30 June 2014

Is it a trend, innovation, or fad?

Bloomberg reports that the fastest growing area in the US has no kids or crime. The place they are talking about is The Villages in Florida near Ocala.

This isn't a new trend. In 2008, Andrew Blechman's Leisureville looked at the phenomena of retirement communities with a particularly close examination of The Villages. The NYTimes review of his book suggested that he had some less than kind words about the community-building interests of participants in this trend:

Blechman, the father of a young child, descends with a point of view. Retirement utopias, which first appeared in Arizona in the 1950s, are made possible by court decisions allowing segregation by age, where comparable segregation by race or religion would shock the conscience. Retirees like the Andersons leave towns that spend 55 percent of their budgets on the school system for subdivisions where the money goes to adult self-indulgence. As Blechman says, the resulting so-called life can’t “hide the fact that these communities are based on a selfish and fraudulent premise” and that Americans pay “the high societal price of this exclusionary lifestyle.”

But is this a just a fad? As the baby boomers start reaching their retirement years, they are discovering that it might be difficult to jump on this bandwagon. Last year Emily Badger wondered whether Boomers will be able to sell their houses and move to golfistans. She quotes Arthur C. Nelson who said that 77% of the demand for new construction of suburban single-family homes was driven by white baby boomers. But as they reach an age where driving is dangerous, mowing is a hassle, and where urban minorities are the new majority, the market might be different. She quotes him saying:
“My suspicion,” Nelson says, “is that many hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of those households in the 2020s to 2030 and beyond will simply give up the house and walk away.”
And now we are seeing that crushing student debt and a love for cities are reinforcing the trend with the Millenials delaying home ownership and trending towards living in downtowns and urban hubs where they live with friends and rent longer than the Boomers were expecting.

The next decade could be very interesting. Especially if there is another housing collapse looming in the distance.

18 June 2014

Olmsted on TV

It is a great time for landscape architecture on TV for those in the NYC area.

Tonight (or tomorrow morning) at 1am, PBS 13 will be re-airing the Susan Sarandon narrated Great Museums episode on the High Line. Later tomorrow (Thursday) morning, PBS 13 is re-airing the 1 hour documentary, Olmsted and America's Urban Parks.

Then, on June 20th PBS everywhere will be airing a new special, Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America, which emphasizes his central role in shaping America and its identity.

Get some popcorn or set the DVR (or both).

16 June 2014

Olmsted's plea for scientific agriculture

Watching science improve farming in other places, particularly England, Frederick Law Olmsted wanted his fellow farmers to see these same improvements. He plead for a better exchange of information that would help them all improve their yields and keep up with these standard bearers. Having detailed the great outcomes that were being elsewhere ("the average crop of all England has increased eight bushels per acre") he made this plea:
Farmers of Staten Island! it is the application of Science, of THOUGHT TO AGRICULTURE, that does this! What results might we anticipate if the Thought, the Skill, the Enterprise, the Energy, should be brought to bear upon our noble employment, which have given to the world the Steam Engine, the Cotton Gin, the Steamboat, the Railroad, the Electric Telegraph! And why shall we not ask it? No man expects the Merchant, the Mechanic, the Manufacturer of the present day to succeed in his calling while stupidly shutting his eyes to the light of Science, or scornfully pushing aside the proffered aid of the student. They readily avail themselves of aid from all sources. It is time the Farmer did so too. They have no patent right to improvement. Progress is no half-hardy plant that must be trained to the walls of cities. Why is it, then, that in all the pursuits of Human Industry we see such rapid achievement, while in our Art, the art on which all other arts depend, the wheels of progress move so strangely slow?
From the Appeal to the citizens of Staten Island by the Board of Managers of the Richmond County Agricultural Society, by Frederick Law Olmsted as corresponding secretary of the newly formed Richmond County Agricultural Society - December 1849.

11 June 2014

King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia

While New Brunswick and New York are trying to figure out where to wedge in a new development or what buildings to replace with highrises, there are a few parts of the world where entire cities are being designed and built in just a a few years - China and the Middle East, most notably.

An interesting example is the King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia, which Nicolai Ouroussoff, the former NY Times Architecture Critic, said "aims to draw a range of Western corporations and their employees, as well as their expertise, to create a social mixing chamber." While this is a slower process, not intended for completion until 2030, KAEC is still being planned and built almost simultaneously. It is an effort to broaden the economic base of Saudi Arabia beyond just an oil economy,creating opportunities for work for the country's incredibly young population.

But what sorts of spaces do you create for such an instant metropolis? Ouroussoff wrote that while there were still fairly limited park spaces, public space was going in a less traditional direction:

The public spaces are closer in spirit to Las Vegas than to Riyadh. An elaborate pedestrian promenade will zigzag through the site, flanked by a narrow reflecting pool intended to conjure a traditional wadi, the mostly dry riverbed that runs through desert valleys. Branches of the “wadi” will connect to small public squares that the architects envision as social meeting places. 
SOM's Keith Besserud recently presented at the Geodesign Summit, showing how they used computer-mediated parametric design to create forms and spaces for the a massive model of the city. Their BlackBox software positioned them to rapidly produce a model that was designed consistent with the rest of the city. It is a new kind of urban design problem.

05 June 2014

More Sandy victims

The Star-Ledger also reports that nearly 50 homes damaged by Superstorm Sandy have been bought out and will soon be demolished

World Environment Day

Happy World Environment Day. It is like Earth Day, but bigger.

Spread the news across the land, and just do the best you can,
All we've got is just the land; take a stand, save the land.

Sometimes I sit here thinking, but all the answers just don't appear.
I'm calling to my brothers and sisters, let's get together and kill this fear.
There ain't really gonna' be much to it. we can control the thing if we try.
With just a little more understanding, the whole world will get by.

04 June 2014

One more victim of Sandy

Out on Sandy Hook the Sea Gulls' Nest is going to stay permanently closed, reports the Star-Ledger. But the Park Service, which owns the building, isn't in a rush to fix up the building just so it can get damaged again. Instead, the article suggests that resilience is their new watchword:

"We will continue to use food trucks because at this point it’s a more resilient way to deliver food services," she said.

02 June 2014

Early aerial photographers

The Atlantic has an ongoing series presenting some amazing photos from WWI. One of the most recent entries features photos of planes, but also includes a few stunning air photos and photos of the earliest aerial photographers (#39 and 40). It is startling to realize how quickly the world move from not having airplanes to having war craft in the air with sophisticated abilities of both destruction (#41) and reconnaissance. Presumably the guys in aprons develop the film in the lab.