"Gin Fizz Urbanism"

Recently I used a term I made up; "gin fizz urbanism," alluding it to urban developments based around urban shopping centers replacing truly open public spaces. What else this terminology could mean?

Jun 16, 11 8:11 pm

How about "Sloe Gin Fizz urbanism," which would be the same, but with badly designed bench and planter systems that impeded the flow of traffic.

Jun 16, 11 10:18 pm

Not naturally sustainable urbanism: needs gin & fizz --- only works when trumped up with the euphoria of fresh financing, "newness", investment potential, high SES, quiet segregation and once the gin and fizz runs its course, the development becomes a carcas

Jun 17, 11 8:15 am
vado retro

i think any work in the ginfizz style should be inspired by the raffles hotel and incorporate plenty of colonial terminology into the naming of its specifics. i.e. the empire fountain or the rudyard kipling pedestrian way.


Jun 17, 11 9:16 am

Gin fizz urbanism seems a little too specific and I'm not sure in what sense either.  More generally, cocktail urbanism sounds like it could be applied to any number of artificial or otherwise contrived arrangements.

Maybe gin fizz urbanism could be an especially light & fluffy instance of cocktail urbanism, yo?! 

Jun 17, 11 10:42 am
el jeffe

is gin fizz urbanism complementary to thomas kinkade suburbanism?

Jun 17, 11 10:46 am
vado retro

must also be well. no top shelf allowed.


Jun 17, 11 11:36 am

Yes all good.

jeffe, the Thom Kinkade urbanism is definitely an infiltration into the city.

vado, agreed. names have a lot of sales value.. Depending on the concept image, detailing materials then selected, manufactured, marketed and the names appropriated. I mean, which exburbian can resist "Champs Elysees Circle" and ignore "Cafe' Bonjourno an Italian Eatery" at the Villa Way Mall..?

Should socially considerate architects adopt the motto "Don't Draw Gin Fizz" ? 

Just a thought. I just woke up.



Jun 17, 11 1:09 pm

What's a gin fizz? Oh wait... you mean a Tom Collins. Sorry, we only get London Dry on the East Coast.

Jun 17, 11 1:20 pm

I like "don't draw gin fizz." you should make a t-shirt.

Jun 17, 11 1:54 pm
vado retro

actually a gin fizz sounds pretty damned good. think i'll make one or two or several tonight.


Jun 17, 11 2:01 pm
vado retro

i did the c.a. work on a ginfizzer. a public fountain was cupped by two buildings designed to look as though they were built over a period of time ie different facade applications different brick etc etc. the public fountain which was at street level ie you could walk right through it was shut off because apparently people began bringing their kids down there to play water park. highlight theres a youtube vid of an antibush protest there.

Jun 17, 11 2:05 pm

Gin Fizz urbanist types get jingle writers to write these fizzy descriptions in websites. 'Aaaahh' the fizz, your place in the sun....

"Your Place in the Sun. Experience a Destination Designed for You. ... Inspired by Santa Monica itself, the new Santa Monica Place fits right in – sunny open spaces, ocean breezes and an airy central plaza made for people watching. Gaze out to the Pier from the Dining Deck and refresh your viewpoint. Aaaahh. ..."

Jun 17, 11 2:08 pm

Tough for a real less-snark-filled answer, planners simply refer to this as T.O.D. (transit-oriented development or D.D. (destination development)— the reason it is a T.O.D. is because these developments exist at the intersection of two or more methods of transit.

What makes these different from the "real" cities is the development pattern isn't tied to an existing rail or "highway (as in the original intercity public road networks)" network that are typical of older American cities. This also makes American cities much different than European cities most of which developed solely around limited transportation and access to water.

The access to water thing here is important, too. In the late 18th-century, self-acting pumps as well as steam-powered pumps only showed up. The hand pump was rediscovered in Europe in the 1500s, improved by Hans Hautsch in the 1600s and wasn't really feasible until coke blast furnace (invented 1702) was mechanized in the later part of the 18th-century.

So, most American cities didn't rely on the kinds of tricks— purely gravity-fed plumbing, granitic-lined surface water sources, source springs or complex runoff collection (seen heavily in Italy)— that European cities relied on heavily for providing access to water. I think New York maybe the only exception to this where the entire city was designed around gravity-fed water.

Most cities and towns in Europe started out as phony as lifestyle centers today. They were engineering, both civil and social, projects often preplanned well in advance. Now these original squares, plazas, high streets and fountains have experienced significant in-fill, redevelopment and renovations since they were conceived... but most of them share the similar attributes of offering a piece of water infrastructure combined with a large public gathering space with a smattering of new buildings usually all done in the latest trend and style of architecture.

Jun 17, 11 2:33 pm

I think that most architects who don't know the basics of Western settlement formation are often more "gin fizz" than zombie-xerox'd cities.

Jun 17, 11 2:35 pm

Architects, planners and their fizzy developer clients know very well the old model is replaced by business pump model. Attributed to the benefits of fizzy water. Now the cities can burp.

Jun 17, 11 3:50 pm

eew, thank you as always... yes, perfect reading to get re-acquainted this summer.

a quick quote;

"A chain of Disneylands would have a disquieting effect not unlike that of the new transcontinental chains of the identical motels that weigh the tired traveler with the hopelessness of driving all day to arrive at a place just like the one he started from. One can hope , too, for the day when the gradual loss of differentiated place, the gradual emergence of the gray no-places and the inundation of the places of special significance, will cause the slumbering citizenry to awaken, to demand to spend its money to have a public life."         

Jun 17, 11 6:33 pm

Oh dear, that quote is so depressing.

Carmel Indiana is doing a bang up job making itself a gin fizzily "urban" place.  They have lots of restaurants and stores with criminally overly cutesy names, like "Kiss Z Chef".  I don't even know.

Jun 17, 11 7:45 pm

wake me when we get to open bar urbanism.

Jun 18, 11 3:15 pm

nam, when i went to listen james corner (urban operations) last week in santa monica, he kept repeating the value adding aspect of parks to real estate investments and properties. i particularly noted that this happens often and, in most cases, it spearheads the unfair gentrification process. it is also known that developers often tap into public money and policies to develop frontier parks to beautify an area in their radar screens for commercial and condominium/housing projects. semi private semi public green space and parks are becoming increasingly prominent. if and when the money for private development is available again, we will see an explosion in this sector when plenty of abandoned and/or cleared lots are available.

you well know what they are doing new orleans. we don't really know why they are taking down this perfectly beautiful and potentially very useful building.

Jun 18, 11 4:10 pm


Since you are out west, would you consider Santana Row "gin Fizz"?

Jun 18, 11 4:43 pm

I'm still trying to figure out how "gin-fizz" became a pejorative considering I don't think I've ever encountered something or someone in literature being described as "gin-fizz."

Jun 18, 11 5:12 pm

Orhan, yeah the ROI thing is a useful tool for private developers to piggyback on. What i wish we could see more of was a way to use this logic of ROI but turn it on it's head in order to create parks that aren't just gin fizz.

You will remember i asked Gerdo Aquino from SWA about the same issue. How to co-opt the language (and more importantly funding) but for a different end. He emphasized community involvement and organizing but what if the community itself is gin fizz?

On the other hand this timely article (and the exhibit it discusses) explores the flip-side, a lack of needed park development, in this case in the greater SoCal area.

Jun 18, 11 5:19 pm

J. James, I think it is just Orhan's take on the term... Maybe he doesn't like gin :p

Jun 18, 11 5:19 pm

But it's not even a term! If it alluded to something tangible I could understand but the only allusion I can really see here is to the "Empire" era.

Jun 18, 11 5:31 pm

It evokes the sound of carbonated water that fizzes and immediately after that it loses its main act and soon after that, most bubbles disappear. 

Santana Row is definitely gin fizz in a pitcher... Haute Summer Days and this is very touching "Santana Row Living defines the hip, fashion-forward lifestyle that is Silicon Valley. A new home awaits you, surrounded with a shopping oasis, world–class cuisine and the best in entertainment and boutique salons. Welcome home." 



Jun 18, 11 6:15 pm

santana row is the epitome of this "gin-fizz" urbanism.  authentic business and culture is suffocated in the San Jose area.  its very sad.  it is only possible to experience true public space in the cities.  public space in the SJ sprawl has been replaced by the internet.  so I guess we are talking about the good ol' US of A, but what about the main cities of Europe?  sure they have the old infrastructure, but is the concept so much different?

Jun 19, 11 8:43 pm

I was never a fan of Santana Row, or SJ. As far as new developments go, strangely, I've come to develop a love-hate attitude towards these types of projects. It's definitely a huge step up from the suburban track home developments from previous eras but it still sucks. So what would be a good alternative for new developments be? You can't always have the luxury of having a lot in a major city and buying out all the surrounding air rights.

It's impossible to compare these project types to European town, and i would disagree with the comment about European cities being historically developed on a phony Santana Row-type premise. Whether you think of cities that developed around market places, or where they were built up one layer at a time in an organic matter without any real plan, to the common practice of using your first floor of homes as office space; these developments weren't developer oriented.

That's where my love-hate feeling comes in. It's easy to point to a project and instantly think the words "Developer" or HOA. But when it comes to new developments, can someone point to solutions they prefer?

Jun 19, 11 11:23 pm
Justin Ather Maud

As long aas there are plenty of shoppes....

Jun 19, 11 11:36 pm

I think the negative aspects of gin fizz are often the result of short-term, narrowly focused decision making processes. Building comprehensive LCA into the planning and design processes and adding requirements engineering to the planning and programming stages to fully understand the concerns of all involved constituencies (a la first rate sw/systems engineering) might be steps in the right direction.

Jun 20, 11 9:50 am

Jmangenelli, do you have any existing examples of your preferred developments?

Who is to say LCA isn't factored in? When has any non-greenfield development project ever truly taken in everyone's best interest? As much as I hate these pretentious pseudo centers that you'd find throughout the west coast, I'm having trouble thinking of better alternatives, which is commonly some form of gated community with a shopping plaza across the street. When you compare the gin fizz to the alternative, the fizz takes in more $$$ and is more visible/accessible to everyone.

Jun 20, 11 12:25 pm

Kanyon Center in Istanbul. A mixed use development. It has its own "Hit Music" radio station. Architect; Jerde Partnership, the fizz urbanism masters. 

Jun 20, 11 4:14 pm

Of course there is an inherit sameness to post industrial cities from the other extreme as well...

Here is the famous Cleveland industrial wasteland scene from Stranger Than Paradise. 

- "You know it's funny.. You come to some place new and everything looks just the same.."

- "No kiddin' Eddy"

Jun 20, 11 5:20 pm


Jun 20, 11 5:41 pm

Orhan, I hope you aren't implying you prefer the Kanyon Center in Istanbul over the pseudo urban centers on the west coast. I've been to the Kanyon Center and the first thing I remember was going through a check point to enter that fancy garbage. It's a really sad example of mixed use development, it's the extreme version of a gated community. Every turk I know hates the place. It's 10x worst than Battery Park!

Jun 20, 11 8:09 pm

No implying. But it is contagious

Jun 20, 11 8:41 pm

Pheww Orhan....I'd take the post WWII informal development in Istanbul's historic district over the Kanyon Center, and over the US pseudo centers for that matter.

Well, I'm still lost for a better example of new development centers than the west coast gin fizz. Someone, anyone?

Jun 20, 11 8:48 pm

I prefer neighborhoods like Leimert Park. Guess what? Powers that be, don't want the new light rail stop at Leimert Park!!


Jun 21, 11 1:49 am

It's impossible to compare these project types to European town, and i would disagree with the comment about European cities being historically developed on a phony Santana Row-type premise. Whether you think of cities that developed around market places, or where they were built up one layer at a time in an organic matter without any real plan, to the common practice of using your first floor of homes as office space; these developments weren't developer oriented.

The phoniness I was alluding to was the lovely notion that a lot of us hold that cities are some magical entities that evolved over time devoid of any sinister or "conspiracy" like puppetmaster pulling strings behind the curtain. I was merely saying that notion of an "urban frontier" is about as real as second-story windows on an EIFS-clad storefront.

And I was suggesting that many of the aspects of good modern or contemporary "urban design" is mostly simialcrum or skeuomorphs. No one does, or at least should, drink from water features. People don't get publicly shamed or executed in plazas. Open lawns are no longer for herding animals. No one slaughters animals on open air sidewalks. The front of most city halls aren't gathering places for the whole town.

The UK has been pretty keen on digitizing pretty much the last 1000 years of property records, permits and land titles. So, for those areas who are participating in this, you can find all sorts of lovely tidbits of people trying to build and flip houses in the 18th-century or the beginnings of tract developers in the 19th-century.

I was pointing this out because it started feeling like another "modernist attacking new urbanist" point. I would probably so far as to say there's probably more modern and contemporary "gin fizz" developments out there than the handfuls of actually-built NU punching bags.

The Beijing Olympic complex is a tall order of gin fizz.

Jun 21, 11 2:39 am

 Agreed, the Beijing Olympics is the mother of modern gin fizz; even worst than Kanyon center. Nothing like removing a few square miles of people to build what is now a ghost town. Good work china, R. Moses would be really proud.

I think anytime you post something that has retail with residential units above it that has any resemblence of NU or euro-town revival, the modernists are going to cry. But I can't think of too many modern green field developments that has achieved the level of $$$ Santana Row.

Jun 21, 11 2:14 pm

James, you're mis-applying the term skeumorph to modern uses of piazzas and fountains.  A skeumorph is a now useless remain, like fake spokes on automobile tires.  I even think simulacrum is wrong in this case.  Piazzas, even "fake" ones in modern developments, still have uses, and have changed uses (and thus meaning) over time.  Read your Aldo Rossi...the architecture of the city has no fixed function, and the original use of some buildings or spaces has long been forgotten and has changed many times.  There's no magic involved, only human decisions, countless of them. 

So, once they used to hang people in squares (or like in Florence, burn them), and now tourists sit at cafe' tables, or villagers go for their evening walk or play time, different uses.  But it's the fact that, say, the Campo in Siena is a goddam beautiful space, to this day, that people still want to sit there and have an espresso (and they still have the original horse race there).  The oft made point that only the "original" uses of something are honest and all later ones are "phoniness" is really nonsense.  If a development is well used then so much the better, even if it's Santana Row or whatever.  The fakeness that is pointed out here is more that these modern developments are all made by one entity, the developers, all at once (not through decisions over many years by many people), and not in any inherent qualities of entities such as "piazza" or "fountain".

Jun 21, 11 3:41 pm

just with respect to residential, and J. James R.'s comment about these trends going back for some time in the UK, it reminded me of Thomas Hardy's, "How I Built Myself a House" short story from 1865:  as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Jun 21, 11 3:52 pm

Emilio, you're missing an important difference between a classic italian plaza and a gin fizz development. The issue of ownership. Former belongs to the city (and thus the people), while the later is a private property with quite a number of non democratic rules in play.

Watch this video to see what happened when a world famous saxophonist Sergio Flores tried to perform in "The Grove" in LA (around 3:40 mark). Leave or get arrested. 

Jun 21, 11 4:25 pm

Isn't the core difference in between gin fizz and true urbanism multiplicity?

Whereas gin fizz is usually built by a singular entity [developer or a municipality] at a singular time in a singular place and true urbanity is aggregate, temporal and organic?

The circulation space of a suburban mall can never be truly public as it's owned by a private entity which reserves the right to limit the constituency's involvement as it sees fit?  Whereas a truly public space is [somewhat] democratic and organic as it is built up over time and by different and sometimes opposing agendas?  

This is why I think urban planning is at times a gigantic moot point:  no one can accurately predict the complex needs of urbanity, hence formulas inherently lead to gin fizz whether the author is a developer or the municipality, or community groups!  

If we're discussing the scale of a single building, even if it's the Sears Tower or the Burj Khalifa, or etc etc, I think it's logical, plausible and profitable for a controlling interest to take charge.  If we're discussing the scale of a few city blocks, I think it's preposterous to assume that anyone, even those trained, can elucidate a viable master plan which takes into consideration all contingencies.  


Also, as a more private rant:  gin fizz only survives because it makes money for the few.   Somehow Boston's Faneuil Hall and New York's South St Seaport are viable finance generators even though they at once prey on and suck the veracity out of the place they willingly destroyed.   It's a failure of architecture as an Ivory Tower profession to allow Johnny Q Constituency to have to buy into these banal temples to consumption.  

Sorry, I suppose that diction was a bit too wordy...  Taco time.



Jun 21, 11 5:14 pm

That is a key difference, Rusty.  I was more responding to James' point about the elements (piazzas, fountains) used in these developments now being "phony" because they don't hold to their original historic uses, or were not built in the 15th century. some smaller towns or villages the main landholder (the owner of the castle, usually), often owned pretty much the whole town as well.  The main difference was that a piazza in a town or village center was treated as a public space, whereas these new things are loaded with rules and regulations about what you can and cannot do.

Jun 21, 11 5:28 pm

Ancient Rome had a mandate to provide public drinking fountains every so often [some of which are still in vogue, though mainly as a tourist trap].  I do think some cities do provide pertinent public amenities which all citizens and visitors can enjoy.  


I wonder where the line is?  Are the public bike networks in London and Paris an honest and effective form of public urban amenities, or are they an ineffectual PR scheme?  

Jun 21, 11 5:41 pm

These discussions, ideas and criticisms are great. 

This is inevitable argument on what constitutes public space. As the cities are again getting denser, therefore, the right to public property is inevitably a huge issue.. 

I throw in,  "THE RIGHT TO THE CITY." by David Harvey.

Jun 21, 11 6:24 pm

If cities are, in the end, merely, or even primarily, economic power plays, as the Harvey piece seems to argue, then doesn't that mean that all public space is primordially gin fizz?  Therefore there ain't no 'urbanism' as opposed to gin fizz, it's all the same champagne cocktail?







I do think that there exists a philanthropic element to cities that would be utterly impossible in a rural or suburban environment.   I'm not sure of all of the constraints, but I think it has a lot to do with scale and proximity.   Conversely, if the Statue of Liberty adds value to New York in the form of tourist dollars, does it detract in other ways?  

Perhaps I misread Harvey, but I do think that valuing a city mostly in terms of economics opens him up to the same criticism he's putting on others:  A city is worth far more than it's price tag.  No?

Jun 21, 11 7:17 pm

hummmm....I thought this might be about the master degree thesis project by  "Living in Gin"

My Bad!

Wonder how the heck he is doing these days?


Jun 21, 11 7:44 pm

What of sola-morales' argument for an incremental approach?

Jun 21, 11 8:06 pm

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