Archives For Urban Development


“The Delight of Discovery

A Review of
Garden Guide: New York City.

By Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.

Garden Guide: New York City.
By Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry
Vinyl Flexicover : W.W. Norton, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

While the idea of a garden guide for New York City might seem unusual at first – this is, after all, the city that takes a beating for the size of the presumed ‘concrete jungle’ – the fact that just such a lengthy book exists is telling of an important aspect of urban places: namely, that gardens, parks, and green spaces are as integral to the fabric of healthy, diversified neighborhoods as anything; but also, as David Owen makes clear in Green Metropolis, the very density of NYC is one of the ‘greenest’ things it has going. New York’s gardens, scattered in-between buildings, along streets, on roofs, or in the occasional large park, become all the more valued because each plot of ground is precious, which is to say, each garden must do the most with the space given for it – none of this endless acreage of sprawling lawns and vacant lots such as are found in a city like Indianapolis, where I’m writing. Rather, creative uses are required for gardens in a city like New York, and so rooftops, the smallest vacant lots, and an old elevated train line all become valued green spaces alongside buildings, roadways, and the rest of city life.

A new revised edition of Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry’s Garden Guide: New York City documents over 80 gardens in New York’s five boroughs, and this number, it seems, is a relatively small selection, as the authors cite that there are over 400 community gardens alone in NYC. And within this guide, there is a full representation of many of these community gardens, along with city park-owned properties, private institutions with public green spaces, museums, churches, and municipal buildings, all with site-specific garden spaces in the midst of the city. Additionally, all of the gardens described in the book have visiting information, a ‘best season,’ and websites in most cases; through the bulk of the guide, these gardens are grouped geographically, but at the close, there are other classifications for gardens, such as ‘Best Vegetable Gardens,’ ‘Gardens With a View,’ or ‘Rooftop Gardens.’

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“Imagining Living Places
That Participate Within Their Contexts

A Review of
Natural Houses:
The Residential Architecture of Andersson-Wise
Rematerial: From Waste to Architecture.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.

Natural HousesNatural Houses:
The Residential Architecture
of Andersson-Wise

Hardback: Princeton Architectural Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

From Waste to Architecture.

Alejandro Bahamón and Maria Camila Sanjinés
Paperback: W.W. Norton, 2010.
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REMATERIALThe city of Indianapolis – where I live – like many American cities has experienced huge amounts of suburban and exurban sprawl in the last decade. Within the last two years, it has been reported that for the first time in human history, more people live in cities than in rural places, although those numbers owe much to these sprawling, never-ending bedroom cities, so far removed from the city core, and hardly fair to be categorized as ‘urban’ at all. Many of us have watched the cycle of a farm stripped of all features, leveled, pipes buried, roads and curbs laid, and anonymous, windowless, porchless beige boxes spring up in record time. This widespread, wasteful suburbanization is completely oblivious to the place where it exists, what has been displaced for it to be there, how the place might inform how it is developed, and on and on. Fortunately, there is an alternative, and two new architecture books that both take place, site-specificity and local resources as their starting place and help us to imagine living places that acknowledge and participate within their context are Natural Houses: The Residential Architecture of Andersson-Wise and Rematerial: From Waste to Architecture.

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The Beautiful Creatures:
Trees in the Biblical Story
by Sylvia C. Keesmaat

In the beginning, there were no trees. There were no trees, for there was no rain to nourish them and no creature to tend them. In the beginning, there was the Voice. The Voice called the earth to birth the trees. As the Voice called and beckoned, the earth brought forth and the growth began: sap rushed up, limbs stretched, breaking the moist soil, reaching for the warmth of the sun. Roots groped, stretched, moved through the crumbly earth, embraced and cleft rocks, drew nourishment. Buds formed and leaves unfurled, fluffy and small, growing as the sun dried and warmed them and as sap filled them.

The Voice said, “Be trees full of life, be strong. Grow fruit for the birds and the animals, and branches for their homes. Be pleasing to look at, shout forth the grandeur of the Word. Dig your roots deep; draw nourishment from the earth.”

And the trees became living beings.

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THE NATION’s Review of
Cruel and Unusual: The Culture of Punishment in America
by Anne-Marie Cusac

In his inaugural address, Barack Obama pledged to renew the nation’s founding creed, to carry forward “that precious gift, that noble idea…that all are equal, all are free.” Some 1.8 million people gathered on the National Mall to hear the new president on that icy January morning. Yet a considerably larger mass — equivalent to adding the population of Boston to the celebration — spent the same day behind bars. For America is not only the land of the free, as the Navy chorus chanted from the presidential dais. It is also, to an extraordinary extent, the land of the unfree, the most incarcerated society on earth.

The United States was not always so locked down. For most of the twentieth century its incarceration rate hovered near one-tenth of one percent, roughly the same as in other industrial free societies. Then, from the early 1970s forward, the federal and state governments began extending sentences, curtailing judicial discretion and restricting early releases. The prison population soared. By the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, approximately one out of every 100 adults was in jail or prison, a proportion unmatched in the history of democracy.

Read the full review:

Cruel and Unusual: The Culture of Punishment in America.
Anne-Marie Cusac.

Hardback: Yale UP, 2009.
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BookForum Reviews
Coal Mountain Elementary by Mark Nowak

To call Mark Nowak’s haunting new book a collection of poetry would be a bit of a misnomer. It would also be misleading to say Nowak is its author. The poems in Coal Mountain Elementary comprise three strands of found text; Nowak has selected and braided them, achieving an arresting effect. This is a book that exposes the darkest reaches of the global coal industry by using the industry’s own means—politely referred to as “extraction”—to lay bare the official language used to obfuscate mining’s human and environmental impact and to recover the far truer language of miners themselves.

Nowak’s first strand consists of verbatim extracts from thousands of pages of testimony given by family members, safety officials, and survivors of the Sago Mine explosion, which occurred January 2, 2006, in Sago, West Virginia. The explosion left twelve miners dead and became, for a couple days, a story of national heartbreak. The operation to rescue thirteen trapped miners was famously muddled, and incorrect information was released to the press, leading family members to cheers of deliverance, only for them to learn after hours of celebration that, in fact, only one miner had survived. Attempts to conduct a meaningful investigation into the disaster and botched rescue effort were thwarted by the mine’s corporate owner, International Coal Group, West Virginia mining officials, the United States Department of Labor, and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, groups that opposed making public the very testimony Nowak has so carefully selected.

Read the full review:

Coal Mountain Elementary.
Mark Nowak.

With photographs by Ian Teh and Mark Nowak.
Paperback: Coffeehouse Press, 2009.
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The High Line and Urban Development.
From The New York Review of Books

The form a city assumes as it evolves over time owes more to large-scale works of civil engineering—what we now call infrastructure—than almost any other factor save topography. The collective imagination fixes on the most conspicuous symbols of urban identity: the grand architectural set pieces of political and religious authority that predominated until the last century, when spectacular high-rise monuments to financial might reshaped skylines around the world. But without the development of complex and often ingenious systems for providing increasing numbers of city dwellers with water, sanitation, transportation, energy, and communications, our unprecedented modern megalopolises could never have emerged.

With alarming frequency lately we have witnessed a series of American infrastructural disasters, including the collapse of a highway bridge linking Minneapolis and St. Paul; the explosion of underground steam ducts in midtown Manhattan; and inundations caused by failures of antiquated water mains, weakened dams, and inadequate levees, most catastrophically in New Orleans. Advocates of a comprehensive national initiative to repair or replace aging public works have stressed how such an undertaking would spur economic recovery. But whether it does so or not, the inescapable crisis of our crumbling infrastructure must be confronted, and sooner rather than later.

Another question that arises as cities mature is what to do with outmoded infrastructure. Many architectural preservationists were slow to concede the historical merit of utilitarian landmarks until the 1960s and 1970s. An unusual reclamation project from that period looms larger in hindsight: the land-scape architect Richard Haag’s Gas Works Park of 1970–1975 in Seattle, which recycled a defunct gasification plant into a new kind of public recreation space. Haag perceived the raw beauty of the lakeside site’s abandoned mechanical components—monolithic tanks, totemic gauges, Mondrianesque pipelines—and incorporated them into his scheme as found objects. Haag’s novel idea outraged traditionalists (not least the park’s principal benefactors, who refused to have it named after them), but to others the concept seemed reasonable at a time when artists like Mark di Suvero and Alexander Liberman were appropriating I-beams and drainage culverts for their monumental outdoor sculptures.


Read the full review:

Designing the High Line: Gansevoort Street to 30th Street
Edited by Friends of the High Line,
with forewords by James Corner and Ricardo Scofidio

Paperback: Friends of the High Line, 2008.
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“The End of Preservation?”

A Review of
The Once and Future New York:
Historic Preservation
and the Modern City.

by Randall Mason.

 Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.


The Once and Future New York:
Historic Preservation and the Modern City.

Randall Mason.
Paperback: U of Minn. Press, 2009.
Buy now:   [ Amazon ]


Belonging to a church community that has been rooted in one place in Indianapolis for over one hundred years, it is almost daily evident what William Faulkner had in mind when writing, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Stories are told and retold through the lens of our particular place and people, tied in many ways to a larger context of geography. Through these acts of remembering, attached to a specific place, we participate in developing – albeit not as intentionally – as what Randall Mason calls a “memory infrastructure.” Mason’s new book The Once and Future New York: Historic Preservation and the Modern City explores the roots of modern historic preservation back to the decades around 1900, suggesting that the creation of this memory infrastructure is the impetus for preservation:

Memory sites were not an end in themselves. They were envisioned as means to an end – a way to reform urban society and shape civic identity by exposing citizens to a memory-rich environment. Reformers and civic leaders sought stability to counter the gathering sense of cultural dislocation and the loss of memory in this period, and historical memory lent this appearance of stability to culture (239).


    Focusing on the histories of three locations in New York – St. John’s Chapel, City Hall Park, and the Bronx River Parkway – Mason establishes preservation as a discipline with a history of its own, and one tied in many ways to supporting the further development of cities: “[Preservationists] lobbied not against development but for a different kind of development: not to halt change, but to modify or design it, to produce a ‘Greater New York’ at once more beautiful, more efficient, and more clearly rooted in its own past” (xv). The ways in which the “memory infrastructure” is developed in each case study is telling of the complexities with which preservation is practiced.

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