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More thoughts on "geometrical fundamentalism"

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  • Guy Berliner
    ... I wrote this in response to someone else. Maybe it s worth sharing with the group. ... Version: PGPfreeware 5.0i for non-commercial use MessageID:
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 4, 2002
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      I wrote this in response to someone else. Maybe it's worth sharing with the

      > As I dig into the references in the paper by Salingaros, I see that he
      > applies a definite mathematical analysis to the aesthetics of urban design
      > (see, for
      > example,http://sphere.math.utsa.edu/sphere/salingar/Universal.html) I find
      > this stuff really fascinating.
      > The basic impression I get from what he is saying is that, as the power and
      > resources at the disposal of centralized corporate and government
      > bureaucrracies grows, so, too, does their ability to impose top-down
      > designs that, for whatever aesthetic or useful purposes they may be
      > intended to fulfill in the minds of the planners, systematically violate
      > the design patterns that arise spontaneously and are inherent in any
      > spontaneously emergent complex natural system (e.g., a human urban
      > environment predating modern planning). He presents a strong case that
      > there are certain very regular properties, analogous to those found in
      > fractal geometries, that characterize natural systems. One of them is
      > "self-similarity" over a large range of scales. To put things simply, in
      > natural and spontaneously emergent complex systems, the relative numbers of
      > objects at any particular scale are in some constant inverse proportion to
      > the area they take up. He states this as the "hyperbolic multiplicity
      > rule," px^m = C, where p is the relative number of objects of a particular
      > scale, and x is the scale (say, for instance, a width in feet), and m is
      > the "dimension" (a number usually between 1 and 2).
      > These abstract mathematical patterns are objectively related to aesthetics.
      > Human beings find their surroundings less interesting and engaging when
      > their properties deviate excessively from these patterns. This is easy to
      > see in the extreme case, for example: a uniform distribution of massive,
      > featureless objects produces monotony (outsized px^m), whereas a
      > distribution of objects totally random over all scales produces an
      > impression of chaos. These impressions are in turn produced by definite
      > properties of human cognition. To quote Salinngaros:
      > "Scales play a major, even if subconscious, role in design because they
      > facilitate the process of human cognition. The mind of the observer groups
      > similar objects of the same size into a single level of scale. This
      > process, which has been compared with digital image compression in
      > computers, reduces the amount of information presented to the observer by a
      > complex structure. The mind apparently also estimates the number of similar
      > objects on each scale, i.e., their relative multiplicity, and compares
      > these numbers to what it knows regarding complexity from naturally
      > occurring structures. If the distribution of scales and the relative
      > multiplicity of elements correspond to an experientially generated internal
      > standard, we perceive the structure as coherent."
      > Obviously, this stuff is rather different from what you're referring to,
      > and it makes me think that "planning" as such is more the problem than the
      > solution. It would be all too easy for any well intentioned planner to try
      > to optimize a network for some particular utilitarian property, such as
      > distance from any particular service, only to produce a network that was
      > highly dysfunctional for other reasons. When many people spontaneously
      > organize themselves into cities, they build settlements in patterns that
      > simultaneously balance a large number of factors. When large corporations
      > or governments build settlements for them, the results are bound to produce
      > terrible pathologies which would never occur naturally. If we are stuck for
      > now with such institutions, perhaps the best we can do is to at least avoid
      > the worst sorts of mistakes, such as the violent disfiguration of
      > "geometrical fundamentalism" imposed by modernist urban planning.
      > On Sunday 03 February 2002 09:33 pm, you wrote:
      > > Guy,
      > >
      > > I haven't looked at the article you are referring to, but European social
      > > geographers (the Lund School in Sweden) a few decades ago pondered the
      > > geometry of human settlements and took off from the basic notion of
      > > "central place theory" which had been earlier described in German
      > > geography, in which they tried to rationalize as a first approximation
      > > the distribution of firms, services, residential settings according to
      > > frequency of needed access. With this rather simplified geometric
      > > Euclidian approach they then analyzed actual urban settings with respect
      > > to these notions of "central places" This original idea did not take into
      > > account much about the actual topography of places it was an effort to
      > > rationalize the distribution of goods and services within human
      > > settlements in strictly geometric terms.
      > >
      > > The geographic fit with a strictly geometric analysis wasn't particularly
      > > good and so permutations on this idea resulted in the application of
      > > basic microeconomic theories of supply and demand to see if actual
      > > distances travelled corresponded to some measure of "willingness" to
      > > travel based on demands and needs for common and rare goods and services.
      > > Efforts to add topography to that then resulted in measures of "access"
      > > that were determined by both economic demand as well as actual geography
      > > imposed on the basic notions of central place theory.
      > >
      > > You can see examples of this sort of thing in some references I'll give
      > > here. They are available in the UCSD library.
      > >
      > > Sture Oberg (1976) Methods of Describing Physical Access to Supply
      > > Points. The Royal University of Lund, Sweden, Department of Geography.
      > >
      > > William Wyckoff (1989) Central place theory and the location of Service
      > > in Colorado in 1899. THE SOCIAL SCIENCE JOURNAL VOL 26: PP. 383-398.
      > >
      > > William Christaller (1966) CENTRAL PLACES IN SOUTHERN GERMANY,
      > > Englewood-Cliffs, Prentice Hall.
      > >
      > > Leslie King (1984) CENTRAL PLACE THEORY, Sager PUblications
      > >
      > > Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall.
      > >
      > > As I recall hearing the history of some of these ideas, they were
      > > developed in Germany prior to WWII and were caught up in the politics of
      > > WWII and after the war lost an audience because of that.
      > >
      > > This approach is more complex than it was in the 1920s and 30s when the
      > > choices of transportation were more than likely rail as a rare event,
      > > horses, occasional automobiles and probably mostly by foot. The
      > > imposition of the personal autobile in mass quantities into this has
      > > basically distorted the urban form another way and so laying the geometry
      > > all out and incorporating the options of travel makes it even messier.
      > >
      > > As a basic theory it makes some sense, and particularly if some notions
      > > of microeconomics are thrown in. How many miles would you be willing to
      > > drive for a Big Mac? How often? Individual businesses know the answers,
      > > I'll bet, and use it to site franchises within optimal distances of the
      > > most people, but I don't know if anyone is seriously trying to put it all
      > > together in terms of rationalizing the distribution of all goods and
      > > services in relation to places people are living in the urban form today.
      > > Maybe someplace someone is working on this but it lost alot of interest
      > > among American geographers because it doesn't really fit very well with
      > > the actual distribution of firms and people in urban settings except
      > > occasional small scales (malls and residential areas within driving
      > > distances). The basic problem is usually posed as the geometry involved
      > > in having the average resident in a distribution of residents, with
      > > defined resources, meet their wants and needs through the optimal
      > > distribution of firms in a region. This also gets exploded with buying
      > > over the internet or via catalogs in which the geography really doesn't
      > > matter at all except for the delivery service.
      > >
      > > Elaine Brooks
      > > ________________
      > >
      > > <<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.>>

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