May 21, 2007

The Mayor is an Architect

[image from flickr user pleasurejunkie]

The Times Sunday Magazine spotlights the Brazilian city of Curitiba and its ex-mayor/architect/planner Jaime Lerner this week:

In the early 1970s, when Brazil was welcoming any industry, no matter how toxic its byproducts, Curitiba decided to admit only nonpolluters; to accommodate them, it constructed an industrial district that reserved so much land for green space that it was derided as a “golf course” until it succeeded in filling up with major businesses while its counterparts in other Latin American cities were flagging. Through the creation of two dozen recreational parks, many with lakes to catch runoff in low-lying areas that flood periodically, Curitiba managed, at a time of explosive population growth, to increase its green areas from 5 square feet per inhabitant to an astounding 560 square feet. The city promoted “green” policies before they were fashionable and called itself “the ecological capital of Brazil” in the 1980s, when there were no rivals for such a title. Today, Curitiba remains a pilgrimage destination for urbanists fascinated by its bus system, garbage-recycling program and network of parks. It is the answer to what might otherwise be a hypothetical question: How would cities look if urban planners, not politicians, took control?

The city is probably best known for its decision to build an extensive express-bus system rather than a subway or light rail system.


And, of course, the bus system map (which by its graphic qualities alone makes it quite clear that the bus system is a substitute for a rail system):


One issue that I wish the Times had gotten to is that of expansion versus reuse -- elsewhere I've seen it suggested that Lerner aimed for reuse over expansion, but in a city where the population has grown from under half a million in the sixties to over three million in the metropolitan area today, reuse can't be the sole direction (unfortunately, as reuse is nearly always more interesting...)

Ben Olsen

Well, I suppose that given all the times Andy fell over without any help, it isn't too surprising that no one really noticed Ben giving him a bit of help...

May 6, 2007

Handsome Furs

Dan Boeckner (of Wolf Parade) + fiancee Alexei Perry = Handsome Furs.

First single, "What we had" is fantastic, scratching the itch for more Wolf Parade (actually, Wolf Parade members have been doing a lot of scratching lately, what with Frog Eyes and Swan Lake and all). Get it from subpop.

You can also watch the slightly disturbing video for another song ("Dumb Animals") here. I recommend switching to another tab and doing something else while it plays in the background.

May 4, 2007


BLDGBLOG has an excellent post up reflecting on a forum in LA about "great streets". (Judging by the number and tenor of the comments, I'm not the only person who thinks highly of it). Makes a couple of great points, particularly:

1. "...people seem to hear the word "street" and they immediately assume it means cars – a "street" means infrastructure for the near-exclusive use of trucks and automobiles.
A street means something I can drive my car on."

A great point, though not particularly unusual.

2. " is like discovering a different world, tucked away inside the United States – and it's a world that's been built for human beings.
After all, you get at least a tiny bit of exercise everyday; you wake up, drinking coffee outside on the way to class or to work; you don't worry about parking, or about auto theft; you see familiar people hanging out, and you can even stop off and talk to them, standing under oak trees.
You can jump around and be a total moron in your own body, outside with the friends who actually know you.
But if you do that now, commuting to work in an automobile, you get pulled over by state troopers, tasered in the face – and then you show up on Boing Boing.
It's a different world.
It's not a world built for you anymore. It's a world built for cars.
In many ways, it's as if being an adult in the United States really means changing your everyday landscape. Instead of benches, paths, people, and sunlight, you get cars, parking lots, strangers, and road rage."

Something I had not thought about... though college was where I gave up on cars, more or less.

3. "What was genuinely never discussed, though, was not the idea that we need more highways and parking lots and one-way express lanes because everyone owns a car, but that everyone owns a car because they're surrounded by highways and parking lots and one-way express lanes. "

I'm wholly in agreement with this point.

Maybe we should apply Wendell Berry's standards for technological innovation to cars?

1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.
2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.
3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces.
4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces.
5. If possible, it should use some form of solar energy, such as that of the body.
6. It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.
7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.
8. It should come from a small, privately owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenance and repair.
9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.

I'm not saying that I necessarily agree with Berry, but I'm sure that we moderns idolize progress and would be well-served to reflect a bit on the where progression "replaces or disrupts" "good that already exists".