More thoughts on "geometrical fundamentalism"
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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-----BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE-----
> 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
> > Brian Berry (1967) GEOGRAPHY OF MARKET CETNERS AND RETAIL DISTRIBUTIONS.
> > 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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