Jacobs understood when cities really work they’re phenomena that come from the bottom up. So a great neighbourhood is what happens when thousands of different actors – that’s the shop keepers, bar owners, the people walking the streets – they come together in an uncoordinated, but meaningful way to create the flavour and personality of the distinct neighbourhood. That not ‘planned’, that’s much more a question of organised complexity.
We must kill the street. We shall truly enter into modern town planning only after we have accepted this preliminary determination.
Le Corbusier, architect
When you operate in an overbuilt metropolis, you have to hack your way with a meat ax.
Technically, Robert Caro’s book The Power Broker is a biography of urban planner Robert Moses, but that description feels laughably inadequate on multiple counts. For more than four decades, this particular urban planner was the most powerful man in New York, an unelected emperor who dominated the mayors and governors who were supposedly in charge, and who physically reshaped the city through sheer force of will. Caro’s enormous book, meanwhile, is less a life story than an epic, meticulously detailed study of power in general: how it’s acquired, how it’s used to change history, how it ultimately corrupts those who get it.
The most valuable visual information that these maps convey is the density of a particular area. Planned right, a dense city can be a positive environment for productivity. Griffiths explains that the clustering effect creates “agglomeration economies.” “If you cluster a whole lot of people close to each other, with skills that aren’t necessarily the same,” he says, “you get opportunities for new creations.”
In accordance with modernist ideals of progress (which encouraged the annihilation of tradition), The Radiant City was to emerge from a tabula rasa: it was to be built on nothing less than the grounds of demolished vernacular European cities. The new city would contain prefabricated and identical high-density skyscrapers, spread across a vast green area and arranged in a Cartesian grid, allowing the city to function as a “living machine.” Le Corbusier explains: “The city of today is a dying thing because its planning is not in the proportion of geometrical one fourth. The result of a true geometrical lay-out is repetition, The result of repetition is a standard. The perfect form.”
I guess there is this very difficult tradition, which comes from the way we teach architecture and planning, the idea that one person can solve everything. And we even have this term ‘The Masterplan’, like ‘I’m going to do The Masterplan’, which will answer all questions. And of course we know it’s impossible, cities are unbelievably complex, so even the idea of a masterplan is really crazy. All we can do is make a kind of a framework, we came make a very robust framework which allows life to take place.
The exhibition’s title – Grand Reductions – suggests the simple illustration’s power to encapsulate complex ideas. And for that reason the medium has always been suited to the city, an intricate organism that has been re-imagined (with satellite towns! in rural grids! in megaregions!) by generations of architects, planners and idealists. In the urban context, diagrams can be powerful precisely because they make weighty questions of land use and design digestible in a single sweep of the eye. But as Le Corbusier’s plan illustrates, they can also seductively oversimplify the problems of cities. These 10 diagrams have been tremendously influential – not always for the good.
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Long after the duct settled and the site was cleared this is the Pruitt-Igoe that remained. The mythical Pruitt-Igoe with a fatal flaw, doomed to failure from he start. Little was said about the laws that built and maintained it, the economy that deserted it, the segregation that stripped away opportunity, the radically changing city in which it stood. In the years of Pruitt-Igoe the American city was wrenched apart by devastating forces. They were felt most deeply by a large, but vulnerable housing on the north side of St Louis. It’s a powerful story with a dramatic end and its after shocks are still with us.