I posted a proposal here yesterday that examined a way to make the existing city dense enough, and with a sufficient mixture of uses, to become a possible next city. My ideas have our readers stirred up. So, as usual, I will say more.
As a preface, let me acknowledge that many architects and urbanists are thinking about and drawing what they believe might constitute the city of the future. I look at their images nearly every day, and I think most of their ideas are not very palatable, and not very helpful. Filled with goofy computer-enabled shapes, organized like diagrams of topography, rather than streets and blocks arising from local traditions of community-making, some are actually pretty awful. The architects of the ‘city’ shown here, MAD they call themselves, are located in a city with great urban traditions: Beijing. Which makes their proposal even sadder, or madder.
This one has modern ‘towers in a garden’, ala Corbusier (you know – ala bad public housing, most of which we have thankfully destroyed).
Will we ever stop doing this? And sea anemone buildings too. Tasty.
I think this is what one of my dear friends calls the architecture of the therapeutic – “I am drawing this because I feel like it – I need to express myself.” Who cares, really?
MAD’s proposal for Huaxi City Center, in Guiyang, China.
Another view of MAD’s proposal.
I don’t want to live in a place like this. I want to live in a place where I can remain in touch with my community’s long urban history (like the Hutong, in Beijing – a fabulous and traditional local urban form, rapidly disappearing), rather than a place that looks like a stage set for Wall*E. This place might reach appropriate density, and may contain an appropriate mixture of uses, and may even be sustainable (though I doubt it), but it’s not a city. A physical place, maybe, but not a city. In the end, it’s an intersection in the road with a sextet of towers and some lumpy constructions for troglodytes.
Yesterday I proposed that we build approximately 25′ wide mixed use structures in the rights-of-way of certain streets in our neighborhood, at heights compatible with the surrounding historic buildings, thus allowing density and types of uses to substantially increase while conserving existing structures and patterns of urbanism. Blocks would remain legible in my proposal, and street patterns legible as well – some even remaining open to limited traffic in what will become a near-carless city. L’Enfant’s plan, his pattern of gridded and diagonal streets and blocks, will certainly be discernible, and even more critical since it will act as an armature for the next layer of Washington urbanism.
At the back of my proposal is a simple assumption, and a simple question. The assumption: the city we need is not the one we inhabit today. The question: can we build a next urbanism upon existing and traditional city patterns? Can we have new and old?
Change we must, but into what?
The city of the future? From Star Wars.