Planetizen


Next Steps for Shrinking Cities: Results of the Planetizen Brainstorm

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July 9, 2009
Bulldoze? Densify? Walk away? There are many ways cities can react to shrinking populations and abandoned neighborhoods. Planetizen readers decide which ways are the best.

It's hard to think about Detroit these days without picturing empty streets, cracked windows, and chaos -- essentially, a broken city. In fact, if the idea of a "broken city" needed a poster child, Detroit would be high in the running. Between 2000 and 2007, the city lost more than 30,000 people. More than 15,000 homes are currently under bank ownership. More than 3,100 homes were torn down in 2008.

The Informal Economy: Michael Jackson Edition

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July 7, 2009
I couldn't resist. I knew it was going to be a madhouse in downtown L.A. for Michael Jackson's memorial service, but I had to go see what it was like -- not because I'm a super fan, but purely for the urban novelty of a huge swath of downtown closed off for thousands of fans and mourners.

But what really struck me as I was wandering around amongst the masses was the huge percentage of them that were neither fans nor mourners. Lined along the sidewalks leading to the memorial's venue were dozens of vendors, selling everything you could think of with Michael Jackson's name or face pasted on. From buttons to t-shirts to hand-painted portraits, the informal economy was booming down at MJ Central.

London's Big Stadium Gamble

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June 30, 2009
The Olympics can be awesome for cities. Or they can be devastating. Rarely they're both, and most often they are an economic drain caused by over-investment in facilities with limited long-term usability. So when London announced plans for a 2012 Summer Olympics stadium that would reduce from 80,000 seats during the games to a more realistically usable 25,000 seats after, Olympics experts, city officials and taxpayers rejoiced. But recent news has turned that rejoice to disgust.

London Olympics officials are now flipping a sharp U-turn, calling to revise plans for the stadium to keep the 80,000 seats permanently. Margaret Ford, the new head of the Olympic legacy team, is confident the stadium will be able to pull in crowds all year, and is leading the charge to make permanent what has for years been designed as temporary.

In fact, the stadium is already under construction. This late-stage program change is bound to throw a wrench into the renderings of designer Populous (formerly HOK Sport).

Megaregions and Megaproblems

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June 25, 2009
As America's metropolitan areas meld into "megaregions", officials and policymakers will need to figure out how to deal with their shared and growing infrastructure problems. Consider the ball rolling.

The growing population of America is creating major metropolitan regions that can span state lines and encompass tens of millions of people. These emerging regions are projected to continue to grow, and as they do, their infrastructure is expected to struggle to keep up with the pace of expansion. In areas like transportation, energy and water, how these regions meet the needs of the near future is a question nobody quite knows how to answer.

Masterplanning the Architecture of the Near Future

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June 18, 2009
As the population rises, underused and empty spaces are going to fill in. How well the transition works depends on shifts in demographics and infrastructure, as well as architecture. A studio of UCLA architecture students were asked to plot that transition. But before they could be architects, they had to be planners.

It started with the masterplanning. Then, there was the city block. Then the buildings took a general form. If there was time, the buildings would get their details, like structural specification. But there wasn't a whole lot of time.

Probably not what you’d expect from an architecture course.

Comparing Celebrations in Championship Cities

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June 15, 2009
Here in Los Angeles, the local professional basketball team just won its league's national championship. When I was in Barcelona a few weeks back, the local soccer team won a major international championship. These were two days for the cities to celebrate their home teams' triumphs, but the differences in how they celebrated says a lot about these cities and their civic cultures.

I had just arrived in Barcelona as the European Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United was getting underway. I made it from the airport to my cousin's apartment in Barcelona by half-time, and the local team was already up 1-0. The streets were pretty much deserted, as all eyes were on the game. Excited yelling could be heard from the windows when a good play was made or when a shot nearly missed. The game was everywhere. And when Barcelona scored a second goal, it was unavoidable. Fireworks were shot off from rooftops and intersections.

The Garbage Genius of Paris

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June 6, 2009
I just got back from my first trip to Europe, where the cities are a lot older and a lot different than they are here in the New World. I made many observations on my brief trip, which included Paris and Barcelona, and I'm sure those will bubble up in blog posts in the near future. However, I won't waste anyone's time remarking about how great European cities are. We've all heard it before, and while it may be right, the point has been made. Like, really made.

So, yes, the narrow streets are nice to walk on, the bike sharing system in Paris is awesome, and the architecture is impressive. But one piece of these cities that hasn't receioved enough praise is their garbage cans.

Specifically, I'm talking about Paris here, and more specifically, we can't even call them garbage cans. As you can see in the picture below (yes, I take pictures of garbage cans on vacation), these garbage "cans" are not much more than posts, hoops and plastic bags.

The Future of Empty Car Dealerships: Results of the Planetizen Brainstorm

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May 21, 2009
The results are in! We asked for you ideas for reusing the empty car dealerships cropping up around the country. Urban gardens? Flying car launch pads? These ideas may seem far out, but the number one answer may surprise you.

Five-acre plots of emptiness are popping up across the country. From Fort Wayne, Indiana to San Antonio, Texas, from Millerstown, Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh, California, car dealerships are closing down, leaving empty scars of land behind. The closures are a result of the continuing struggles of American automakers, which recently announced the closure of nearly 2,000 auto dealerships nationwide. Chrysler is closing 789, and General Motors is shutting down 1,100 more.

Breaking Silos in the City

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May 4, 2009
City government is made up of many individual parts. Though they need to work together, they aren't typically very good at it -- especially in big cities. Recently, an interdepartmental group of city officials in Los Angeles came together to try to improve the way they work together and the way they better their city.

"Department-divided" is how Lillian Burkenheim describes the city of Los Angeles. She's a project manager with the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, and has been frustrated with the compartmentalization of city functions and departments that often keeps them separated. This is a problem not just in L.A., but in other big cities where the sheer size of the place institutionally segregates city officials who regularly need to -- or at least should -- be working together.

Who Really Needs A World Cup

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April 16, 2009
Whether you've realized it yet or not, soccer is a big deal in this gloabalizing world. And every four years it's a huge deal for one country: the host of the FIFA World Cup.

All eyes are on the host country for the 32-team tournament, which is the most-watched sporting event in the world. And though showtime is just one month long, the host spends years vying, preparing and investing for the tournament. It has major potential to spur broad countrywide improvements and economic development. So when the U.S. made news recently by offering forth 70 stadia as possible host sites for either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup (along with a reputation booster from President Barack Obama), I had to filter out my national pride. Sure, the U.S.