This article by Laura Burkhalter and Manuel Castells explores the urban dimension of the current economic crisis, describes the failure of the city forms developed in the 20th century, and outlines a series of alternative proposals on transportation, housing, public space, and urban planning, to manage the crisis while improving the quality of life in the 21st century metropolis.
The global economic crisis has its roots in the speculative connection between the financial market and the housing market. The speculative schemes collapsed when the real estate bubble burst and the insolvency of the lending institutions was exposed. It followed the calling into question of the urban growth machine that has produced our flawed built environment in the last half century. Indeed, the crisis is not just financial or economic, but environmental, social and functional as well. It is the crisis of a model of urbanization that is not sustainable.
However, the depth of the crisis offers an opportunity to rethink the metropolis and to implement new urban planning strategies focusing on people´s needs and desires, and on environmental conservation, rather than on short-term profit.Thus, in this emergency situation we feel compelled to engage a debate on the new ways of urban planning and urban policy appropriate for the 21st century city, both to manage the crisis and to change the metropolis beyond the crisis. However, the depth of the crisis offers an opportunity to rethink the metropolis and to implement new urban planning strategies focusing on people´s needs and desires, and on environmental conservation, rather than on short-term profit. In this article we present a series of proposals having in mind the polycentric metropolis. We are not indulging in urban dreams, even if some of our proposals would appear to be so. We are proposing, as illustrations of a new urban way of thinking, a number of concrete initiatives in transportation, housing, public space, and urban planning at large, that, together, could open the path towards new spatial forms of living. We present these proposals, deliberately, in a tentative form. They are sketches rather than closed urban models. This is because they are intended as ideas to debate, as tools of intellectual innovation that we believe is previous to any action. Precisely because the situation is so serious, and the urban crisis so deep, we cannot afford to react without thinking. Indeed, investing more resources in the same urban model will lead to the same failed consequences, thus amplifying the extent of the crisis.
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Multi-tiered transportation artery w/bicycle freeway & linear park system as top tier
As part of an urban recovery plan we project a multimodal transportation system layered above the current automobile dominated transportation arteries and accessed via a network elevator nodes and feeder paths. This proposed system would effectively create bicycle highways and bicycle freeways and linear multiuse parks above the existing automobile thoroughfares and freeways for a complete network of safe, compelling and fast people powered transportation system. The space between the upper bicycle freeway and the lower automobile freeway may be used for high speed monorail lines for effective mass transit that is connected to the bicycle freeways as well as automobile routes and can complement their use.
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Multi-tiered transportation artery w/car freeway and monorail as bottom and central tiers
Another drastic and equally urgent proposition is the complete overhaul of the current zoning ordinances. We propose to replace these outdated spatial organization systems with new performance criterion that would allow for mixed use urban vitality throughout the city and require high environmental performance, while valuing economic, social and aesthetic benefits to the community creating buildings and facilities that add to the quality of urban life.
The current housing stock, much of it in financial bankruptcy, should be reorganized under various forms of cooperative housing and community managed mortgages with the support of the federal government. The re-use of housing to increase shared living in the existing under-utilized units could be made possible by the proposed revision of the zoning ordinances and would better reflect the current demographics and the new typology of families in our society.
In a similar vein, we propose a network of distributed public space adapted to the existing city, emphasizing spontaneous interaction and multi-functionality. Used public space and a pedestrian friendly environment will be effective antidotes against fear of the other that frequently dominates the experience of urban everyday life.
Flexible planning and citizen involvement in urban governance will make possible the implementation of innovation in the way we build and manage our cities. The proposals submitted here are technically feasible, not utopian dreams. However, they can only become materials for a new form of urban planning under the condition of grassroots mobilization and a change in urban politics. By communicating our ideas for a new urban economy and a new model of city we hope to contribute both to a renewed debate on urban policies and to a process of community mobilization, the fundamental lever of urban transformation. In the midst of a devastating crisis we are planting the seeds of hope for a better urban life beyond the crisis.
Read the full article as PDF here.
Laura Burkhalter is the founder and director of the Institute for Bionomic Urbanism (IBU), a new non-profit organization and think tank developing a more holistic urbanism in practical application and in theory. She is also the principal and founder of LBDS LLC, her client based architectural design practice.
Laura Burkhalter was born in Switzerland and has been living in Los Angeles for over a decade. She received her architecture degree from SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture) in 2000, graduating with the highest honor award.
Manuel Castells is a sociologist associated particularly with research into urbanism, the information society and communications. Manuel Castells is one of the world's most highly cited social science and communication scholars and has written more than 20 books, including The Urban Question (Original publication in French, 1972) and the influential and monumental Information Age trilogy (The Rise of the Network Society , 1996; The Power of Identity ,1997; End of Millennium , 1998). His most recent book is Communication Power (Oxford, 2009). He is a professor emeritus of city planning at UC Berkeley and University Professor at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. He is also associated with the Barcelona Institute of Architecture, and with the California Institute of the Arts. Manuel Castells lives and works in Los Angeles and Barcelona.