we actually produced in really remarkable quantities in the prewar decades. In the DNA of the city’s history is something before the car and the freeway.
…But there are other ways that this emerging city is completely different. First LA and Second LA are both driven by huge growth. And the Third LA is really a kind of post-growth city. Population and immigration have both slowed really dramatically in Los Angeles. Manufacturing is a shell of what it once was. So, in some ways, we have the first chance since the 1880s to really catch our breath and think about how to consolidate our gains—and about what kind of place we want to be. So that’s the basic framework.
As part of the public conversation about the future of Los Angeles Hawthorne runs a lecture series at Occidental College that seems comparable to our Auckland Conversations. It’s admirable to see a writer having the range and latitude to contribute so meaningfully to the public conversation.
It seems the urban conversation is not as sophisticated in New Zealand and Australia as it could be. Here is an interesting study that looks at how newspapers cover local intensification projects in Australia. The findings conclude that writers sensationalise the issues with dramatic references and emotive language. Katrina Raynors, “Media picture of urban consolidation focuses more on a good scare story than the facts“, The Conversation.
Media reports predominantly capture the drama of consolidated development with references to warfare or natural disasters. Articles commonly refer to floods of development or a city under siege.
Local politicians opposed to consolidation are characterised as saviours of the people. These white knights stand strong, benignly offering their constituents protection from the destruction of over-development.
Dramatic physiological language is used in articles discussing high-density apartment buildings. Such places are characterised as choking the city or ripping the heart out of its suburbs. Increasing urban densities are presented as threatening the overall health of the city.
Apartments are depicted as “shoeboxes”, “rabbit hutches” and “charmless chunks of brick”. The people who choose to live in them are routinely portrayed as outsiders. They are the unwelcome intruders who are taking over the city and corrupting traditional suburban values.
Speaking of rolling back decades of past mistakes, Matt had some great posts this week on the recent NZCID policy dump. This comment on road pricing by MFWIC is worth mentioning:
“You are absolutely wrong Hamish. The value of tolling has little to do with the cost of collecting the toll. You need to stop seeing it as harvesting cash and start to understand the concept of economic externalities. The value of congestion pricing is to ensure people include into their decision of how and when to travel the impact they have on others. The correct price is the marginal cost including the externality. If you gather more than it costs to collect (which you will) then you get an opportunity to use that money to further improve transport by either improving public transport or if it makes sense to build additional capacity. The problem is every time congestion charges are raised the infrastructure lobby jumps in like a robbers dog to try and claim the cash. The public then see it as a cash grab with them being fleeced and the whole debate is over before it starts. Congestion charging is the only chance to actually ‘fix’ transport and the best thing the infrastructure people could do is point out that pricing a public good with negative externalities is in everyone’s interest.”
Jane Jacob’s 100th anniversary was celebrated this weeks with lots of adoration, some critiques and a fair amount of misunderstanding. Biographer Peter Laureance provides a useful summary of what was debated last week over the innertubes with links to several articles. Peter Laureance, “How best to use, abuse, and criticize Jane Jacobs” Archpaper.com.
I found this bit particularly interesting:
Moses wasn’t behind the scheme to redevelop the West Village; and the Lower Manhattan Expressway, which received support from picketers who saw short-term gains in construction jobs, among others, it was bigger than Moses and outlasted him. Fueled in part by the anger that activism took away from writing her second book, The Economy of Cities (1969), Jacobs described LoMEx as a beast that had to be killed three times, in 1962, ’65, and ’68, by which time Moses’s political power had been also fatally wounded.
While Jacobs was battling motorway expansion and superblock modernism a quite distinct history was unfolding in Copenhagen. Athlyn Cathcart-Keays, “Story of cities #36: how Copenhagen rejected 1960s modernist ‘utopia’“, The Guardian.
Copenhagen’s lack of funds led to the city’s modernist visions progressing at a painfully slow pace. It did get a small taste of a car-oriented future in the shape of the six-lane Bispeengbuen expressway, which rips through its northern neighbourhoods directly in front of second-storey windows.
“That was a real eye-opener. People could see that this would change Copenhagen – that this is what the plans mean,” Elle says. “Inside people’s heads, they found out that they were not happy with these [modernist developments]. By the 70s, they could experience how it was to live in it … you have to feel it in your body to know it’s not good.”
The US Feds took a fact-finding tour of the Netherlands to figure out how they have achieved such a high level of bicycle use. The report concluded, surprise!, that “much of the Dutch design approach can be adapted to US context”- US Bicycle Network Planning & Facility Design Approaches in the Netherlands and the United States, FHWA. Here are some takeaways from the report:
There is an implicit assumption in Holland that on roads with higher volumes of cars traveling at faster speeds, it is always preferable to separate bicycle and motor vehicle movement because it is safer and more comfortable. Specifically, in the Netherlands when motor vehicles are traveling faster than around 19 miles an hour, it is assumed that separation is needed.
Motor vehicle speed is controlled by visual narrowing techniques and grade differences and less emphasis is placed on signage and striping. With cars and bikes traveling at slower speeds, there is greater ability to allow for informal mixing, for example on shared streets and at points where two bike routes cross each other.
Informal mixing strategies require greater trust in the users of the transportation system and rely more heavily on eye contact, active awareness of all travelers, and high bicyclist skills levels (achieved in part by bicycle safety education and training provided at a young age). It also helps that people driving often have a history of bicycling themselves and so prioritize watching for bicyclists while they are driving or opening car doors. Dutch approaches to traffic laws also provide more protection for bicyclists than is typical of the U.S.
Of course we can’t so easily translate best practice cycleway design in NZ. Here Bike Auckland raises the serious issue of our current road rules and standards of practice. Tim Duguid, “Ride, Interrupted – the Stop-Start Bugbear“, Bike Auckland.
After 10 years in New Zealand there’s one thing I still can’t get used to: having to stop and start to cross side streets while I’m out for a run. Where I used to live, England, this scenario is barely cause for a second thought: a casual glance over your shoulder maybe, but your reasonable expectation is that you can keep going at the same pace. Which is incredibly helpful for running after dark, when main roads are often your best bet for smooth pavements and decent street lighting.
Please share your links in the comment section.