WHY URBAN PLANNERS SHOULD PAY ATTENTION TO THE CONCEPTS OF PLEASURE, DEMOCRACY, AND ACCOMMODATION

Pleasure! What is it? And what role should it play in our lives?

Two opposing answers have been given throughout history. The first one, let’s call it the Hedonistic interpretation, claims, almost religiously, that pleasure, especially the carnal pleasures, should be the primary objective above any other values guiding our lives. Some high society Romans mastered this philosophy and adopted it into their lifestyles towards the end of the Empire. For many Marxists this represented the decadence caused by unhealthy production systems and unjust class relationships. Interestingly enough, Calvinists, and later Puritans, also blamed pleasure as the antithesis of what we should be doing in this world. Max Weber, in his famous book Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, outlines well how a new wage rationalism dominated Central Europe and gave way to the emergence of capitalism. After all, pleasure is anti-capitalistic; it reduces production time.

The good news is that Hedonistic is not the only interpretation of what pleasure is and what role it should play in our lives. Another interpretation, let’s call it Eudaimonic, focuses on how our ability to sophisticate our pleasures can deepen our existence and be part of our identity and culture. We humans have the unique ability to elevate our sensual abilities to a level of high art, for instance music, that not only gives pleasure but also becomes an expression of our emotional landscape and makes us wiser. This interpretation suggests that the way we learn to take pleasure and deepen our lives becomes a declaration of our cultural identity – or should we say identities, since we live in a multi-cultural world.

What does all this have to do with planning and design?

Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food and Terra Madre, suggests that “pleasure is democratic.” How? Here is an answer: Only those who develop the ability to take pleasure in certain expressions of culture, such as music, dance, the art of cooking, etc., can judge and value these practices and are willing to make decisions about their future. Thus they participate in the democratic argumentation. Without the ability of pleasure there is no motivation for argumentation. In the absence of argumentation there is blind-voting and voting along dogmas, and thus no real democracy, but a shadow of it.

I practice architecture and teach urban planning. One question I ask the class at the beginning of my introductory courses is “why urban planning?” I put all the answers on the blackboard and create a list. In it usually are “efficiency, certainty, sustainability, fairness, procedural fairness (the right and ability to participate in decision making), etc.” After discussing all these complementary and conflicting objectives I emphasize that in a democratic society with a decentralized political system, such as the U.S., urban planners are the facilitators of local democracies. This is not an easy task. It needs unique abilities such as listening, flexible visioning, and accommodative design. Why? Because the local political environment where planners and designers work are full of various conflicting interests. Then there are the particularities of a design context: the site, the surrounding uses, climate, wild life, and other environmental features. This is why planners’ decisions, plans, or designs need to be able to adopt and represent. A successful practitioner first understands, then incorporates different concerns and interests into decision making. Similarly, a successful design accommodates rather than eliminates. Accommodating conflicting design elements may not always be easy, but usually there are synergies between seemingly opposing factors. A strong design is the one that explores and identifies these synergies.

We started talking of pleasure, its connection to democracy, and ended up discussing some design criteria. But how do these connect to each other in daily practice? I will close this essay by giving three examples of how we can evaluate certain decisions through a conceptual framework of pleasure, democracy, and accommodation. These examples don’t necessarily provide conclusions. My hope is that they are controversial enough to instigate more questions and more discussions.

Example 1:

A successful urban space not only accommodates various social groups and multi-cultural expressions, but facilitates their inter-action as well, which encourages a healthy democratic argumentation. This is why an urban fabric that sacrifices public realm in order to achieve efficiency (in providing services) is essentially anti-democratic.

Example 2:

Drinking alcoholic drinks that have evolved through the ages in various culinary traditions can be seen as a cultural manifestation. Limiting production, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages, in the name of public safety, is an oppressive policy and actually weakens the participation of those cultural manifestations in the local democracy.

Example 3:

Certain architectural expressions that have evolved over the ages are part of urbanites’ architectural vocabulary. In other words, they are familiar, easy to identify, and with them people feel “at home.” Ignoring these and building completely alien expressions in the name of personal artistic experimentation, alienates many. Such elitist practices weaken the urbanites’ ability to take pleasure through place attachments and diminish their motivation to participate in decision making processes.

By: Korkut Onaran

Meetings with Remarkable Urbanists

About 12 years ago I discovered DESIGNER/Builder Magazine, a small magazine with a unique view into American design, which featured articles about such things as the cardboard box architecture of the homeless, and the architectural work of people like Prakash Nair, who designed spaces that inspired children to learn.

The Architecture of Change: Building a Better World Jerilou Hammett and Maggie Wrigley University of New Mexico Press

The Architecture of Change: Building a Better World
Jerilou Hammett and Maggie Wrigley
University of New Mexico Press

DESIGNER/builder approached design from the perspective of those that live in it, and gave voice to designers with a social conscience. This small, but mighty magazine eventually became part of The UTNE Reader, and then suddenly stopped printing when Kingsley Hammett, the inspired editor in chief and primary reported died prematurely in 2008.

And that was it, until last year when Jerilou Hammett called me with great news. Jerilou was Kingsley’s longtime collaborator and life partner, and with co-editor Maggie Wrigley, she had assembled some of the best articles from the DESIGNER/builder’s 15 year history into a beautifully bound hardcover called “The Architecture of Change: Building a Better World” (2013 University of New Mexico Press). Jerilou sent me a copy of the book, and I promised to review it.

If you have ever worked as a reviewer, you know that many if not most reviews are based on a quick skim of a few chapters and the summaries provided by the publisher. I had planned to the same with The Architecture of Change, but each time I skimmed through a chapter, I found myself returning to the beginning of that chapter to read it slowly and carefully, savoring each word and idea.

The book, like the quarterly journal that the Hammett’s used to publish, could also have been called “Meetings with Remarkable Urbanists.” In the pages of this wonderful book the Hammetts introduce the people who first coined ideas such as tactical urbanism, a better block, and parking day, but not as clever exploits of urban design theater – not the ones you already know – the originals that acted to solve intractable problems with real acts of architectural rebellion. To understand the origin of what urbanists now advocate as new, I strongly recommend spending time with the designers you may have never heard of that populate the pages of The Architecture of Change.

If you’re working with co-housing, read the chapter about the first co-housing neighborhoods built by immigrants in Radical Builders in the Bronx. Discover the origins of tactical urbanism by reading about the exploits of Steve Rasmussen Canacian, who helped African-Americans reclaim neighborhoods, not through redevelopment, but asserting their right to be black and beautiful on the street, despite the objections of gentrification forces in the chapter entitled “Sidewalk Living Rooms.”  Meet Patricia Moore, the champion of universal design, who realized architects needed to be anthropologists, as well as designers, and hired a top-notch makeup artist to help her become an 85-year-old woman and experience firsthand the limitations and humiliations of old age. She even attended an architectural forum in disguise, and discovered that — despite the conference’s explicit focus on meeting the needs of the aged — attendees were rude and out of touch with the very folk they were pretending to serve.

In many ways, The Architecture of Change serves as tonic to curb the common malady of architects as aspiring artists with a personal expression to showcase and a narrow design philosophy to champion. The Architecture of Change reminds us there exists a mature view of design as service to those that live in spaces we create. The children, adults and elderly. The largely poor and sometimes uneducated. And that place making is not a coffee shop, but the vindication of the real histories of the real places in which real people live, as Tom Klem shows us in the chapter, “Whose History Is It, Anyway?” Kingsley Hammett, who wrote most of the articles in DESIGNER/builder magazine, and hence the chapters of the Architecture of Change, was the “Studs” Terkel of urbanism, who sought out, chronicled and brought to life the stories of those architectural pioneers that lay the social foundation tactical urbanism.

Resilient Urbanism event flyer

Following the 4:30pm walking tour of the Midtown community, this esteemed panel discussion will focus on “resilient urbanism” pertaining to the communities of Bradburn, Midtown & Aria – all innovative for their time.  Resilient urbanism is a collaboration among multiple disciplines that explores a wide spectrum of topics related to what makes resilience in urban contexts unique: housing and land challenges, equity, density, governance, construction markets, place-making, and other characteristics related to the unpredictable and ever-changing urban environment.  The provocative discussion will further highlight a variety of contexts, time frames, and scales directly related to these three progressive Colorado neighborhoods.

Also, following the panel discussion will be the CNU Colorado Charter Awards Ceremony.  Food & drinks provided!  Don’t miss it!

http://cnucolorado.org/2015/04/14/1049/

CNU Colorado Charter Awards, announcements!

Congratulations to the winners, featured below!

Also, we cordially invite you to attend our 1st-ever CNU Colorado Charter AWARDS CEREMONY at MIDTOWN (1625 W. 67th Avenue) as part of the kick-off to our Resilient Urbanism Event on Thursday, April 23rd.

Tour begins at 4:30pm, Panel Discussion at 5:00pm and Awards Ceremony at 6:30pm.

Drinks and snacks provided!
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BEST BUILT PROJECT:
Peak One | Frisco, CO (neighborhood scale)
High Mar | Boulder, CO (building scale)

BEST UNBUILT PROJECT:
Plaza de la Gente | Denver, CO

BEST TACTICAL URBANISM PROJECT:
Triangle Transformations | Denver, CO

BEST STUDENT PROJECT:
Reimagine I-70 | Denver, CO

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CNU Colorado has a Facebook page, as well as a LinkedIn group.  We often post current events & articles at these locations too, so check us out!

Resilient Urbanism, a Panel Discussion: Bradburn, Midtown & Aria

Don't miss this event!

Don’t miss this event!

This esteemed panel discussion will focus on “resilient urbanism” pertaining to the communities of Bradburn, Midtown & Aria – all innovative for their time.  Resilient urbanism is a collaboration among multiple disciplines that explores a wide spectrum of topics related to what makes resilience in urban contexts unique: housing and land challenges, equity, density, governance, construction markets, place-making, and other characteristics related to the unpredictable and ever-changing urban environment.  The provocative discussion will further highlight a variety of contexts, time frames, and scales directly related to these three progressive Colorado neighborhoods.  Don’t miss it!

CITY BUILDER FORUM – Housing, Homelessness, and a Working Downtown

Housing, density and downtowns.  Attend this great event and hear from prominent speakers, including one of our CNU Board members – Deana Swetlik!  Also, CNU Colorado members’ projects will be utilized as case studies.  Only $25 for an entire afternoon!

City Builder Flyer (7)

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