The concept isn’t just ‘new’ versus ‘ecological’ or ‘landscape’ in terms of urbanism. It’s putting down our egos and admitting that we don’t have all the answers from day one (or two, or 100). It is evolving from a deterministic stance to planning (a neo-utopian approach to designing every aspect of cities) to one that allows for a more process oriented approach (designing the frameworks for cities to evolve and adjusting them periodically). It’s not a question of density, as the same general approach using characteristics gleaned from LU/NU/EU can produce both neo-agrarian, elitist, rural sprawl or hyper-urban, vibrant, city densities in equal measure.
An urban scale intervention of deterministic new urbanism is bound to fail, just due to the massive number of variables at play. While these may be controlled in a development, there is a point where we reach the capacity of the designer to account for the complexity of a truly diverse city and any will quickly be overcome with the task. On the flip side, just setting things is motion and ‘seeing what happens’ is bound to fail as well if just left to it’s own devices. A good indication of this result is suburban sprawl (particularly in areas with softer planning regulations) or mishmash urban redevelopment. Letting the market decide (with minimal direction or governmental intervention) what is best has led to vast dispersion of cities and significant environmental degredation. It has also led to many great examples of density, safe and walkable communities, mixed use and income cities, and a range of inventive cases of urban ecological restoration. But, in sum, the former is well out-pacing the much more desirable latter.
While removing this degree of hyper-determinism from the process takes some leap of faith, it isn’t an all-or-nothing scenario (i.e. a leap off a cliff) but rather a less scary need for confidence in our ability to set positive frameworks, evaluate, and adjust accordingly in mid-flight (i.e. base jumping). Cities aren’t buildings, and thus shouldn’t be approached with the same formula of absolute determinism. While no architect in their right mind would leave basic foundational structures to chance, there has been more willingness to embrace change, evolution of materials, adaptability of floor plans, varied uses, which can react to changing economic and usage characteristics – saving a building from not just having to be torn down when times change. This is also a necessity as the innate durability of buildings and infrastructure will extend long past the era where societal change makes them irrelevant – making adaptability even more important as we don’t want to be left with useless dinosaurs from another age.
Ecological urbanism to me isn’t prescriptive of any type of city, or a blank plea for more open space. Rather, it addresses the city as an organism and collection of organisms and processes acting in concert, interrelated and interdependent. Much as the ecologist looks at the structure of an ecosystem and determines approaches to adjusting and modifying systems, the urbanist can take the cues from the ecologist in holistic systems thinking towards cities. For instance, and massively simplified, the field of community ecology, via Wikipedia
, looks at “…distribution, abundance, demography, and interactions between coexisting populations.”
Is that not a viable approach to a theory of urbanism? Is it less valid that the Charter of the New Urbanism? Can it provide necessary structure while allowing for fluidity and change? Are there viable elements, such as ecotones
, that provide a foundation for macro-scale interventions.
To sum up, the post did mention that Dunham-Jones “…did acknowledge that new urbanists can learn something from the less planned, more spontaneous places that seem to be so popular.
” which is echoed in Duany’s recent call to learn from landscape urbanist theories and approaches. Unfortuantely, the examples mentioned are boiled these down to fun, but small scale interventions like Parking Day
, Building a Better Block
, determining temporary use for spaces like in Pop-Up
cities, or through more socially oriented community activities like the very cool ‘Pie Day
These are, however, considered adjuncts to real city building, with a connotation that these are ‘fun additions of spontaneity’, but not valid overall approaches urbanism. While it would be great to learn how to capture these, there are also rules to doing so, because cities must be ‘planned through good design’ and that means leaving things to chance is not allowed.. Hyper-determinism is a thing of the past, and whatever the approach, there must be more flexibility in process and product when dealing with the complexity of cities. I believe that everyone is looking for the same result – health people, healthy cities, healthy planet. LU and EU, in overlapping and independent ways, are methods of investigating how we can utilize a different set of precedents and methods, and a radically different approach to the process – to get to what I believe is our shared goal.