Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Future of Urbanism

Today (yesterday), I attended the second day of a conference entitled "Future of Urbanism" at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  It was hosted by the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning (TCAUP).  The conference brought together many different architects, planners, and others from around the world to talk about where our urban future is heading.  Here is a little rundown:

The opening panel of the day talked about Urban and Regional Ecologies, and the discussion that followed had a lot to do with the importance of social/environmental justice.  They also emphasized the importance of having a situational awareness when creating regulations and approaching things with a new spatial perspective.  The latter of which I was happy about because of the emphasis on geographic knowledge that a spatial perspective requires.  We can call all of this "spatial justice".

The future of urbanism needs to be one that incorporates multiple disciplines.  One of the panelists proclaimed "Architecture, left on its own, will cannibalize us all."

The second group of speakers for the day spoke on MEGACITY / shrinking city.  This obviously took the form of two perspectives.  One looked at rapidly expanding cities in the world, particularly those in developing regions such as Africa and China, while the other side looked at the cities of the American Rust Belt, such as Cleveland and Detroit.  The goal was to think through how cities handle rapid development or how they deal with significant decline.

The speakers on the shrinking city were especially interesting to me, since I wrote a paper on Detroit last semester that suggested how it might be able to handle its situation by reducing its footprint.  I chose to look further into the topic after reading an article from TIME magazine, and recently Detroit Mayor Dave Bing began working toward something quite similar.

One of the speakers, Myron Orfield, is a law professor at the University of Minnesota, among other things.  He touched on the subject of urban policy and who makes it.  The general theme is political fragmentation and the average American has 7 governmental bodies above them working on policy issues (county, city/township, school district, and various special districts like watersheds).  Various harms result because of this fragmentation: sprawl, segregation, and inequalities.  He cited the examples of Portland, OR and the Twin Cities as ways to solve these problems with effective regional organization.

The other speaker on the shrinking city was the mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, Jay Williams.  His perspective on how to fix problems associated with decline and try to reverse the fall was very insightful.

The third panel was on the topic "Urban Imaginary" and how we construct visual narratives that increase connectivity with the city in order to further understand a future urbanism.  Here there were a lot of great examples of GIS in practice.  Making urban form and the visualization of urban phenomena into something of an art form or connecting and aggregating photos from Flickr to a map based on geographic coordinates and descriptive tags.  Another part of this was the Copenhagen Wheel, which can probably be best described by paying a visit to the site.

I think the final piece to this panel (which was really the middle) is super interesting.  Marshall Brown, from the Illinois Institute of Technology, talked about architecture and urbanism as mashup.  He went through a history of mashup itself that culminated with DJ Dangermouse's The Grey Album and connected it to a cut, copy, and paste version of design that integrates multiple ideas in order to pull together an already heterogeneous cityscape.  Also, we must not confuse mashup with collage because mashup takes a lot of thought to put together an 'original' design instead of just throwing stuff together.

Something he said: "STEAL EVERYTHING"

Finally, the last session was on New Public Spaces and how new social media has affected the material city.

This is a very cursory review of what caught my attention the most.  In no way did I flesh out most of the details, and I would recommend checking out the TCAUP YouTube site to catch the video of some or all of the talks when they get posted in April.  In the meantime, they have video from their Future of Design conference that happened back in October for those interested.