Landscape vs. New Urbanism

A few notes I took at Charles Waldheim’s speech (the “LU vs. NU throwdown“) at CNU 19 in Madison:

1. Charles Waldheim didn’t show the same fangs towards NU in his talk that he has in his articles.

2. More about the “hegemony” of NU? Perhaps in theory, but anyone who talks like that merely shows how divorced ivory tower academics are from the practice of building tract houses, strip malls, and office campuses. It’s a huge world out there.

3. Waldheim takes credit for certain projects which aren’t quite what they seem. The High Line is a gold-plated park which works in that particular high-density context — but as Jane Jacobs points out with her discussion of small blocks vis-a-vis Park Avenue and Rockefeller Plaza, any new north-south route within the oversized Manhattan grid will create exceptional value. That goes double for the High Line, since NYC pursued a density-transfer approach that stacked even more buildable value along the High Line. It’s a proto-NU approach.

His slides only showed the Lower Don Lands project in Toronto as anything on the site (excepting the UDA-designed project just upstream) that included new urban fabric — and the urban design was by Ken Greenberg, who is a bona fide New Urbanist. Their proposal is a prime example of placing Buildings In Space without regard to the pedestrian connections or urban space between them; the landscape doesn’t allow the nodes of fabric to be contiguous, and the buildings’ jaunty angles don’t appear to have any rhyme or reason. Taking credit for the TTC’s carbon efficiency, and by extension the hydroelectric plants upstream, is manifestly cheating.

4. To complement point #1, he didn’t show the sorts of plans featured in the various LU books and journals — of fragmented separate-use, low density pods isolated by shards of landscape, resembling nothing so much as 1980s golf-course or marina subdivisions.

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