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Re: [carfree_cities] Will we ever see the organic quality of midieval cities in new development?

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  • J.H. Crawford
    Hi All. Colin posed a bunch of questions, but I don t have time to respond in any detail right now, being in the middle of writing the book in question and
    Message 1 of 2 , Jun 2, 2004
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      Hi All.

      Colin posed a bunch of questions, but I don't have
      time to respond in any detail right now, being in
      the middle of writing the book in question and
      moving from the Netherlands to Portugal. I'll reply
      to a couple of key points, however.

      >Will we ever see the organic quality of midieval
      >cities in new development?

      Yes, if we want it.

      >I've seen the new urbanist attempts to engineer in
      >randomness, like horton plaza-
      >(and some of las vegas)

      This is the key point. This is NOT randomness. These
      streets were laid out by the people who used them and
      thus by people with an intimate familiarity with the
      site. Changes were made over the centuries, during
      which, I believe, earlier mistakes were corrected.
      The key point is to allow the features of the site to
      inform the development. (In featureless sites, the
      need for a center around the transport halt will lead
      to radial/concentric streets, and allowing small groups
      of future users to arrange the area to their liking
      will introduce uniqueness and variety.)

      >Now, with a boring apartment building with balconies,
      >once individual residents move it and do different
      >things with their balconies, a lot is added to the

      Go visit a 1950s suburb and notice how much it's all
      changed since it was built; people have modified their
      spaces to suit their individual needs. The result is
      that these places are much more interesting than when
      they were built.

      >What sort of framework could / would be put in place
      >when you get a block of space in a brownfield near
      >downtown seattle, say, to get a new area with the
      >midieval quality of feeling? (carfree of course)

      If you're working with an existing gridiron, I imagine
      that you'll choose to retain it and its valuable
      infrastructure (unless this is old enough to require
      complete reconstruction, in which case you might fully
      assemble the parcel and lay out the streets anew.

      >It can't be as simple as requiring different
      >architects for different lots and even different
      >floors... as the the streets themselves must have
      >significant variation and individuality.

      Using Alexander's approach to housing, each family
      designs its own quarters. The trick is getting folks
      to work in a consistent enough style to make the
      area coherent. This would have to be by way of common
      agreement, a matter that has, until recently, simply
      taken care of itself. Even fairly wide variations in
      style aren't a problem as long as the character of the
      buildings is reasonably consistent (mainly, width of
      frontage and number of floors).

      >It seems to me that we can never create a new midieval
      >town... it is almost like trying to evolve a
      >grasshopper from an early predecessor...
      >intentionally, and without the earlier conditions and
      >the vast amounts of time.

      True, conditions are different, but the reference design
      really only alters the medieval model in the matter of
      providing more floor space per inhabitant and by the
      provision of a heavy transport network. The passengers
      all alight at one stop in the center, and the heavy
      freight is all delivered (at least initially) along a
      single route that passes close to the center. I think,
      in fact, that what led to the Renaissance changes that
      included wider streets and the application of grids is
      that the capacity of narrow streets in small medieval
      communities was not adequate to the transport needs.
      By using high-capacity rail systems that occupy very
      little space, we solve the medieval transport constraints
      in a way only Leonardo imagined.

      >I guess if zoning and government regulations are
      >overcome, the streets could be designed with great
      >variety (as in Joel's districts), difference of
      >materials, difference in time, and likewise with
      >everything else. It requires more time and less
      >efficiency (more diversity), which suggests that is
      >the correct approach.

      Variety is essential to making places interesting;
      at the same time, coherence makes them something we
      can relate to. I suspect that this relates to our
      inherent brain wiring, which likes to store and
      manipulate data in fractal (or near-fractal) form.

      >In fact, it may require entirely new (or different,
      >rather) social structures for such a thing to happen.

      Again, see Alexander on The Production of Houses.
      The arrangements are quite simple and not artificial.

      >Interestingly, the midieval towns do have a sameness
      >within them (I've been looking at Joel's pictures)...
      >having to do with the material out of which they're
      >constructed, and a common style. No doubt the age of
      >the structures (along the lines of
      > perhaps) and what has been done to them in time is
      >part of the draw.

      The use of local materials governed by local climatic
      conditions tends to lead to a common style.

      >I am making a basic mistake of architecture though: it
      >is not the buildings, but the life between and within
      >the buildings that should concern us, ...

      This is largely but not entirely true. The design of
      individual buildings DOES matter, but it is the arrangement
      of public spaces is crucial.

      Hope this helps some. I'll try to participate in this
      discussion as time permits, as it helps me to develop
      the ideas I'm about to start working on for the next


      -- ### --

      J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities
      mailbox@... http://www.carfree.com
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