Urban Mobility

Artists of various urban futures are fond of envisioning the easy movement of people and goods as a visually exciting urban benefit. We see crowded, yet free-flowing shoulder-to-shoulder sidewalks, sweeping multi-layered elevations serving every possible land use linked to a landscape capable of moving everything from the produce from a 24/7/365 vertical farm to thousands of colleges students from class to internships cross a large region.

The visions such as the image (above) presented on the Foster Foundation’s website have begun to meet the technology needed to implement an extraordinary integration of movement with architecture. Three broad questions must be answered to establish a foundation in which these vital parts of urban design successfully unite.

  1. Where would it be best to attempt this expand and integrate free-flowing movement?
  2. What are the political mechanisms for linking the movement of people and goods to the architecture of places?
  3. How does movement infrastructure merge with the architecture of buildings and the layout of cities?

The first question on where this vision might be implemented were examined by the Foster foundation and others using three city typologies – Mexico City with 16,000 residents per square mile as a high-rise, high-density city core, London with 7,000 residents per square mile as a medium-rise, high-density city and the region surrounding the 47 square mile City of San Francisco involving 7 million people in nine counties and 101 municipalities representing the spreading typology of a low-rise, low-density metropolis.  Surrounding counties such as Sonoma have about 4,500 residents per square mile while Marin has a resident population density of around 200 people.


When you get back from Madrid and have a chance to attend the following, I will appreciate a brief summary. Date and time: 18th September 2018 12:30 a.m.- 2.15 p.m.

Venue: Fundación Francisco Giner de los Ríos (Paseo del General Martínez Campos 14, 28010, Madrid, Spain) With the participation of Alfredo Brillembourg, Tilly Chang, Norman Foster, Carlo Ratti and Tim Stonor


Global Density

Add fees on Amazon books below will be assigned to our effort. This one brings the lessons of the explosive structure of density from observers along the Pacific Rim. Comments regarding content are appreciated.



Most observers know from experience that the low cost of land and lower population densities occur from the center of their nearest large city outwards in a pattern of uses best described as the fragments of leapfrog development. They also knew they live in one of those fragments and protecting its value is important. The image above depicts evacuation zones based on the threat of extreme weather in a dense urban setting, however, the fragments remain.

The urban world is clearly observable as uncontainable. The image above can stretch to every coast south. Like most things that grow and behave this way, they begin and end, grow and decay. Natural systems that act in this manner leave nothing behind that does not have a use in the renewal of the larger system of which it is a part. The detritus of urban decay is not an abnormality or malfunction without use or function; however, corporations such as Waste Management (WM) do not fill critical observers with confidence. The best, yet sad statistical example is in WM’s 2106 Sustainability Report that suggests a 36% waste recovery rate (see: Video below).

“Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.”
R. Buckminster Fuller

On the other hand, if the city is a container with a firm geography, bounded like a water bottle or one of WM’s containers, the city defines its users. Accordingly, it will develop to assimilate severe challenges, but not without a preset of physical parameters. Whether water, waste or something else, if not organized for use in a container of some kind, some remain unknown. Of necessity, the city must become renewable as a whole with reusable components.

One of the people working to get from the unknown to the known is Michael Storper, author of Keys to the City. He is an economic geographer contributing to our understanding of urban life. He separates “growth” from “economic development” using quality of life and standard of living measures such as real per capita income (nationally), distribution of revenue (locally), and social structures as they attach to income levels nationally and locally.

Storper’s data rich keys are from highly urbanized places in the United States and Great Britain. The information reveals combinations of urban structures that describe the impact of innovation, agglomeration or clustering that produce stable urban economies that also offer amenities (e.g., schools, tolerant neighbors, recreation, mobility) to produce choices. Some come with hard economic data for analysis about the softer measures of preference. An obvious top preference is affordable housing in urban areas. In NYC, inclusionary housing loans and square foot zoning bonus rules produce housing for low- and moderate-income households for occupation in the same building and market alongside high-income families.

Two families of three, one earning $63,000 and another $280,000 (2017) will have rent they can afford in the apartments of a multi-family building in a city and neighborhood where the skills of both households are interconnected (See ELLA and Inclusionary Zoning). Using a thirty percent of household income as a measure of affordability one rent would be around $1,500/month and the other would be $7,700/month. Arguments examining the drawbacks and benefits of this arrangement are ubiquitous in the urban sociological and economic literature. No matter, the depth of each argument, the designers of the containers defines the contents.

Innovations such as inclusionary zoning and similar programs push standard market forces toward choice with civility in a workable urban proximity. Stroper’s observations regarding this kind of urban development identify regional land use patterns as “territorially unequal” exhibiting two types of inequality. The first is that urbanization is itself a form of extreme unevenness: it packs people, firms, information, and wealth into small territories.” It also concentrates poverty, many types of physical deterioration, and social inequality.

Both empirical and statistical evidence of social fragmentation and economic displacement recurs with routine persistence. In the case where low- and moderate-income households live successfully “next door” to higher income households who help assure stable economic settings is a product of policy. The housing market is a “teacher”, but in the experience of a lightly contained city such as New York, it takes far too long to recognize and separate the right lessons from the wrong.

Stroper’s second type of unevenness in urban development is statistically observable over thirty to forty years. Individual metropolitan regions throughout the world undergo considerable turbulence in their fates, rising and falling in the income ranks, and gaining or loosing population at different rates. None of this is bad. Ever since the invention of capital, this behavior is the world’s most successful development process. Trial and error, up and down, back and forth, here or there is how the world works. Stopping the human part if it is stupid and besides, it is not doable. Turning the earth into a machine is well underway. The application of conservation of energy rules, on the other hand, says there is no way to isolate the energy of a machine system. While theoretically possible, conserving energy within a machine is not possible. In short, it stops.



Infrastructure investment in the United States is approaching a classic “line in the sand.” One side of the line, federal legislators believe big-ticket investments can only be triggered by the unspoken policy of “catastrophic resolution.” On the other side, our legislators stand with, “whatever my constituents want and need” as if they had other leaders.  The former is a vague plan for entering the tunnel, the latter is the source of most of the tunnel vision in the world.

Here is an example, in NYC there is a 100-year-old subway tunnel. If it crumbles, it could cripple the northeast economy for a decade and require a heroic response. In less dense areas support for rebuilding failing highways to struggling big-box shopping malls in order to keep voters happy, or less discontent is the way to go. Both are the kind of win/win concepts in current legislative quarters that are disasters.

In this form of federal leadership, infrastructure failures of any kind also have to get to a critical mass of some definition. It might be horrifying deaths or vast losses in general revenue due to a breakdown in transportation, unstoppable forest fires or floods. The central issue is the lack of a classification that will designate a line condition.  This is the pornography of public policy – they will know it when they see it.

In Your Face.

A grant from the National Resource Defense Foundation (NRDC) brought a video to the public in 2014 that sums up decades of advocacy by Joe Minicozzi of Urban3).  Take a moment to watch it.

There you have it, a basic set of facts about why density works. Getting leadership from local to federal to get it to work is the real problem.  Without a policy toward a dense urban framework over three-quarters of the American landscape is in peril.


A large group of urban developers from the general advocates of public well-being have solutions as environmentalists, scientists, architects, urban planners, real estate developers and community organizers have solutions.  The first one is to eliminate the vague notion of what a city is and make the building of them a real issue.

Surging Tides and the Rising Seas

Will limiting development in a flood zone community improve resiliency? Not if it floods. Nevertheless, reducing the number of people displaced by a major flooding, high tide event like Hurricane Sandy (October 2012) limiting growth is a reasonable measure of resilience. Another measure is an improvement in estimates of “damage reduction” provisions for all the folks who refuse to leave the zone or take a buyout. Here are two examples.

Single-family housing districts in large low-lying coastal areas in New York City are addressing the reduced impact measure of resilience with special districts initially proposed August 9, 2107.

East Shore Special Coastal Risk District, Staten Island (N 170374 ZRR; C 170373 ZMR

The Staten Island special district is roughly four square miles and addresses the surge area of the 2012 super hurricane. The district will allow new single-family development and the elevation of existing buildings. In this sense, the rezoning by a special district is also a challenge aimed at better design concepts.

Hudson Yard Development plans are well known and along the waterfront, but the question of growth goes in the opposite direction along the waterfront given the image above. The area affected by various water influx zones will change as atmospheric data sets predict areas of impact.

The area now subject to the East Shore Special District can be examined using the map below. Zone 1 is most likely to flood to Zone 6 as least likely. Remaining aware of the variables associated with storm surge, sea rise, wind and rain remain the responsibility of the property owner and insurers.


Create 2,000 Dense Places

I have a plan for 20,000 dense urban places, with 20,000 people each connected to high-speed communication systems. Each is an urban core offering specific opportunities for unlimited growth in a limited area. If they do not alter their boundary until 2160, I will give each one of them $20 billion dollars today over and above existing federal fund commitments. Imagine the nation re-designed in this way. Or should it be 2,000 places with 20 million each, limited in area, but not in growth? All those left outside of the bonus core would become stewards of the environment and caretakers of the places and have only a few hundred people per square mile a bonus in its own right. This solution will happen. It is the answer to every problem that would end the disease phase of human development. The right question is how do we get there?

Infrastructure investment in the United States is approaching a classic line in the sand of public policy. On one side of the line, federal legislators support a policy called, “catastrophic resolution.” especially if their eye is on the eventually paying for a big-ticket investment that actually offered a big return. On the other side of the line, legislators stand for “whatever my constituents want and need” leaving only a thing called the “debt-ceiling” problem. The former sees a 100-year-old tunnel that if it crumbles, cripples the northeast economy for a decade. The latter will support rebuilding roads and highways leading to failing big-box shopping malls.

In this form of federal leadership, infrastructure failures of any kind need a critical mass definition of crossing the line. How many horrifying (or just ordinary) deaths cross the line? What is the national dollar amount tallied up in general revenue losses due to a breakdown in transportation or unstoppable forest fires or floods? The thing is no one knows and no one will classify or designate a line condition. This is the pornography of public policy – they will know it when they see it.

A grant from the National Resource Defense Foundation (NRDC) brought a video to the public in 2014 that sums up one element of advocacy by Joe Minicozzi of Urban3 that guarantees $20 billion as a solid investment in America. Take a moment to watch it.

There you have it, a basic set of economic facts about why density works. Similar snippets support ideas about building a better federal leadership lever, others describe the power of diversity, and still, others offer new concepts of growth. All of these ideas are worth debate and analysis and tossed to the wind because the American landscape has a seriously undefined problem. It can absorb substantial levels of damage on a regular basis and no one seems to have a line on how much damage might be too much.

The Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) keeps the data for the world. Much of it is made available freely, but short of making some kind of “end of days” speech, there is no line drawn that will change the trend in the general direction of trouble.  Below is a brief example of just four kinds of trouble.

Define and solve catastrophic resolution problem beginning with data from CRED, and there may be a pathway for building a viable urban America, that becomes resilient, and with some luck, sustainable.  There is one other graphic.  It looks at U.S. Federal Disaster Declarations in the same period below.  The trend is as real as it can get.  What needs to be added is a number in lives and dollars.

Source: U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Disaster Declarations by Year” (www.fema.gov/disasters/grid/year). Accessed 6 February 2015.

So now what?

I am developing a list drawn from the general advocates of public well-being. It will include some of the specifics offered by environmentalists, revolutionaries, scientists, architects, urban planners, all kinds of real estate developers, community organizers and political scientists.

Practically everyone lives in an urban area and practically all those who do not feel urbanized see their world threatened by urbanization.  Both share a vague notion of what cities must become, and that is the central issue because creating a clear vision for one means will save the other.

Facts for why 20,000 dense and well-contained urban centers will be needed will become very apparent, very soon.  These metrics can be trusted and if that can be made to occur and recur, that will lead to a sense of shared control.  A language that will communicate based on these facts will be found people from the feds on down and our roots on up.  If this communication occurs the proof will be whether or not we as a nation will be persuaded to pony up the 20 billion each urban core.

What is the language needed?

Subtle, conditional messages are not effective.


Free Parking


Ever since the High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup hit the bookstores, the density killer (AKA – the private car) is getting more and more attention.  As editor of Access Magazine, his introduction to the issue on parking is brilliant as in even, “staunch conservatives turn into ardent communists”.  

Community development policies that maximize density are not about cars or big buildings, they are about recognizing choices and changes in lifestyle that people want and need in the course of their lives and that of their families. The urban design quality problems are mostly solved. Excellent examples stand for replication and improvements. Now it is a matter of getting people to pay attention to new choices. One of them is high-quality downtown living, regardless of income.

The map that follows is a brilliant piece of work because it goes right to places that can be compared for their differences and similarities. A dense part of New York City, such as Manhattan can deliver as many as 10,000 people per hour to any of a hundred locations simultaneously. Each in their right is a small town serviced by a combination of mass transit, safe streets, and private vehicles.

With the support of Planetizen the outfit, Strong Towns organized by Charles Marohn is in the business of “listening to be heard” with this project.  They seek the participation of about 1M people on the subject of urban living. The thing to pay attention to here is the growth of an urbanized constituency in these organizations.  It hints at the possibility of an urban agenda.

I looked up NYC (where free parking does not exist) and then to Newark on the map above. Bang – the lesson is crystal clear.  Newark offers developers a huge bonus by providing a “no off street parking” requirement if the housing commercial center project is withing 1,200 feet of a rail station.  Whoopee!

I will be using this map to find strong towns that offer people lifestyle choices without autos, with excellent access to convenience goods and services and direct access to resources that may require a larger market area such as a hospital.






We live in a culture that embeds information, and where the most important things tend to go unsaid. All of us put information into machines that will retrieve data on practically anything imaginable from an alarm clock to an AI for more complex decision-making. A recent Rolling Stone article by Jeff Goodell (Flooded City) does not make this point but exhibits its results with great clarity. Goodell talks about flooding in New York and high or low ground with storm surge or microburst variables. The unsaid stuff defines a vast combination of intellectual and architectural ramparts outlined as plans in a series of locations throughout New York City.

A talking head presentation at New America’s Civic Hall (9.15.16) proved to be very un-civic but managed to remain polite. All New Yorkers will look at a sea rise map, make a quick am “I in or out” assessment and log that in for a personal assessment of risk. Many of the people attending were outside the walls, wet on the map, had an obvious self-interest with the prospect of land poverty, but could not express them over all the talk of the new walls, ramparts, bounded rationality and cognitive dissonance in the presentation.

I have a suggestion on how to escape the Chicken Little problems the “flooded city” approach creates. The last half of the American century has offered two promises (maybe three). The first is the promise to eliminate disadvantage as discovered by the individual, the family, community, and nation. The American vocabulary, its literature, art, law, and architecture present an exquisite language born of the poetry and forums of each for change and communication. The framers of the Constitution strengthen us. We have been given the tools, created the space, and found ways to speak truth to power. We are skilled in the dialogue. We remain encouraged by each battle for social justice and civil society. We on this continent are routinely encouraged to confront the world’s history in ways that will keep that promise alive.

The second promise while not as refined, adds powerful new energy to the promise of eliminating disadvantage.  It is the promise of sustainability. From the Club of Rome to its reflective twenty-five-year reunion at the Smithsonian, a more accurate word, Resilience, now communicates the correct challenge as well as imply a variety of post-trauma conditions. We now deploy resilience officers throughout the world, but their task is not to look at high water and low land. The resilience mission is different – find ways to draw a line in the sand. It matters far less about where there will be high water until we know how to draw that line in the sand. There is no crystal ball. Point to facts and describe where a part of the sky has fallen. Right now that is more useful than if it will fall. American’s do not avoid tragedy we wait for it.


Historically, when it comes to a resilience challenge, there is the “duck and cover” hedge and the old MAD way. The worldview of mutually assured destruction is also composed of private investors who are very active in their demand for public dollars to drive down risk. We need a much broader outline of ways to invest publically in resilience that may come down to clearly explaining the difference between the circle and the grid in urban design as we see it in the national highway system and the urban crisis.

The content embedded in the promises leading to fairness and sustainability can help us to recognize the architecture presented to date is in fact composed of walls and ramparts that encircle something. There is an inside and an outside. Without injecting these two promises into the process, the design of the walls and ramparts may do more damage than any violent storm. Future articles and public discussion should take a lesson from Elizabeth Kolbert. Her extraordinary review of the science of global change over the last half-billion years defines our entry into the Anthropocene epoch, the knowledge of which might save us all.

It is time to get practical about the local impact of global problems. I would apply the Isle de-Jean Charles Climate Change Refugees to a New York City example: The action taken in Louisiana occurred when they were down to the last two-percent of their land. Can New York or any other city afford to set that standard or hedge that bet, that way? Un-rough the math here,  $100 million in relocation funds for 20 households applied to the 35,000 families in let’s say, Canarsie, a neighborhood in Brooklyn. The bill would come to $175 billion. Resettlement at 20HH/year would take a millennium. At 500 HH/year, the cost would be $2.5 billion/year, and it would take 70 years. Buy the property, strip it of its toxins, wait for the ocean to come and you have an artificial reef over the foundations, counter the acidity and make seafood. An investment of this kind protects the future. It would prevent the “land poverty” plan currently in play that will reflect the tragedy of the ramparts, not the water. For a place like Canarsie, or the Rockaways (the natural rampart), the test should be whether a quid pro quo is in place, or just another caveat emptor slap in the face, aimed at people of color.

Truth to power, you cannot get that pitiful amount today for a place like Canarsie. The policy for change remains in the MAD world of catastrophic resolution. The Chicken Little approach does not have a chance unless you do one simple thing. Put that line in the sand and be a little scary.  Draw the wall, present its ramparts across the landscape of NYC or any other place on the planet, and have the courage to ask and answer two questions.  Who’s In? Who’s out? Straight up, without weapons, humans are not built to kill, no claws or fangs, but when one group of humans is forced to say to another group facing a life-threatening condition “you are not selected” now or even in the evolutionary sense, I do not know which group is worse off.

A third promise awaits development given an implementation plan.  The positive side of the formation of ramparts and walls is the opportunity to recognize a dense, contained urban life offering new forms of growth. The challenge is to put a stop to the grid humans have drawn on the earth.  The grid is a symbol of the infinite. The sphere or circle is limited. The fuel of unlimited growth within this circle (ramparts and all) is to develop methods for all that enters the encircled urban world will leave in a non-toxic form. Today over 80% of what flows out is toxic.

Today the planners, engineers, architects, and climate scientists assess the impact of the sea rise, storm surges and micro bursts pounding down the Hudson River Valley on the city’s property. The Flooded City article points out the big picture these professionals paint for owners and policy makers. For example, a rise in sea level far less than a meter places 71,500 buildings and $100 billion of property in NYC’s high-risk flood zones. Sea rise is not a complex assessment. Remote earth sensing devices can measure elevation to less than a meter. Some devices calculate small fluctuations in gravitational forces, and for any area in question, can do so in real time. The ramparts and walls encircling vulnerable properties using these tools also exhibit a variety of wrongheaded priorities of great value for reforms and the discussion of fairness.

The below ground world of tunnels and conduit (vehicles, gas, power, clean, gray and black water) of New York City is not climate proof.  Given the positives of the walls and ramparts, the capacity to fragment infrastructure systems to function independently is implied, but the policy is dishonest unless the question “who is in and out” is answered.

Global processes are geologically instantaneous events in the context of the last half-billion years. They occur daily but remain well outside of human experience. We are unlikely to “duck and cover” or step back from the waves of an unobservable rise of the ocean at the base of a massive river basin. Creating the incentives to do so is the challenge of our time.

Nevertheless, insisting the acquisition and removal of toxins from NYC’s waterfront and flood prone zones may be the best plan of action for no other reason that it will take a century to accomplish. The planning work as it stands today favors protecting property in the short term. It emanates from the boardrooms and public conferences in the old way.  It is about producing jobs through relatively high yield, short-term investments under the heading of resiliency. The discussion of the toxins therein encircled by these old ways should take on a wider context and a sharper focus by its critics as each place could be chemically, biologically, and most importantly, financially toxic.


Midtown Eastside


Manhattan is a “playground” for wealth with an interest in keeping enough households to assure maintenance and basic services. It is called eighty-twenty. The building at 432 Park Avenue is its new beacon, sans the “twenty”. All 104 condos are sold, including the penthouse at $95 million. The lower cost units started at $7 million, New York City’s building machine exhibition has begun. (Have a look http://432parkavenue.com).  What do machines need?  People to maintain them.

In October 2012, Aaron Betsky of Architect thought it oozed privilege and wealth, but it did so with, “elegance, borne out of its simplicity as much as its height, that make it clear that it is still possible to make a beautiful skyscraper.

It is taller than One World Trade Centre by ten meters, discounting the height of its spire and it has started something that is much bigger than big buildings.  It is the percentages.

In December 2012, the Real Estate Section of the New York Times:

“I see the Macklowe building down Park when I step out my front door at East 89th. In the morning, the pure square building, with its huge square windows, does have a Brutalist cast, but it also has a haunting aspect, like a painting by Giorgio de Chirico. Night is my favorite time, the deep blue of the protective film on the window glass giving the building a lonely, melancholy aspect as if it were the only one of its type on Park Avenue. Which, for the moment, it is.”

432parkManhattan’s New Building Exhibition

A machine city is a thing of parts designed and operated by people running corporations to fulfill functions. The fate of 36 East 57th St. next to 432 Park Avenue illustrates the function of density as a creator and destroyer of the city’s machine parts. The difference in the photograph (top left) to the photo below illustrates the power of the 432 building (bottom). It displaced the little 36 building (middle photo) for $65 million. Its land area is just 5,020 sq. ft. The gross floor area of the building was just 77,500 square feet.
A new building can be four times this amount, but wait. The 432 building topped off at 96 stories in 2015. The lot area is 34,472 sq. ft. While the 432 lot is seven times larger than the 36 building, it produced a tenfold increase in gross floor area at 745,174 sq. ft.. Three hundred people in the building would make the density per square mile at just over 200,000 people. A density handled easily in New York.  If density is not the problem, what is?  Can you give me a twenty on that?

The $65M acquisition of the 36 building brings the cost of an acre in this part of Manhattan to $1.2 billion. The price is high, but it is an expense of an inconvenience adjacent to the extreme presented by 432 Park Avenue. The 21st century like every century before will consume everything in the 20th deemed unworthy of its history. The bar is set high and the demand for more feet, more stories, more rent, people, and machines to run them is clear.

The current resident community known as Turtle Bay and Midtown East responded with their own zoning initiative, but the issue is less about zoning that what the old zoning allowed developers to conceive and what it portends for the future of Manhattan.  They hired consultants and produced detailed images and zoning text available (here). As the East River 50s Alliance, they resist the possibility of the following potential development scheme produced for them by Michael Kwartler & Associates (ESC). The 432 Park Ave. building is not pictured.  It is on 57th Street and three blocks to the east (Third, Lexington and Park). The building’s Park Avenue address, when it is actually on 57th Street between Park and Madison is side story on corruption.  You out there, any ideas?

Current Zoning


Zoning and Height is Not the Right Question.

The right question is why these new, enormously profitable buildings are not LEED Platinum and engaged in creating the demand for new industry, jobs and investment. that address global warming issues, affordable housing, the condo loop-hole?

Require them to be sustainable (not just profitable).  If they are not, the rest of the city will pay the price in more ways than one.  Let someone count the way, to the depth and breadth a city’s heart can reach. As this neighborhood (wealthier than most NYC neighborhoods) confronts the Department of City Planning’s substantial zoning powers the entire question of unsustainable development is drowned, and silenced by the litigiously dull and excruciating weak arguments against the police power of zoning. The fear of building height or the effect of a building’s mass on the city is a fear of the unknown.  It is composed of two main elements. The unknown of mass and the volume of people with money (m = ρV). It should be called the 80/20 problem in reverse.

Inclusionary zoning (IZ) is a tool developed in New York City’s never cold housing market for the production of workforce housing units.  The deal is 80% market rate 20% affordable based on the chart below. This policy among others helps to assure an accessible labor force and economic diversity in close proximity. Rent is affordable if it is around one-third of a household’s income.

A family of four would pay around $2,300 a month if 33% income using this measure.  Several adjustments are possible, but even this amount is less than the 2016 median rent in New York City at around $3,200 a month. Households that fit into the following income ranges meet the affordability thresholds for a housing eligibility.

AMI: 2016
Household Size   30% of AMI 50% of AMI 60% of AMI 80% AMI
Income: extremely low very low tax credit max Low
1 $19,050 $31,750 $38,100 $50,800
2 $21,750 $36,250 $43,500 $58,000
3 $24,480 $40,800 $48,960 $78,336
4 $27,180 $45,300 $54,360 $86,976

The East River Alliance neighborhood has $109,000 median income which means a substantial portion of its 45,000 households can smell the hot spectre of displacement caused by dropping this new mass into their community.  Being offered a lottery shot at long-term affordability is not a solution, it is a threat. It is not the buildings, it is the policy, stupid (love that line in all its forms).

If comments on this subject are of any interest the deep end stuff is here:

City Land.org website: http://goo.gl/iOCjR7 An excellent initial summary of the issues.
The Community Group’s website: www.erfa.nyc The text and the argument for change
The City Planning website: http://maps.nyc.gov/census/ for a look at the area.


Seven Declarations

Declarations develop an emotional capacity for change on behalf of family and community, a town or city, a state and nation, province and commonwealth. The following declarations describe qualities of life known to the people and organizations of the dense urban environment. Each one strengthens the purpose of ‘the city’ for more effective technology, continuous innovation, informed public policy, and global urban leadership.


  • Produces High Levels of Collaboration
  • Sustains Micro-Change
  • Establishes the Essential Boundary
  • Defines Human Abiotic Interdependence
  • Embodies Intelligence
  • Advances Diversity
  • Assures Well-Being, Viability and Resilience


Dense Urban Places and Collaboration

Governments tackle the complexity of urbanization on the drifting structures of accountability. Harnessing the interests of people who take actions that assure a recurring measure of certainty and security, love and family require environments that support collaboration. Measures of accountability attempt to determine the need to renew leadership. Implementation builds contracts between the structures of governance and the collective power of community action. Collaboration is how and why places matter. The benefits of collaboration are expanding rapidly.

The development and preservation of a neighborhood is an ancient practice. The physical conditions required are well developed. The social contracts guiding implementation are renewable. We know how to advance combinations of physical and social processes and with them, sustain lasting human relationships. Yet, there remains a far-reaching list of huge urban failures built on this hubris. What is missing? It is the belief in the power of small change and equally important, the ability to capture the knowledge of all of them, all at once. This is described best as the fierce urgency of now.  Nevertheless, I believe we have reasons for renewed hope.


Dense Urban Places Sustain Micro-Change

Micro change is a substance people must know and feel to achieve goals. Setting objectives creates the instruments of action. In dense urban places, goals and objectives are immediate; occur in continuous succession and produce substantial results. The achievements of multiple micro-change makers reduce the pressures inherent to adaptation. In this sense, they have strategic control. This new reality of connective governance will grow.

Imagine a neighborhood filled with demolished building sites, and abandoned places. Then witness the arrival of small groups who are planting gardens, attempting to occupy and rebuild abandoned housing and demanding accountability for the cause. The authoritative role of government in this context includes developing legitimacy for these actions as a direct means of assuring public safety that includes the preservation of rights for all concerned. Preservation efforts describe many New York City neighborhoods from 1975 to the early 1990s. Many global factors have brought investment to NYC since then, but the most important and creative are community reactions to failure. A vast range of micro-change makers exhibit the vitality of diversity through moms, dads and kids, students of many professions, artists, visionaries of all kinds and cultures imaginable.  This new reality of connective communities and cultures will grow.

boundary2Urban Density Establishes Firm Boundaries

Even though the strategies for adapting to change are mainly personal, the larger organizational demands for enabling conditions remain. The progression from individual to the group may occur in a vast expansion of urban places or the isolation of just one, but the opportunity for goodness is only evident with the assurance of survival for both. The complexity of individuals and organizations is a good thing, but due to a lack of boundary, the goodness acquired dissipates.  There needs to be a firm urban boundary.

Imagine how creative a city would have to become if it had a firm and fixed boundary within which the goal is to encourage unlimited growth. What remains of the wilderness outside of this boundary and from which humanity ascended to its present condition would stand.  Humanity must know and learn that there are many more lessons of natural diversity on offer. Each of them will be essential and prerequisite. The wild/urban duality requires full development if either is to survive with dignity.


Abiotic and Interdependent

Life emerges in environments that make intelligence possible. Change is upon new life instantly and upon its place among many others in a vast array. Whether it is the rise of the industrial revolution’s black moth or the loss of Bengal tigers in the shreds of the wild, urbanization is the chauffeur in the express lane of change. Human awareness of this includes the emergence of a global knowing, that the city is truth about being human, yet we stand in its shadows with only a vague notion of it. Nevertheless, the city links ideas and turns them into action.  It  injects a bright optimism into the shadows cast by doubters that prefer to stay alone in the wilderness of our past.

Recognition of actions in the common good occurs instantly and they are most frequent in dense urban environments. Now imagine holding this data among a group of people with great power and knowledge. Suddenly, you recognize one of the decisions by the members of this group will announce to another group – natural selection discards you. You are not selected. The horror of this is evolutionarily unknowable, but were this a real act, it destroys everything.

Dense urban systems collect the experience of the whole with great rapidity. It can sense justice and injustice instantly. The new collective nature of it leads to a pathway of action that adds balance to the human development landscape. Prefer this to the acquisition of power alone.

Urban Density Creates Intelligence

Platforms that link everyone to everyone else on every imaginable question embrace the joy of problem solving as a natural extension of human emotional experience and curiosity. The arduous and combative nature of hard science, on the other hand, can suck the oxygen out of a room and in that same moment reveal the importance of helplessness. When it comes to environmental intelligence, the rules of common sense provide balance by adding the reflections of ordinary observers. Social networks support immediate innovations that do not have the patience to await the proof of science. Platform technologies support small changes in quick succession. They build consensus for action and because of this, control discards the “big stick” of efficacy in favor of simply knowing how to make goodness recur.

Imagine the way science introduces complex questions about genetically modified organisms (GMO) or greenhouse gases (GHG). The demand from the commonplace grows loud with uncertainty regarding the injection of these things into their lives. At this point, govern the strict rules of science with rules of common sense. In this realm, the placeless structure of social networks will select physical places with the resource allocations needed to implement a vital social action, resolve an urgent economic problem or define routine political questions. The cycle of knowledge from experience to reflection is whole. This is a new form of intelligence.  It is prompt due to the connected activity of people and organizations in the dense urban place.


Urban Density Advances Diversity

Our ability to adapt our place in the world and to meet our needs depends on the structures of leadership built into our society. The expertise born of this legacy facilitates the acquisition of skills and presents them without compromise to all observers as thresholds onto pathways. The policies on how or why any of them would open as a choice to everyone have changed to favor diversity without the dissolution of differences. This idea is on a near equal footing with the legacy of privilege.  It will bond them in a powerful new way.

Imagine ways in which the history of leadership that formed the legacies of society will change to become acts of inclusion. The services required that enable accountability are those derived up from the roots of adaptation. Continuous and unrelenting investment in the social capital formation and community-based organization is a combination capable of changing the traditional practices of urban preservation and development. It will build powerful sets of helping relationships that will bring reciprocity to the urgency of thousands of teaching and learning situations that require immediate and useful action

First do no harm

Density Supports Well-Being, Viability and Resilience

We build to control, but we only control what we can make recur. The urban habitat is destructive of complex natural systems. Unlike the human habitat, natural systems operate on sunlight, recycle everything, reward cooperation and rely on diversity entirely. The human pathways to this end remain ineffective, but there is hope because the challenge to secure human well-being has never been greater.

Imagine the drive for urban resilience as the prerequisite for sustainability. The dense urban environment fully isolates natural system habitats. A new urban world can form in ways that are far more protective and respectful of the wilderness.  We will build the means to leave the wild.  By making this so, doing no harm will recur.

Summary in Fifty Words

Dense urban environments offer high levels of collaboration that support quality micro-changes within physically firm, yet flexible social boundaries. Fueled by diversity and interdependence, this forms a unique urban intelligence in the abiotic and human world of urban life, and there is just with one rule. First, do no harm.

Please forgive these explorations if you have stumbled upon them. These platforms force clarification of weak ideas.


The Unlimited Inside

Density4The Unlimited Outside Requires an Unlimited Inside. 

Density Saves the Wilderness and Supports Sustainable Agriculture. The global colonization and destruction narrative promotes investment in every technical solution required to sustain centuries of powerful economic growth except one – population.

Population growth is without a technical solution as it demands of humanity, even for a review, a postponement of morality[i]. Nevertheless, this process continues as a known reality of human behavior that is exhibited this way: one group says to another, “you are not selected.” The main difference today is the globalization of this statement and how it will put terms on the conditions for survival starting with basics, such as food and water.

The arrival of a world food production and distribution market system provides the most insight into globalization. Like the known environmental impacts of the global energy market, industrial agriculture is also open to similar levels of disruption assigned to human error or lack of restraint. The dangers linked to one-crop production failures are well known but on a balance sheet the cost vaporizes easily by mitigating threats with cheap poisons and GMO technology and crop insurance.

Two Fine Minds Ignored

Helena Norberg-Hodge retains the status of profit. The path sustained thru 10,000 years of human development has depended on the role of water and air to “sweep away” the detritus of human effort and endeavor. Thus, a new path is required as the smoke of one place is the wind of another. The arguments for change on this subject are plentiful but spend just twenty minutes (TED) sums up the chief complaint and neatly outlines the work required of every individual regarding the human capacity for re-adaptation and diversity beginning with food. It needs to be close and thus local.

Martha Noble’s presentation at the National Conference to End Factory Farming in October 2011 presents the devil in the details of an impending catastrophe that underlines the Norberg-Hodge argument. Simply put, the third largest fund and single largest program of the Farm Bill is crop insurance acquired by the largest farms.[ii] Put directly, ‘the people’ will pay for failures and add starvation to the ledger as the assigned risk of the people served.

Ms. Noble’s general observation of the USDA came in a closing remark paraphrased as follows: In 1995 when visiting the USDA for the first time with some questions about the agency, she was proudly handed a pamphlet that explained how Iowa farmers could now receive food stamps. The national policy governing the finest farmland in America subsidizes people’s access to fruit and vegetables while assuring cheap feed grain for cows and pigs.

When an action in response to a loss (such as a majority of sustainable family farms) turns into a reaction to an unknown, the change caused is well known. It begins with denial, often followed by anger. After that, a process of bargaining begins to stimulate an assessment of potential losses that include the possibility of total forfeiture. This condition is the known psychological state of an individual facing a crisis. Without a doubt, this state is shared by many groups of people who fully understand the metrics of devouring world resources at exponential and incommensurable rates [iii]. Finally, there is the group hell-bent on serving this ability with industrial technologies.

Coming to know that the earth has a “limited carrying capacity”, and becoming able to do something about it locally is the prime existential question of human history. William Vogt put it this way. “Until this understanding becomes an intrinsic part of our thinking and wields a powerful influence on our formation of national and international policies we are scarcely likely to see in what direction our destiny lies.” It is as if we are asked to choose between two roles. The first is that of Donald Worster, who documents a careful celebration of Nature as a vital behavior. The second is that of Edward Abbey, who demands that our responsibility includes scraping the scum off the top of Nature’s brews, starting with people that do irreparable damage.

Given the continuous growth model and a market system designed to serve every need, the threat of overpopulation is trumped easily by the governance question. When every need that can be satisfied with capital excludes public reforms and protections, the growth process begins to fail at the local and national level, and the prospect of global reform initiatives capable of curbing abuses becomes unlikely. As this perspective holds true and the dangerous impacts are proven, a more conciliatory approach that keeps the spread of urbanism within a limited area will gain strength. Within this environment, the unknown upper limit of the earth’s population becomes a matter of selection within a human decision-making framework that serves each life to the fullest. The vital aspect of this potential is how it offers a way to overcome the history of natural selection primarily because we see it as inhuman.

Retaining the urban potential for unlimited capital growth is grounded in housing and the design for urban living. This formation of an “unlimited inside” also gives way to an “unlimited outside”, and like the vast human diversity of the former, the potential for an equivalent natural diversity of the latter not only becomes possible it can be guaranteed. The process of balance and trade between dense urban communities becomes the primary focus of the human experience.

I would argue for a millennial process that would, in one millennium allow for the “unlimited outside” to become a dramatically untouched wilderness. The challenge being to keep within the urban framework all of the energy resources required while expelling little or nothing into the wild. A vision such as this and all attending “ifs, and’s and buts” need comparison to the existing conditions briefly described as follows:

The demographic dominance of cities coupled with rapid lateral expansion has led to the present “mega-disorder” status of urbanization. Vast cohorts of social inequality embody the leapfrog fragmentation of personified settlements. Recent increases in natural and human settlement disruption and destruction are producing higher rates of transnational and regional migration. The lack of formal structures that can accept public and private sectors in problem-solving roles on this issue is critical.  At present, there is nothing to enable urban development planning that mitigates health insecurities, or reduces crime by means other than incarceration. The most serious of these mega-disorders is the narrowing of pathways for a growing portion of the global population to experience freedom from the fear of (fill in the blank) policies.

Cities appear on the global agenda at the 1976 Habitat I conference in Vancouver, Canada. An effective urban agenda has yet to form in the United States as it remains stuck in the spread city quagmire, seduced by cheap labor and money, and hopelessly addicted to oil. The urban agenda has a chance from an unlikely source that would force the city to look in on itself.

The editors of an excellent book on the subject of Food and the Mid-Level Farm make a very useful point of the importance of limiting urbanization. At farm sizes increase, the main source of economic strength for the small and mid-sized farm is through direct market operations. The growth of farmers markets in major urban centers retains a level of honesty and accountability that the immense, corporate farm, production and distribution systems cannot provide. Also, the land held must be nearby and small and mid-sized farmers can be paid for “back-loading” urban products, and a wide range of conservation services and practices that assure ecological diversity, clean water tables, forestry and land management. Leadership on the principles and practices of sustainability began with local farming. Not sustaining the value of this fact presents a grave threat to the quality of all urban life.

[i] See “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Garrett Hardin, Science, December 13, 1968  Website: http://www.garretthardinsociety.org
[ii] Despite the industry’s spin, concentrated animal feeding operations are not the only way to raise livestock and poultry. Thousands of farmers and ranchers integrate crop production, pastures, or forages with livestock and poultry to balance nutrients within their operations and minimize off-farm pollution through conservation practices and land management. Yet these sustainable producers, who must compete with factory farms for market share, receive comparatively little or no public funding for their sound management practices.’ Martha Noble, Chief Policy Associate for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition  Website: www.sustainabbleagriculture.net
[iii] As defined by Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyeraben (1962)