Archive for Urban planning

The Dangers of Premeditated Solutions: Limiting the Search for Perfection

Patchopolis examines community connections to find physical and social ties that strengthen relationships through improving economic and natural resource efficiencies. When applying new concepts and methods to an existing system one of the easiest mistakes is to presume to know too much too early, limiting the vision of an urban patch to result in something recognizable. In striving for utopian ideals it is necessary to start at the beginning, aim high, and let the solution develop naturally, allowing for the creation of the most efficient, resilient, and enjoyable urban community advancements.

While it is necessary to have some preparatory consideration for what connections are possible within communities, the process needs to begin open to growth and experimentation in any direction. Reading Nidhi Subbaraman’s article on 3D printing of food my first response was, “How uninspired to try to use a 3D printer to make a pie” (Subbaraman, NBC News). Early in the process it is necessary to test what new tools and technologies are capable of, so making something familiar makes sense. However, why debate popular acceptance of food that is 3D printed by comparing it to traditional means? The potentials and benefits of 3D printing food and lab grown meats for that matter isn’t to simply recreate Thanksgiving dinner, but to allow the creation of appealing and nutrient rich foods that allow human adaption to other environments or living conditions (consider the previous post on the adaption of society to space life, underground survival, or urban centers where traditional items cannot be raised in sufficient numbers). In those situations food will not need, or potentially want, to be in the form we traditionally recognize, considering gravitational, utensil, and dining setting differences. The debate on acceptance of new technologies should be had when considering the results of its use on its own volition. In waiting to debate a tool, technology or community change, first push the development to its limits to see the full array of what it offers, rather than giving up through by limiting the review to a comparison to existing means and results.

Through not starting from what is known but starting from a blank slate, the potential to reach new heights is made possible. During graduate school I completed a project studying LEED for Neighborhood Development as a guideline for developing a new community. In reviewing the project, one member of the design jury asked if I had any concept of what a truly sustainable building would look like. The point of his questioning was not to take and apply green or sustainable attributes to what is already recognized as a building and neighborhood, but to take the opportunity to begin at square one and design with these attributes as a starting point, allowing the shape and character of a community and its buildings to evolve from these concepts. The more limits put on a new patch, the less unforeseen outcomes can be achieved, possibly losing the full advancement potential. In developing new plans and connections to improve the resiliency of urban areas it’s necessary to avoid being presumptuous and starting the development from a recognizable ‘safe’ place. In doing so the connections that will be possible are presumed to be known, limiting new tools’ potential impact and what the final result will look like.

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With my new computer now fully functional, I have again picked up the digital model of a patch for the stripmall parking lot. I hope to get some screen shots up for comment soon :). Thanks for reading and I wish a happy, healthy and productive new year for everyone in 2014!

Utopian Drive and a Desire to Survive

Patchopolis’s goal is to explore how changes to the urban environment become more resource efficient while supporting the social and economic performance of our communities, striving to improve the current condition while developing resilient cities for the future. Recently reading Annalee Newitz’s latest book Scatter, Adapt, and Remember and Orson Scot Card’s Ender’s Game the similarities in tactics for preparation and proactivity in planning for threats were surprising. Applying the approaches of these books supports a community’s preparation through the application of historical lessons and survival methods, sustaining the drive to achieve a utopian ideal, and proactively searching for and applying technological improvements and preparing for unknown threats.

A historical understanding of survival by Earth species prepares a community for natural and human caused planet and atmospheric changes. In Scatter, Adapt, and Remember, Annalee Newitz begins by introducing readers to a brief history of Earth’s six mass-extinctions and the anthropological progression of humans. In strategy planning, it is a necessary first step to understand the historical precedent. For example, in Ender’s Game, it is necessary to understand previous battles and strategies to prepare his own battalions for battle and for developing new attack formations that keep the opposition off balance. In previous mass extinctions, species survive through high atmospheric carbon levels caused by numerous sources, including mega volcanoes and asteroids hitting earth. Through researching these events and understanding the changes that occurred there is a better ability to design for our own species’ survival, which can be used to inspire mass belief and desire to survive. The introduction in Scatter, Adapt, and Remember builds confidence that, even in a seventh mass extinction, there will be survival by those species with the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

It is not enough to react to threats as they occur, there must exist a drive to continuously improve; a proactive desire beyond existence for communities to reach the utopian ideal. Annalee Newitz appropriately introduces her entire book to the reader through a quote from Norman O. Brown stating, “Utopian Speculations … must come back into fashion… Today even the survival of humanity is a utopian hope” (Life Against Death, 1959). There must be a drive to always improve and develop a better means to achieve our goals. Similarly for Ender personally and later as he leads his battalion, it isn’t enough to be top ranked, continually he is driven to improve tactical skills and develop unique strategies to win by larger margins. A community must reach for its utopian ideal, never becoming content with the present condition, but introducing new programs and development strategy to remain in front, serving as a leader in innovation and experimentation.

Proactivity requires coming to terms with potential threats. While every possibility cannot be foreseen, preparation for those that can will create communities that are resilient and possess the ability to adjust and respond to the unforeseen when they occur. In the last decade much focus has been placed on the arguments over whether climate change is a result of human activity or naturally occurring. Through the review of previous mass extinctions, we understand climate change has occurred due to fauna changes, geologic changes, and asteroids, making the cause less important than our strategy to exist beyond the challenge. “Assigning blame is less important than figuring out how to prepare for the inevitable and survive it” (Annalee Newitz, Scatter, Adapt, and Remember). Cities must prepare, thinking ahead of threats including climate change, disease, mega volcanoes, typhoons, hurricanes, and tornadoes, space invaders as well as infighting within our own species. As an example, it was reported this week that a rather significant asteroid threat may exist in as few as twenty years (Ben Brumfield, CNN). The development of underground societies to hide from invaders, survive dramatic high carbon climate shifts, or increased nuclear levels will better prepare a community for future threats. Additionally, above ground structures that are more self-sufficient, not relying on distant resources (material, social, or otherwise) as well as the spread of our species to other planets so one extinction event can not wipe humans out are necessary. “…we need to adapt the metropolis to Earth’s current ecosystems so that we can maintain our food supplies and a habitable climate…. We need cities beyond the Blue Marble, oasis’ on other worlds where we can scatter to survive even cosmic disasters.” (Annalee Newitz, Scatter, Adapt, and Remember). Our communities, in the strive for the utopian ideals, should develop preparations for threats to support life through an extinction event.

Through planning and preparation communities can perform more efficiently and self-sufficiently now, better preparing them for future threats. Through developing underground conditions to avoid atmospheric changes, creating more self-efficient buildings, or through developing connections to other planets through space exploration and space elevators, we can develop systems for food, water, waste, and social stability that strive for the utopian ideal. This creates a stronger community through a shared mindset that improves current efficiency while also developing individual drive against adversity. Patchopolis strives to develop these stronger communities through improved design ideals and through its own testing of urban agriculture systems.

In the next couple weeks I look forward to sharing another farm update (I have strawberries forming and have added blueberry and raspberry bushes) as well as share the next stage of design development of my stripmall parking lot redevelopment.

Second Act

With the recovery in motion I have seen a few intriguing ideas on how startups will reshape cities. These range from creating whole new cities or city centers aimed at housing a common type of startup to using crowd sourcing to identify community needs, be it a service or amenity.  On the new city side I have seen two very different approaches based on whether the it’s a completely new office park, operating around existing regulations or a new startup community as an extension of existing infrastructure.

Blueseed, commonly referred to as the “Googleplex of the sea,” is a concept funded by Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal, which anchors a ship in international waters to house a ‘Silicon Valley-esc’ offshore startup community.  The benefit of housing the startups in international waters is it will create a visa-free community, speeding up the international recruitment of engineers for companies that would otherwise be located in the U.S. (Chris Taylor, Mashable)

Blueseed Cruise Ship

There are a number of concept designs provided by Blueseed to give an idea what this startup paradise may look like, range in design from standard cruise ship to high tech barge (Scheduled for launch late 2013, early 2014, so a final design has not yet been released).  Blueseed will provide its residents offices, residential space, wifi-access, 24-hour cafes, and a full gym.

Blueseed High Tech Barg

While Blueseed creates a separatist new community for startups, Tony Hsieh has a slightly different concept of creating a New Urbanist community in downtown Las Vegas, “to turn the overlooked area into a neighborhood not just for his workers’ coffee breaks, but a new live/work/play destination for Las Vegas’ emerging creative class” (Leigh Gallagher, Fortune Magazine). With moving Zappo’s headquarters into the downtown area, Hsieh is investing to create a community where his employees and their families will be able to live, work, go to school, and thrive.

With a $350 million investment, Tony Hsieh is investing in real estate, tech startups, small businesses, and education to establish downtown Las Vegas as a place people will want to love and work.  Using Edward Glaeser’s Triumph of the City (Next on my personal reading list), along with New Urbanist concepts, Hsieh’s group has developed a list of musts for a perfect city, including jazz fest, beer garden, wine/cheese store, hybrid e-school, and yoga (Kimberly Schaefer, Downtown Project).  While Zappo’s intends to move their headquarters by 2013, I haven’t found concept drawings for the redevelopment of Downtown Las Vegas yet.

What I find most intriguing about Tony Hsieh’s approach is that it both revives an existing community and recognizes the need for investment in the local community for business success. “When you’re in a city, the bar or the restaurant becomes an extended conference room” (Leigh Gallagher, Fortune Magazine).

The final approach to rebuilding community comes from the other end of the spectrum.  Rather than being a business led approach, it completely relies on community input.  Neighborland is a project launched in New Orleans that uses crowd sourcing to identify what the local community desires.  Using a large sticker with “I want ____ in my neighborhood” community members are able to write in what they feel is missing, opening up lines for communication on how to make improvements possible (Neighborland Handbook).  These ideas are then posted on line to discuss how to make these a reality (See New Orleans concepts here).

While these are three very different approaches to the development of cities, they show how startups, be it business or community driven, are reshaping cities and what we commonly understand as cities.  These will create new connections and new opportunities to make the businesses and their communities more cross-reliant finding connections between them to cut costs and improve results.

Next week’s entry is planned to be the first in which Patchopolis will explore urban agriculture and will begin to explore a startup concept of its own to better serve as a site for collaboration among community members.