Turns out you have to read and write a bit in doctoral studies – which sometimes cuts down on the time for blogging… who knew? But glean and collect I still do, and lots of good reading since the last dispatch on the ongoing dispute/feud/discussion/turf-war on who controls urbanism – aka the LU/NU debates (which should actually be the AD/CW debates for Mr. Duany and Mr. Waldheim).
My google alert for landscape urbanism has literally blown up in the last couple of weeks – mostly due to the debate emerging from some more mainstream media – which is an interesting twist… bringing a smallish academic squabble out into the open.
I make my bias clear as a landscape architect, I find much of LU compelling in both the potential to expand the practice of landscape architecture (process over product) and in larger ideas of dealing with modern cities (flexibility in responding to rapid change). I like the concept of NU, but also take issue with some tenets (level of control for instance, determinism, generic transects, equity issues) feeling it’s a great formula for a certain problem type that will continue to be relevant, but in it’s present form is ill-equipped to handle many urban issues that need to be addressed. Both will evolve through discussion, not through ‘swallowing up’ or destroying the other. Others think differently – and dialogue is the generator of new ideas and solutions. Unfortunately, we are not witnessing or participating in a dialogue, and neither Waldheim or Duany is the prophet to lead us out of this.
LU comes from an academic base, and is attempting to refine the inherent conversation (or add to it) by recognizing the need to acknowledge (i.e. accept, not promote) that cities are different, people are different, there is sprawl, there are lots of roads and cars, some people don’t like density, the line between ‘city’ and suburb is not longer clear, etc. Right now it is theory and discovery (i call that urbanism in the true defintion which should come from academia) that is trying to expand a conversation. Thus there is not charter, and there are no rules or regulations in which to critique at this point, and there are few built works to evaluate as well. This may come, or more likely it will assimilate into professional practice in a number of disciplines – not emerge as either a professional position (i.e. I am a landscape urbanist) or become codified into a system (such as NU).
NU comes from an established professional base that has a body of work and a well-tended methodology that produces good results for walkable, mixed use, community plans. The successes and limitations are well documented, and the proponents have much sway of many types of developments (and many vocal adherents). So, the questions are: Does it have a wider relevance in cities, retrofitting suburbs, attacking rapidly expanding global mega-cities? Can it apply to a wider demographic? Can it adapt a transect model based on a monocentric model to the reality of messy, polycentric cities? What it is is method and application (i call that planning, urban design, architecture) resulting in work but in need of new, wider discussion about how to deal with our changing cities and spaces. How does this discussion take place if the response to any new idea is to hunker down and fight.
That said, neither is a panacea, and believe there is much to be found in a dialogue. The conversation and media has been mostly to misrepresent the LU agenda (i’m sorry but that’s what it is, plain and simple – hint – despite Waldheim’s claims, there isn’t an agenda). Thus the reaction is not to reality and disagreement with a position, but knee-jerk, uninformed reactions to a constructed version by people feeling threatened by a different (note I didn’t say opposing) viewpoint and wanting to tear it down. The similar practice is done and has been for a while by those in opposition to NU (i am as guilty as anyone else of this) – oversimplification of complex issues. This need to stop on both sides. Criticism is one thing. Uninformed criticism is useless, or worse, moves the discussion backward instead of forwards.
Sidebar: Can any other LU proponent beyond Waldheim out there (i know you are there, now hiding behind ‘ecological urbanism’) step up to this conversation, or are ya’ll all too busy now getting high profile commissions? Conversely, can we get some response from the West Coast school of NU, particularly from Calthorpe et. al?
I blame the word ‘landscape’ which is just too loaded with preconceptions for people to get over the fact that we’re not talking about sprawling density with green spaces and parsley in the urban sphere (just look at the image from the Boston Globe article – buildings and cars draped in greenery. People think of landscape as landscaping, not the opposite of building. Thus in looking at a fundamentally different way of approaching cities in an ‘un-architectural’ manner the word landscape detracts from what is fundamental (an un-architecturally driven urbanism). This doesn’t preclude buildings and density, and sidewalks and people – but rather isn’t driven by building and then filling in the spaces in between. Ecological urbanism, I daresay, is an even worse title. Then again, the oxymoronic use of ‘new’ in New Urbanism has shown much success by focusing on the exact opposite of their name… so maybe there’s hope.
Or wait. Better yet, let’s all take a time out for a sec.
Let’s sit down and read each other’s stuff rather than making stuff up.
Or, rather than perpetuate this dueling – perhaps we can look at the larger issues of urbanism that could draw from many urbanisms, rather than the drama of a cat fight.
Then again, our culture of reality TV and polarizing politics seems to appreciate a cat fight and drama over an informed conversation… on that note… or your reading pleasure:
““What you’re seeing is the New Urbanism about to swallow the landscape urbanists,” Duany said. His plan now, he said, is to systematically “assimilate” the language and strategies that have made his opponents such a white-hot brand. “We’re trying to upgrade ourselves. I’m not gonna say, ‘We’re gonna flick ’em off the table because they’re a bunch of lawn apologists.’ I’m gonna say, ‘For God’s sake, these guys took over Harvard!’ ”
A actually had a really great email exchange with Mr. Neyfakh prior to and after publication about some aspects of landscape urbanism, which is echoed in a follow-up piece discussing the historical development of the Back Bay Fens by Olmsted as a prototype for modern LU: ‘Boston’s long history with landscape urbanism’
A Tire in the Park by Emily Talen (The New Urban Network)
Landscape Urbanism: sometimes an enemy is good to have by David Sucher (City Comforts)
James Howard Kunstler on Landscape Urbanism by Sam Newberg (CNU)
I can’t find the actual article on Orion so if anyone has a link… anyway per this quote he’s just parroting what others are saying in his ‘clusterfuck’ lens… for what it’s worth.
The War Over ‘Landscape Urbanism’ by Tim Halbur (Planetizen)
New Urbanism, Landscape Urbanism and the Future of Settlements by Christopher Ryan (Post Carbon Institute)
Landscape Urbanism vs. The New Urbanists (Brookline Perspective)
Isms, Ideology, & Landscape: Boston Globe Edition (Eric Papetti)
(a landscape architect’s perspective)
Landscape Urbanism, New Urbanism, and the Future of Cities (Alex Steffen)
As you see, these aren’t all anti- or pro- positions – but are reacting more to the war than the point of the war… which I think will happen with time. Next year’s CNU conference may be the biggest ever due to Waldheim & Duany there together. Good for ratings.
Along a similar timeline, the Minneapolis Riverfront competition is definitely infused with a landscape urbanist perspective with teams from Ken Smith Workshop, Stoss Landscape Urbanism, Tom Leader Studio and Turenscape as mentioned by Archinect – 3-1/2 of the proposals hint at landscape urbanism.
Another article from the WSJ talks with Adriaan Geuze of West8, making ample references to LU…
There’s also some great dialogue about the concept of urbanism and the role of urban design in the book ‘Urban Design‘ by Krieger and Saunders – a look back at the origins and development of modern urban design since 1956, and well worth exploring (stay tuned for a book review here) and giving some perspective on our constant ability to disagree, which will continue well past this debate and others…
A related but not specific to LU story on Slate by Witold Rybczynski entitled: “A Discourse on Emerging Tectonic Visualization and the Effects of Materiality on Praxis: Or an essay on the ridiculous way architects talk” revisits the tired metaphor of professional language to exclude, given the fact that most of this language emerges (yes i said it) from academic discourse (said that too) and not from praxis (again, guilty!). Any journalism that uses Ted Mosby as an architectural model is suspect.
Also we kick off Reading the Landscape with timely discussions of ‘The Landscape Urbanism Reader’ later in February, which is sure to yield some great discussion from a diverse group of folks from all backgrounds, regions, and discplines… entry for the group is closed, but there will be dispatches at points to capture the conversation… stay tuned.