Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A country of cities

“In “A Country of Cities,” author Vishaan Chakrabarti argues that well-designed cities are the key to solving America’s great national challenges: environmental degradation, unsustainable consumption, economic stagnation, rising public health costs and decreased social mobility. If we develop them wisely in the future, our cities can be the force leading us into a new era of progressive and prosperous stewardship of our nation. In compelling chapters, Chakrabarti brings us a wealth of information about cities, suburbs and exurbs, looking at how they developed across the 50 states and their roles in prosperity and globalization, sustainability and resilience, and heath and joy. Counter to what you might think, American cities today are growing faster than their suburban counterparts for the first time since the 1920s. If we can intelligently increase the density of our cities as they grow and build the transit systems, schools, parks and other infrastructure to support them, Chakrabarti shows us how both job opportunities and an improved, sustainable environment are truly within our means. In this call for an urban America, he illustrates his argument with numerous infographics illustrating provocative statistics on issues as disparate as rising childhood obesity rates, ever-lengthening automobile commutes and government subsidies that favor highways over mass transit. The book closes with an eloquent manifesto that rallies us to build “a Country of Cities,” to turn a country of highways, houses and hedges into a country of trains, towers and trees.
Vishaan Chakrabarti is the director of Columbia University’s Center for Urban Real Estate (CURE). In March 2012, Chakrabarti became a partner at SHoP Architects, where he will be working on such projects as the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn. An architect and planner, Chakrabarti has worked in both the public and private sectors: as a top executive at Related Companies; a director at the New York City Planning Commission; an associate partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; a transportation planner for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.”

(75 minutes)

If mayors ruled the world

“In the face of the most perilous challenges of our time–climate change, terrorism, poverty, and trafficking of drugs, guns, and people–the nations of the world seem paralyzed. The problems are too big, too interdependent, too divisive for the nation-state. Is the nation-state, once democracy’s best hope, today democratically dysfunctional? Obsolete? The answer, says Benjamin Barber in this highly provocative and original book, is yes. Cities and the mayors who run them can do and are doing a better job. Barber cites the unique qualities cities worldwide share: pragmatism, civic trust, participation, indifference to borders and sovereignty, and a democratic penchant for networking, creativity, innovation, and cooperation. He demonstrates how city mayors, singly and jointly, are responding to transnational problems more effectively than nation-states mired in ideological infighting and sovereign rivalries. Featuring profiles of a dozen mayors around the world–courageous, eccentric, or both at once–“If Mayors Ruled the World” presents a compelling new vision of governance for the coming century. Barber makes a persuasive case that the city is democracy’s best hope in a globalizing world, and great mayors are already proving that this is so.”

(18 minutes)
(70 minutes)

Step 4 (Assigned Nov 19) – Prepare a storyboard and letter from the future to illustrate a poignant aspect of the daily life experience of your chosen demographic.

12 thoughts on “Wednesday, November 19, 2014

  1. Vishaan Chakrabarti uses Bob the Builder, character I definitely cherish deep in my heart. Haha every child must have seen it once in his life. It’s crazy that I have seen this episode and I’m really shocked how Chakrabarti picks out the episode to play a role in this lecture. It’s crazy how the episode is an ironically built version of what we would all like to call our future if we were to stick to sustainability. However, as cities span the earth and spread, the inevitable thought of civilization spreads as well. People will build skyscrapers, people will travel for jobs, people will purchase cars and try to survive in a life they call the “American Dream”.
    Chakrabarti is right about pricing for bad behavior. It’s hard and difficult, but having to pay the cost for living that way will only be implemented slowly and surely. Any acts of fines must be implemented a gradual pace if of course, the terms are of concern to the society. Also, he’s right whatever is happening around the world is happening to our world. We all live in the same world, we all put effort into saving the same earth, as well as destroying the same world. We can’t ignore the any environmental degradation whether it’s in America or abroad.
    Chakrabarti closes with 5 recommendations for the community
    1. Dense New CBDs
    2. Cap & Trade UPzoning
    a. Mixed Density
    3. Green Systems
    a. Double skin curtain walls.
    4. Affordable Housing

    Both the lecture and questionaire was so informative. I cannot believe i have not seen this lecture before. I have alwyas been in love with nyc, and want every person to continue loving the city as much as I do. I feel as though he’s got some points that are spot on. With this, I can begin to understand how to better design for a better future.


  2. Barber really likes to use grandiose words…

    But his idea of real-world governing happening at the city level was quite interesting. i especially liked when he quoted mayor Bloomberg as saying:
    I have my own army in the NYPD and my own state department… NYC has every kind of people from every part of the world and every kind of problem. I don’t listen to Washington very much… the difference between my level of government and other levels of government is that action takes place at the city level. American government is incapable of doing anything. The mayors of this country still have to deal with the real world.

    When natural disasters happen, there are a series of steps that need to happen before a community can get help from the state or federal government. Because of these steps, aid can be needlessly delayed for hours or days. Meanwhile, it’s the mayor of cities small and big that has to get to work with stabilizing the situation and starting to deploy resources where they are needed most. This then made me sad that mayors are thought of as the lowest form of political power and that the ambitious mayors usually have their sights set on a governorship or run for senate or president.


  3. After this week’s viewings, I believe that there should be a much greater push in the United States and the world for denser cities. This belief is grounded on two major tenets, 1) Climate change is very real and we are only beginning to feel the impacts of it, 2) the rest of the world is developing at an extraordinary pace. As Vishaan Chakrabarti expertly demonstrated in his presentation, dense cities lead to a lower carbon footprint period. As more individuals rise into the middle class, the standard of living enjoyed by many Americans is unsustainable for the world. Although there are a host of other issues to consider when encouraging people to give up their personal space, in the face of climate change, the value of personal space should be determined by the market. For this reason, I believe that the government should play a larger role in monitoring per-capita energy consumption and treat it like a negative externality. Like any negative externality, incentives need to exist to discourage humans from wanting it. Not only do dense cities lead to a lower carbon footprint per capita but city governments are more effective than national governments.

    As Barber demonstrates in his ted talk, unlike the national government that barely gets anything done, city governments do not have that luxury. They have to solve the day to day problems faced by their constituents. The people are much closer to their government. There should be a larger emphasis on trying to create a model of governance where city mayors have a larger say in the global politics of their nation states. Overall, both of these viewings have greatly influenced the way I think about a good city and am very glad that I had the opportunity to see them. Thank you professor.


  4. I found Barber’s talk on cities to be very interesting. On one hand, I agree with his assessment of cities. They are the more durable unit of space/civilization. Throughout conflicts and wars cities are rarely remapped. They constantly stay the same city with a similar culture and values. In that sense it seems reasonable to have mayors be extremely important and to have more power. However I don’t foresee it ending well. There are far too many cities for this to be effective. In that sense it is essential to have nation states to ensure that everything is well organized. I do believe that this is an opportunity to strengthen the role of the mayor despite all of this. If we put more emphasis on the mayor/local government role, it may be easier and more effective in governing cities. With the growing population it will become essential to understand and customize government for each city. However, what if there is no one capable enough to lead the city? I think if we would revert to this kind of government, there would be a lot of contingency plans so that nothing falls through the cracks.


  5. I really like the way Vishaal Chakrabarti connects cultural values to the way cities are built. It’s easy to look at good sustainable cities as examples we should follow, but I don’t think a lot about why we aren’t there in terms of societal values. The point about the high speed rail was compelling, as well as his examples of density vs unlived space (ie the texas new mexico one). I also found his quote about “if you love nature, don’t live in it” really interesting, and again goes back to our values as a society – why do we feel the need to measure success by the patch of grass outside our house? Why do we have to own property? I never really considered these issues too deeply before, but they seem to actually play a pretty big part in our growth (or lack of) in urban planning. Barber also talks about how we are evolving into a interdependent society, which is making me think about the discrepancy between our need/desire for community and our simultaneous rejection of it (emphasis on materialism, personal ownership). Then again, despite their gains, there are still lots of problems with current examples of dense cities – human congestion being the main issue I’m thinking about. It’s probably true that cities are going to be the future, but I don’t know if they are necessarily the preferable one. You can find ways to pack people into a space in a density efficient way, but I think the problem after that is how to make that experience livable or comfortable. Public transportation is great but not during rush hour.

    I also like the part in Barber’s talk where he mentions how cities are more effective at tackling large problems (ie climate change) than states or nations. Up till now I think I’ve been blaming the government for not implementing legislation to motivate the country to address these issues, but it’s probably actually more efficient for cities to deal with these issues themselves, as they are different everywhere.


  6. I appreciated Chakrabarti’s emphasis on cultural influence in how we treat one another and our environment. However, I’m not sure I agree with some of his proposed solutions. For example, fines for not meeting standards. In concept, this is a great idea. Shit on the environment, drop a few thousand, transfer that money into building technological alternatives. However, it is usually the companies that disregard rules, that also make the most money. Usually abiding by rules means cutting costs, which means more profit, which means being able to afford the luxury of shelling out dollars for negligible fines. The companies that are doing it right, aren’t usually making that much money. So what does this mean? Make the fines more expensive? Historically, brute force never wins in the long run. We have to find other ways of motivating change. A lot of the topics we focused on in Design Ethos showed that making sustainable choices means more profit in the long run. Maybe we need to figure out how to emphasize the importance of the long run. Or maybe, capitalism is a society in which only the short term is relevant. Get in and try to be fortunate to get out before it hits. That’s another discussion.

    Barber is absolutely right that enacting changes on a smaller scale is more effective. Obama may only have 40-50% approval, but let’s not forget that he won the presidential race mostly because of his grassroots style campaign: small scale change. I think an important point to mention is that it’s not necessarily the city’s trust in the mayor. In larger cities, people are lucky if they even know the mayor’s name. I think enacting city-wide change is more effective due to personal identity. You identify as a member of the city, so it’s personal. You’re from California? Damn right you recycle. Damn right there’s five different recycling bins. City pride is what drives sports, one of the most influential industries in America, and arguably the least useful. Maybe if we take that phenomenon, and utilize it for sustainability?


  7. I loved Chakrabarti’s talk.
    I love how his definition of city is “a place dense enough to support subways.” It’s pretty straightforward, and gets us all on the same page. (and sets a pretty high bar! for example, maybe Pittsburgh isn’t a city. interesting.)
    I love his emphasis on actually building mass transit – trains and stuff. China isn’t “too big” for trains, so where do we get off thinking that we are?
    I loved, and felt guilty loving, his emphases about not living in nature, not owning a house, increasing gas taxes, congestion pricing, etc. Mostly because it’s all the future that I want to see. I wonder about how to bring people on board who don’t already love that future. My parents came to visit, and they were annoyed by a train keeping them up at night, and marveling at my mom’s coworker from Shanghai; they seem to think “what an awful place, it must be such a breath of fresh air quite literally to visit Cleveland.” How would I convince my parents that density is a good thing, not a bad thing?


  8. Benjamin Barber’s (2013) TED talk “Why mayors should rule the world” brought up an interesting perspective that the city level and mayors are where real democracy happens and where day-to-day things truly get accomplished, unlike standstill states and nations that get too focused on ideologies. Barber brought up in this talk that it would be helpful for the world to have “a parliament of mayors” because he thinks democracies came from cities and therefore need to come alive again in cities. While “a parliament of mayors” is a really neat concept, I do wonder whether the idea is too extreme… Would Barber advocate getting rid of states and nations all together, or just diminishing their importance?


  9. I really enjoyed Chakrabarti’s talk on cities. He makes a very compelling argument about why we should live in cities and forego this notion that we all need to live in single family homes in the suburbs and be reliant on cars. I agree with the notion that cities are the future and by living in them we will help curtail environmental impact and be an economic stimulus. His argument for a high speed rail system is very compelling, especially when looking at the northeast and understanding how many flights we have per day between theses cities. Planes are known for being the most inefficient methods of travel, but yet we all fly multiple times a year on them. I also loved the notion of pricing bad behavior, people should be paying the true cost of the way they are living. It makes me think of my parents in their exorbitantly large home in San Antonio, driving everywhere in their Prius. I truly think that everyone in America should watch this video to gain a better understanding of their decisions and what the future might look like if we all lived in cities.


  10. I really thought that Chakrabarti’s ideas on the cities was on point. His idea that we should all be living in cities is accurate because doing so will help us be more sustainable. The single family home prospect is very unsustainable and not necessary. By locating ourselves within the city we can minimize negative environmental impact and be located near eachother. There will be no need for most of us to rely on airplanes and various means of transportation to commute. Subways and trains should be the future, why cant we do this? Sustainable cities will limit a bunch of factors that are hindering our sustainable future. China can do it, why can’t we? However, this really limits the world and crams us into high rise buildings taking away our character and identity. We are one number in a lot of numbers and this will make us feel lost and less individualistic. There will be too many of us in one place and no place to breath. And what about vacations? Do we really want to narrow the world?


  11. I really liked Benjamin Barber’s TED talk – he really highlighted a key aspect of how in this 21st century the problems that we are facing are no longer contained within a country, they’ve become cross border problems. From HIV to markets, these factors have become global concerns and the level of dependency between countries is too high.He makes a very fair comment that we always look for solutions for policies from governments and politicians who’s structure itself originated about 400 years ago – and therefore need rapid change in order to make solutions that fit the era that we live in.


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