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## "geometrical fundamentalism" piece

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• ... I ve been reading the piece by Mehaffy and Salingaros: http://www.plannet.com/features/geometricalfundamentalism.html I find it very stimulating. It gets
Message 1 of 2 , Feb 3, 2002
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I've been reading the piece by Mehaffy and Salingaros:
http://www.plannet.com/features/geometricalfundamentalism.html

I find it very stimulating. It gets me thinking about the mathematical
analysis of "modernity." The authors suggest that we can analyze in a
purely mathematical way the defects of modern architecture and urban
planning, as compared to earlier forms. And if so, then why couldn't we do
the same thing prophylactically: i.e., apply a mathematical analysis to
proposed future designs as well? Not to suggest that some kind of simple
mathematical formula is possible for designing satisfactory built
environments, but rather, that we could come up with metrics that would at
least allow us to rule out the clearly dissatisfactory ones.

"Connectivity" is a repeated theme in the piece by Mehaffy and Salingaros.
So one common kind of metric would measure this property. I could imagine, for
example, a statistic measuring the average number of pathways out of a
building per side per occupant. Or the average number of safe and legal
pedestrian pathways across a street per pedestrian per block. Such measures
appeal to some of my common sense notions of humane living environments.

Thinking of such things, I was reminded of the outrage provoked by former NYC
mayor Giuliani's get-tough crackdown on jaywalkers in that city, and his
orders erecting sidewalk barriers to intimidate would-be offenders. Hmm..
Imagine a mathematical demonstration of the evils of such an approach to
urban planning, backed up by the correlation of statistical evidence for its
negative social impacts. Armed with such a scientific study, we would then be
able to reject the ex-Mayor's approach as not only aesthetically faulty and
inhumane, but downright irrational as well.

In a truly progressive city, I imagine we would have rules based on some such
metrics. I can imagine, for instance, a rule that would mandate
a maximum distance to all sorts of things for the city's inhabitants, such
as, for example, that no inhabitant ought to have to live further than a
certain number of feet from a natural open space inviting strolling, etc.
Any inhabitant would then have a basis to sue in court to block any
megadevelopments that would deprive them of such things, or worsen already
dissatisfactory conditions. If such criteria had been available years ago,
infamous monstrosities like the Century Freeway could have been stopped dead
in their tracks.

Guy Berliner

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• In a message sent Yesterday, Guy Berliner wrote: - Not to suggest that some kind of simple - mathematical formula is possible for designing satisfactory
Message 2 of 2 , Feb 4, 2002
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In a message sent Yesterday, Guy Berliner wrote:

-> Not to suggest that some kind of simple
-> mathematical formula is possible for designing satisfactory built
-> environments, but rather, that we could come up with metrics that would at
-> least allow us to rule out the clearly dissatisfactory ones.

Absolutely. I think there may be a number of such metrics, well within
ordinary ability to devise and understand.

-> "Connectivity" is a repeated theme in the piece by Mehaffy and Salingaros.
-> So one common kind of metric would measure this property. I could imagine, for
-> example, a statistic measuring the average number of pathways out of a
-> building per side per occupant. Or the average number of safe and legal
-> pedestrian pathways across a street per pedestrian per block. Such measures
-> appeal to some of my common sense notions of humane living environments.

Very good idea. And right on-target, I think.

The value of connectivity is, I believe, generally agreed-upon among
knowledgeable urbanists, although I don't know of any work quantifying the
issue at the levels you suggest. Does anyone?

We need another Holly Whyte.

BTW, Whyte's _The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces_ is back in print.
Anyone who hasn't read it is in for a major treat. I think you can get it
at the Project for Public Spaces web site.

-> Thinking of such things, I was reminded of the outrage provoked by former NYC
-> mayor Giuliani's get-tough crackdown on jaywalkers in that city, and his
-> orders erecting sidewalk barriers to intimidate would-be offenders. Hmm..
-> Imagine a mathematical demonstration of the evils of such an approach to
-> urban planning, backed up by the correlation of statistical evidence for its
-> negative social impacts. Armed with such a scientific study, we would then be
-> able to reject the ex-Mayor's approach as not only aesthetically faulty and
-> inhumane, but downright irrational as well.

I think it qualifies as brain-dead.

The groundwork for this analysis should already be in place, although most
of it has been done with a heavy bias in favor of auto traffic. Nevertheless,
the same math basics apply. You may find the _Highway Capacity Manual_
very interesting (probably in your local library in the US, although
there was a new edition a couple of years ago that not everyone has
obtained), along with the notorious _Manual on Uniform Traffic Control
Devices_ (the "MUTCD"), which establishes the "warrants" for installation
of various control devices -- stop signs, signals, marked crosswalks, etc.

Both come from the Institute of Transportation Engineers ("ITE"). Their
web site has a wealth of information, much of which reveals viewpoints and
prejudices which are guaranteed to infuriate progressive urbanists, but
they're getting better: <http://www.ite.org>.

-> In a truly progressive city, I imagine we would have rules based on some such
-> metrics. I can imagine, for instance, a rule that would mandate
-> a maximum distance to all sorts of things for the city's inhabitants, such
-> as, for example, that no inhabitant ought to have to live further than a
-> certain number of feet from a natural open space inviting strolling, etc.

Indeed. These sorts of goals and requirements can be integrated into the
core planning documents of communities, usually known in the US as General
Plans, upon which zoning and development regulations are based. Within
the limits established by superior law, an amazing amount of city-shaping
can be done in the preparation and updating of these documents.

Interestingly, even local activists usually find the process
too long and boring to sit through, leaving cities to beg for citizen
participation and leaving the shape of the plans mostly to city staff--
and developers, who are never bored by processes that affect their profit
opportunities.

This is the kind of politics where you really do have a voice. In most
small and mid-sized communities, a dozen persistent people can
make an enormous difference.

-Doug
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