Monthly Archives: June 2008

What’s your brand [of urbanism]?

Mine is probably only found on the shelves of the library but these theoretical meanderings are one of my muses. One of my favorites is the online journal Urban Reinventors. In the latest issue, Celebrations of Urbanity, the introduction by Alessandro Busà “deconstructs the rhetoric of urbanity”.

Busà suggest that “In a new, after-modern era wherein the notion of urbanity is widely celebrated, bill boarded and squeezed into an often narrow iconic vision by realtors, private enterprises as well as by entrepreneurial administrations, our first aim must be to question, challenge and re-discuss urbanity.”

Busà then describes some of the existing models

We have the archetypal Jane Jacobs’ urban model of Manhattan’s West Village, with its narrow lively streets, its short blocks, its mix of old and new architectural styles, its density of smallscale retail and its pedestrian friendliness.


We have the “dirty” urban model of places such as Jackson Heights in New York’s borough of Queens, where urbanity results from the crowding of people of all races mingling together in a multicultural, chaotic, untidy and extremely lively environment.

We have the selective urbanity of the gentrified city, home to Florida’s “creative class”, such as the new downtowns in Berlin Mitte, in Paris’ Le Marais or in London’s East End, with their array of Starbucks cafés, lounge bars and trendy commercial streets.

We have the “urban renaissance” model, such as the new Covent Garden in London, where a brand new urbanity made of polished architectures, fine stores and coffee tables in the streets are mostly catering to gentrifiers and tourists, and where a strong surveillance through cameras and police guards is constantly needed.

We have the “festival marketplace” model of a nostalgic, inauthentic urbanity, invented or reinvented as a commodity for mass tourism.

We finally have the New Urbanist model, with its brand new, if often historicist, architectures, its pedestrian oriented environments, its dense urban fabric, its promises of an urban quality of life unknown to most US dwellers.”

What is important here is to investigate whether urbanity may be the answer to our concerns of social inclusion, tolerance, quality of life, individual and collective fulfillment. And if so, what kind of urbanity do we stand for?



Filed under Imaging

Homeless Man Paints the Town Red

Alright kids, let this be a lesson. Don’t vandalize. And adults, don’t leave paint lying around for us to literally paint the town red. According to the Enquirer the mysterious Washington Park vandal has been identified by red spots on his jacket.

Now if we can just catch the idiot that painted the southern gates all one solid color as if it makes it looks nicer. Its stone, you shouldn’t paint it. Maybe power-washing would have been a better choice, but the patina adds to the character.


Filed under OTR, public space

Banks Design Tease

Yesterday some rendering of the first phase of the banks were released. I haven’t seen them all, but there are a few here. I’m curious what everyone thinks, specifically in regards to the idea from the article about how the “riverfront development’s look fits Cincinnati.” Seems like it could be in Anywhere USA to me.

I also thought that changing the heights of the elevation to make it appear to be separate buildings is just a faux finish. It reminds me a lot of contemporary mixed use buildings. Why can’t these large developments reinvent how mixed use feels. Even changing the materials on the street level and offsetting the setback a touch would make more sense than altering the heights. Especially, because it should be about the pedestrian.


Filed under Uncategorized

Virtual Traffic Calming

This is an interesting strategy being tested in Philly to slow drivers. The 2d painted surface appears to be 3d to oncoming drivers causing them to slow down.

Seems a bit dangerous, but oddly similar to some street artist work. I’ll bet the city gets some calls because of this.

Original article


Filed under Imaging

Place Branding by Association

I don’t mean to pick on Lavomatic, or the other merchants in the Gateway Quarter. Honestly, I think that these places are great and are a crucial part of what is needed for OTR to be a healthy neighborhood. But, as some know, this blog started with a post about the Gateway Quarter as an example of place branding. I thought it would be fun to revisit some of these ideas four months later in the context of an article written about Lavomatic.

More interesting to me than the specifics of this instance are the perceptions and portrayals of transitioning urban neighborhoods in general. The article is primarily about the food and is written by a food critic, so the comments should be understood in that context. I am not trying to devalue the point of the article because it is well written and does exactly what it is supposed to. This is interesting to me because of its relationship to place branding. It is not an expert urbanist’s perception of the neighborhood, but has some implications for thinking about the Gateway Quarter as a place.

The article starts by commenting that “It’s a big scary world out there. So it’s good to find a place that creates its own cozy corner of it, a restaurant with a well-developed sense of where exactly it is.”

I’m not sure how this was intended, but in the context of what follows and the general perception of its location I read a big scary neighborhood. Also, I’m interested to know how this “well-developed sense of where exactly it is” relates to this big scary world.

The article then mentions that “Lavomatic is a cornerstone of the neighborhood that’s evolving as the Gateway Quarter on the blocks of Vine Street north of Central Parkway.” Cornerstone might be an overstatement, but it is important

What my initial post eventually alluded to, is that the development of the Gateway Quarter in being conflated with OTR. Effectively, psychologically isolating an area from the perceptions of its surroundings neighborhood and carving a safe space in the contested territory that is OTR. This has some value, but my opinion is that it can also be detrimental to building a tolerant community. My concern is still that this might be divisive and exclusive.

The introduction concludes by describing Lavomatic.

“In a former laundry (lavomatic, in French) it has a homey theme evoking freshly washed clothes and domesticity. Close to the Art Academy, Know Theatre and Ensemble Theatre, it also feels arty and urban-cool. It’s a neighborhood restaurant worth traveling to.”

“Evoking freshly washed clothes and domesticity” is awesome and I’ll let the “arty urban-cool” go because its exactly what my mother would say. But a “neighborhood restaurant worth traveling to” made me think for a minute. And I still feel a bit puzzled. Is it a neighborhood restaurant that those who live here can enjoy or a place that requires outsiders to travel?


Filed under Imaging, OTR


Check out this video of more DIY urban planning. This comes from streetblog‘s Streetfilms and covers‘s efforts.

What struck me is the woman half way through who talks about why she moved to Portland. This is the power of a city promoting and building DIY planning opportunities.


Filed under DIY urbanism, Elsewheres, Imaging, public space

Part 2: Is New Urbanism a New Civitas

Cities all over are on the rebound. But this isn’t you parent’s urbanism; it’s a New Urbanism. These two words are often equated with mixed use, public transit, walkability, and my personal favorite ambiguous term, livability. New urbanism may encompass these some of these ideas, but it also represents a new ideology in planning that in some ways is not that different from Modernism. Before we start jumping on the bandwagon we should know where we are headed.

Continue reading


Filed under planning, urban design