GDW’s Two Primary (and surprising) Goals for a Sustainable City:
GDW’s plan for a new city outside of Chengdu, China
The two primary goals for a truly sustainable city are, without question, quality lifestyle and identity. Why? When one puts political agendas aside, it is obvious that the single largest commitment of environmental resources required of a city is the construction of the city itself. A city that is loved, that people enjoy living in and are proud to call home is a city that will remain intact for generations.
Ironically, cities and the structures they are made of are typically awarded sustainability points for the ease of which they can be recycled. We believe that this is a fallacy. We wonder why a well designed city should have reason to be recycled. Searching the annals of history, we are aware of no city that provided quality of life, no city that made its residents proud, that was subsequently subjected to the rigors of recycling. Not, in any event, without the help of an invading enemy army!
This is not to say that we reject all the principles of sustainable city design. We simply find most redundant. Why is it necessary, for example, to award points based on transport? Moving people easily, effectively and pleasantly through a city has always been a major goal for planners (except, perhaps, during medieval times, when it was a greater concern to make it difficult for invaders to navigate city streets then for residents to easily move around).
A city that forces its residents to remain immobile or sit in traffic is not a city that provides quality of life. A city that makes circulation pleasant does, however, provide an enviable lifestyle. Should not the desire to create pleasant strolls and easy commutes be of paramount priority for the urban planner? Is not the process of awarding points for public transport directed more specifically to special interest lobbies than to those who will call a city their home?
We reject the notion of designing based on checklists created by academia and special interests. We favor cities designed for people. We reject the notion that people will work to preserve their city because of the ease of which it can be recycled. Instead, we seek to create places that capture the hearts of inhabitants.
A people proud of a city will maintain and preserve it, making sure the precious natural resources invested in its creation will benefit generations to come.
The video below illustrates a succussful blue sky concept for an eco city in the New Bin Hai district of China. The primary goals:
Seen As Green: The city must not only be functionally friendly to the environment, it must also be obviously green so as to create a functionally repeatable prototype for other cities both in China and in the developing world to emulate.
It Must Be A Place People Want To Be: Highly successful ventures and destinations are repeated. Those that are less successful at soon forgotten or worse, become examples of “what not to do.” If Eco City is to fulfill its mandate as China’s oft repeated prototype of environmentally responsible urban planning, it must be a vibrant city with outstanding quality of life, and it must be an unmitigated financial success. The common denominator to create both quality of life and financial success is that people want to be in this city – young and old people, men and women, people with much money and people with less. This must be a place in demand.
The video below is our succesful proposal for the achievement of these goals.
Video Coming Soon
The Shops at Playa Vista
Why Has Playa Vista Failed?
Saturday afternoon, June 6. It’s a beautiful, sunny afternoon, not too warm, not too cool. A perfect day to stroll, window shop, sit outside for lunch or a coffee, a fine day to take the kids or dog to the park. There is a nice collection of shops, restaurants with beautifully furnished sidewalk dining areas and a Coffee Bean with its signature outdoor seating area and fire pit. There are great street trees, flowers, and the park across the street is beautifully green.
Playa Vista, while long since excommunicated by its elite New Urbanist designers including celebrities Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, adheres to most if not all of the 12 defining elements of New Urbanism. The shops and park are in the discernible neighborhood center. Most of the dwellings, varied in type, are within a 5 minute walk of the shops and park. The shops are somewhat varied (though a key daily trip generator such as a real market or drugstore seems to be missing).
Playa Vista is dense and filled with playgrounds and parks. There are a variety of outdoor features within a short walk of every residence, many enticements to draw people outdoors. The streets are narrow and human scale, the sidewalks tree lined, the landscape lush. Pedestrian and auto zones are clearly defined. This is a pleasant place to walk. There are enough cars parked to make the place feel safe and lived in, yet not so many as to make it feel as though people are not welcome.
Central Park at Playa Vista
The architecture is varied in scale and in density. Further, this project has been around for a few years. The landscape is maturing nicely, and most of the homes are occupied. Prices have been high, so there is plenty of affluence throughout the neighborhood – disposable income, freedom to get out and be active. The designers got most things right. This is LA’s most significant New Urbanism.
Yet on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in June, the streets were largely empty. Only a handful of people were enjoying the park or the shops, the outdoor dining enjoyed by but a few. There were no more people around on this balmy Saturday in June than one would expect to see on a cold Monday morning in January. This ideal New Urbanist environment is empty. The community of residents remain in their homes, or they have climbed in their cars and left their neighborhood – just like every other suburban Angeleno does on a Saturday afternoon.
Why has Playa Vista failed? Why is it, in spite of its pedestrian streets, shops and parks, devoid of people?
I will outline the reasons I believe it has failed in a future post. Look back here in a day or two, or subscribe to this blog in the box on the right. I would welcome your thoughts as well – please add to this conversation below.
House in Seaside by Alexander Gorlin Architects
What New Urbanists Get Right
(Continued from New Urbanism: Why Does It Look So Old?)
New Urbanists have wisely studied, analyzed and understood the best towns and cities that predate the auto – urban environments built for people, not for cars. Rather than generating town planning principles based on the paradigm shifting automobile, New Urbanists returned to the archetype refined through five thousand years of human history, have understood its essential ingredients, and crafted those ingredients into an urban design template for cities that accommodate the automobile, but are built for people. Pedestrian circulation, not autos, is the major form determinate. New Urbanists have adapted city planning principles based on people and quality of life to the needs of the automobile, rather than adapting city planning based on the auto to needs and lifestyle concerns of people. 12 of the defining elements of New Urbanism (as defined by Wikipedia) describe an outstanding place to live:
The neighborhood has a discernible center. This is often a square or a green and sometimes a busy or memorable street corner. A transit stop would be located at this center.
Most of the dwellings are within a five-minute walk of the center, an average of roughly 1/4 mile or 1,320 feet (0.4 km).
There are a variety of dwelling types — usually houses, rowhouses, and apartments — so that younger and older people, singles, and families, the poor, and the wealthy may find places to live.
At the edge of the neighborhood, there are shops and offices of sufficiently varied types to supply the weekly needs of a household.
A small ancillary building or garage apartment is permitted within the backyard of each house. It may be used as a rental unit or place to work (for example, an office or craft workshop).
An elementary school is close enough so that most children can walk from their home.
There are small playgrounds accessible to every dwelling — not more than a tenth of a mile away.
Streets within the neighborhood form a connected network, which disperses traffic by providing a variety of pedestrian and vehicular routes to any destination.
The streets are relatively narrow and shaded by rows of trees. This slows traffic, creating an environment suitable for pedestrians and bicycles.
Buildings in the neighborhood center are placed close to the street, creating a well-defined outdoor room.
Parking lots and garage doors rarely front the street. Parking is relegated to the rear of buildings, usually accessed by alleys.
Certain prominent sites at the termination of street vistas or in the neighborhood center are reserved for civic buildings. These provide sites for community meetings, education, and religious or cultural activities.
The neighborhood is organized to be self-governing. A formal association debates and decides matters of maintenance, security, and physical change.
“The New Urbanism, Toward an Architecture of Community” started the movement well with its thoughtful and foundational analysis of the towns and cities of the past. The essays in the book suggest a thorough understanding of streets and squares, open space and urban rooms, walking distance, defensible space and public to private hierarchy. It is a planning paradigm that accounts for daily needs, for a trip to the grocery, a stroll with the dog, a rush to school or work. It is timeless planning that does not require people to travel to a destination to experience (yet rarely interact with) people, but instead provides multiple opportunities for interaction, discourse and even lifelong relationships in the midst of everyday living.