In the comments on “fracture-prone” — where I argued that the set of political measures that New Urbanists tend to focus on are a necessary component of the urbanist’s operating toolkit, but not nearly sufficient — Carter says:
I’d be interested to hear your ideas on other types of tools should be used to tackle [urban problems] other than the local and national political ones.
This question is a very interesting one, and though I suspect there’s a lot more to a good answer than the brief things I noted in my reply, I don’t think we’ve collated our thoughts on tools in one place before (and I doubt there’s anyone out there subscribed to our comments feed, which means that most of our readers probably won’t see this unless I pull it up), so I’ll paste part of my brief reply here:
Here are three that immediately come to mind:
1. Infrastructure: We spent the summer reading a book, The Infrastructural City, which (among other things) lays out much of what is interesting, significant, and difficult about infrastructure as a tool for organizing or intervening in the city. I’d recommend in particular the posts “jam, hack” (which also discusses some of the same things I’m going to mention under the third tool here) and “starting from zero”.
We happen to be writing a short post at the moment on exactly how and why infrastructure is an appropriate tool for designers to use to engage, shape, and organize cities; I can’t promise a particular date when we’ll finish it, but it is coming.
2. Technological innovation: MIT’s CityCar, for instance; Stephen and I wrote about it and its significance in our “best architecture of the decade”. You’ll have to scroll down to locate the entry for CityCar. We also mentioned it in the post “jam, hack” linked above, saying:
“Instead of designing a new form for cities, and then producing buildings which fit that form, the Smart Cities group has designed both a technology — the CityCar — and a series of ways in which that technology would interact with the city (as a battery in a smart grid, as a part of an even more advanced traffic control system that would adjust congestion pricing in real time to efficiently distribute traffic over time and space), confident that doing so will enable ways of life [see point 3] that will generate positive changes in the city.”
3. Practices: One place where I significantly differ from a New Urbanist in how I understand urbanism is that I would argue that practices — including what Louis Wirth called “ways of life” — are generally more significant than physical form in determining the shape (used figuratively, not literally to mean “physical shape”) of a city. (Though there is, of course, feedback between the two.) Suburban practices will tend to dominate an urban form, for instance, rendering it functionally suburban. This is what has happened with the Kentlands. Or urban practices can exist and even thrive in forms that New Urbanists would consider sub-optimal. Greenwich Village might be considered the most pure example of New Urbanist form in New York City, but it’s hardly the locus of the city’s creative culture.
What does it look like to use practices as a tool for altering urbanism, then? Well, one thing that happens is that you have to look at the practice of urban design disciplines — in our case, specifically architecture and landscape architecture — in very different ways, because the traditional models for those disciplines are explicitly focused on building objects, not curating, encouraging, and seeding practices. We’ve got a whole category on the site devoted to alternate modes of practice, “the expanded field”. Another thing that happens is that you become very interested in the idea of participation — of opening the city up as something which its users can participate in the construction of. Adam Greenfield has done tons of interesting thinking about this (specifically in relationship to technology and media), much of which is recorded at his blog, Speedbird (here’s a good starting point for Speedbird). Efforts like Broken City Lab or Actions are also quite participatory and focused on practices.