territories of urbanism – mammoth // building nothing out of something

territories of urbanism

On Urban Omnibus, Genevieve Sherman recaps last Saturday’s afternoon panel from Harvard GSD’s 50th anniversary party for their urban planning program.  The panel that Sherman recaps is of particular interest because it featured Andres Duany, whose harsh criticism of the GSD’s direction in Metropolis is one of the recent shots fired by New Urbanists in the general direction of landscape urbanists, speaking at the school which he described as having been subjected to a successful “coup”.  (Two side notes: First, Duany’s description of Charles Waldheim as “circling in” from the “academic hinterland” to launch a “general strike” on the GSD neatly locates the intersection of hilarity and absurdity.  Second, the fetish for developing and delineating “_____ urbanisms” is growing tiresome.)

I’m less interested, though, in Duany’s further comments than I am drawn to Sherman’s recounting of Pierre Bélanger‘s arguments, which followed Duany’s:

[Bélanger] stated that the financial and environmental crises in fact exposed a serious weakness in traditional urban forms. Dense, vertical cities formed by Euclidean zoning, he said, were totally dependent on centralized infrastructure – including water extraction, waste landfilling, oil importing, food processing, and uniform transportation – that is crumbling, costly to maintain, and environmentally detrimental.

The future of infrastructure planning, therefore, is paramount, and the project of Ecological Urbanism is to design and integrate infrastructure into the city in a way that is both environmentally sound and economically productive. Civil engineers, Bélanger argued, are the true planners of the modern city [italics mine], but landscape architects will play a critical role in mediating how infrastructure meets the urban interface. Trained in constructing ecologies, landscape architects are the only professionals poised to consider how all infrastructure types – energy, food, waste, communications and transport – can be synthesized into a living system that covers the entire regional urban footprint.

I’d be interested to read or hear Bélanger’s full comment; though its rough outline should be familiar to readers of Bélanger, it would be interesting to see exactly how he frames it as a response to urban traditionalists.

3 Responses to “territories of urbanism”

  1. I have to say that I’m very excited by this debate.

    In regard to this post, I’m interested to understand the means that Belanger wants to use to decentralize our infrastructure. In particular, why can’t they function just as well in dense environments – and why they won’t be more efficient in denser settings, where small collectives could more easily invest in and implement distributed infrastructure.

    I say this because we still live in an industrial society with industrial infrastructure that relies on mass-production and centralization for efficiencies. In disurban areas, much of this infrastructure is soft and private (i.e. Walmart’s distribution network), but it is still centralized on multiple levels.

    • rholmes says:

      I don’t have them with me, but if you send me an email (as a reminder) I’ll send you a couple PDFs of articles Belanger has written, which will lay out his thinking in more detail.

      I can’t promise full clarity will emerge from them, but they should at least help.

  2. […] in the comments that is still going strong. Check it out here and chime in, and then take a look at Rob Holme’s thoughts on Pierre Bélanger’s arguments over on mammoth, and Jason King’s response, “Parsley on Buildings,” on […]