Aug '08 - Dec '09
What is it? What's the scope? What do you do? What don't you do? How far is too far? How do you design anything that will be urban design? Can urban design happen?
DOES URBAN DESIGN EXIST!?
It's not the street grid that makes the city a nice place to be.
It's small catalysts that you can't design that do.
As an 'urban design student' we can sketch thousands of renderings showing populated parks and street frontages, but how does that translate? How do we do relevant things that work, and we can show? How do we show it? You can't spec out a nice space to be
"Large Urban Park, 52 acres, well maintained. Fill with diverse people, environmentally minded, highly interested in public transit. (TYP)."
It's pretty frustrating to go from architecture to this.
Mind you, I never signed up for this....(kind of). I did. But I didn't really want to. I'd be happier with some semblance of building things. Or the building scale.
And it's tough to reconcile my wants for it to be architecture with the scope of urban design. I want to work out little bits, I want to think about prototypes of buildings, I want to design things at a smaller, more intimate scale.
All the while, it feels like our direction calls for letting go, and yet expanding our realm. At times, it feels like what we're doing is trying to be specifically unspecific about things (which I understand) but maybe that makes me doubt the relevance of urban design. If somebody's not making the tricky detail decisions, then who's to say it'll be a nice place? If all I'm doing is big sweeping gestures and ideas of connectivity, then how am I different from a developer? (....as I'm thinking through critiques, and struggling, this is about when one of the staff members disclaims their non-subscription to the evils of new-urbanism).
Aren't all of the "best" urban spaces unplanned? organic? potentially the result of hundreds (or thousands) of years of legitimate use by people?
Similarly, what urban design examples from recent times have actually been good ideas? Manhattan, famously developed for maximum profit is great...but has nothing to do with making a 'nice space.' The garden cities are somewhat of pre-new-urbanism jokes....they kind of happened and then serve as an example. Modernism, Brutalism, etc.....all 'okay on paper'...not so much in reality (except admired by architects who 'know why they're significant'). And then there's new urbanism, and it's unfortunate pigeonholing of design as something that you can do from a book....and the creation and misnomer of lifestyle centers and the EIFS style.
So then you think...what spaces do I like to be in?
The comfortable, cheap, diverse, would-be-gentrified-if-people-actually-wanted-to-live-here, Ohio City?
The hip psuedo-college neighborhood that has backyard house parties with friends?
European towns and the off-the-beaten-path streets that feel "authentic?"
The inner, first-round suburb, that lucked into strong community leadership and maintained itself as a nice place to be; close yet not downtown?
Downtown?....the 100 year old Burnham plan that's since been hacked by 100 years of not-in-the-original-plan antics and unfinished busniess? Cleveland has one tower from an extensive I.P. Pei project (which is pretty terrible...) and a few other "false starts"
I'm trying to buy into it.
It's probably good that it's frustrating Like bad-tasting medicine.
I think my feelings are echoed by my colleagues.