More to Design Around than Building Heights

16 Jul

By Guest Blogger, Cherie Beck

After watching this provocative video clip from 2004 TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference (it’s about ideas worth spreading) it became even more obvious to me that the posturing we are doing around downtown development, particularly the argument and focus related to building heights, is way off the mark.

Below is a link to the 20-minute talk from James Howard Kunstler‘s view ‘that public spaces should be inspired centers of civic life — the physical manifestation of the common good. Instead, he argues, what we have in America is a nation of places not worth caring about. Re-engineering our cities will involve more radical change than we are prepared for, he believes, but our hand will be forced by earth crises stemming from our overconsuming lifestyle. “Life in the mid-21st century,” Kunstler says, “is going to be about living locally.” Passionate, profane and funny, this talk will make you think about the place where you live.’

Please watch this presentation and let us know if you are ready to have a meaningful conversation about Columbia/Howard County regeneration that includes this perspective.

The Tragedy of Suburbia

This is an excerpt from this video representing a point of view I share with Mr. Kunstler and am committed to being a part of bringing to the county systems of America. Starting with where I live.

“We are entering an epochal period of change in the world and certainly in America. The period that will be characterized by the end of the cheap oil era. It is going to change absolutely everything…

We are going to have to downscale, rescale, and re-size virtually everything we do in this county. And we can’t start soon enough to do it.

We are going to have to live closer to each other, live closer to work, and grow more food close to where we live. The age of the 3000 mile Caesar salad is coming to an end. We have a railroad system that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of. And we have do better than that and we should have started two days before yesterday.

We are going to have relearn how to compose meaningful places, places that are integral; that are living organisms in the sense they contain all the organs of our civic life, in our communal life. Deployed in an integral fashion. So the residences makes sense deployed in relation to the places of business, of culture and governance.

We are going to have learn what the building blocks of these things are; the street, the block. How to compose public space that is both large and small; the courtyard, the civic square. How to make use of this property.

America is not prepared. We are not ready for what is coming at us, we are sleepwalking into the future. Be prepared to be good neighbors, to find vocations that make you useful to your neighbors and fellow citizens. “

Where do we start? With design, of course. And design will be a function of the conditions people live in, who lives there, what they care about, and why they care. Those answers, I assert, are only partially represented in media-scape I perceive.

What Jim Rouse began 40 years ago is a start, a beginning to this process, and one which yields an advantage for Columbia and Howard County to become a leader in this domain.


One Response to “More to Design Around than Building Heights”

  1. wordbones July 16, 2007 at 9:51 pm #

    Nice post.
    I just watched the video and it was the best twenty minutes I spent today. It’s funny; the first slide he used entitled “National Automobile Slum” was similar to a slide The Rouse Company used in a slide show in the old Exhibit Center to demonstrate what Route 29 might look like without Columbia.

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