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vol. 3 2009

The Urban Planning & Design Journal of the University of Michigan A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning



Letter from the Editors In the wake of the 2008-09 election cycle, “ Change” continues to be a buzzword—if not an imperative—among

politicians and the public. Agora 2009 reflects this mindfulness of making positive changes, as this year’s issue (our third edition) represents the most interdisciplinary collection of work we have published to date. Our contributors hail from eight different academic programs throughout the University, and collaboration amongst the Urban Planning and Urban Design programs in publishing this year’s issue was far greater than in the two years prior. In addition, our staff has gone to lengths to include more artistic and photographic work than ever before to complement the fine narrative work of our selected contributors. Change is also the theme of this year’s issue. For urban planners, designers, and theorists, navigating the dynamic between change and the status quo is a familiar if frustrating exercise. Often, the slow evolution of incrementalism is adopted as a default—a way to continue moving boundaries in positive directions while appealing to a diverse constituency. But as broad-based support for a more dramatic, impactful change grows, urbanists are presented with a rare window for advancing their cause. How will we take advantage of this opportunity, and how will we inform our actions? Agora 2009 reflects just a handful of the many ways in which this question can be answered. We begin with Matthew Schildkret’s reflective essay on the MLK Symposium, “The Character of Change.” Here, the need is highlighted for economic and spatial redistribution through equity planning, and the author considers that there is not only content to an individual’s character, but to the character of the change that we enable as a society. This year’s MLK event was very much a call to action for planners, one sounded for decades but particularly resonant in the midst of a historic economic and financial crisis. In “A Tale of Two Crises,” Amanda Tillotson compares the current subprime foreclosure crisis—a key precipitant of the current situation—to the farm crisis of the 1980s, asking why only the latter generated broadly remedial policies and increased public support for victims of the crisis. By attributing this result to patterns of public discourse developed during the process of issue definition and policy development, Tillotson reminds us that framing and rhetoric are critical tools for urban policy stakeholders. The narrative we construct at the outset can have considerable determinative influence for years to come, a lesson with clear implications for planning. Taking this historically-informed perspective into the urban design context, Christian Runge in “Beyond the Pink Flamingo” offers a case study of Baltimore as a vehicle for the ecological urban landscape. Drawing on his own familiarity with the city, he highlights the importance of generating place-specific urban landscapes that have the potential to evolve over time. The form of cities is often the most visible marker of change, and here we note—as with policy—being evolutionary does not require ignoring our past. Often, being forward-thinking happens in an urban context where it seems an obvious necessity. In our next article, we deal with change coming to a place that could not be more different from the Rust Belt city of Baltimore: Las Vegas, Nevada. Allison Craddock, in “LEED-ing Las Vegas,” shows that even in the unlikeliest of places, new practices can take hold and flourish. Adaptation and the importance of individual initiative are illustrated as important pillars of the change ethos. Our next piece succinctly illustrates the tension that is inevitably created when precipitous change is on the horizon. Nathan Geisler’s personal account from Miami, Florida, “Dealing with Density,” discusses one of the many friction points in the change/preservation debate encountered by planners and designers. It points to the fact that not every push away from the status quo is necessarily positive. Geisler studies this conflict in the context of land use politics, specifically Miami’s urban development boundary, and uses his experience as a community organizer in the area to chart the struggle between urban sprawl and a campaign to “hold the [UDB] line” by using infill densification.



Infill development and densification, increasingly, seem to be key elements of sustainable urbanist rhetoric, and in the two urban design features profiled in Agora 2009 they are among the common guiding principles of two projects that encompass vastly different geographic scopes. In our first proposal, Danna Reyes examines what bold change could mean for New York by “Reimagining the Lower East Side Manhattan.” Reyes does not shy away from extremely ambitious change in illustrating a thought-provoking design for a huge portion of Lower Manhattan. Her “reimagination” includes reorienting Manhattan’s famous grid, introducing a new system of water-based transportation in an urban setting, and developing a modern transparent building typology. In contrast, Daren Crabill’s plan for Ann Arbor’s core entitled “5th and Division” focuses on examining change on a much more intimate scale. The site for this project implies a narrowly defined scope of intervention, and Crabill focuses his efforts on creating an elegant public plaza accompanied by new infill development. Crabill’s investigation of the public realm is again on display in his essay “Project for Public Spaces” which offers a critique of the firm by the same name. Case studies of both Campus Martius and Bryant Park show that if this non-profit entity realized that their partner design firms have similar community-focused goals, the resulting public spaces might benefit from greater cohesion and a thorough integrated design process. The overall message is familiar from earlier articles: community participation is integral to effective change (Schildkret, Runge, and Geisler), and so is rhetoric (Tillotson). An emphasis of the importance of rhetoric continues with Rachana Ky ‘s response to Michael Sorkin’s “The End(s) of Urban Design.” Ky’s article—“Pessimism, Nihilism, Sorkinism”—explores New Urbanism and the classic arguments against it, and concludes that a critical approach grounded in negativity and generalization ultimately offers little to advance the field. A call for change unaccompanied by a clear understanding of what is wrong or a viable alternative is ultimately a hollow request, one that can undermine even the best of intentions. The final articles of our issue on Change return to two traditional areas of planning that are facing broad, new possibilities – transportation and public investment in our communities. In “A Comparative Study of U.S. and Swiss Transportation Systems” by Marie Clarence Chollet, the author discusses her adoptive and home countries. Here, the potential for adaptation and adoption crosses borders, though the emphasis is less on policy prescriptions than on the fact that there is space for improvement in a specific area. Lastly, we return to the historically-informed approach to change with which we began Agora 2009 by examining the evolution of the Community Development Block Grant in Megan Gilster’s “Bogging Down the Neighborhood.” By looking at the interactions of local residents, activists, service providers, and leadership with regard to a historically celebrated and maligned government program, Gilster gives planners and designers a bird’s-eye view of how change is manifested in the real world. At the outset of this letter, we referred to “Change,” somewhat accusingly, as a buzzword. With the publication of Agora 2009, it is our hope that the strong call to change that has emerged amounts to more than a whining crescendo. If not, then we will have transformed a true window of opportunity into little more than a passing fad. Only if we take this momentum and create change, not just in the air but on the ground, will we see it take hold as a sustainable movement. We hope you enjoy reading this third issue of Agora: The Urban Planning and Design Journal of The University of Michigan, but—more importantly—we hope that it contributes to a positive ethos of change and informs some of your own efforts in creating our future urban fabric. Sincerely,

Thomas Skuzinski and Scott Curry Co-Editors-in-Chief



Contributors Marie Clarence Chollet is a second year Master of Urban Planning student. She is interested in transportation, sustainable development, urban sociology and differences between Europe and North America in the planning field.

Daren Crabill is currently a Master of Urban Design Candidate. Prior to his graduate work he obtained a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from the University of Illinois and worked in private practice in Alexandria, Virginia. His professional interests include TOD, public transportation, and low-income housing policy. Allison Craddock comes to The University of Michigan from northern New Jersey, and has a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree from Purdue University in addition to a Master of Science in Historic Preservation from Eastern Michigan University. She is pursuing a Master of Urban Planning degree with a concentration in Physical Planning and Urban Design, as well as the Graduate Certificate in Real Estate Development.

Nathan Geisler is a second year Masters of Urban Planning student. His interests include civic interaction and examining resistance to planning, environmental and economic tension, and the preservation of natural and historic places. Megan Gilster has a Master in Social Work degree and is a student in the Joint Doctoral Program in Social Work

and Sociology at The University of Michigan. Her dissertation examines the intersection of community organization and mental health in Chicago neighborhoods using the Chicago Community Adult Health Study and secondary datasets. She is working on her dissertation while living with her partner in Los Angeles and plans to pursue an academic career in social work.

Rachana Ky holds a B.Arch from Syracuse University and is currently pursuing a Masters of Urban Design. He has worked for eight years in the Tri-State area and two years in the Bay Area and is interested in projects that balance modern practice with local culture.

Danna Reyes is a second year graduate student. She is pursuing a dual masters degree in Urban Design and Architecture. She thanks God for His continual grace in her life. Her interests are in urban form and integrating sustainable planning in city developments.

Christian Runge is a graduate student in the School of Natural Resources and the Environmentâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Landscape Architecture Program. He is interested in metropolitan ecosystems, health and the built environment, and social equity in urban design. Matthew Schildkret Amanda Rowe Tillotson is a second-year student in the Joint PhD Program in Social Work and Political Science,

where she works on issues involving race, class and policy construction and studies the politics of housing policy. In her spare time, she writes short stories and listens to the Grateful Dead.



Table of Contents The Character of Change


A Tale of Two Crises


Beyond the Pink Flamingo


LEED-ing Las Vegas


Dealing with Density


Reimagining the Lower East Side Manhattan


5th & Division


Project for Public Spaces


Pessimism, Nihilism, Sorkinism


A Comparative Study of U.S. and Swiss Transportation Systems


Bogging Down the Neighborhood


Matthew Schildkret

Amanda Rowe Tillotson Christian Runge

Allison Craddock Nathan Geisler

Danna Reyes

Daren Crabill Daren Crabill Rachana Ky

Marie Clarence Chollet Megan Gilster



The Character of Change Responding to the TCAUP: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium

Matthew Schildkret “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As Americans and people across the world face a global economic downturn and a financial crisis the magnitude of which has not been seen in eighty years, they must also prepare to confront the social crises they will experience in their own communities. While the recent election cycle brought millions of people of all political persuasions into the national conversation and stirred nationwide grassroots mobilization, until now the federal government has been the most active player in dealing with the current economic crisis. Large-scale interventions are critical to keeping struggling states, cities, and key corporations afloat. However, to have a true impact the bailouts and economic stimulus will have to reach down to the local level, not just in a financial sense but in a social sense as well. This is the type of intervention that Dr. King envisioned: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable.... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” In the Urban Planning community, we see these times as a chance to stand boldly and face the coming challenges. At this year’s annual Taubman College Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium at The University of Michigan, an event orchestrated every year by a committee of Urban Planning graduate students, the theme was “A Dreamer, but not the only one.” A panel of socially active practitioners and scholars—Kenneth Reardon, Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at Cornell University; Madeline Janis, Executive Director of LAANE, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy; Gloria Robinson, 2009 Sojourner Truth Visiting Professor at Taubman College and former Director of Planning & Development for the City of Detroit; and moderator Joe Grengs, Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at The University of Michigan—focused on redistribution through equity planning. While redistribution has long been conceived in economic terms, it also has two critical spatial components. First, planners must realize that despite decades of 6

segregation into declining inner cities and abandoned suburbs, the disadvantaged are not invisible, nor are they separable from our continued success as a nation. The rich and poor are constantly pushed apart by a disparity of place, and the risky investment culture of recent years has only enhanced this separation. But despite this gulf, one must acknowledge that blighted urban centers and decaying suburbs are a part of the nation’s narrative just as much as vibrant downtowns and wealthy enclaves. Professor Joe Grengs speculated that the public “indifference to poor people is crumbling,” and planners must work to ensure that this progress translates into a crumbling of the walls that have created the current spatial order. Second, equity planning has to acknowledge a federalist system where change can occur at many places. As Professor Ken Reardon explained, “You have to be active at each level where policy is being set.” This is most difficult for the poor, who have neither the means nor the time to devote to organizing and reforming their local political voice. Planners have long worked as surrogates for the neediest sectors of society, and we must be sure that our relationship with these communities is one of partnership rather than paternalism. Dr. Gloria Robinson described her time in Detroit as a period when “we worked on initiatives brought to us by the community,” a method significantly distinct from working on initiatives perceived from the outside as good for a community. The dreams of Dr. King are not mere imaginings; they are meant to be pursued as aspirations. Addressing redistribution in both its economic and spatial forms is, of course, an important goal in itself. But it is also critical to enable people to create their own social capital and mobility—in short, to realize their own dreams. The poor, disadvantaged, disenfranchised, and their advocates and allies have long struggled for change at the grassroots level. Every time we allow these efforts to go unrewarded or to be blunted, we are telling these individuals that regardless of their character, we do not value their work. We are forgetting Dr. King’s call to judge people by “the content Agora’09

of their character.” Most importantly, we are failing to realize that change is the product of many people working together—that there is a “character of change” reflective of every individual and the framework of our society. Madeline Janis said “this is your time to put out your vision and insist…that we set up a whole new structure.” While hitting bottom is a painful process—one now being experienced by communities, neighborhoods, households, and individuals nationwide—it also creates opportunity. Since the time of Dr. King, many Americans have avoided activist, local citizenship and instead oriented toward disinterested, passive, removed consumerism. Rather than come together to tackle real problems, we too often perpetuate a divided culture that rallies around artificial notions of what is valuable. Just as this shift enabled much of the crises we now face, the course adjustments we make in these coming months and years will define us well into the future.

Urban planners and designers must embark on the uphill road of communicating, educating, and persuading the public about the positive effects of living in a more efficient, sustainable environment, all in a language that is locally-tailored but broadly-informed. We must enlist those who have been working for positive change behind the scenes; organize our communities, businesses, and leaders; and address our economic and spatial structural inequities. As part of the professional fields tasked with creating better cities, we have been equipped with many tools for effectuating these efforts. Let us hope that we have the requisite content of character to take advantage of our unique position.

The MLK Symposium Panel and Michigan URP Faculty From Left: Ken Reardon, Gloria Robinson, Joe Grengs, Madeline Janis, June Manning Thomas Photo: David Epstein Agora’09


Detroit, Michigan Photo: Apoorva Alankar 8

Ingham County, Michigan Photo: Spencer Olinek Agoraâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;09

A Tale of Two Crises:

Symbolization, Causal Narration and Categorization in the Farm Crisis of the 1980’s and the Initial Phases of the Subprime Crisis

Amanda Rowe Tillotson

Although the subprime foreclosure crisis that began in 2006 has been presented as a singular event, it has at least one recent predecessor—the farm foreclosure crisis of the mid 1980s. The first took place in rural America and disproportionately affected white middle class individuals. The second takes place in urban/suburban areas and has disproportionably affected minorities, low-income individuals, and women. This paper addresses a policy puzzle. Despite substantive similarities between the two situations, the early phases of the farm foreclosure crisis and the early phases of the subprime crisis produced very different policy outcomes. The early farm crisis produced broad remedial policies and increased public support for family farmers, while the early phases of the subprime foreclosure crisis failed to produce either immediate broad-based policy relief or increased public sympathy for individuals faced with foreclosure. What accounts for these disparate outcomes? I argue that patterns of public discourse developed during the process of issue-definition and policy development contributed to these disparate results. In the construction of policy responses to social and economic problems, objective circumstances often matter less than the way in which issues are symbolized, causal chains are narrated, and problems are categorized (Kaplan 1986; Polletta 1998; Stone 1989). According to public policy scholars David Rochefort and Roger Cobb (1993), facts “are less consequential than discourse that synthesizes dominant meanings from divergent perceptions of [a] problem’s origins, impact, and significance within the societal context” (56). This discourse has implications for the policymaking process. A model of this process can be constructed by combining insights from the work of several authors. The first step is one of symbolization. Marissa Kelly and Steven Maynard-Moody (1993) argue that the initial phases of policy development are structured by “a struggle over the symbols we invoke and the categories into which we place different problems and solutions” (135). Symbolization connects target populations—that is, the groups who will benefit from policies—to images that evoke either sympathy or distrust. The rural couple in “American Gothic” is an example of the former; the stereotypical “welfare queen” and her illegitimate children living on public assistance is an example of the latter (Hancock 2004). Agora’09

The next step is one of causal narration. Gideon Doron (1986) points out that the previously identified symbols structure the causal narrative that defines the policymaking process. Causal narration constructs the logic of policy action, assigning the roles of heroes, villains, victims, and perpetrators and lays out a calculus of fair costs and benefits for involved parties. In the case of welfare policy, for example, the causal narrative suggests that some needy individuals who fall into poverty despite their best efforts are victims, while others who are poor because they refuse to work or have poor personal habits are villains. An important role of policy, then, is to reward the “worthy” poor while sanctioning the “unworthy” poor (Brodkin 1993). The final step is that of categorization, which sorts problems into classes. Together, the target population and the causal narrative determine whether a new policy initiative should be structured most like a social welfare policy, with guarantees against unjust economic enrichment for “unworthy” recipients, or most like a subsidy policy that will aid all members of a well-regarded and productive economic sector (Schneider and Ingram 1993). The first section of this article highlights some similarities between the farm foreclosure crisis of the 1980s and the early stages of the current subprime foreclosure crisis that includes the period from early 2006, when the first wave of foreclosures became evident, to early 2008, when observers noted that the crisis had spread beyond the subprime sector of the mortgage market into the conventional market. (Bajaj and Story 2007, 1). The second section examines the differences in the processes of symbolization, causal narration, and categorization that structured public discourse about the two crises. I argue that discourse around the farm crisis invoked positive symbols about rural America and that these symbols became incorporated into a causal narrative that cast farmers as heroes and markets, bankers, and government as villains. Policymakers and interest 9

groups, therefore, categorized the problem as one that required immediate action and universal support for all affected parties. Discourse around the early subprime crisis, on the other hand, invoked negative symbols that connected borrowers to populations with poor personal and financial habits. The resulting causal narrative cast subprime borrowers as accomplices in creating their own difficulties. This categorized the problem as one similar to that of social welfare. The policy construction process therefore emphasized restricting eligibility to “worthy” individuals and sanctioning “unworthy” individuals who had contributed to their own situation.


The farm crisis and the subprime crisis share a number of substantive characteristics. Both began with a “boom and bust cycle” in which land values rose rapidly before declining precipitously. In both cases, these shifts were triggered by exogenous factors. Both situations were designated as crises, prioritizing them on the policy agenda. The two occurred in similar political environments: both the Reagan administration and the Bush administration shared “neoliberal” values that emphasized market-based rather than policy-based solutions. Finally, both crises set off ripples of destruction in their physical environment. During the farm crisis, rising land prices that had encouraged expanded agricultural production in the 1980s were followed by falling land prices that put farmers at risk for foreclosure. According to Hady (1987), between 1976 and 1982 the average value of an acre of land and buildings doubled (410). Farmers expanded production, and banks and federal agencies, such as the Farmer’s Home Administration (FMHA) and the Production Credit Association, increased home loans. Subsequently, a conjuncture of exogenous factors, including a world recession and a tightened money supply, triggered a downturn in home loans to farmers (412-413). By 1985 one in eight farmers had debts greater than 40% of their assets and a negative cash flow (414); and Knudson (1986) has shown that the average price of Midwestern farmland fell from $2,000 an acre in 1980 to less than $1,000 by 1986 (2). Since loans were collateralized by land values, lenders began taking steps to reduce liability by foreclosing before prices fell further, setting off spirals of devaluation (Flora 1986, 18). The current subprime crisis also began with a boom and bust cycle. In 2004 and the first few months of 2005, real estate prices in some of the hottest markets rose at the fastest pace since 1979 (Leonhart and Rich 2005, 2). In addition, home value appreciation and financial deregulation led lenders to aggressively market home equity loans and specialty financial products, such as adjustable rate mortgages, to subprime borrowers. According to Gramlisch (2007), in 1994, subprime loans accounted for 10

5% of new originations; by 2005 they accounted for 20% (258). A combination of exogenous factors and disadvantageous subprime mortgage terms resulted in an increase in borrower defaults on home loans. Adjustablerate mortgages reset to higher levels as housing values stagnated and began to decline, and inflation exacerbated the effects of falling wages. Schwartz (2007) has noted that by 2007, one in sixty-two United States homes was in the process of foreclosure or in danger of foreclosure (1). There are additional similarities between the farm foreclosure crisis and the subprime crisis. Both situations were quickly framed in dramatic terms, and as Hilgartner and Bosk (1983) have noted, attention-getting terms such as “crisis” move issues to the top of the policy agenda and create pressure for immediate solutions (81). Also, both crises occurred within federal policy environments increasingly defined by the “neo-liberal” paradigm, which Elwood (2002) defined as “a set of national policies favoring privatization and unfettered free market capitalism as ideal mechanisms for regulating social, political and economic life, emphasizing a down-sized state apparatus, and greater institutional and economic efficiency” (121). Another similarity between the farm foreclosure crisis and the subprime foreclosure crisis is that both set off ripples of destruction in their physical environments. During the farm foreclosure crisis, the loss of farms hollowed out rural towns as banks, schools, hospitals, and businesses supporting the farmers, workers and families began to close (Manning 2007). The early phases of the subprime foreclosure crisis exhibited similar effects. In areas where subprime mortgages and refinancing were concentrated, depopulation affected entire neighborhoods. Well-publicized studies linked mortgage foreclosures to falling property values in adjoining houses (Immergluck and Smith 2007) and to rising crime rates in highforeclosure neighborhoods (Elphinstone 2007). Finally, in both crises, lenders suffered serious repercussions. In 1985, 62 agricultural banks failed, accounting for over half of the bank failures that year (FDIC 1998, 261). During the subprime crisis, problems for heavily-exposed lenders began almost immediately. According to an article in Mortgage Daily (2008), in 2006 and 2007, the first two years of the subprime meltdown, a total of 165 mortgage lenders failed (1).

The Construction of Difference

Despite substantive similarities, the two crises were characterized by divergent patterns of symbolization, causal narration, and categorization that resulted in very different policy responses. In the case of the farm foreclosure crisis, public identification of the problem produced relatively quick, if vigorously contended, policy action. The policy construction process structured future Agora’09

possibilities by identifying the agricultural sector with positive public symbols, attributing the plight of individuals to exogenous causal factors, and categorizing the problem within a set that contained difficulties experienced by hardworking individuals struggling against larger, wellfunded opponents. Positive rural imagery pervaded all three areas of discourse. Policy responses were presented as rescue efforts designed to save a valuable and productive sector from difficulties from which they had no culpability. The subprime situation was very different. Here, the public identification of the crisis produced little remedial action and established different precedents. Discourse located the problem within a set that contained self-inflicted difficulties experienced by low-income individuals. It invoked negative symbols connected to urban, minority populations and established a causal narrative that attributed the plight of individuals primarily to their own malfeasance and negligence. Remedial policies, therefore, fell into the category of social welfare policy. Two competing concerns structured discussion about policy options. The first and most highly prioritized was that of rescuing lenders who had overextended themselves by financing the homes of individuals who had low incomes and poor credit. The second concern was that of structuring any aid to subprime homeowners in ways that would avoid rewarding those who borrowed too much and showed too little concern for repayment. In the following section, I develop a more detailed account of the constructive differences in the symbolization, categorization, and causal narration of the two crises and relate these differences to the policy solutions that emerged during the initial phases of each crisis.


The process of symbolization played out very differently for farmers than for subprime homeowners. The farm sector was connected to symbols that evoked virtues such as hard work, careful saving, and family stability. These symbols also connected troubled farmers to the Caucasian race and to the rural American heartland. The subprime sector, on the other hand, was associated with symbols that evoked vices such as failure to pay bills, dependence on special financing rather than thrift and hard work, and personal instability. These symbols also linked troubled borrowers to racial minorities and to urban problems. The farm sector entered the crisis of the 1980s with connections to a deep-seated and extensively theorized repertoire of symbols. These symbolic associations invoked the sacrifices of pioneers who cleared the land, the importance of the legacy that they left for hard-working farmers and their families, and the needs of a nation whose survival depended on the health of its rural “heartland.” These connections were a pervasive theme in Agora’09

American rhetoric: “Burn down your cities and leave our farms,” William Jennings Bryan said in his archetypical 1896 “Cross of Gold” speech, “and your cities will spring up again as if by magic, but destroy our farms and the grass will go green in the streets of the cities” (Bryan 1896, 1). American literature, music, and art reiterated the centrality of rural life in the American landscape and the iconic status of the family farmer. The stories of Willa Cather, the country music industry, and the paintings of Grant Wood provide well-known examples of this rural American image (Bartlett 1993; Vale 2000). Public discourse that developed during the farm foreclosure crisis incorporated these symbols, while media narratives typically opened with accounts that emphasized destruction. Headlines warned of farmer suicides, and stories included descriptions of the rich family history connected to foreclosed properties, accounts of auctions at which farm families watched their possessions sold, or offered vivid portrayals of traumatized farmers. Headlines such as “Broken Heartland” symbolically linked the well-being of rural Americans to that of the entire nation (McBride 1987, 11). Typical stories began with a personal observation about human suffering and tragic consequences, like this comment by a rural mental health worker: “I know of five suicides in the past 8 or 9 months that were agriculturally related…they were people who were engaged in agriculture who were overextended and decided life was not worth living” (Knudson 1986, 1). Adjectives such as “desperation” and “devastation” were common (Malcolm 1984; Schneider 1987; Schneider 1988;). “Winter of Despair Hits the Farm Belt,” read one 1987 headline (Huntley 1987, 21). Economic costs were more likely to be presented as the rest of the story. Economic arguments emphasized lost family investment, stressing that the work of previous generations would be lost, and the lives of future generations would be diminished. A 1986 New York Times review (as cited in Corey, 1986) of one farm crisis documentary describes the effects of these symbolic connections. “What do we feel about [the farm crisis]? Sympathy for the dispossessed farm families, certainly; some of the families we see here have been a part of the land for generations. Grandparents and great-grandparents arrived in wagons and were the first to break the soil… Generations invested themselves in this land” (1). These observations suggest that the farm crisis erased carefully accumulated assets and negated the sacrifices of a heroic generation of pioneers. Strategic omission also shaped the symbolic impact of farm foreclosure stories. Discussions of family economic habits were notably absent from coverage. The possibility that high consumer debt, poor work habits, or poor decision making might have contributed to family difficulties, for instance, were rarely raised in public 11

discussions of the farm crisis (Corry 1986; Malcolm 1984; McBride 1986). Issues of individual culpability were thus omitted from the equation. Symbolization played a very different role in the subprime foreclosure crisis that developed twenty years later. The early wave of home foreclosures hit both urban and suburban areas and disproportionately affected poor borrowers, borrowers of color, and women (Tillotson et al. 2009). A study by Bailey (2005) revealed that members of minority groups were much more likely to have subprime mortgages than whites in similar economic situations. This study indicates that in 2005 over half of all mortgage loans to African-Americans and 40% of loans to Latinos were categorized as subprime (1). Poverty and inexperience with financial institutions also characterized subprime borrowers. According to Gramlich (2007), subprime borrowers were more likely to be first-time homebuyers and members of the lowest 20% of income groups than those who qualified for conventional mortgages (106). As authors such as Gilens (2000; 2006) and Hancock (2004) have pointed out, public discourse often connects low-income and minority populations to a set of problematic symbols. These populations, Gilens argues, are often characterized in public perceptions as lacking a work ethic and lacking responsibility; furthermore, they are often portrayed as sufferers of economic problems caused by bad personal habits, such as failure to plan properly, poor impulse control, and short-term thinking (Gilens 2000; 2006). According to Hancock (2004), when gender is added into the equation, public constructions become even less generous, evoking “welfare queen” images of hyper fecundity and immorality. The symbolic vocabulary of welfare discourse, which often includes terms such as “welfare Cadillac” to describe irresponsible indulgences of welfare recipients (Levine 2001, 1), was a staple of early subprime reporting, and its labels were invoked even by advocates for subprime borrowers. In one typical story, a mortgage counselor describes his surprise at seeing two new cars and a boat parked in the driveway of a home when he arrived to do foreclosure counseling (Christie 2007, 1). Even when mitigating circumstances, like unexpected job loss or illness, were woven into media accounts, stories emphasized that these circumstances might have been manageable had the homeowners planned more responsibly. The story of a St. Louis woman, Cheryl Trueblood, which was picked up by many national news outlets, describes a working-class family’s near-foreclosure when job loss, illness, and rising adjustable rates coincided (Flinchpaugh 2007, 1). However, reports carefully noted that the situation began when the family refinanced to pay off extensive credit card debts. Symbolization during the subprime foreclosure crisis also proceeded through omission. While accounts of the agricultural crisis emphasized the generational 12

investment represented by foreclosed farms, accounts of the developing subprime crisis omitted any discussion of this possibility. In many poor and minority communities, subprime mortgages created a net drain on assets, causing a loss of paid-off or high-equity properties that had been refinanced. Baily (2007) reveals that between 1998 and 2006, “the great majority of subprime loans were refinances. Less than 10% of subprime borrowers used subprime loans to purchase homes for the first time, while 20% or more of borrowers who received loans during that period [lost] their homes” (Baily 2007, 1). By omitting this aspect of the subprime story, media and other reports characterized borrowers as recent purchasers who had acquired more house than they could afford.

Causal Narration

The symbols associated with each of the two crises formed a structure that shaped causal stories. The policy narrative that developed in the farm crisis featured farmers as victims. The narrative that developed in the subprime crisis, on the other hand, cast subprime homeowners and lenders as potential co-conspirators in creating their difficulties. In the farm crisis, the developing narrative featured hardworking, iconic farmers as victims and cast markets, bankers, and government as villains. The basic outline of the narrative is summed up by the following anecdote: “I feel angry and frustrated,” one farmer said as he faced foreclosure, “because it hasn’t been that many years ago our country’s leaders said ‘plant from fence row to fence row and we’ll take care of you, we’ll see that you have markets..’ and we did it and now they’re saying ‘you fools’” (Knudsen 1986, 1). This narrative structure was reiterated by popular culture. Movies like The River, starring Sissy Spacek and Mel Gibson, and Country, starring Jessica Lange and Sam Shepherd, presented story lines that pitted hardworking family farmers against heartless representatives of government and capital. Country music stations played anthems like Waylon Jennings’ “Will the Wolf Survive,” which cast family farmers as an endangered species. And the causal story became even more elaborate. The foreclosure crisis was portrayed as the culprit for unleashing a host of social problems in the countryside. The resurgence of rural racism, for instance, was attributed to the farm crisis: A New York Times story titled “Economics, Hate and the Farm Crisis” reported that hate groups offered desperate farmers what authorities called “pseudo legal” theories based on selective interpretations of Biblical scripture with many of the messages cloaked in anti-Semitic rhetoric” (Schneider 1987, 1). Child abuse and domestic violence were also attributed to the crisis: “‘you know,’ said the (rural) mental health counselor,” quoted in one 1984 New York Times article, “‘there is Agora’09

a psychiatric cancer that is fraying our nation’s social the difficulties of a “hard-working family” who “pays their fabric, pitting farmer against farmer, farmer against wife, bills” but live in a suburban Cleveland community ravaged and farmer against children’” (Malcolm 1984, 1). Again, by foreclosure. Surrounded by foreclosed properties, the headlines captured the narrative: “Double Slaying in Rural narrative continues, they have watched the value of their Minnesota Spotlights Distress of America’s Debt-Ridden home plummet and public services decline as a result of Farmers,” headlined one 1986 story (Hammer 1986, 1). the diminished local tax base. The implicit message is These examples suggest that foreclosure, not the farmer, clear: Borrowers who have not paid their mortgages have was responsible for these social crises. damaged a deserving family that has remained current with While the farm crisis narrative portrayed the their own payments (Schwartz 2007, 1). A 2007 story in the foreclosers as villains and the foreclosed-upon property Wall Street Journal provided an even more pointed version owners as victims, early accounts of the subprime of this narrative, opening with the observation that “Some narrative reversed this chain of attribution. In addition, of the costs of cleaning up the nation’s mortgage crisis clearly-defined victims were absent. The causal story took are beginning to hit innocent bystanders: people who pay the following form: borrowers who had poor credit and their bills on time and avoid excessive debt” (Hagerty and high aspirations took advantage of terms that a careful Simon 2007, B9). consumer would have recognized as “too good to be true.” Categorization Predatory lenders might have been at fault for offering Together, the processes of symbolization these financial products, but borrowers bore a substantial and causal narration determine how problems will be share of the responsibility for their situation. categorized. Categorization determines what sort of Even borrower advocacy groups did little to template will structure policies. The template for a subsidy contest this interpretation. In 2007, for instance, Kenneth provision policy, for example, prioritizes the provision of Wade, CEO of NeighborWorks, a national advocacy aid to maintain the viability of productive sectors without group promoting low-income home ownership, testified regard to the individual characteristics of producers. before the House Finance Committee and said, “the best The template for social welfare policies, by contrast, defense against foreclosure is a well-educated consumer limits assistance to those who meet specific personal who understands the responsibilities and consequences and financial criteria (Schneider and Ingram 1993). This of home ownership, the budget implications, and the template prioritizes providing benefits only to those who financing available….” (Wade 2007, 1). have not contributed to their own difficulties, even if this An account of mortgage counseling efforts at means that some needy individuals are excluded (Brodkin the East Side Organizing Project in East Cleveland, Ohio 1993, 654). makes a similar point. Here, the reporter notes, advocates The symbols and causal narratives that structured stated that “A significant part of putting borrowers back policy discourse during the early phases of the farm on track is teaching financial responsibility” (Christie 2007, crisis emphasized the positive characteristics of farmers, 1). The article further describes how one housing advocate portraying them stated that his as hard-working clients often and productive “The early farm crisis produced broad remedial had as many as individuals whose policies and increased public support for five cell phones. worth could not family farmers, while the early phases of the It also reports be measured in subprime foreclosure crisis failed to produce that two other purely economic either immediate broad-based policy relief advocates went terms. Policies or increased public sympathy for individuals to help a client that addressed the faced with foreclosure.” in the process of farm foreclosure foreclosure and issue, such as a found “two big 2-year freeze on FMHA foreclosures, followed the subsidy motorboats and an expensive minivan in her driveway” pattern, prioritizing general foreclosure relief rather (Christie 2007, 1). Poor consumer habits, poor budgeting, than restricting eligibility to those who demonstrated and the failure to shop carefully, this line of reasoning responsible behavior. implied, were at the heart of the subprime crisis. By contrast, the symbols and causal narratives This causal story also had an elaborated form. that structured policy discourse during the early subprime Some accounts cast subprime borrowers not simply as crisis invoked stereotypes about minorities and the poor avaricious incompetents but as possible villains. A New York and evoked the concerns that often underlie attempts to Times article entitled “Can the Mortgage Crisis Swallow limit welfare programs. Policy debates focused on the need a Town?” typified this storyline. This article focused on Agora’09


to avoid assisting borrowers who had been irresponsible or greedy. Discourse about the structure of subprime assistance programs followed the same logic, evoking, according to Nicolas P. Retsinas (as cited in Yardley, 2008), Director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, “this ancient notion of deserving versus undeserving, and you’re undeserving if you made a bad decision,” (1). The patterns that developed during the early phases of the subprime crisis proved to be both pervasive and durable. In 2008, long after the crisis had clearly spread beyond the subprime sector, a LA Times/Bloomberg poll found that only 20% of Americans supported the universal form of assistance, a foreclosure moratorium (Villes 2008, 1).

Conclusion The process of policy development is an ongoing

construction zone. Public discourse that incorporates the processes of symbolization, causal narration, and categorization creates an armature around which policies are constructed. In the case of the farm crisis, symbols connected those facing foreclosure to the American heartland and to a long history of hard and productive labor. These symbols created the context for a causal story that constructed farmers as blameless victims and assigned policies the role of “rescuing” these victims. Twenty years later, public discourse around the subprime crisis was structured very differently. Here, symbols connected those facing foreclosure to minority and low-income populations, invoking stereotypes about these groups that include poor financial planning, inadequate work ethic, and an inability to delay gratification. These symbols created the context for a causal story that constructed subprime borrowers as accomplices in their own situation and assigned policies the role of punishing unworthy borrowers while providing limited assistance to “worthy” victims. This tale of two crises suggests that intangible factors such as symbols and causal narratives produce tangible differences in policy outcomes. Public discourse, which incorporates these factors into the policymaking process, is a central element in the process of policy construction.


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Hagerty, James and Simon, Ruth. 2007. Mortgage pain hits borrowers. The Wall Street Journal, December 11, B9. Hammer, Joshua. 1983. Double slaying in rural Minnesota spotlights distress of America’s debt-ridden farmers. People Weekly 20 (October 31): 129-131. Hancock, Ange-Marie. 2004. The politics of disgust: The public identity of the welfare queen. New York: NYU Press. Hightower, Jim. 2007. The subprime mortgage disaster: Loan sharks wreak havoc on main street. Organic Consumers Association Web page. http://www. Hilgartner, Stephen and Bosk, Christopher. 1988. The rise and fall of social problems: A public arenas model. American Journal of Sociology 94(1): 53-78. Huntley, Steven. 1986. Winter of despair hits the farm belt. US News and World Report 100(January 20): 21-23. Immergluk, Dan and Smith, Geoff. 2007. The external costs of foreclosure: The impact of single-family mortgage foreclosure on property values. Fannie Mae Foundation Web page. http://www.fanniemaefoundation. org/programs/hpd/pdf/hpd_1701_immergluck.pdf Kelly, Marissa and Maynard-Moody, Steven. 1993. Policy analysis in the post-positivist era: Engaging stakeholders in evaluating the economic development districts program. Public Administration Review 53(2): 135-142. Knudson, Thomas. 1986. Middle west’s farm crisis reaches the east. New York Times, March 3. http://query. E0D91439F930A35750C0A960948260&scp=1&sq=Mi ddle%20West%27s%20Farm%20Crisis%20Reaches%20 East&st=cse Leland, John. 2008. Baltimore finds subprime crisis snags women. New York Times, January 15. Leonhart, David and Rich Mokoto. 2005. Slowing is seen in housng prices in hot markets. New York Times, October 4. 15

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Photo: Carrick Davis

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Lowell, Massachusetts Photo: Scott Curry

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Beyond the Pink Flamingo: Surveying the Ecology and Vernacular Culture of Baltimore

Christian Runge An ecological urban landscape must have one foot anchored in local history and culture, and the other foot striding towards a new and adaptive future. Baltimore, with its diverse ecosystems and unique cultures, provides fertile ground for generating place-specific urban landscapes that have the potential to evolve over time. Diverse cultural hallmarks such as window screen paintings, John Waters’ films, Cockeysville marble, and the Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab are surveyed for their potential use as inspiration for a lasting urban ecological design.

It is hard not to notice the three-story pink flamingo as you walk down Thirty Sixth Street in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore. This giant, pink bird clings to the side of a brick row house and guards Café Hon, an institution whose name proudly pays homage to the local dialect. The bird is a reference to a movie by local filmmaker John Waters, whose works were often inspired by the quirky and kitschy Baltimore culture. Indeed, Baltimore is home to a variety of other fascinating folk arts and traditions. In the past, many attempted to flee this cultural history. But today, both locals and transplants celebrate this unique vernacular. Designers often look to such iconic images as a way to better understand a local person’s view of his or her city and the landscapes with which it is interwoven. This essay examines Baltimore’s culture, drawing from both outside sources and my own knowledge, and discusses how it may be used in urban design to create a place that is locally relevant, sustainable, and ecological.

Ecology and Aesthetics

An emerging body of work is changing urban landscape practice by addressing the role of ecology in design. Galen Cranz and Michael Boland, in their description of a Sustainable Park model, have suggested that truly ecological places “must transcend the traditional notion of design predicated on a fixed, static image and develop an evolutionary aesthetic (Cranz and Boland 2004, 116 (emphasis in original)). Louise Mozingo— contrary to the common rhetoric that places ecology and aesthetics at odds—stresses that an ecological landscape must become iconic in order to be an effective promoter Agora’09

of environmental change (Mozingo 1997, 58). Along these lines, one of the best principles for ecological design and policy is to combine two key aspects of sustainability: ecological function and socially-recognizable signs of a beautiful landscape (Nassauer 1995). An example of this type of design can be found in the Louisville Park system. Meadows and savannahs of indigenous grasses have replaced lawns, a move toward ecological function, while the simple act of mowing orderly pathways through the site was a socially-recognizable way to indicate intentional care instead of lack of maintenance (Cranz and Boland 2004, 109). A second component in developing and maintaining ecological landscapes is to use the above themes of evolution and social aesthetics to link to community involvement. As noted by Cranz and Boland (2004), this changes “the role of the designer from one of artist-visionary to a medium through which the forces of nature and society express themselves” (118). The National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco provides an example. Here, community members concerned about a derelict local park and the need to honor their lost friends chose to design and construct an evolving park space over a seven-year period (ibid.). While the park design may not have had a traditionally ecological premise, it provides a great example of how important it will be to involve people in an understanding of and a partnership with these changing landscapes.

Baltimore’s Ecology

The first step towards developing a sustainable, evolutionary aesthetic for Baltimore is to uncover the ecology of the region. The urban matrix of Baltimore 17

D.C., is a point of pride among the local residents who straddles the “Fall Line,” the boundary between the gently have been known to take meticulous care of it (Hayward rolling hills of the Piedmont Plateau and the flat expanse 2004). of the Chesapeake Bay, the world’s largest estuary (USGS The Baltimore region is not known, however, 2000). The Chesapeake plays a central role in the identity of for its brick quality. Bricks produced in the area tended Baltimoreans and Marylanders in general, and it remains an to deteriorate rapidly, and this led to a peculiar solution: essential part of the local economy and environment. It has Formstone. This “polyester of brick,” as local filmmaker long supported a major fisheries industry, and is currently John Waters liked to call it, is a façade made of plaster and a regional source of renowned seafood like blue crab and intended to look like stone (Hayward 1999; Waters 1981, rockfish. As noted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 71). The Formstone was very cheap and was particularly “[a] profound relationship exists between the water of popular in the working class neighborhoods of East the Chesapeake Bay and the 64,000 square miles of land Baltimore, where it was used to give the appearance of comprising the Bay’s watershed.” Sadly, these fisheries and wealth. ecosystem processes are severely threatened and in need These two materials point to opposing ends of of significant restoration and management (Chesapeake the ecological spectrum, and to the urban evolutionary Bay Foundation). Importantly for our discussion, the aesthetic at work through building materials. Marble is Chesapeake provides myriad recreational opportunities a naturally-occurring local resource (from Cockeysville, and connections to nature, which fosters the link between just a few minutes north ecology and society. of the city), a continued Geography plays “The most promising material source of historic pride a major role in the fate resources for future design projects and a relatively permanent of Baltimore. The fall are recycled and/or renewable.” fixture. Formstone is its line noted above creates artificial counterpart, once interesting dualisms within used to convey status but the city’s landscape. The now garnering a more mixed reception. While both are western half of the line is on the Piedmont Plateau, an part of the Baltimore narrative, the former speaks more eco-region characterized by lush oak-hickory forests, to themes of sustainability and preservation. Moving cooler temperatures, and a generally humid, subtropical forward, this voice can continue to guide the city. Perhaps climate (USGS 2000). The eastern half is a coastal plain the most promising material resources for future design characterized by vast wetland and marine habitats, grasses, projects are recycled or renewable. Recycled steel and and sandy soils (USGS 2000). sustainably harvested wood have considerable potential The Chesapeake has allowed the city throughout its history given Baltimore’s past and its above-described ecology. to serve as a major port, fishery, and economic center for One also begins to see long-term environmental a burgeoning east coast population. In terms of its urban benefits of the city’s industrial past: much promise may spatial relationship, Baltimore has an important placement exist in recycling materials like steel, but even greater within the broader context of the northeast megalopolis. potential lies in simply appropriating industrial spaces and Many workers from Washington, D.C., live in the city artifacts for new uses. The added benefit is that the city’s because of its affordable housing market. In addition, history is preserved in the act of environmental design. Baltimore is only an hour and a half from Philadelphia Many examples already exist in the city and region, and and three hours from New York, which both provide two are worth mentioning for illustration. One is the residents with a variety of opportunities. This geographic recent redevelopment of the former National Brewery, good fortune is arguably the core reason why this formerly maker of Baltimore’s local National Bohemian beer, into industrial city has escaped some of the travails that have a mixed-use complex. The conscientious developers saved befallen the more isolated and single-industry-dependent the giant “Mr. Boh” sign, which is a visible landmark for cities in the Rust Belt. miles, and also converted the giant brewery tanks into Local Resources rainwater catchment cisterns. (Struever Bros. Eccles and With increased environmental awareness and a Rouse 2008). A second example is the Chesapeake Bay push toward localism and regionalism, many have started Foundation office, which lies outside the city borders but to re-examine the origins of the resources and materials follows the same principle of localization. On this project, used for buildings and landscapes. A notable example the designers reused giant wooden pickle barrels from a of how regional materials can foster a local aesthetic local source to capture rainwater and to build a latticework and tradition is Baltimore’s famous marble stoops and of sun louvers on the south side of the building (PMEC doorsteps (Mitchell 2001, 52). This attractive and valuable 2002). These conscious links between social history and stone, also used for numerous monuments in Washington, design are essential for creating a more ecological aesthetic. 18


The Rowhouse Rembrandts

depicting city landmarks or even planets and an American flag floating in space (Eff 1988). Like the use of marble and Formstone, these scenes represent a diverse, evolutionary aesthetic. But whatever their subject, these paintings’ unifying theme is pride in ownership. Through them, residents build a fascinating connection between physical design and social narrative. The neighborhoods have changed significantly with the loss of industry and urban flight, but while the screen-painting phenomenon has ebbed and flowed in popularity it has helped sustain the spirit of ownership and community.

Baltimore’s peculiar geography, economy, and urban forms gave birth not only to engaging physical features but also unique cultural traditions. An excellent example is the screen paintings that were done by the working class populations of East and Central Baltimore (Beckham 2008). The process involves painting a colorful scene onto a window screen and placing that screen on a front window of a row home. William Oktevec, a native of Czechoslovakia, painted the first screen in Baltimore in 1913 (Eff 2008). His goal was advertising, so he painted vegetables—which could not sit outside in the summer heat—onto a screen and placed it in his corner grocery The Hairdo Capital of the World store window (Eff 2008). A patron noticed the artwork, Screen paintings, with their endearing kitschy and observed how one could see out of the screen but aesthetic, by no means represent the full spectrum of not see in. This marriage of individual expression and quirkiness to be found in Baltimore. In recent years practical function became a key selling point in the further many residents have taken to celebrating another local adoption of screen painting. Oktevec eventually sold his vernacular: the “Hon” culture. The name of the culture business and became a full time screen artist. Many others comes from Baltimore accent and slang Hon; the word would follow in his footsteps and pick up the trade as a is an abbreviation of “honey” and serves as an informal viable career choice. In the heyday of painted screens in way to refer to another person, usually someone unfamiliar the 1940s and 1950s, resourceful men and women plied the to the speaker. This manifestation of the regional dialect streets of every neighborhood, by foot, by car, and from came with its own fashion codes, inspired John Waters’ modest storefronts, supplying as many as 100,000 screens films, and is now celebrated in local festivals. The symbol to eager homeowners (Eff 2008). of this culture is the plastic pink flamingo lawn statue, Baltimore’s neighborhoods and the houses which John Waters used in his film Pink Flamingos. As within them drove the expansion of this folk art form. The mentioned earlier, little lawn space can be found in the city brick rowhouses are generally small, with tiny backyards for such ornaments, so it is likely the bird statue is simply for gardens and usually no front yards (Runge 2008). On symbolic of bad taste. some blocks, one finds few trees. As a result, privacy is Despite its seemingly benign quality, not all residents appreciate the celebration of their city’s culture even harder to come by than natural vegetation (Runge in this way, with 2008). During the older, long-time summer residents “This geographic good fortune is perhaps residents being less also must deal with the core reason why this formerly industrial supportive. This sticky summer heat city has escaped some of the travails that is an important and often a lack of have befallen the more isolated and singlelesson about air conditioning. industry dependent cities in the rust belt.” interg enerational The painted tension. A halfscreens thus serve century ago, the multiple functions children of working class families received a good by enabling the residents to ventilate and decorate their education along with decent salaries and promptly fled to homes while maintaining a sense of privacy (Eff 2008). the suburbs for a version of the country home painted The aesthetic and symbolic roles of this art form on their childhood window screen. Today, the children of should not be undervalued. The paintings are a small and that generation are fleeing the suburbs and returning to the valiant attempt to beautify what is seen as an unending sea city center in search of the quirkiness and culture that was of concrete and brick. Symbolically, they often represented lost in suburban existence. New arrivals such as artists and a resident’s dream of escape to the countryside (Eff 1988). professionals are also regularly seeking authenticity and In fact, the most common scene painted on the screens community, and Baltimore’s folksy “hon” culture provides is of a red roofed cottage nestled in an English pastoral this feeling. landscape, with a pond and white swan or two in the The key for a sustainable, ecologic urban design foreground. It is a working class family’s dream vacation is to use this available culture and its symbols in a broadly home, and variations of this theme are repeated over and appealing but honest way. If too narrowly conceived, it over. Later screen painters followed different artistic paths, Agora’09


risks alienating long-time residents and disabling them from recognizing their perception of Baltimore culture in the surrounding landscape. If too diluted, the suburban transplants and newcomers will be less able to forge a connection to their adoptive city. Urban designers face the challenge, but also embrace the privilege, of creating spaces that will flexibly navigate this dynamic.

Conclusion: Merging Folk Arts and Ecology

Baltimore, with its diverse ecosystems and unique culture, provides fertile ground for generating locally- and regionally-specific urban landscapes with the potential to evolve over time. This survey of Baltimore provides a base for site-specific design exploration. Urban landscape design must be conscious of city, neighborhood, and site, drawing from a broad history but applying it in appropriate, socially-recognizable ways. For instance, some of the cultural artifacts of white, working class neighborhoods mentioned above will probably prove irrelevant if used to inspire design in the upscale districts of north Baltimore, or the primarily black districts of west Baltimore. However, the city as a whole does have a strong working class identity in its recent history and tapping into this past—in the methods, materials, and symbols used—can provide the foundation for landscapes and urban places in the future. Many Baltimore traditions, like the screen paintings and backyard gardens, are small in scale and provide a readily-adaptable resource. For example, designers could revitalize backyard garden ecology through community education, taking one part of the historic urban form and function and creating new social ties to it. Forward-thinking local artists could be used as partners to promote the new ecological landscapes on rowhouse window screens. Just as these once symbolized a suburban dream, they can be re-adopted to grow and inform a vision of a sustainable urban environment. Most importantly, these symbols may reawaken the communal spirit and pride that gave birth to Baltimore’s singular cultures in the first place. This is just one example of how the characteristics of a city can be used, and it is the spirit of intimate involvement with a place that is the cornerstone of a successful long-term urban ecology.


Beckham, Rachel. 2008. It’s not just a screen, Hon: A window on Baltimore tradition. Washington Post. May 1, C01. Cranz, Galen and Michael Boland. 2004. Defining the sustainable park: A fifth model for urban parks. Landscape Journal. 23(2) 102-120. Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Watershed issues: Resource lands; Fisheries. 20

PageServer?pagename=exp_sub_state_resourcelands (accessed March 9, 2009). Eff, Elaine (director). 1988. The Screen Painters (DVD). Painted Screen Society of Baltimore. Eff, Elaine. 2008. The Painted Screen Society. http://www. Gobster, Paul H. 2007. The shared landscape: What does aesthetics have to do with ecology? Landscape Journal 22(2): 959–972. Hayward, Mary Ellen and Charles Belfoure. 1999. The Baltimore rowhouse. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. Hayward, Mary Ellen and Frank R. Shivers. 2004. The architecture of Baltimore: An illustrated history. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Koh, Jusuck. 1988. An Ecological Aesthetic. Landscape Journal 7(2): 177-191. Mitchell, Alexander. 2001. Baltimore: Then and Now. Thunder Bay: Btms. Mozingo, Louise. 1997. The aesthetics of ecological design: Seeing science as culture. Landscape Journal 16(2): 46-59. Nassauer, Joan. 1995. Messy ecosystems, orderly frames. Landscape Journal 14(2): 161-170. Olson, Sherry. 1980. Baltimore: The building of an American city. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. PMEC. 2002. The Phillip Merrill Environmental Center: Highlighting high performance. April. Produced by the U.S. Department of Energy by the National Renewable Energy Lab. DOE/GO-102002-1533. Runge, Marilyn. 2008. Interview by author. November 18. Struever Bros. Eccles and Rouse. 2008. Brewers Hill Development Brochure. downloads/2008_brewershill.pdf (accessed March 9, 2009). USGS. 2000. A tapestry of time and terrain: The union of two maps—geology and topography. U.S. Department of the Interior. Waters, John. 1981. Shock value: A tasteful book about bad taste. New York: Dell Publishing


Pittsburgh, PA Photo: Carrick Davis Agoraâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;09


Las Vegas, Nevada Photo: Scott Curry 22


LEED-ing Las Vegas:

A Look at Green Building Practices and Design in the Las Vegas Valley

Allison Craddock

In a city like Las Vegas, Nevada, green and sustainable energy often seemed to be the last thing on builders’ minds. In light of the growing popularity and viability of LEED and other “green” and “sustainable” methods, Las Vegas is jumping on the bandwagon, looking to LEED-certify a number of tourist and residential buildings.

With the introduction of such buzzwords as “green building” and “sustainability” into everyday conversation, one can have difficulty differentiating between what is truly environmentally conscious and what is merely a label. In response to this issue, the LEED system of building certification and rating was developed. LEED is overseen by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), a non-profit organization composed of leaders from every sector of the building industry. According to the USGBC, “[t]he Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™ stimulates sustainable green building and development practices through the establishment and realization of universally understood and accepted tools and performance criteria.” LEED certification was created as a way of establishing a benchmark for all aspects of green building through the analysis and recognition of an impartial third party to the construction process. LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by assigning points to key areas of the design and construction process that are of direct impact to human and environmental health. These areas include site development, water conservation, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality (USGBCa). The points earned in these areas translate to a rating that goes from basic certification up to Silver, Gold and Platinum. Currently, only eight properties within the Las Vegas metropolitan area are LEED certified and higher, and only two that are rated Platinum (USGBCb). One development that is emerging as a leader in the LEEDAgora’09

rated development trend is Union Park, a 61-acre mixeduse, master-planned urban center located in the heart of downtown Las Vegas. Union Park’s development plan is slated to include five distinct districts organized in a series of small urban blocks linked by pedestrian-oriented streets. Located in the revitalizing historic center of the city, Union Park is destined to become the city’s new core. In that regard, it brings several much-needed amenities to the city, such as the first, dedicated Performing Arts Center in Las Vegas, within the context of a walkable urban neighborhood. Union Park is designed to be a place where the local population of Las Vegas will gather, and to become the cultural heart of the city. Union Park has been awarded LEED Gold certification status, the second highest rating possible, and is the only project in the state of Nevada to be accepted into the LEED for Neighborhood Development national pilot program. The LEED for Neighborhood Development Rating System amalgamates the tenets of smart growth and urbanism with green building to recognize sustainable and lasting overall neighborhood design. “LEED certification identifies Union Park as a pioneering example of sustainable design and demonstrates its leadership in transforming the development industry,” said S. Richard Fedrizzi, president, CEO, and founding chairman of the USGBC. “Union Park has earned this recognition for excellence in the built environment and a place among the finest developments incorporating the principles of smart growth, urbanism and green design.” The mixeduse project is creating an in-town culture, entertainment, 23

working and living environment on abandoned railroad pool and hotel water supply, motion sensors in guest suites lands. Union Park stands out for construction and town that regulate the air conditioning based on occupancy, planning in Las Vegas in that it embraces environmentally water-efficient showerheads, high efficiency toilets and sustainable development practices, especially because it low-flow lavatory faucet aerators that decrease water use transforms an unused brownfield site into an energetic and by over thirty percent. In addition to these implemented thriving community. technologies, “This is an LEED-recognized historic milestone practices were used “In a town where anything can happen, in the development during construction, visitor and resident alike can see the of Las Vegas including a waste benefits of green building in one of the most and its transition recycling program unlikely locations in the nation.” toward long-term run from demolition sustainability,” said through completion Steve Rypka, communications chair for the USGBC— that diverted over 70 percent of waste from landfills, Nevada Chapter. Besides Union Park, the Palazzo Hotel and the use of recycled materials in structural elements and Casino, a large resort and gaming development on (JeraOne 2008). The Strip which implemented environmentally-conscious Another “city within a city” development that technologies into its design, is rated LEED Silver. This is incorporating LEED certification into its design is the is a tremendous push into green development not only MGM CityCenter, located on Las Vegas Boulevard at a for Las Vegas, but for LEED ratings itself, as this is the central location on the famed Las Vegas Strip. CityCenter largest certified development on record with the USGBC. presently aspires to achieve LEED certification from Development activity on The Strip and Downtown is the U.S. Green Building Council, taking an innovative recognized all over the world, and it is fair to say that a step approach to site development, water savings, energy toward sustainability in Las Vegas will set a new precedent efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental for green building all over the southwest and for desert air quality. Following the LEED whole-building approach climates all over the world (Union Park 2008). to sustainability, CityCenter’s design integrates water Water conservation is absolutely crucial in the conservation measures throughout the development by Las Vegas Valley, which pipes in a large volume of its including specially-designed low-flow bathroom fixtures municipal water supply from distant sources. Despite the and a highly efficient irrigation system for all landscaping. obvious conditions of perpetual drought and extreme heat In order to ensure the health and comfort of visitors and and aridity, water is often used with impunity by the major guests, CityCenter’s design and construction minimizes hotel-casinos on the strip, as well as by residents who desire pollutants in the air conditioning system, and has integrated lush green lawns and full swimming pools. The Palazzo building materials that have been chosen to minimize illustrates the odor-causing and tangible benefits unhealthy emissions. of LEED-guided The design also “To illustrate the tangible benefits of LEEDgreen building; it seeks to conserve guided green building, consider The Palazzo, conserves enough energy by utilizing which implemented environmentallywater to provide natural light and conscious technologies into its design, each Nevada citizen innovative strategies and conserves enough water to provide with 266 eight-ounce to conserve power, each Nevada citizen with 266 eight-ounce glasses of water for with a percentage of glasses of water for a year.” a year, while saving that power generated enough energy to on-site. These energy light a 100 watt light bulb for 12,100 years (Green Building reduction and conservation measures reduce the demand News 2008). on Las Vegas’ power grid and benefit not only the “city LEED benefits construction in places like within a city” development, but the entire community as Las Vegas because it usually takes on a whole-building well. construction approach, meaning that to earn enough points Though one can easily discuss Las Vegas for certification a building must satisfy green building development when it comes to The Strip, it is important parameters in a wide variety of ways. Among the Palazzo’s to note that this is a thriving city with almost two conservation programs that contributed to its LEED million inhabitants in its metropolitan area. Recently, rating are such measures as artificial turf and drip irrigation LEED certification of buildings has become trendy and in its landscaping, solar heating systems for the swimming fashionable in Las Vegas, thanks in part to the publicity 24


LEED certification is causing a strong wind of change to blow across the floor of the Las Vegas Valley. In a town where anything can happen, visitor and resident alike can see the benefits of green building in one of the most unlikely locations in the nation. Hopefully Las Vegas will serve as an example for the rest of the country, proving that not everything that happens in Vegas has to stay there.


Green Lodging News. 2008. U.S. Green Building Council awards the Palazzo LEED Silver certification. April 10. aspx?id=2031 (accessed October 2008). JeraOne. 2008. ENERGY RESOURCE-10. Palazzo Las Vegas honored as world’s largest LEED Building. April 10. (via: articles/mi_m5CNK/is_/ai_n25148424) (accessed October 2008). MGM CityCenter. 2008. Vision: Sustainable design. aspx (accessed October 2008).

Las Vegas, Nevada Photo: Greg Lavigne given to the hotel-casinos aspiring to its standards. In short, LEED certification allows bragging rights and may be touted as an amenity, just like upgraded interiors and shaded parking. The only two buildings in Nevada to receive a LEED Platinum rating thus far are both found at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve at the Las Vegas Valley Water District. Both the Desert Living Center and Gardens, as well as the Visitor Center, serve as outstanding examples of green development in the Mojave. A primary motivation behind the development of these two buildings is to serve as a visual and tangible example of how green living can create beautiful and functional living and working spaces in the Las Vegas Valley. Residents and visitors alike can tour the grounds of the Water District—which regulates and oversees the water supply and consumption throughout the city—and get ideas for how to incorporate native plants and alternative energy practices into their homes. Other LEED-rated buildings in Las Vegas include the Molasky Corporate Center, rated Gold; the Miley Achievement Center, certified; the Regional Animal Campus of the Animal Foundation, rated Silver; and the New Telecommunications Building of the College of Southern Nevada, certified (USGBCb). The certification of these buildings reveals a continuing trend toward LEED-influenced building practices, be it for true aspirations toward sustainable living in the Mojave Desert, or simply to brand a building with the latest trendy label. Agora’09

Union Park. 2008. Press Release. Union Park certified as LEED Gold under stage 2 LEED-ND pilot. September 3. (accessed October 2008). USGBCa. United States Green Building Council. 2008. What is LEED? (accessed October 2008). USGBCb. United States Green Building Council. LEED projects & case studies directory. http://www.usgbc. org/LEED/Project/CertifiedProjectList.aspx (accessed October 2008).


Brooklyn, New York Photo: Matthew Schildkret

Detroit, Michigan Photo: Spencer Olinek 26


Dealing with Density:

A South Florida Growth Boundary and the Planning Predicament

Nathan Geisler

In 2006, Miami, Florida’s real estate market was still feverishly pushing outward and experiencing development pressures which threatened to force expansion of Miami-Dade County’s urban development boundary (“UDB”). Though less well known than the growth boundaries in places like Portland, Oregon, Miami-Dade’s UDB has concentrated the built environment away from many agricultural and ecologically sensitive lands immediately adjacent to the Florida Everglades. However, increasing speculation outside of the UDB from developers was sending land values skyward despite existing infrastructure shortages and other problems facing the region. This essay traces the conflict between a campaign to “hold the [UDB] line”, and the still unresolved tension between sprawl and infill densification in contemporary public discourse and land use decision-making. In the fall of 2005 I was a community organizer, a profession once derided and later affirmed in the national elections for the 44th president of the United States. While employed by a national environmental non-profit I found myself, through chance and circumstance, as the coordinator of a grassroots campaign to raise awareness and exert political support for “holding” the existing Miami-Dade County urban development boundary (“UDB”). Seventeen separate proposals to expand the UDB were to be brought before the county commission in the coming months, culminating in a vote the following April. Support was needed to bolster the county’s own planning staff recommendations, which for the majority of locations advised maintaining the UDB’s existing boundary line. When I arrived, municipalities across the county had already been approached to endorse resolutions in support of “holding the line.” It was an impressive start. Organizations of all sorts were brought into the coalition. Over a dozen cities and villages in and around Miami officially signed municipal resolutions to hold the UDB, and more than just conservation groups were among the list of organizational supporters (Miami Herald, March 9, 2005). We were able to galvanize groups around issues of the environment (the Everglades were not far from the UDB’s edge), the schools (existing classrooms were overcrowded and concurrency was exceeded in many schools at the urban edge), human services (existing urban communities would be deprived of County resources going to the suburban fringe), small farmers (much of the land up for grabs was near tropical fruit growers and nursery owners), failing infrastructure (billions of dollars worth of unfunded projects were easily Agora’09

found across Miami), and among transportation advocates (concerned with the lack of non-automobile options and traffic surges following UDB expansion). It also helped that the Mayor of the County early on became a supporter of non-expansion of the UDB. Once I took over for the initial campaign organizer, the foundations for the campaign were laid and I worked to expand the list of supporters and to make sure the broad citizen concern was heard at County Hall. Letterwriting campaigns were initiated and public comments gathered. After several months we had a coalition of over 140 organizations and business-owners, in addition to municipal leaders from various pockets of the County. Even the Governor, Jeb Bush, was beginning to weigh in, saying he had grave concerns over present expansion of the UDB in Miami-Dade County (The Miami Herald, March 6, 2005). Planning meetings were held for the various communities where UDB expansion was proposed on County land. In each meeting, the County’s planning staff was cogent, professional, and dispassionate in their rationale for recommending denial of UDB developments. When the time eventually came for the thirteenmember County-Commission to vote on the UDB proposals in late 2006, it was clear that despite a broad base of support, allies on the Commission were tenuous at best. This resistance came despite a recent poll by a local Miami news channel that confirmed that across racial and ethnic lines and for a variety of reasons, there was overwhelming public support for “holding the line.” But would the County Commission listen? They had scoffed at early hearings, chiding staff and some citizens from the 27

dais. At the decisive hearing, the mayor of Miami Beach Parks Service was indeed concerned that sprawl of this sort came out and gave a charismatic appeal to reason during jeopardized the over $8 billion ecological restoration effort public comment, as did the Chairwoman of the County’s (The Miami Herald, December 3, 2005). Taking these facts School Board (The Miami Herald, November 22, 2005). into consideration, the state, via the DCA, recommended Another mayor from the small nearby community of denial of UDB developments, citing many of the issues Surfside, Florida, who had once been a planner in St. the “hold the line” campaign had raised for months and Bernard’s Parish in New Orleans before Katrina and the detailing how Miami’s latest water woes were a further levee failures, spoke of the ignored warnings he had given sign of the inappropriateness of allowing development there against ecologically insensitive development (the outside the UDB and elsewhere in the County (The diminishment of coastal marshes had been established as Miami Herald, February 22, 2006). The UDB, like other a large factor in the devastation of Katrina) (The Miami growth boundaries in places like Portland, had experienced Herald, September 14, 2005). Scores of elderly activists occasional movements, but nothing major had happened in the vein of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the champion in over a decade. At this stage of the review process the of the Everglades’ “River of Grass,” invoked the ornery state could only recommend denial, saving possible legal Douglas and decried the gradual clearing of the remaining action for a later time only if it deemed the County’s final open landscape throughout South Florida and Miami that decisions were not in the interest of the health and welfare they had witnessed for decades. The $500/hour developer of citizens. While sobering, the strong recommendations lobbyists were out-gunned and out-manned, despite from the state were not the final word; the County whispers that they had bused in many of their supporters Commission would still weigh in, this time with the third in the chambers, who donned t-shirts urging support for party assessment from the state to support the increasing the “American Dream” (via UDB expansion) but who community opposition. largely sat quietly during the proceedings. With the state, the county planning staff, and After two days of hearings, the Commission hundreds of residents having voiced concern, and several did what many similar bodies in other sates are not in a of the original developers pulling out before the hearing, position to do: they temporarily deferred the matter to the a sufficient voting bloc within the County Commission state (The Miami Herald, December 1, 2005). In Florida, was able to successfully hold the UDB. With the exception the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) is a stateof a tract of brownfield land beyond the UDB, a former level planning entity with powers to comment on local landfill suitable for development, the UDB was ultimately development proposals and, in certain instances, intervene. maintained in its current position (The Miami Herald, The County Commission had sought the wisdom of the April 20, 2006). Though diminished largely by continuous state to ease the political weight bearing down on them by state and regional agency skepticism and by the real estate these contentious UDB proposals and so they transmitted downturn, attempts in recent years continue from a the review upward and out of their hands. In the intervening handful of interests seeking to further expand the Miamimonths, as the DCA was drafting their comments, the Dade County urban development boundary. public learned that the Was it a campaign to County, despite insufficient slow or stop sprawl, save the “If not at the fringe, where were the infrastructure and the Everglades, support urban people to go? In 2006, it was said impending salt-water communities and teachers in that a 1,000 or more persons were intrusion and related issues, overwhelmed classrooms? moving into Florida every week.” was seeking expanded daily Yes. But I also learned over water withdrawals from the the course of more than a underlying Biscayne Bay year on the campaign that aquifer. In addition, in the weeks preceding the DCA’s there was an underlying issue yet to be resolved in Miamireview and recommendations, the South Florida Water Dade and much of South Florida. If not to the fringe, Management District had come down sternly on Miamiwhere would the ever increasing population go? In 2006, Dade County. The County was only reclaiming 5 percent of it was said that 1,000 or more persons were moving into its wastewater for reuse (while surrounding counties were Florida every week. This state, where natural wonders and reclaiming upwards of 60 and 70 percent) yet now it wanted historic communities are truly one of a kind in the U.S., to draw-up increasingly more from the aquifer (The Miami rightly should say “no” to ceaseless development in every Herald, January 27, 2006). The federal and state partnership last corner of flat land or risk losing its unique natural to restore the Florida Everglades (recast as America’s wonders and historic communities. But where can they say Everglades) was also underway and the superintendents of “yes” and allow room for their population to grow? both Everglades National Park and Biscayne Bay National The intellectuals within the campaign were well Park had attended UDB hearings relaying that the National versed in the language of “Smart Growth” and “New 28


Urbanism” and did consistently voice the need for infill of bust rather than boom, matters of growth and prosperity development and affordable housing (one of the County’s seem distant. Yet planners are the harbingers of change, preeminent affordable housing developers was a vocal whether felt as growth or contraction. The densification supporter). Position papers were written and forums held of cities, both large and small, is a primary challenge to illustrate the need facing planners for development now and always. “As the nation struggles during a time of bust in the established Wedged between rather than boom, matters of growth and core, pointing to an ocean and the prosperity seem distant. Yet, planners are the vestiges of a Everglades, Miami the harbingers of change, whether felt as wavering movement and its surrounding growth or contraction. The densification of referred to in some communities offers cities large and small is a primary challenge South Florida circles a glimpse into the facing planners now and always.” as “Eastward Ho!” future challenges Eastward Ho! was a many growing state initiative that first emerged in the mid-1990s as an regions will inevitably confront. The general pushback to unmandated “engine to promote, among other things, greater densification is an expected impulse, but one that mixed-use development” and “encourage moderately can be overcome with intelligent outreach. Municipalities higher urban densities.” But during various hearings must be careful in framing the argument for greater leading up to and even at the final County Commission densification so as to not appear complicit with a real or hearings, some supporters donning “Hold the Line” perceived one-sided development agenda. It is not the t-shirts would also occasionally, and hypocritically, rise to easiest thing, but we all grow up at some point. Our cities oppose a housing project near their home or community. can be no different. Did not the newly elected president This was because the UDB proposals were all bundled say: “it is time to set aside childish things”? with several other large-scale projects within the UDB, References since all were a part of the two-year submittal window of Defede, J. (2005, March 6). In My Opinion: Governor allowable comprehensive plan changes. wants to hold boundary line. The I realized I could not control the comments Miami Herald, p. 1B. of every citizen who might have joined the coalition for reasons more NIMBY than noble. However, what chance Figueras Negrete, T., Morgan, C. (2006, January 27). Water do Homestead, Florida’s farmers, the Everglades, or the supply puts crisis on tap for Dade. The Miami Herald, p. struggling communities of Little Haiti have when the call to 1B. stop sprawl is followed by an echo against greater density? The County planning staff, however, was more consistent Haggman, M., Figueras T., Schwartz N. (2005, November than some of the “hold the line” supporters. They were 22). A clash, no vote on boundary. The Miami Herald, p. saying “no” to sprawl development but they were also 1A. saying “yes” to the many other less noticed proposals bundled within the sometimes Byzantine process of Haggman, M., Schwartz, N., Figueras Negrete, T. (2005, comprehensive land use change review in South Florida. December 1). Dade keeps growth plans alive. The Miami The planning staff, throughout the process, recommended Herald, p. 1A. the denial of wholesale UDB expansion, and so the campaign was often simply lending more voices to the Kimball, D., Lewis, M. (2005, December 3). Protect existing opinions of the County’s own employed experts, national parks from sprawl. The Miami Herald, p. 24A whom the Commission seemed unwilling to heed. If only Editorial. the campaign could have managed greater consistency in the remarks and sentiments regarding infill at certain Menendez, A. (2005, September 14). A mayor finds Florida stages of public input. This issue was not ignored, and lesson in Katrina. The Miami Herald, p. 1B. many involved worked hard to relay this vital piece, but with limited resources, the appeal to resist change drowned Morgan, C. (2005, March 9). Diverse groups unite against out the need for innovative ideas to absorb growth. sprawl. The Miami Herald, p. 1B. Before the recent deafening burst of the real estate bubble, and certainly at some point again in the future, Morgan, C., Haggman M., Schwartz N. (2006, February Florida will continue to grow at a pace that reveals, through 22). State: Reject New Projects. The Miami Herald, p. 1B. the outcomes of land use development, the potential for community planning. As the nation struggles during a time Agora’09


New York, New York Photo: Scott Curry 30


Reimagining the Lower East Side Manhattan

Danna Reyes


In the winter of 2009, The University of Michigan Master of Urban Design Studio went to Manhattan to observe the physical form and activities of the Lower East Side. The objectives of the studio were to communicate ideas graphically as a means of representation to persuading outcomes of an urban design process. This project displays a work in progress, midway through the winter semester.

Central Park

Manhattan Skyline

Streetcar Transportation

Virtual Cityscape

Project Overview

New York City’s housing projects located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan are products of government supported public housing. These housing projects were built between World War II and the 1970’s, in efforts to provide low-income families a place to live while working in manufacturing industries.

As government support for the projects dwindles, questions arise concerning what to do with the Modernist Housing Projects, and whether or not they should be sold to a private market. The challenge with this proposition is that there is a high demand for low income housing in Manhattan. In order to maintain a balance of housing for the low-income working-class and upper-middle-class society, accommodation must be made to fulfill the requirements of both. Efforts to design for higher density are key for the upcoming increase of urban settlement. Connectivity through transportation systems is needed in the proposal and development on the East River waterfront.

New York Skyline Redefined Agora’09

Lower East Side Manhattan Map 31

Children at Play

Manhattan Bridge Tunnel

Recreational Spaces

Interactive Plazas

Statue of Liberty

Walkable Streetscapes

In analyzing the housing projects, the existing building conditions consist of ‘slab’ and ‘point’ block construction. They are in fairly good condition with a few deteriorating facades. The ground coverage is low with minimal accommodations for shops and restaurants. Transportation is reduced to personal vehicles and various bus routes.

Design Concept During our first visit to New York City, I took photo documentations of various features and sites of the city. As part of my analysis and design methods, I constructed a collage to represent my experience of the urban city fabric,

Proposed Canal through Housing Projects 32

“Perceptions” a NYC collage Agora’09

which I refer to as “Perceptions,” a NYC collage. These experiences are mapped from locations throughout New York, such as Central Park, The Guggenheim Museum, The Manhattan Bridge, open parks and plazas, and The Statue of Liberty. The collage conglomeration merged the idea for programming events to create a “lively” and walkable urban development. To recreate the skyline of New York is to introduce a new building type with a facade that attracts upcoming new inhabitants (within the ages of 20 and 30) to the Lower East Side.

The previous sketches reflect spaces that I envision for the future housing project neighborhoods. The urban spaces are designed to facilitate community events, through Recreational Spaces. Walk-able Streetscapes would create sustainable environments, with rain garden and green roof installations. Interactive Plazas promote public spaces, accessible through Streetcar Transportation with programmed events. In studying the existing figure ground of the Lower East Side, showing the neighboring districts: East Village, China Town, Little Italy, and Gramercy Village, the density is located inland and minimal ground coverage occurs in the Public Housing Projects. Providing dense block coverage is the key to creating maximum housing developments.

Existing Figure Ground Lower East Side of Manhattan

The street plan study reveals a lack of street circulation within the public housing. Access is limited to housing occupants, creating a sense of isolation and discontinuity. Also, the interfering influence of the interstate, Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) Drive, runs parallel to the water’s edge. It divides the land, creating a barrier, restricting access to a few footbridges from the housing projects to the open spaces on the waterfront. FDR Drive is a major connector of the downtown financial district from the Battery to uptown, leading up to the Triborough Bridge, and to the international airport. It runs nine and one-half miles along the eastern edge of the island. Currently, FDR Drive is closed to commercial traffic due to inadequate design to interstate standards. It has a maximum speed limit of 40 MPH.

Existing Street Plan Agora’09


The dominant character of FDR Drive is one of the programmatic design considerations of my project. The Lower East Side of Manhattan lacks efficient mass transportation. Subway stops are more than a five to ten minute walk away. Buses are available, but people (especially tourists) hesitate to ride them because they are perceived as untimely and unfamiliar. The main mode of transportation is personal vehicles. Currently, this part of town is distant from shops and restaurants, and has a fragmented street pattern. Informed by this site research and analysis, I am proposing a new type of street pattern that complements circular flow with accessible block orientation. This would create angular views of the magnificent New York City skyline. Its focal point intersects where the linear projection of the Williamsburg Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge converge. The point marks the Cleveland Plaza near Broadway.

Proposed Block Plan Lower East Side of Manhattan

Another significant design consideration are the streets in the southern portion of the Lower East Side, such as East Broadway, Henry Street, Madison Street, and Cherry Street, that run parallel to FDR Drive. These streets are arrayed in a linear fashion around the focal point extending northward to Fourteenth Street around to Twentieth Street. The waterfront is reprogrammed to accommodate the new dense blocks with housing (ranging from low to middle incomes), outdoor activities, shops, restaurants, public and private institutions, and a sports arena. Introducing a new streetscape and redeveloping the site with these programmatic elements enhances connectivity from the Financial District to the lower part of Midtown. The newly developed Housing Projects are mixed within the middle to high income housing, in an effort to ensure that land value is balanced between various groups and to encourage the growth of a diverse demographic. The proposed streetscape blends into the ‘knitted’ urban fabric and creates a new identity for the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Proposed Street Plan 34


District Map of Manhattan

Concept Diagram

Land Use Map and Site Sections

Section A

Section B

Section C Agoraâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;09


Detroit, Michigan Photo: Spencer Olinek 36


5th & Division:

Rethinking Ann Arbor’s Plan for the Core

Daren Crabill







Ann Arbor, Michigan has set forth an ambitious plan to establish its downtown the “hot spot” in the region for dining, entertainment and culture, and living. After years of planning and public input, the city is poised to approve its new Master Plan developed by Peter Calthorpe Associates. The plan outlines new downtown zoning, urban design guidelines, historic preservation design guidelines, and a parking and transportation strategy. The new downtown zoning ordinance has been a contentious issue, as it allows for floor area ratios (FAR) of 6.6 with the possibility of greater density through bonuses. This increased density could substantially increase the value of land in the downtown area with the possibility of also dramatically changing its appearance. The plan also calls for enhancing the pedestrian experience and increasing the housing options within the downtown.

The project for the redevelopment of two blocks along Fifth and Division Streets has the distinct potential to bridge the percieved gap between “town and gown.” The main arterial streets of Fifth and Division are sister one way streets running north and south, while Liberty and William Streets are the main connectors running east and west along the site. The US Post Office and Federal Courthouse building, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA) Bus Station, and the former site of the YMCA (now since demolished) are located on the western block; while the downtown Ann Arbor District Library (AADL), a DDA surface parking lot, the under-utilized Liberty Plaza area, and a number of homes and small businesses cover the eastern block.





Future plans have been discussed by each of the following entities to enhance services for their own customers:


OLD YMCA SITE (city owned): - Would like to replace 100 single-resident occupancy (SRO) units lost with the demolition of the YMCA. - Mixed use development AATA: - Increase covered off-street bus bays - Enhanced bus station facilities

Design Parti


AADL: - 25% additional space including auditorium, coffee shop, increased space for digital catalog, more administration space.

A simple primary concept was devised to orient the program requirements around a central public space bounded by Fifth and Division Streets. Secondary goals for the design attempted to: minimize the need to acquire private land for program development, reemphasize nodes and corridors to create value which in turn could help finance the project, and lastly, to phase the development and placement of the program in an effort to save money and create a cohesive design of space.

DDA: - Plans in design phase for 4-story underground parking garage in existing lot next to library. Other plans of interest: - 250-key full service hotel with conference center - Reenergized Liberty Plaza or new public space

Each of the above program requirements were to be considered for the study area redevelopment plan.

AATA MIXED-USE DEVELOPMENT - 100 SRO Units - 15 bay Covered Bus Transit Center - Bicycle Transit Hub - 230 Market Rate Rental Units - 22000 sq. ft. Retail Space - 44000 sq. ft. Office Space

DOWNTOWN LIBRARY - 135000 sq. ft. library (30% increase) - Auditorium - Cafe - Greenroof and Water Conservation






LIBERTY PLAZA - 21000 sq. ft. Retail - 146000 sq. ft. Office


m llia

Wi t ee






HOTEL / CONFERENCE CENTER - 250 Key Hotel - 1000 Seat Banquet Facility - 10000 sq. ft. Flexible Retail Space


HOUSING ON THE PARK - 50 Townhomes - 200 Rental Units AA DDA GARAGE ENTRANCE





io ivis

ANN ARBOR SQUARE - Open Lawn & Event Space - Water Play - Public Restrooms / Cafe - Main Entrance / Exit to Underground Garage










Education Through Architecture:

The new downtown library creates an opportunity to express the sustainable ideals of the AADL while creating a public building that becomes the new face of the city.

Ann Arbor Square:

This new public gathering space is located over the DDA parking garage and incorporates waterplay, active and passive play opportunities, and a cafe. As a backyard to the new downtown library and adjacent to new housing, the square creates excellent opportunities for shared programming with the library and histrocal museum.



Phasing Sequence:

An important part of the design consideration was the sequencing of program to reduce costs and establish cohesivness between the parts. Phase 1: - DDA underground parking garage - Ann Arbor Downtown Library - Ann Arbor Square This is the key first phase combining design and construction of these three public spaces together. Also allows for the selling of development rights to Liberty Square and old library site to defray costs of phase 1.

Phase 1

Phase 2: - 250-key hotel and convention center - Mixed-use business center Phase 2 could be broken up into 2a and 2b depending on market conditions. Old library site ideal for hotel along the busy arterial of Fifth St. while the mixed use building builds out the important node of Division and Liberty Streets. Phase 3: - Mixed-use development on old YMCA site: 15-bay covered AATA Transit Center, office and retail space, market residential, and SRO units.

Phase 2

This could be the most difficult piece due to the SRO units linked to the site. Added FAR bonuses and financial help from stakeholders could make this financially feasible. Phase 4: - Housing on the Park; stacked townhomes, condominiums or rental units with 10% marked for affordable housing. Envisioned to be developed by a private firm. Currently, the land is in multiple parcels but through the addition of previous phases this last piece would have great potential due to its proximity.

Phase 3

Phase 4



ANN ARBOR SQUARE: The public space becomes a destination at night as well as during the day. There are opportunities for concerts in the park and other performances on the community green, as well as, the establishment of the new center for the Ann Arbor Art Fair.

DOWNTOWN LIBRARY This is chance to design a great public building in the core of the city. Matching the library and new public square together create one continuous public space through the entire block.



Pushkar, India Photo: Matthew Schildkret 42


Project for Public Spaces:

Could a Change in Message Facilitate Better Public Space Planning?

Daren Crabill

Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is, on the one hand, a respected non-profit group advocating for public space design and on the other, a group with a conflicting message amongst their working peers, the design professionals. PPS has a distinct message integrated into their presentations, literature and method that design professionals are not working for a community’s needs. However, this criticism seems to be referring to designers of a different era, as most if not all present day designers embrace some degree of community participation. The case study of Bryant Park shows that if PPS realizes that both PPS and their partner design firms have similar goals, the resulting public spaces will show greater cohesion and a thorough and integrated design process.

By anyone’s standards, Detroit, Michigan, is not a hotbed of investment. Over the past fifty years, the city’s problems have been well documented. The population is declining, jobs are leaving for foreign countries, crime and drug use is on the rise, and a once vibrant and exciting downtown is increasingly left to wallow in vacancy or be converted to surface parking lots. But Detroit is not entirely downtrodden; there are still several successful projects underway in Detroit, including the recently completed Campus Martius Park. Campus Martius has brought praise from both the public and media alike as the new public park of Downtown Detroit. Situated at the “Point of Origin,” where Detroit’s coordinate street grid begins, the park has become the heart of downtown by creating an active space in which to gather informally and hold festivals and other events on a regular basis. Campus Martius also has encouraged private investment through building infill in and around the park. For a struggling Rust Belt city, these are significant gestures. These improvements took many years of planning and vision by both the city and hired consultants. One of those consultants was the highly recognized nonprofit, Project for Public Spaces(PPS). They have touted Campus Martius Park as an all-around success story, naming it one of their “Greatest Hits” (Project for Public Agora’09

Spaces 2005). No one can argue with their assessment of this small civic park. It boasts a multitude of activity day and night, summer or winter—from concerts to public ice skating—and features an open lawn, plenty of seating, a café and fountains which have helped to bring people and energy back downtown. Simply put, it has given the residents of metro Detroit a great public space to enjoy and call their own. In 1999, the city and its taskforce, the Detroit 300 Conservancy, brought in PPS to help guide the community in creating Campus Martius, what then Mayor Dennis W. Archer hoped would be “the best public space in the world” (Project for Public Spaces n.d.). PPS met with city officials and key stakeholders in order to develop a program they hoped would invigorate the site with activity and life. The result of this year-long process was the development of ideas for how the park might function, as well as a schematic plan with suggestions for park design. However, PPS’ involvement ended there, and the landscape architecture firm Rundell Ernstberger Associates (REA) were selected from a pool of six national firms to design the new park space (Conservancy n.d.). REA continued to meet with stakeholders and other consultants to create a design tailored to fit the context, space, and community surrounding the park (Rundell 2008), including orienting elements in a safe, logical, and meaningful way; 43

planning for automobile and pedestrian movement; and managing construction details and the approval process. Unfortunately, a comparison between the finished Campus Martius and a conceptual sketch provided on the PPS website reveals little cohesion between the park and the plan outside of some program elements and the general shape of the site, exposing the lack of communication between PPS and REA throughout the process.

In spite of PPS’ involvement with successful public projects around the country and the world, a conflicting message can be seen in their publications, press clippings, and presentations about their relationship with the design world—one that can confuse the public and irritate design professionals. Fred Kent, founder and President of PPS, is the public face of the group and has been a vocal leader in furthering the group’s mission

Campus Martius, Detroit, Michigan. Photo: Spencer Olinek 44


of building communities through involvement with the public spaces that he found did not cater well to those who design process. However, he was recently quoted as saying, inhabited the space. These corporate plazas were often “I could tell you all kinds of design flaws with Campus uncomfortable with few places to sit and little shade, and Martius. It might be a little bit overdesigned” (McIntyre were not conducive to human interaction. However, as 2007). PPS cites Campus Martius as a marquee example Kent perhaps fails to recognize or admit, this is no longer of their work while at the same time criticizing its design. the way contemporary design practitioners lay out public Perhaps PPS believed that the finished product did not space. In fact, they often function in similar ways as PPS, take into account the ideas of the community or that the working with the community to inform a design that creates designer’s heavy hand was too obvious, but the criticism spaces in which people enjoy interacting. The unforgiving was neither constructive nor consistent. PPS also lists and perhaps historically biased criticisms by Kent, and projects on its website as both members of their “Greatest by extension his organization, hurt the goal of building Hits” as well as the “Hall of Shame,” another example of great public spaces by alienating those professionals that PPS’ hypocrisy (Project for Public Spaces 2005; Project for eventually take up a project where PPS leaves off. Public Spaces n.d.). This negative rhetoric also undercuts PPS’ own As site programmer and community activist, agenda. When PPS began, its focus was to make the PPS takes part very early on in the process but allows community a part of the design process, and it likes to architects, landscape architects, and urban designers to be perceived as a partner to the community, either as a come in and flesh out the design details. As a result, PPS hired consultant or only for a presentation. This is essential tends to be critical of the later aspects of the projects they because PPS’ public perception as a team member supports work on, especially Kent, who often denigrates the design its credibility as an organization that uses a communityprofessions in general. As attacks go, Kent’s statement based planning approach, as opposed to a conventional may be one of the milder against design professionals. planning approach involving only the design professionals. He is often quoted in PPS develops its trade publications, public identity in two newspapers, and public different ways. First, “In spite of PPS’ involvement with presentations as saying the organization successful public projects around the that the designers of crafts a simple and country and the world, a conflicting public spaces have clear, jargon-free message can be seen in their publications, not done their part message about its press clippings, and presentations about in assuring that great programs. Second, its their relationship with the design world.” places are available in literature and public communities (Kemper presentations subtly 2007; Gottleib 1993; stress the fact that PPS Kent 2007). These rhetorical attacks, subtle or not, is unique from typical development professionals, such continue to unnecessarily strain the relationship between as architects or city officials. This message of separation the two groups of public space advocates. often emphasizes that PPS is working with the community, The historical context of PPS’ rise to its popular while others involved are not and may even have their own and influential status in public planning in America may agenda which is contrary to the best interests of the public. help explain their point of view. The group was formed To reiterate a prior distinction, PPS emphasizes in 1975 by Fred Kent, who had spent a number of years being a placemaker and not a designer. This need for working with famed urban sociologist William H. Whyte. separation is not unique to PPS and the designers of The two had worked on Whyte’s Street Life Project, which Campus Martius. In the remainder of this paper, I will use culminated in the 1980 book, “The Social Life of Small the case study of Bryant Park—another highly successful Urban Spaces.” The work of Whyte, and subsequently project—to further illustrate this schism. Kent, focused on many lifeless plazas in New York City Case Study which were built as a way to gain density bonuses from Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan is arguably the city (Whyte 1988). This was also a time when urban one of the most successful redeveloped public spaces renewal and suburbanization were focused on creating in the nation. It has a prime location one block east of private or individual spaces as opposed to improving the Broadway, along 42nd street and adjacent to the New public realm. Kent blames the design and engineering York Public Library. Bryant Park acts as a backyard to fields for creating “objects” instead of “places” during this the Library and an opportunity of respite for the office period of development (Project for Public Spaces 2000). workers and tourists in its vicinity. In the 1980s, PPS and Kent was dissatisfied with many of the plazas Whyte collaborated to try to understand how the park— he and Whyte studied during that time—examples of Agora’09


Bryant Park, New York, N.Y. Photo: Daren Crabill

then in disrepair, overrun by drug dealers, and underutilized by the public—could be reinvigorated. The recorded history of Bryant Park precedes the Civil War, its early uses ranging from a potter’s field to an Army encampment, eventually gaining designation as a public park in 1846 (Thompson 1997). It also has a long history of poor maintenance and misuse dating back to the early 1920s. In the 1940s, a redesign of Bryant Park under the direction of Robert Moses only added to the slow demise of the space, and illegal activities continued to thrive. In the 1970s, despite the drug trade taking over its spaces and a number of murders, the park was designated a New York City Landmark (Thompson 1997). However, in 1979 opportunities for transformation arose. The Library embarked on a major renovation and suggested that the park be revitalized as well. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, located in the neighborhood, was tapped by the Library to oversee the rehabilitation and it, in turn, looked to Whyte and his analysis for a starting point. The recommendations were simple: open the park for better circulation and vision, restore restrooms and the fountain, and provide various commercial activities such as a food kiosk. The Fund and the Library formed the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation (BPRC) and invited the landscape architectural firm Hanna/Olin, which was working on a redesign of the Library front terrace, to 46

undertake Bryant Park as well (Olin 2007; Thompson 1997). After more than ten years of design development, public meetings, fundraising, and construction, the park renovation was complete and Bryant Park was soon one of the most beloved public spaces in New York City. In order to understand the success of Bryant Park, it is important to trace the development of the Park planning and execution of the plan. Whyte and Kent, through careful analysis, developed a well-intended and by some accounts “brilliant” program which gave the architect—Hugh Hardy—and landscape architects— Hanna/Olin—a jumping off point (Olin 2007). The designers then took the program and gave it shape, and after many different revisions developed a plan that reacted to the program laid out by Whyte and PPS in a meaningful and successful way. Many would agree that the “design” created a “place.” In this instance, roles were well matched to strengths. Whyte and Kent provided analysis while Hanna/Olin and Hardy designed. In addition, all of the stakeholders fought for more than a decade to create what is now a jewel of midtown Manhattan. The review process was lengthy and constantly in the public eye, as is well chronicled in a series of New York Times articles (Harrison 1983; Dunlap 1987; Goldberg 1983). PPS has, by many accounts, been seen as an important voice in the community of public space planning for more than thirty years. But despite a potentially positive increase in press coverage and the number of engagements, the message offered by PPS has removed it from the core of where it started—as an analysis and programming group advocating for great public spaces. What seems to be a subtle “divide and conquer” scheme to gain the firm favor with the community actually leaves PPS open to scrutiny from the design profession, and causes uncertainty about where it stands in the overall process. PPS’ criticism of projects they have deemed successful in other rhetoric—and may have even worked on—is also confusing for the public. As a result, design professionals working with PPS may be less likely to collaborate due to the reputation that PPS is gaining for its infamous comments and views. Cooperation and slight shifts in message would likely go a long way in mitigating, at the very least, the schism between the two groups. The benefit would be a more successful public planning process, and hopefully better projects for all of the stakeholders involved. If the development of great public spaces is really the core of PPS’ philosophy, then self-reflection and investigation of the current situation should reveal the flaws in the current paradigm.



Crabill, Daren. Interview of Deane Rundell. December 30, 2008. Detroit 300 Conservancy. n.d. Campus Martius Park: History. (accessed July 2008). Dunlap, David. 1987. Landmark panel calls plan for Bryant Park “untenable.” New York Times, January 9, 29. Fowler, Glenn. 1980. Some success seen in an effort to reclaim Bryant Park. New York Times, September 15, B2. Fudge, Tom. Interview of Fred Kent. “Urban Design Guru Assesses San Diego Waterfront.” These Days, NPR. KPBS 89.5 FM, San Diego. January 24, 2007. Goldberg, Paul. 1983. The “new” Bryant Park: A plan of pros and cons. New York Times, December 1, B2. Gottleib, Martin. 1993. Conversations/Fred Kent; One who would like to see most architects hit the road. New York Times, February 28. Great Public Spaces. spaces/one?public_place_id=521&type_id=2 (accessed October 5, 2008). Harrison, Richard Edes. 1983. What Bryant Park can do without. New York Times, May 23, 22. Kemper, Cynthia L. 2007. Fred Kent: Public Space Provacateur. Urban Land, November 2007, 151.

Lueck, Thomas J. 1997. Off to see the wizard, for one, in Bryant Park. New York Times, June 23. McIntyre, Linda. 2007. In dubious battle. Landscape Architecture Magazine, March, 41. Olin, Laurie. 2007. One size rarely fits all. Landscape Architecture Magazine, March. 138. Project for Public Spaces. Hall of Shame: Bryant Park. place_id=521 (accessed March 5, 2009). Project for Public Spaces, Inc. How to turn a place around. New York City: Project for Public Spaces, Inc., 2000. Project Experience: Campus Martius. http://www.pps. org/info/projects/campus_martius (accessed December 30, 2008). Thirtieth Anniversary: Greatest Hits Bryant Park. December 2005. thirtieth_anniversary/greatest_hits_2 (accessed March 5, 2009). Thirtieth Anniversary: Greatest Hits Campus Martius Park. December 2005. thirtieth_anniversary/greatest_hits_7 (accessed December 30, 2008). Thompson, William. 1997. The rebirth of New York City’s Bryant Park. Washington D.C.: Spacemaker Press. Whyte, William H. 1988. City: Rediscovering the center. New York: Doubleday.

Christian Science Church Park, Boston, Massachusetts Photo: Scott Curry Agora’09


Detroit, Michigan Photo: Spencer Olinek 48


Pessimism, Nihilism, Sorkinism:

A Response to “The End(s) of Urban Design”

Rachana Ky

In The End(s) of Urban Design, Michael Sorkin criticizes practices of urban design that apply prepackaged solutions to the design of complex settings, including New Urbanism. Unfortunately, Sorkin focuses on shallow examples and uses generalizations or tenuous references to advance his arguments. In addressing the design issues raised by Sorkin, this paper first attempts to supplement his criticisms of New Urbanism through a more detailed critical exploration of some of the high-profile projects of Andres Duany, including the Kentlands, East Beach, and Seaside. Second, the paper returns to the nature of Sorkin’s largely pessimist – if not nihilist – paradigm, and questions the merit of his approach in the context of effective architectural criticism. In The End(s) of Urban Design, Michael Sorkin criticizes practices of urban design that apply universal solutions or a prepackaged, formal approach to the design of complex settings. Using New Urbanism as the target of his criticisms, he argues the utopian ideals driving this form of urbanism—a model that rejects the sterile setting of modernism—ultimately lead to the same dead end, and the same environments deprived of social and economic diversity. Sorkin’s concerns and comments certainly have some merit. However, as a way to constructively advancing the practice of design, The End(s) of Urban Design is far from successful. While Sorkin has strong opinions about New Urbanism, he presents little material of substance to allow readers to formulate their own opinions on the subject. Whether a reader agrees or disagrees with Sorkin’s perspective, the article makes very little effort to extend itself beyond mere criticisms. Compounding this, he uses shallow examples of New Urbanism such as Seaside and Celebration as vehicles for his critiques. This tendency toward generalization and stereotype infects much of the work, with little attempt to present specific details about any project or to be consistent across analyses. References to Andres Duany’s work are made without ever mentioning his name. Conversely, Rem Koolhaas is cited but without discussion of any of his work. Adding to the confusion, references are made to “carpet bombing in Vietnam,” modernism, Kevin Lynch, and 17th century Rome, among others. At the end of the day, if a reader encountered this essay without prior knowledge of the subject, he or she would be left relatively uninformed and potentially misinformed. In addressing the design issues raised by Sorkin, this paper first attempts to supplement his criticisms of New Urbanism through a more detailed critical exploration of Duany’s projects, including the Kentlands, East Beach, and Seaside. Second, the paper returns to the nature of Sorkin’s criticisms, questioning the merit of his oversimplifying approach.


A Supplemental Criticism of the New Urbanism of Andres Duany

To understand the physical presentation of Duany’s architecture, one must not look much further than one of his major sources of influence. In 1909, Raymond Unwin’s Town Planning in Practice provided an extensive look at European city forms pertaining to public spaces from Pompeii to Paris. Duany’s works draw heavily from Unwin, who believed “very much the beauty of buildings result from working within defined limitations” (Unwin 1909). Indeed, Duany’s works The New Civic Art and The Smart Code are arguably a repackaging of Unwin’s artistic principles. Thus, if one is not inclined towards traditional form and aesthetics, one will see only these surface features and label New Urbanism a victim of its own conservative ideals. Socially, however, Duany diverges from his predecessor. Unwin’s spatial and formal patterns represented a concern for social balance by engaging “the landlord and tenants, parson and flock, tradesman and customer, master and servant, farmer and laborer, doctor and patients; all were in direct relations and shared common interests forming a network of community life” (Unwin 1994, xii). Since most of Duany’s patrons are private developers, these socioeconomic concerns fall short of being realized in his communities. Quite the opposite social conditions are evident in even in his most celebrated projects, Seaside and the Kentlands, despite the rhetoric surrounding New Urbanism. Seaside, Florida, a resort town where comparisons to Disney World often ring true, serves as an easy target for criticism. When Seaside turned twenty years old, management estimated that ninety percent of its residents actually did not live there but only used it for a vacation home. Seaside itself is not even a town; it is a privatized subdivision with privately owned streets within the town of Santa Rosa Beach (Marshall 2001). At the subdivision’s inception, its 80 acres were subdivided into relatively affordable lots. However, those lots were to be developed 49

by builders and designers, and even if an architect was not involved this would already price homes in a middle class range. Not surprisingly, Seaside’s residents do not reflect the predominantly working class make-up of surrounding Walton County in western Florida. Seaside’s status as a resort also brings into question the fundamental operating idea of its downtown, since its activities are supported largely by visiting tourists and not town residents. As Neil Smith claims, “Seaside reminds me of nothing more than the suburbs of capitalism… transplanted into a poor rural county in western Florida. Seaside is not the compromise that results from an effort to work within the belly of the beast; Seaside is the belly of the beast” (Smith 1993, 35). Seaside’s standing as a destination goes beyond the tourist definition of the word; the subdivision represents a status symbol as well. Money is not generated there as much as it is transplanted to this capitalist utopia by those who have the means. To extend on the pessimists’ perspective, the Kentlands in Gaithersburg, Maryland, serves as a better example for criticism. Developer Joseph Alfrandre bought into the ideas behind Seaside and wanted to reapply its principles to compete with other developments along Interstate 278 in Maryland. Like Seaside, this subdivision is also socially and racially homogenous. The attempt to create housing for various incomes is again blunted as homes are priced only for the upper spectrum of the middle class. As some houses prices here reach seven figures, the Kentlands is notably more expensive than even its affluent surroundings in affluent Montgomery County. The working midtown or lively main street that was intended to be central to the town’s plan was never realized because investors did not think that the Kentlands would be able to support such a concept. This program was instead relocated to the eastern outskirt of the development in the form of a shopping plaza, similar to what would be expected in a suburban setting. The only difference is that the K-Mart and other stores are falsely disguised behind Jeffersonian columns (Marshall 2000). The town’s paucity of public transit can be explained through its lack of compactness. Within its 1500 acres, the Kentlands’s 350 households result in a density of less than four units per acre, a figure that is common among conventional suburban subdivisions. This explains why the bus system runs on the edge of the development, not through it. In addition, despite the town’s location just thirteen miles outside of Washington, D.C., its buses do not provide a direct connection to the city (Varsa 2007). The light rail that was intended for the Kentlands Boulevard was also never delivered after twenty years and multiple charrettes. Perhaps the development best suited for a case against Duany’s New Urbanism is in Norfolk, Virginia, a city which has historically been an experimental ground for urban renewal. The site for the New Urbanist 50

development of East Beach was initially composed of mostly 18th and 19th century homes. While some were run-down Section 8 homes that could be demolished, others could have benefited from restoration. Principle 9 regarding “[t]he block, the street, and the building” of New Urbanism’s Charter emphasizes “preservation and renewal of historic buildings, districts, and landscapes [to] affirm the continuity and evolution of urban society” (CNU 2001). Instead of preservation and renewal, what is evident here is a relatively recent case of what James Baldwin might label “negro removal.” Fifteen hundred homes were demolished in order to make way for East Beach, a waterfront development with roughly one-third the density. Duany’s firm claims to make the waterfront “a more accessible and significant landmark for the community” (DPZ)—but who is this “community”? Since Duany’s project was privately funded, no affordable housing was required to be built after previous residents were removed. Thus, no coherent plans were made for its former residents, who were priced out of their own community and given the option to move out or request funding for three months’ rent. Those who requested the grant were put on a waiting list for public housing (Marshall 1995). While it is true that the demolition of the area took place prior to Duany’s involvement in the project, Norfolk still provides another case where New Urbanism’s principles and Duany’s practice contradict one another. One could further highlight this schism between principle and practice by pointing to gated communities such as Aqua or Windsor in Florida. In other areas like Georgetown, Connecticut, or Warwick Grove, New York, New Urbanist communities are designed for residents in their mid fifties or older. This presents another aspect of exclusivity: the communities often exclude not just young adults but also children and teenagers, thereby avoiding the need for school taxes altogether. The problem is not just one of developments that cultivate a sense of collective wealth. Collective poverty can be found in Duany’s lower income projects such as La Estancia Farmer Housing and Wimauma in Florida. Half-hearted attempts are made in developing these sites, which visually amount to little more than neglected senior housing projects. Duany’s inability to reproduce New Urbanism’s principles in these projects can be traced back to comments he made during the Seaside Debates. “The New Urbanism is a comprehensive model for solving many problems. It will not solve racism or poverty, the root of which lies elsewhere….[O]ne must never experiment with the poor; they are already under enough stress. Experiment with the rich because they can always move out” (Bressi 2002, 31). A more honest statement would have mentioned that the poor cannot afford his experiment, and that it is not about Agora’09

what Lewis Mumford might call “the bastard estheticism of a single uniform style, set within a rigid town plan” (Mumford 1961, 312), Seaside’s design guidelines allow for architectural variations found in the contrasting styles of buildings by such designers as Steven Holl and Leon Krier. Most importantly, surveys have shown that compared to nearby developments, well thought-out designs have brought about a stronger sense of pride and social capital among community members within these developments A Rebuttal to Sorkin’s Critiques (Kim 2000). Arguably, the users of the development Naysayers of New Urbanism have repeatedly should judge what is best for them. used the above arguments, denouncing the movement’s The pessimist perspective, however, rarely privatized greenfield developments, its exclusive acknowledge these points in support of New Urbanism. atmosphere, and its historical nostalgia. They also cite Sorkin’s essay contains no recognition of the successes the fact that there is nothing new or urban about it. The (however partial), nor does he ever present specific cases pessimist will rarely ever acknowledge New Urbanism’s to back his critiques. It approaches nihilism to say that successes within the context and limits within which nothing good has ever been done by New Urbanists it operates, however. The “end(s)” of Sorkin’s theory, and that the Sorkin-ist approach, despite its easy targets denouncing such a movement without making specific and lack of detail, should be accepted as the defining references or providing suggestions on how to improve it, perspective on the subject. The only things the readers only make matters worse. No single planner will ever solve are left to contemplate are generalizations and tenuous the world’s problems, so planning’s limits should be noted references. and its successes within these limits acknowledged. Sorkin’s assessment of Battery Park provides a One must first acknowledge that Duany has good starting point. Here, Sorkin compares Battery Park taken on suburban development, a field that has long been and New Urbanism with 17th century Rome. Yes, the criticized and yet has seen little improvement. Compared underlying forms of New Urbanism predate the order to conventional post-WWII, automotive-based, cul-de-sac that Sitte advocated in German planning or the civic art sprawls, New Urbanist developments seem to present a brought to light by Unwin. Having spent a year studying superior alternative. Suburban development is inevitable. in Italy, however, this reader began to wonder whether the The developers of Seaside and the Kentlands could reference is appropriate. The Italians had two terms in their have opted to hire the designers of Levittown or A.A. approach towards urbanism. Risanamento, or urban renewal Taubman, and their projects would have never received as aimed at preserving the urban fabric, and sventramento, much criticism. In the majority of Duany’s projects, one at or the “gutting” of the urban fabric to restore spatial least sees the attempt to produce mixed-use, pedestrianorder. By looking at some of Duany’s plans for Seaside, oriented space which the Kentlands, has the potential to Masphee Commons, Sorkin’s essay contains no recognition of improve residents’ and Fanin Station, N[ew] U[rbanism]’s successes (however quality of life. If one one sees some partial), nor does it ever present specific is content with living connection to cases to back his critiques. It straddles the in Seaside or the Rome, but this was lines of nihilism to say that nothing good has Kentlands and can Rome in the 16th ever been done by New Urbanists and that walk or bicycle, most century, not the his argument, despite its shallow examples vehicular trips can be 17th century. Pope and lack of specifics, should be accepted virtually eliminated. Sixtus V ordered as the defining perspective on the subject.” In theory—if not the radial gutting always in eventual of streets leading to practice—shopping Castel Sant’Angelo areas, community facilities, and even extended family are along with those leading to Piazza del Popolo. Aside within walking distance. The public spaces are also mostly from clearing congestion, the resulting panopticon was to successful by virtue of being centrally located, allowing serve as a mode of city surveillance. A prison in Cuba, for maximum social interaction. Additionally, the scale of Presidio Modelo, designed with a central guard tower amid the developments and their aesthetics are pleasing to the a circular prison cell arrangement, is perhaps the best human eye (unless one is a modernist and wishes to fault formal realization of this concept. Duany’s reversion of Duany for an Ecole de Beaux Art education). Even within the panoptic metaphorically suggests effective surveillance the rich moving out, but about the poor being removed for the rich to move in. Another of the underlying principles of New Urbanism, regarding “[t]he neighborhood, the district, and the corridor,” seeks to “bring people of diverse ages, races, and incomes into daily interaction, strengthening the personal and civic bonds essential to an authentic community.” Clearly, this is contradicted in most of these developments.



by residents, as an empowerment of its user, unlike the Baroque boulevards which may have perpetuated social separation. Strangely, even Sorkin acknowledges some of Battery Park’s success, noting that “vehicular traffic is negligible” and “its scale… reasonable” (Sorkin 2003). So why was the comparison made to Corbusier’s Plan Voisin, and its origins traced back to Imperial Rome?

Castel St. Angelo: Panoptic Source: Google Maps Piazza del Popolo: Panoptic

Another of Sorkin’s generalizations has to do with supporting the “minority view” of Kevin Lynch. Along with Boston, Los Angeles, and Jersey City, Lynch gives praise to Florence, Italy. Note that the interpretation of “formal typologies” (a criticism commonly directed at Duany) and “sequential series of landmarks” (Lynch 1960) is supported by Lynch, without acknowledging how the paths, nodes, or landmarks of Florence came about. If American urban renewal and East Beach are guilty of “negro removal,” then the group targeted for eviction in Italy was the Jews. Between the Arno and the Duomo, Piazza Della Republica in Florence was created as a public space with widened paths connecting the river to the church by ripping through and removing a significant segment of a Jewish ghetto. Nowadays, that former slum is one of Florence’s main landmarks and its paths are heavily traveled by tourists. Seaside’s accommodation of tourism is also 52

used by academics and critics to question the authenticity of the development. One need not look beyond the city limits of Ann Arbor, Michigan, to question the legitimacy of this argument. The two main active public spaces in Ann Arbor exist in the form of corridors found along State Street and Main Street. The former is primarily the domain of non-resident students, while the latter is mostly frequented by middle-aged out-of-towners. This fabric took years to develop, and continues to evolve. Should Duany be disparaged for achieving on 80 acres in a short period of time what towns and cities struggle to accomplish in countless years and often endless square miles? Furthermore, could not Seaside develop unplanned “everyday urbanism” over time, as do so many other towns and cities? Another flaw in Sorkin’s line of criticism against NU can be seen in his paper “Starting From Zero” (2003), where he castigates any proposed scheme for Ground Zero that involves rebuilding on the footprint of former towers, supporting the idea of a memorial to the point where there should be very little built on the site. Once he realizes that this idea is unlikely to receive support, his scheme shifts from this to a more elaborate plan for lotus leaves springing from the ground to midrise towers, with the entire site encased in a giant glass dome. The thing that remains consistent in his plans is that the footprints are to be left relatively undeveloped. Sorkin’s writing on the plans for the World Trade Center site are similar to his critiques of New Urbanism, both in terms of his dismissal of all design ideas that are not his and his disinterest in economic concerns in favor of extensive preservation. The idea of preservation, both physical and social, often comes into question with New Urbanist developments. But at what point should financial concerns influence design? If an area like Norfolk, Virginia, were to preserve all of its impoverished population or a brownfield site like Georgetown, Connecticut, were to attempt to return to the majority of its outdated industrial uses, both areas would likely falter. Redevelopment based on preservation does not always result in improvement, and can often result in further bouts of decay.

The Role of Architectural Criticism

When architects seek better solutions to existing designs, they should set examples with their own work. When that work falls under the contemplation of an extreme pessimist, prone to oversimplifications and reluctant to deal with specifics or offer constructive suggestions, dialogue becomes lost in a framework of generalizations. Manfredo Tafuri was credited with the idea of “operative criticism,” whereby a concern is shown for propaganda and capitalism’s detriment to architecture and history. He urged architects to practice and leave the field of writing to critics, so that they would stop reinventing Agora’09

history through their own personal agendas. The term could also be applied to critics calling themselves architects who present their perspective through thick lenses. One would be led to believe from all the moaning about others’ built work being “disengaging from the existing city” that Sorkin Studio would boast exemplary projects of its own. Instead, the studio features work that has never left the drawing board and visions so divorced from reality or any city’s complex ecology that some are titled (perhaps appropriately) “Somewhere in America.” The End(s) of Urban Design follows the thinking that there is no perspective beyond that of the writer, and it neither allows the readers to formulate their own opinions about the subject nor encourages constructive input to further the field of urbanism.


Baird, George. 2004. “Criticality” and its discontent. Harvard Design Magazine, Fall-Winter: 16-21. Bressi, Todd W. 2003. The Seaside debates: A critique of the New Urbanism. New York: Rizzoli. CNU. Congress for the New Urbanism. 2001. Charter of the Congress for the New Urbanism. (accessed March 2009).

Krieger, Alex. 1998. Whose urbanism? Architecture, November: 73-77. Levin, Edward S. 1994. Manfredo Tafuri; The historian vs. the critic. New York Times, response to editor, May 29. Mahoney, David, and Keller Easterling. 1991. Seaside. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. Marshall, Alex. 2001. Seaside turns twenty. Metropolis, September-October: 28-29. Marshall, Alex. 2000. A more benevolent sprawl. Metropolis, August-September: 110, 113. Marshall, Alex. 1996. Suburb in disguise. Metropolis, JulyAugust: 70-71, 100-103. Marshall, Alex. What makes a neighborhood viable? Metropolis, November: 13, 16-17. Marshall, Alex. 1995. When the New Urbanism meets an old neighborhood. Metropolis, May: 38, 41-43. Smart Code Central. Smart Code version 9.2. http:// (accessed March 2009).

DPZ. Duany, Platter-Zyberk and Company. Projects. (accessed March 2009).

Smith, Neil. 1993. Reasserting spatial difference. ANY, July-August: 22-3, 29-37.

Duany, Andres, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Robert Alminana. 2003. The new civic art: Elements of town planning. New York: Rizzoli.

Sitte, Camillo. 1889. City planning according to artistic principles. George R. Collings and Chirstiane Crasemann Collins, trans. London: Phaidon Press, 1965: 91-104, 105112.

Dunham-Jones, Ellen. 2005. Surburban retrofits, demographics, and sustainability. Places, Summer: 8-19.

Sorkin, Michael. 2003a. The end(s) of urban design. Harvard Design Magazine, Winter: 5-18.

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Sorkin, Michael. 2003b. Starting from zero. New York: Routledge.

Harvey, David. 1997. The New Urbanism and the communitarian trap: On social problems and the false hope of design. Harvard Design Magazine, Winter-Spring: 68-69. Hawthorne, Christopher. 2001. Technicolor modernism. Metropolis, January: 100, 103. Kim, Joongsub. 2000. Creating community: Does Kentlands live up to its goals? Places, Spring: 48-55. Agora’09

Steuteville, Robert. 2003. Light rail and a real downtown for Kentlands. Urban News, July-August. h t t p : / / w w w. u r b a n n e w s . c o m / KentlandsCharrette.html (accessed March 2009). Varsa, Krisztian. 2007. Should Kentlands be the model of the New Urbanist movement? html (accessed March 2009). Unwin, Raymond. 1994. Town planning in practice. New York: Princeton Press. 53

Basel, Switzerland Photo: Nicole Eisenmann 54


A Comparative Study of U.S. and Swiss Transportation Systems Marie Clarence Chollet While I was studying environmental sciences and urban studies in Switzerland, I was shocked by the general consensus that seems to prevail in the French literature about the failure of the United States to build efficient cities. Relentlessly, U.S. land use and transportation systems were cited as the “worst that could happen” and the “example to avoid.” For this reason, I decided to study urban planning in the U.S. in order to truly experience what is the American way of life, its shortcomings and its advantages. Today, I am more able to compare my native country with my temporary adoptive country, but I caution the reader that this study will inevitably be influenced by my cultural background and that this could result in a few biases.


The United States has been perceived as the “nation of cars” throughout the 20th century, and this has not changed as the country has entered a new century. However, where it was once positively seen as a leader in automotive technology, opinions worldwide over the last few decades are changing as environmental and social concerns have grown stronger. The U.S. performs weakly in both domains: it has the second largest ecological footprint per person in the world (WWF International, 2008) and its Gini index of family income, measuring in percentage the inequality of income distribution, is 45, comparable to Cameroon, Jamaica, and Uruguay (CIA World Factbook). In comparison, the European Union has an ecological footprint per person of 4.7, exactly half the U.S. average of 9.4. In Switzerland, the figure is 5.0 (WWF, 2008). Concerning the Gini index, the European Union is performing better than the U.S. again, with an index of 30.3 in 2003; Switzerland’s was 33.7 in 2008. These are only arbitrary examples, but are frequently used as indicators of sustainability. In the transportation field, these issues of sustainability are taken very seriously and literature is abundant on that theme. Smart growth, alternative modes of transportation, densification, and social equity—among many others—are commonly studied by American scholars and taught at universities. Reference is sometimes made to the European continent because its countries are perceived to be more ecologically viable and socially equitable. The Agora’09

indicators presented above show that this assumption is, at least arguably, true. However, not everyone agrees that Europe would be useful as a model. In the report prepared by the Committee for an International Comparison of National Policies and Expectation Affecting Public Transit (2001), the view is well described: “Reports ... [written by teams of transit managers from across the U.S. who visited cities in West Europe and Canada] describe many innovative practices, services, and technologies with potential for application in the United States. The teams often prefaced their reports, however, by noting the distinct differences in the urban environments and transportation policies they witnessed abroad.” Others remain less skeptical of the U.S. applicability of European policies. Vukan Vuchic, in the provocative book “Transportation for Livable Cities” (1999), enumerates a number of “common misconceptions in urban transportation” (chapter 5). He argues that outcomes in this area often involve powerful lobbies supporting one particular mode of transportation; as a result, the opinions of transportation experts have a weak impact and biases or misconceptions are often at the center of decisions. Vuchic mentions two misconceptions about what is happening in peer countries and describes how these relate to the situation in the United States. These two misconceptions will structure this paper. First, Vuchic criticizes U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) officials who claimed that “There is no fundamental difference between Europe and the United States in urban 55

transportation conditions and trends. In spite of all efforts to balance modes, European countries continue to follow the same trends” (Vuchic 1999, 221). According to Vuchic, European policies are successful and modal distribution is better balanced on the Old Continent. Second, he attacks authors like Anthony Downs and Martin Wachs who argue that “Political realities do not allow the introduction of auto-use disincentives measures” (Vuchic 1999, 223 (emphasis added)). In his opinion, such policies could also be applicable in the U.S. In order to discuss these two statements, I will compare the United States to another well-developed nation with which I am familiar: Switzerland. Contrary to the U.S. and as noted earlier, Switzerland is often viewed as one of the leaders in public transportation and ecological preservation, with a “transportation system [that] is terrific and well integrated” (Marty, 2009). The purpose of the paper is to discuss the differences between the two countries with regard to transportation, and also highlight the similarities. Using statistics, literature, and personal experience, I try to demonstrate that the statements cited by Vuchic are indeed misconceptions, but that they also reflect a part of reality that cannot be ignored.

The Two Countries and their Transportation Systems

Switzerland and the United States are very similar in many ways. First of all, both countries are democratic, federal states with a decentralized government that roughly functions at three levels (local, regional and national) and operates nationally via a bicameral legislative assembly (CIA World Factbook). Second, both countries are highly developed: using the human development index of the United Nations, Switzerland occupied the seventh place and the U.S. the twelfth according to the 2007/08 world rankings (UNDPa). And, finally, the two countries experience relative constant economic growth. The Gross

Domestic Product growth rate was 2.2 percent in the United States in 2007 and 2.6 percent in Switzerland the same year (CIA World Factbook). However, numerous dissimilarities also exist. The most important is the difference in size: 7,581,520 inhabitants and a total area of 41,290 square kilometers in 2008 in Switzerland, versus 303,824,640 inhabitants for a total area of 9,826,630 square kilometers the same year in the United States – making it the third largest country in the world in size and population (see table 1). In comparison, Switzerland is about the size of the Michigan Upper Peninsula and has fewer inhabitants than the city of New York. The population density is also very different, as Switzerland has 190 inhabitants per square kilometers and the U.S. only 33. Both countries are crossed by major mountain ranges (The Alps and The Jura in Switzerland (Swissworld); the Appalachian, Cascade, Klamath, Rocky, and Sierra Nevada Mountain Ranges in the U.S. (University of Oregon)) and, with the addition of arid zones in the U.S., this implies that a consistent part of their territory is hard to colonize. In terms of transportation, the two systems are greatly different. We will explore this in more detail later in this paper, but we can note here two interesting similarities. To begin, both countries have an extensive rail network. Surprisingly, the U.S. has the longest national railway system in the world (CIA World Factbook). On the other hand, Switzerland has a smaller network in absolute terms, but its density is one of the highest in the world. This fact is certainly linked to the second similarity: the two countries have a very high percentage of rail freight compared to other countries (see Table 1). In 2005, 42 percent of the total freight tons per kilometer were transported by train in Switzerland, while in the U.S. the figure was 38 percent. The comparable European Union figure was only 10 percent in that same year (UIC).

Table 1



Table 2

As for finances, the federal budget allocated to the transportation sector varies considerably between the two countries (see Table 1). In the U.S., 2.3 percent of the federal budget went to transportation in 2007. Of this, 13.5 percent went to transit, 1.5 percent to rail, and 60 percent to highways. In Switzerland, in 2006, 14.5 percent of the federal budget was dedicated to transportation, from which 35.5 percent went to roads and 60 percent to public transportation (57 percent to trains and three percent to transit). Both sets of statistics take into account passenger and freight transportation.

Transportation Infrastructure

In terms of transportation infrastructure, we can note again that the Swiss railway network is considerably denser than in America. There are 162,256 km of railways in the US and 5,062 km in Switzerland (see Table 2). This means that there are 12.3 km of railroad per 100 square kilometers in Switzerland and 1.6 km per 100 square kilometers in the United States. In terms of kilometers per inhabitants, the difference is less notable: 0.7 km per 1000 persons in Switzerland and 0.5 km in the U.S. However, this difference is amplified by the fact that the compactness of Switzerland implies shorter distances between cities (or any other places), so the need of railway kilometers is smaller to result in the same connectivity. Concerning roads, Switzerland had 71,321 km of roads in 2006 of which 1,361 km were highways. In the same year, the U.S. had 6,456,096 km of roads of which 261,314 km were highways. Compared to the total area of the countries, one sees little difference: 3.3 km of highway per 100 square kilometers in Switzerland, and 2.7 km per 100 square kilometers in the U.S. This contrasts Agora’09

with the significant difference between the densities of railroad. In terms of roads relative to population, we find 0.2 km per 1000 inhabitants in Switzerland and 0.9 km in the U.S. These indicators taken separately are somewhat hard to interpret because of overall density issues, but the comparison between roads and railways shows that the rail network is comparatively more developed in Switzerland while highways are relatively more developed in the United States. Looking to trends over time, transportation infrastructure experienced differing rates of growth and decline between the two countries over the last decade. Railway growth almost stagnated in Switzerland (perhaps due to the already high density of the network) and heavily decreased in the U.S. However, one should note for the U.S. that while traditional rail infrastructure 
 decreased, rail transit as a modal category is increasing. As for roads, the highway network grew considerably in Switzerland and slowly in the U.S., again as one might expect given the initial state of each network. This seems to contradict the opinion of Vuchic that Europe is better able to balance different modes over time, but as we will see later this disproportionate growth recently in roads over railways can be explained by more than modal preferences. Another good transportation indicator is the number of vehicles per inhabitant. Again, this number varies significantly between the two countries: from 522 passenger cars per thousand inhabitants in Switzerland to 763 in the U.S. Regarding trends, the number of cars in Switzerland, importantly, shows an annual growth of 16.2 percent between 1960 and 1990. Comparatively, the population growth has been very small – less than one percent annually over that period. In the U.S., the growth in passenger cars per inhabitant was significantly lower in those decades, while the population grew faster. From 1990 to the present, however, the growth in passenger car ownership in the two countries was more similar, at around two to three times the rate of population growth (see Table 3). According to the Committee for an International Comparison of National Policies and Expectation Affecting Public Transit (2001), the increase in vehicles on the road has been different between North America and Europe because of the consequences of the two World Wars: “recovering from two devastating world wars, few Western Europeans could afford automobiles before the 1960s, and fewer still could afford new homes farther outside the city” (3). At the same time, the wealthier nations of North America could afford cars, suburban homes, and 57

Table 3

the freeways necessary for this type of expansion. Over time, the growth in the number of cars slowed in the U.S. at the same time that cars started to flourish in Switzerland. However, despite this recent growth, cars are still less present in Switzerland than in the U.S. and trends would seem to predict an overall slower growth in the number of cars relative to the population in Switzerland.

Modal Distribution of Travels

More relevant than infrastructure indicators in the transportation sector is the modal split of travels, which reflects actual usage of the infrastructure. Unfortunately, easily comparable data are few as the two countries use different measurements, so providing a straightforward overview of the subject is difficult. In Switzerland, a survey among a sample population gives statistics on the number of kilometers traveled by person including journey outside the country. In the U.S., only travels within the country are counted. The statistics provided also come from several different sources, which may decrease accuracy because the metric of passenger-miles does not result from a single, unique survey but rather from various counts. One should note, additionally, that Swiss statistics take into

account non-motorized transportation but the chosen U.S. statistics do not include pedestrians and cyclists. However, these data can be compared with care, and this is presented in Table 4. Calculations show that the modal split of total travels is very different between the two countries. Journeys by car only represent 55 percent of the total distance traveled by Swiss people annually, while the share of passenger-miles for cars and light trucks in the U.S. is 85 percent. Distance traveled by transit accounts for almost 20 percent in Switzerland while the same modes represent less than 3.5 percent of U.S. passenger-miles. The high percentage of air travel in the average modal split in Switzerland is due to the fact that travels outside the country are taken into account. Flights represent long distance compared to the relatively small distances that the national area allows. Moreover, low-cost air companies— which are still not widespread in the U.S.—considerably changed European habits about intra-continental travel, because the cost was significantly lower than for other modes. From Table 4, we can also note that the average American travels longer distance annually than the average Swiss. This is especially noticeable for car travel—the

Table 4



kilometers per person per year traveled in the U.S. are more than double the Swiss figure. But, again, these results should be taken with care as the comparability of data is questionable. Fortunately, statistics about work commuting are also available in the two countries and are somewhat more comparable, though U.S. statistics only count the “principal” mode of transportation to commute and Switzerland takes into account all used modes. Once again, we see that cars represent a smaller share of the modal split, even if the difference is less clear. Basically, we can say that almost all Americans commute to work by car and that two thirds of Swiss people commute by car, while one third use other means (predominantly public transportation). Concerning the trends, the share of individual motorized transportation in total daily distance has been decreasing in Switzerland since 1994, but overall stayed relatively constant. The share of public transportation increased considerably between 2000 and 2005, mostly because of train ridership (FSO, ARE & Ecoplan, 2006). In the U.S., the share of car commuting actually decreased slightly between 2000 and 2005, though the public transportation and non-motorized share also decreased. This has an easy explanation: the sector that increased the most significantly was the share of people working at home. Reviewing the data overall, one can see that across many indicators Switzerland is less dependent on the car than is the U.S. Moreover, the trends are not showing any patterns that public transportation is becoming deficient in Switzerland, while the U.S. continues to show a strong dependence on the automobile without a significant increase in public transit’s share in the modal split.

Table 5

behavior in the five largest metropolitan areas for the two countries to further investigate differences and similarities. Data availability restricted the analysis to commuting travel, but as noted earlier this is still a very good indicator of modal split patterns as it represents a large part of the total movement of people. The Swiss data set is very similar to the American as it takes into account the main transportation used to commute; however, it is characterized by a high level of missing data (between 10 and 20 percent). Upon examining the figures in Table 6, one can clearly see the predominance of car travel in the United States. The variance is much greater among U.S. metropolitan areas than in Switzerland, but this is largely due to the inclusion of New York—the perpetual American outlier (among the other four cities, the range in percents is from 81.8 to 92.0). In Switzerland, the share of transit in all five metropolitan areas is higher than in the American cities, as are the share of non-motorized modes and people working at home. Moreover, the share

Table 6

In the Cities

Urban transportation is usually perceived as a better indicator than data at the national level, probably because modal choice is greater in urban areas. Moreover, urban population represents the majority of citizens in both countries (75 percent in Switzerland and 80 percent in the U.S. (UNDPb)), so I decided to analyze the transportation Agora’09


of car usage in all five of the largest Swiss cities is lower than the national average, while the Dallas Metropolitan Statistical Area actually has a car share higher than the U.S. national average. One would expect urban transportation conditions to be “better” in larger cities, and while this is always true in Switzerland it is not necessarily so in the United States. To better understand these differences, it is interesting to investigate the land use patterns among the ten metropolitan areas. A good general indicator is the proportion of the population living in the central city (see Table 7). Again, New York City appears as an outlier, even when compared to the Swiss cities. It is not surprising if we take into consideration the fact that this is one of the densest cities in the world.

Table 7

Except for the New York case, all Swiss central cities represent a higher share of the total metropolitan population. This can be taken as an indicator of lower rates of urban sprawl. From these tables, we can also see that even if a greater proportion of the population lives in the city center in New York, the share of cars is still higher there than in any Swiss metropolitan area. Therefore, it would be wrong to draw a perfect correlation between assumed urban sprawl and the resulting modal split.

Politics and Government

In the governmental sector, Switzerland when compared to the U.S. has an interesting particularity: the Federal Office of Transport only takes care of public 60

transit. This Office was officially created in 1998, but railroads have been part of the Swiss administration since 1879. Roads and car-related affairs are included in the Federal Roads Authority (both offices belong to the Department of the Environment, Transports, Energy and Communication (DETEC)). Another important office related to the transportation field is the Federal Office for Spatial Development (ARE), which deals with planning issues. Urban transportation is becoming gradually a federal concern managed by the ARE, which is also part of the DETEC. However, except for national roads (mainly highways) and national railroads, the most significant part of passengers’ transportation is managed by the governments of the regions (Cantons) and locales (Communes), while freight is mainly managed at the federal level (DETEC Website). With regard to policy, one should note the higher level of taxes on everything related to cars or similar modes of transport in Switzerland. The policy of cost internalization leads to a complete independence of the road sector as motorized transportation taxes cover the total costs of road-related expenses, although some environmental and social costs are probably still external. A variety of different taxes apply to the automobile in Switzerland, but the most important is the petroleum tax, an excise tax encompassing: (1) a petroleum tax on crude oil, other mineral oils, natural gas, their processed products, and engine fuels and (2) a petroleum surtax on engine fuels that has been collected since 1996. In January 2009, the petroleum tax and surtax on gas was 73.12 Swiss Francs cents per liter (or about 83 U.S. Dollars cents per liter ) and 75.87 Swiss Francs cents on diesel (or about 86 U.S. Dollars cents). In addition to this tax, the Swiss pay a national value added tax (7.6 percent of the fuel price), the “climatic cent” (which is actually 1.5 cents), and other taxes such as 0.5 cents for fuel and 1.5 cents for diesel. In January 2009, 84.49 Swiss Francs cents per gas liter were taxes, out of a total price of 134.00 Swiss Francs cents per gas liter (or 63 percent of the price of every liter). For diesel, the figures were 89.96 out of 157.00 per liter, or 57 percent. These taxes seem very high but are still relatively low compared to other European countries. In addition to these taxes, one pays a 40 Swiss Francs per year user fee for highways and relatively high registration fees depending on the type of car driven and the region. These taxes could increase in the coming years as the national parliament has discussed a CO2 tax if Kyoto targets are not reached (WWF). Public transportation used to rely on the Federal tax revenue, but recently, an “infrastructure fund” has been created which can be used for urban transportation improvement, primarily focusing on the transit sector. This fund is fed by diverse road taxes like the petroleum tax and the highway user fee. I will assume the reader is more familiar with Agora’09

individual decisions, it does not totally shape people’s transportation politics in the U.S., but for comparison a habits. quick review is helpful. In the United States, the Department Kaufmann mentioned the high environmental of Transportation—created in 1966—is divided into awareness of Germanic people as a way to explain eleven administrations including the Federal Highway differences between cities in the German and the French Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration and parts of Switzerland, the latter being usually more autothe Federal Transit Administration (U.S. DOT Office of oriented. But he also noted a general tendency to use the Historian). The first mention of railroads in the United transit more frequently in Switzerland than in France. States Administration was the Pacific Railway Act in 1862. In other words, both culture and policy have an effect Like in Switzerland, the Federal Highway Administration on transportation patterns, and one policy would not is in charge of the national roads and the Federal Transit automatically erase cultural differences. We can extend this Administration provides incentives to develop urban finding and predict that divergent underlying culture in the mass transit, but the transit management is mostly local U.S. and Swiss would bring divergent outcomes, even with or regional (US DOT Website). The main difference in the same policy implementation. the administration of the two countries resides in the To begin, and this can apply to many other railroad affairs that are consequently more important in countries in Europe, one sees an obvious space issue. Switzerland. The U.S. Federal Railroad Administration Americans do not face a major territorial constraint; they mainly deals with safety issues and, in addition, rail is have arguably enough space to accommodate many times almost non-existent at the lower levels of government the current population. In Europe, which faces such (USFRA). constraints, densities are understandably much higher and On the American side, innovative policies to land is often seen as a much scarcer resource. In a very support sustainable transportation are few. Roads are small country like Switzerland, where almost all accessible still heavily subsidized and taxes designed to internalize land is used, this concern is particularly important. costs in the transportation sector are very small compared Also, one finds a to those in most level of environmental European countries. “This paper does not seek to give a set of awareness among Swiss There is a Federal Gas recommendations to improve transit in people that is not found Tax of 18.4 cents per the U.S., but rather to try to emphasize the in every country. The gallon and state taxes fact that there is space for improvement presence of the Alps vary. For example, in in the transportation systems and that as one of the national Michigan the state tax well-designed policies could have symbols contributes is 19 cents per gallon significant benefits.” to this awareness. For for gas and 15 cents example, in 1994 the per gallon for diesel, Alps initiative, which put the modal transfer of freight plus a six percent sales tax and 0.875 cents per gallon from road to rail into the Constitution, was accepted by environmental regulation fee for a refined petroleum fund. 51.9 percent of the population even if it implied heavy But in New York, the tax is 31.9 cents per gas gallon. costs and a total freeze of the construction of new roads The average gas tax in the country, federal and state tax across the Alps (Alps Initiative). This initiative in part made combined, is 45 cents per gallon, or 12 cents per liter. As possible the continuation of the AlpTransit project begun in Switzerland, vehicle license fees vary by vehicle type and two years prior, which involved building two base tunnels state. through the mountains, one of which will be the longest The Cultural Component railway tunnel in the world after its expected completion It would be easy to conclude this report by saying in 2018 (Swiss Federal Transport Office). In addition to that the U.S. should adopt Swiss policies to increase the this high-profile example, most votes on issues involving modal share of transit and non-motorized transportation public transportation have been accepted by the Swiss and to decrease the auto-dependency of the population. population (Swiss Public Transport Union). However, this conclusion would fail to address the issue of Finally, the overall perception of transit seems culture. Transit does not only work in Switzerland because completely different in Switzerland. The trains are a source of high automobile-related taxes and a comprehensive of national pride—almost like the Matterhorn—and are railway network. Kaufmann (2003) showed that the full of businesspeople who use them to commute to work implementation of transit-oriented policies and building since parking is not available or extremely expensive in the of supportive infrastructure in several cities in France and city centers. I have often heard Swiss people claim that Switzerland led to varying results. He concludes that while they can go from every point of the country to another the transportation supply is an important component in Agora’09


using transit, and that people can be 95 percent sure to arrive on time at their destination. This cultural background, along with a set of very efficient policies, shapes the Swiss transportation systems. The consequences of this are easily visible in the above-noted national statistics, especially when compared to the United States. The cultural component should not be overestimated. The differences that exist between the German- and French-speaking parts of Switzerland create differing transportation outcomes, as Kaufmann (2003) noted, and these differences are relatively small compared to the gaps existing between the U.S. and Switzerland. For this reason, while many if not most of the policies in place in Switzerland could be successfully implemented in the United States, one must be cognizant that the implementation of such policies would have to account for cultural realities.

Switzerland has a diversified transportation system where cars are common but are not the only viable mode, while in the U.S. cars are sometimes used by more than 90 percent of the population. As I emphasized at the beginning of this paper, environmental and social issues are still newer elements to consider in transportation research. As the U.S. likely adapts its overall system to address these new concerns, the benefit will in part flow to the transit sector. The future is still unclear, but changes are probably on their way…

A Vision for the Future of the United States

As the Committee for International Comparison of National Policies and Expectation Affecting Public Transit (2001) clearly states, it will take several decades to reshape American cities to make them suitable for a complete, viable transit network. However, as Vuchic would agree, the extent of the task should not be used as an excuse to avoid actions. As international pressure and individual awareness among Americans grows stronger, we can hope that this is the dawn of a new era where transit will become more popular in the U.S. However, the government must not only support the change, but rather initiate it, as it is often the case in Switzerland. To begin, in the country where the free market is often advocated as the solution to all problems, the internalization of transportation cost could bring many benefits while still being justifiable in the capitalist context. Internalization through the various means outlined above has been successfully implemented in Switzerland—which has what one would call a right-wing government—so in theory it should have some potential for success in the U.S. This paper does not seek to give a set of recommendations to improve transit in the U.S., but rather to try to emphasize the fact that there is space for improvement in the transportation systems and that welldesigned policies could have significant benefits. However, the importance that the cultural background plays cannot be denied. Vuchic argues that auto-use disincentives as used in Europe are indeed conceivable in the United States, but this should not mean that policies have to be modeled exactly after those in Europe. Indeed, well-tailored policy must bear in mind its target population in order to find continuing support. In conclusion, this comparison of Switzerland and the U.S. revealed two very different current situations and trends within the transportation sector. Not surprisingly, 62

Geneva, Switzerland Photo: Allison Craddock


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of world cities. Cities 16 (6): 445-458. CIA World Factbook. publications/the-world-factbook/index.html. Committee for an International Comparison of National Policies and Expectation Affecting Public Transit. 2001. Making Transit Work: Insight from Western Europe, Canada, and the United States. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. DETEC. Swiss Department of the Environment, Transports, Energy, and Communication. http://www. Kaufmann, V. 2003. Pratiques modales des déplacements de personnes en milieu urbain : des rationalités d’usage à la cohérence de l’action publique. Revue d’Economie Régionale et Urbaine (1) : 39-58.

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U.S. Census Bureau. American FactFinder. http:// U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). http://www. (accessed March 1, 2009). U.S. DOT Office of the Historian. gov/Historian (accessed March 7, 2009). USFRA, United States Federal Railroad Administration. (accessed March 2, 2009). U.S. Office of Management and Budget. 2008. Historical Tables—Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2009. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government. Vuchic, V.R. 1999. Transportation for Livable Cities. New Brunswick, N.J.: Center for Urban Policy Research. WWF International. 2008. Living Planet Report—2008. Gland, Switzerland: WWF International. 63

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Photo Collage: Matthew Schildkret 64


Bogging Down the Neighborhood: Community Development Block Grant Social Service Provision and Community Participation

Megan Gilster

The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) was passed in 1974 and is a major source of federal funding for urban social services. While social planning, e.g. planning with attention to community well-being, is often regulated to the margins of the field, there is a relationship between the process and outcomes of social planning for the effectiveness of urban policy as a whole. This paper reviews the implementation of community participation and social service provision and finds that the incorporation of multiple stakeholders is a key component of effective participation and policy implementation. The differences in priorities between local residents, activists, service providers, and leadership should not be ignored. Social service provision became a dominant activity because of the dominance of service providers in community participation. This paper concludes by offering suggestions for urban policy in a renewed era of participation.

Social planning is urban planning with special emphasis on the social well-being of a community. At the same time, the physical/social divide in urban planning places community-level social intervention at the margins of the field. This paper examines the funding of social service agencies through US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), in an attempt to highlight the role of community participation in effective implementation of urban policy. This paper analyzes the history of the Community Development Block Grant with particular attention to the causes and consequences of community participation and social service provision (defined broadly by HUD as education, child care, elderly, etc...). First, it looks at how community participation was shaped initially by the historical context and then by politics at the local and federal levels. Then, it examines social planning with particular attention to how community participation and the political context that influenced participation also influenced social planning as an anti-poverty and development strategy. It focuses on evidence that the variable components of the program—social service provision, community participation, and the redistribution of resources to low- and moderate-income persons—are interwoven in interesting ways. To do this, it examines the evolution and effectiveness of community development Agora’09

programs from the 1950s through the 1980s and then explores the implications of this historical context for current urban policy.

Background and Social Context

In the 1940s and 1950s the federal government’s main “community” intervention strategy was the practice of urban renewal. The Housing Act of 1949 established the first federal urban renewal program with the objectives of eliminating substandard housing, stimulating development, and establishing suitable living environments (Anderson 1964). Under urban renewal, the federal government seized blighted private properties through eminent domain. For residents of poor neighborhoods, urban renewal was synonymous with housing demolition and relocation. In theory, federal urban renewal should have seized property for the purpose of public use, but in practice, it resold it to private developers for their benefit (Halpern 1995). When rebuilding occurred, it focused primarily on central business districts benefiting local elites. Urban renewal policies also reinforced neighborhood segregation along race and class lines by disproportionately dislocating African Americans. When seeking alternative housing, they were limited to areas immediately surrounding the demolished neighborhood because of racist restrictive covenants, housing discrimination, and lending discrimination (Anderson 1964; Hall 1996). 65

At the same time, urban planners were building high-rise public housing projects—in a sense recreating the poor neighborhoods they were destroying in other parts of the city. Housing projects enforced tight income requirements as a means to ward off fraudulent tenants (Hays 1995). This likely created high turnover (i.e., residents who became slightly upwardly mobile would be evicted) and may have been an additional social blow to these communities, eliminating leaders and creating instability (Hays 1995). Although planners believed that the physical attributes of the buildings would be beneficial for building social ties, there was little about the structures that were not socially harmful (Halpern 1995). Corrupt local officials hired contractors who used shoddy construction practices for financial gains. Stigmatizing deficiencies, such as toilets without seats and elevators that stopped on every other floor, were found throughout (Hays 1995). Social service agencies attempted to provide services but often were unable to serve the entire population or address all of the social problems. The relationship between the social service providers and the local public housing authorities was tenuous; housing authorities were often reluctant to share control (Halpern 1995). The 1960s could be characterized as a reaction to preceding policies at both the community and national levels. The failure of federal housing policy—both in addressing the needs of the poor and exacerbating social problems in poor neighborhoods—served as a catalyst around which neighborhoods organized as part of the larger civil rights movement. Some organizers targeted local elites who profited from corrupt development practices. Others focused on the need for services to address the problems associated with these policies. As we will see below, the government often responded to activists by trying to appease residents, but rarely eradicated social problems.

Early Foundation & Government Programs

Initial responses to the context of urban disinvestment came from private foundation initiatives rather than the federal government. With private funding sources, foundations had more flexibility to create new responses to social problems. The Ford Foundation, for example, planned and funded initiatives that experimented with community participation and social service provision. Two small federal programs, the Community Action Program (CAP) and Model Cities, grew out of these foundation initiatives. Both foundation and government programs lead the way for CDBG, a large-scale federal blanket program. Foundation programming was a response to the growing awareness of problems in poor communities and fear of continued social unrest in the early 1960s and laid the groundwork for later War on Poverty 66

programs (O’Connor 1996). Launched in 1961, The Ford Foundation’s Gray Areas Program aimed to revitalize the neighborhood as a social system (Ylvisaker 1963). The philosophy of the Gray Areas Program, as outlined by Ford Foundation programmatic director Ylvisaker (1963), was to change neighborhoods socially with a “spirit” akin to “cool-headed generals and far-sighted diplomats” not “fiery patriots” (i.e., militant leaders) who should “give way to avoid…permanent civil war,” (4). Thus, it was clear that an attempt to create common welfare would come from a middle ground strategy rather than through radical means. But Ylvisaker also saw that social problems were ignored or exacerbated by the physical orientation of urban renewal. Social services—especially those focused on education, employment, and the justice system—were therefore important aspects of the Gray Areas Program strategy. He also saw the need to create “indigenous leadership and the spirit of self-help” (4), but his examples of indigenous leadership highlight the participation of professionals in the city rather than community members of targeted neighborhoods. Mobilization for Youth (MFY) was another initiative funded by the Ford Foundation and others that addressed social problems in poor neighborhoods. MFY was similar to the Gray Areas Program in its assumptions, but its mode of action—orientation towards community members—was quite different. Although its purpose was to improve social services and opportunities in neighborhoods to end delinquency, the program focused on organizing neighborhood residents in response to social issues that were important to them. This was significant in that it was the first initiative to encourage residents to define the agenda (Halpern 1995). The Federal government responded by instituting the Community Action Program (CAP). Influenced by MFY, CAP required maximum feasible resident participation (Halpern, 1995). This emphasis on resident participation was a major shift in policy from the earlier Urban Renewal programs in which elites maintained control of decision-making (Cole 1975). Local governments and social service organizations resisted the call for extensive participation because they wanted to maintain control over the local community action agencies (CAA; Halpern 1995). In 1966 after local leaders refused to comply, the House Labor and Public Welfare Committee passed amendments requiring that one third of CAA boards be comprised of poor people. Still, the poorest, and most disenfranchised were not on CAA boards. Activists and black militant leaders began asking for positions on the board. Although they were eventually accepted onto the boards, many scholars and activists have questioned the motives for their inclusion. Halpern believes this was an attempt to co-opt direct action oriented groups into the system of social service provision. By helping to divert Agora’09

the language of participation, but created a flexible these activist groups away from direct action and towards environment that could easily thwart it. social service provision, the threat of unrest was tempered. CDBG was part of Nixon’s plan to overhaul At the same time, some politicians argued that allowing federal approaches, yet it was not a decisive break from poor people to guide the War on Poverty was like allowing previous programs. Nixon subscribed to new federalism, the sick to run a hospital (Halpern 1995). Participation by an approach to government favoring a diminished role of area residents was a federal requirement that was met with the federal government especially in local policies. To meet a great deal of resistance. When forced to comply with the the conditions of new federalism, HUD sought a limited legislation, the resistance became rhetorical—poor people role in the implementation of CDBG. HUD did this by not were dangerous and ill equipped and must be pacified. publishing a handbook interpreting the CDBG in the first Model Cities, a second federal program, was a years of implementation. This approach was an attempt component of the Demonstration Cities and Metropolitan to foster flexibility in implementation at the local level, Development Act of 1966 that targeted disadvantaged but it failed to anticipate the questions that would arise neighborhoods. President Johnson originally proposed regarding implementation and eligibility. The legislation the program, but Congress passed it only after decreasing did not clearly define the role of community participation, funding and increasing the number of cities allowed to redistribution of participate—effectively resources, or the diluting the program’s “The federal government has the provision of social efforts. Model Cities unique opportunity to reframe CDBG by services; therefore, was the first to include emphasizing participation of residents of local officials social and economic poor communities and a broader focus were frequently improvements along with on addressing inequality.” unsure about these physical improvement, requirements making it substantially (Nathan, et al. 1977). different from previous In their analysis of 61 CDBG funded sites, Nathan legislation. Model Cities stressed community participation, and colleagues (1977) found that most local governments but not to the extent required in CAP (Nathan, Dommel, attempted to meet the requirements of community Liebschutz, & Morris 1977). It did not specify either the participation as interpreted. However, even among those extent or manner in which community members should who believed citizen participation was important, there participate and because local governments received the was wariness. For example, in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, funding, it left room for political elites to influence how city officials carefully fulfilled HUD expectations without community participation was executed (Cole 1975). raising the expectations of community members about Community Development Block Grant the benefits of CDBG funding. Similarly, in Carbondale, The Community Development Block Grant Illinois, officials claimed, “citizens have neither the (CDBG) was authorized in 1974 after a two-year time nor the expertise for a very active role,” (Nathan moratorium on federal housing programs in an effort to et al., 1977, 424). They found that in every locality they improve and repackage previous programs (Hays 1995). examined either elected officials or government-employed The CDBG program combined the following established professionals made the decisions about the role and power federal grant programs: urban renewal, model cities, water of citizen participation. and sewer facilities, open spaces, neighborhood facilities, Community participation looked quite different rehabilitation loans, and public facility loans. CDBG aimed in various communities, but the following three dominant to simplify federal grant-making and increase flexibility models were identified: public hearings, neighborhood of federal funds at the local level. Although CDBG meetings, and advisory boards. Of the studied communities, was less restrictive than the previous programs (termed thirteen localities relied solely on public hearings, which “categorical” programs), it had the following requirements: were typically held before drafting a CDBG application. a three-year community development plan, an annual Most often, community activists and organization leaders program statement for community development, a housing (Rimmerman 1985) attended public hearings. Seventeen assistance plan, citizen participation in implementation, localities held neighborhood meetings prior to holding information dissemination about implementation, and a public hearing. The neighborhood meetings were a spending priority for low- and moderate-income families way of informing residents about CDBG and gathering (Nathan, et al. 1977). Both urban renewal and Model Cities their input on neighborhood issues. The public hearings, were influential in framing the community participation which followed, were held to get input on draft proposals. and social planning aspects of CDBG. CDBG retained Neighborhood meetings had higher attendance than public Agora’09


hearings. Finally, thirty-one localities relied on advisory Advisory councils, neighborhood groups, and special boards as a form of citizen participation. Advisory boards interest groups dominated community participation. were more likely to represent the entire city, and less Members of neighborhood and special interest groups likely to represent members of poor communities. Less continued to attend public hearings (Dommel et al. 1980), than half of the advisory boards had a role in drafting an but records of neighborhood meetings disappeared from application. reports. The most common approach to the increased Nathan et al. (1977) found that the attitudes of federal regulations for community participation appears to local officials towards community participation were the be the inclusion of advocates and leaders from community most influential factor in determining the extent to which advisory boards. The form of community participation community views were reflected in the grant process. In allowing the least organized individuals to participate was the first program year, those communities in which public replaced by more formal participation of select members hearings and neighborhood meetings were held had the from advisory boards. most influential citizen participation (Nathan et al. 1977). In the 1980s, more drastic problems with This is significant because neighborhood meetings were housing and neighborhood poverty became apparent. also the easiest point of access for unorganized citizens. Homelessness emerged as a social problem, gaining Cole (1975) argues that organizations become national attention primarily because of the change in the active in the decision making process to gain better access demographic composition of the homeless population to funding sources (especially given the ambiguous context from single males to women and children (Hays 1995). of revenue sharing in CDBG). He therefore suggests that, Still, the Reagan administration reversed recent changes to through these organizations, communities have greater CDBG, minimizing the federal role. political power. Although Model Cities emphasized This backdrop of major social problems participation by residents of target areas, CDBG removed exacerbated by policy failings is reminiscent of the 1950s. this clause. Under CDBG, participation and control Yet this time, because of the political environment of the over decision-making Reagan administration, closely resembled the subsequent changes “The tie between development CAAs. Instead of area in policy did programs in neighborhoods and funding residents, community not address the community organizations can be traced organizations and local problems. Distressed throughout this history.” leaders were invited c o m mu n i t i e s to participate and experienced more accepted in hopes of hardships in the getting federal money (Cole 1975). However, Cole fails to 1980s, but CDBG failed to meet the growing need. The examine the extent to which these now active organizations amount of CDBG spending decreased in comparison to advocated for residents of the neighborhoods versus their community need (Rich 1991). own institutional gains. At the same time, more information about the As the political climate changed over the implementation of CDBG was available in the 1980s subsequent decades, so did community development and as such, many began to critique the program. Some legislation. Consistent with the Carter administration’s evaluators found that executive dominance in decisions goals, which were more in line with the 1960s War on about fund allocations diminished any incentive for Poverty programming, the 1977 legislation renewing community participation (Maier & Nachmias 1990). Lovell CDBG required a written plan for citizen participation (1983) reviewed research on community participation and and encouraged the participation of residents in low income targeting, finding that low income targeting blighted neighborhoods and those with low or moderate improved when HUD enforced it and community incomes. HUD also established stricter guidelines about participation was strong. This implies that allowing more implementation in 1979 and published several handbooks. discretion at the local government level was detrimental to It also began examining CDBG grantees with much low income communities. Yet this is precisely the direction more scrutiny (HUD 1982). This increased role of HUD that the Reagan administration took with CDBG policy. in the new legislation should have increased community While similar tensions existed in the 1980s as they did in participation, but failed to do so. the late 1960s, allies to community participation did not Community participation in decision-making exist in the anti-interventionist federal government. increased as the legislation became institutionalized and Lessons from Community Participation community participants acquired more knowledge of It is clear from this review of the history of the program, but the form of participation changed CDBG that local control plays heavily into the patterns (Dommel, Bach, Liebschutz, & Rubinowitz 1980). 68


of community participation. Hays (1995) points out that this issue of local control was something that had political support from unlikely coalitions. Both local liberal officials and conservative federal officials were in favor of increased local control and diminished federal intervention into local and state politics. It was not until the 1980s, that local control became less favorable among liberal officials as the gap between citizen participation and local control became evident. While programs that preceded CDBG used methods that empowered communities, CDBG did just the opposite. By giving the more power to the local government, community participation (especially by residents of poor neighborhoods) was marginalized. As neighborhood and social service organizations became the easiest, most common point of access to the decisionmaking structure, individual residents and activists were less likely to be involved in the process. Additionally, local control turned these organizations into advocates for their own self-interest. Organizations positioned themselves to advocate for funds to be allocated to their neighborhoods or organizations, but they had little control over larger local priorities.

Social Planning and Social Service Provision

For CDBG and the foundation and government programs immediately preceding it, social planning and social service provision was an important break from the problematic policies of urban renewal. Social planning, e.g. neighborhood planning geared toward improving the social conditions, could encompass the provision of social services, e.g., afterschool programs, but the plan should address the impact of physical planning on social and economic conditions of residents. However, social planning was not always carried out, leaving decisions about social service provision more susceptible to influence from social service agencies seeking funding. Although social service provision was an important innovation, its effectiveness was hampered because of haphazard implementation. The relationship between social planning and social service provision under CDBG can best be understood by examining the preceding programs. According to James L. Sundquist (1969), who helped plan the War on Poverty program as a member of President Johnson’s poverty task force, the CAAs turned towards social service provision and away from integrative planning. CAAs continued to be controlled by local government officials and social service organizations. Early programs overlapped in neighborhoods diffusing this decisionmaking structure. The Gray Areas Program, for example, encouraged localities to apply for federal CAP and Model Cities funding (Hays 1995). Social service agency leaders therefore became involved in all of these programs. Agora’09

With CDBG, social planning and social service provision was broadened. Social services could now be provided, not just for targeted neighborhoods, but also for whole communities. Although the legislation allowed for increased flexibility, the specifics of social service provision were so unclear, and interpreted so differently by HUD officials at federal and local levels, that social planning was weakened. While HUD legislation stated that social services “may be funded only if they are essential to physical development projects, and further, only if the jurisdiction had applied unsuccessfully for funding from other federal sources.” (p. 61 and section 105(a)(8) of the act), the provision of social services looked very different in each locality. Nathan et al. (1997) found that localities did not follow the regulations regarding social services. Most often they did not fund social services at all, and when they did, they followed a 20% ceiling for social services, which was proposed by the Senate but was not included in the final bill. Because a handbook was not issued, HUD would handle local questions by issuing public memos, which served as unofficial guidelines. As an example of misinterpretation, CDBG funds in a Texas community were allocated for the construction of multipurpose service centers but not social service programming costs in a rigid interpretation of the “physical development” component of the legislation (Nathan et al. 1997). Despite HUD’s attempt to give local government more flexibility, local government still worried about the consequences of misinterpreting federal requirements (i.e., losing funding) and therefore did not use CDBG flexibility for improving social planning or social services.

The Relationship between Participation and Social Service Provision

Cole (1975) finds that when community participation was allowed, cities spent a larger proportion of their funds in such areas as parks and recreation, social services, health facilities, and other amenities. Advocacy groups, in particular, increased the proportions of funds spent on social service provision. Dommel and colleagues (1980) found that allocations to social services were often a product of community group influence as well as homeostasis (i.e., a program that had been funded stays funded). Without the specific call for participation by residents of target areas, advocacy groups and community leaders dominated community participation. Their participation resulted in a bias towards social service provision. But because participation was still generally low, funding for social service provision declined during the first four years of the CDBG program and the distribution of social service funds to previous Model Cities neighborhoods declined from 40% to 25% (Dommel et al 1980). 69

Rosenfeld (1979) examined the transition of city community development plans from categorical programs to the CDBG. He found that plans differed by neighborhood type before CDBG implementation. For example, a Model Cities neighborhood was more likely to spend money on public services and less likely to spend money on physical infrastructure. Maier and Nachmias (1990) find that, in a city with an elite-dominated citizen advisory board, public entities were disproportionate recipients of CDBG funds. Similarly, in several Michigan cities, expenditures for economic development and social services were related to local political characteristics (Rosenfeld, Reese, Georgeau, & Wamsley 1995). Despite the hands-off role of the federal government in initial CDBG legislation, local experiences of the program were quite opposite of these intentions. Rosenfeld (1984) examined the perceptions of “red tape” in the CDBG program among recipients. He found that, compared to previous categorical grants, many at the local level believed that requirements for bookkeeping and paperwork had increased. The irony is that the block grant program was designed specifically to reduce excessive bureaucracy. This analysis reveals problems between the three levels of decision-making—community, local government, and federal government. At each level, control was seen to be too strong at the other two levels and this control was viewed with distrust. Differences in control at the community level directly impacted the amount of service provided. Changes in federal policy had significant impacts on funding social services. Most importantly, local discretion about community participation and interpretation of policy was key in determining social service provision expenditures.


Community participation, defined broadly (using the HUD definition to include community groups as well as individual actors), consistently resulted in additional community services. Yet the dominance of community service agency leaders in community advisory groups and in the later “citizen participation” process creates questions about the purpose of this participation. It appears that these organizations were not necessarily advocating for the needs of their community, but for the expansion of their agencies. This tie between development programs in neighborhoods and funding community organizations can be traced throughout this history. Early foundation programs and Community Action Program emphasized social service provision and the CDBG program retained this framework. It is clear from this review of the history of CDBG that social service provision and community participation are interwoven in interesting ways with 70

the contradiction between local control and community control, constraining the program’s benefits to residents of poor communities. Placing local officials in a superior decision making position to community members creates barriers to including community voices in the decisionmaking process. Because organizational representatives are often self-interested, decisions about community needs are biased by the organization’s agenda. Community participation, which should have given residents a voice, allowed organizations to prevail instead. Thus, the process became less about local planning and more about obtaining grants for local organizations. Finally, CDBG located the problem within poor communities, which ruled out an analysis of the larger economic situation and therefore hampered its effectiveness. That is, instead of targeting economic inequality, the program attempted to fix disinvested neighborhoods. This restriction put strict boundaries on the type of activities that were fundable. Neighborhoods could get services and small development projects, but broader plans to address segregation, discrimination, or the political economy of cities were not discussed. Citizen groups trying to advocate for their neighborhoods eventually became advocates for their organizations. As expected, attempting to alleviate broad economic social problems by providing social services to residents of poor neighborhoods has done little to end the phenomenon of race and class segregation. CDBG has provided funds for communities for over 30 years, but in this time, poor urban neighborhoods have continued to decline.

Implications for a New Era of Urban Policy

According to his policy statement, President Obama plans to create an office of Urban Policy, which will, among other things fund programs that can show results and fully fund CDBG (The White House, Urban Policy, policy/). However, this policy statement does not address community participation. With the emphasis on proven programs at the federal level, CDBG may become much more federally controlled than in the years reviewed in this essay. Still, the Obama plan has the possibility of reinforcing two of the problems associated with social service provision and social planning under the CDBG: lack of local community participation and community organization participation focused on obtaining grants. Although this administration is aware of the history, CDBG is one area in which President Obama and his advisors should be prudent about understanding the past. The federal government has the unique opportunity to reframe CDBG by emphasizing participation of residents of poor communities and a broader focus on addressing inequality. First, the federal government should produce a vision statement for social planning Agora’09

that addresses inequality and require local decision makers to adhere. The next priority should be the inclusion of community members who are not affiliated with granteligible organizations in the community planning process. A renewed focus on neighborhood meetings as a tool to encourage community participation may be the best avenue. In general, social planning and physical planning, together, should be brought to the forefront of CDBG administration to avoid the local fight for control of funding which will simply continue to bog down efforts at changing neighborhoods.


Anderson, M. (1964). The federal bulldozer: A critical analysis of urban renewal, 1949-1962. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. Cole, R. L. (1975). Revenue sharing: Citizen participation and social service aspects. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, 419, 63-74. Dommel, P. R., Bach, V. E., Liebschutz, S. F., & Rubinowitz, L. S. (1980). Targeting community development: Third report on the Brookings institution monitoring study of the community development block grant program, prepared under contract H-2323R. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Hall, P. (1996). Cities of tomorrow. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers. Halpern, R. (1995). Rebuilding the inner city: A history of neighborhood initiatives to address poverty in the United States. New York: Columbia University Press. Hays, R. A. (1995). The federal government and urban housing: Ideology and change in public policy. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

O’Connor, A. (1996). Community action, urban reform and the fight against poverty: The ford foundation’s gray areas program. Journal of Urban History, 22(5), 586-625. Rich, M. J. (1991). Targeting federal grants: The community development experience, 1950-1986. Publius, 21(1), 29-49. Rimmerman, C. (1985). Citizen participation and policy implementation in the Columbus, Ohio, CDBG program. Public Administration Quarterly, 9(3), 328. Rosenfeld, R. A. (1979). Local implementation decisions for community development block grants. Public Administration Review, 39(5), 448. Rosenfeld, R. A. (1984). An expansion and application of Kaufman’s model of red tape: The case of community development block grants. Western Political Quarterly, 37(4), 603-620. Rosenfeld, R. A., Reese, L. A., Georgeau, V., & Wamsley, S. (1995). Community development block grant spending revisited: Patterns of benefit and program institutionalization. Publius, 25(4), 55-72. Sundquist, J. L. (1969). Co-ordinating the War on Poverty. Annals of the American Association of Political and Social Sciences, 385, 41-49. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (1982). Implementing community development: A study of the community development block grant program. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Ylvisaker, P. N. (1963). Community Action: A Response to some Unfinished Business. New York: Ford Foundation.

Lovell, C. (1983). Community development block grant: The role of federal requirements. Publius, 13(3), 85-95. Maier, P., & Nachmias, D. (1990). An evaluation of community development block grant decision making: Executive dominance vs. issue networks. Policy Studies Journal, 18(3), 573-590. Nathan, R. P., Dommel, P. R., Liebschutz, S. F., & Morris, M. D. (1977). Block grants for community development: First report on the Brookings institution monitoring study of the community development block grant program, prepared under contract H-2323R. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Agora’09







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Agora v3 2009