The Festival of Ideas for the New City Conference was a three-day slate of symposia, lectures, and workshops with visionaries and leaders—including exemplary mayors, forecasters, architects, artists, economists, and technology experts— addressed the four broad Festival themes: The Heterogeneous City; The Networked City; The Reconfigured City; and The Sustainable City. These events took place at The Cooper Union, New York University, and the New Museum May 4-7.
Keynote Address: Rem Koolhaas
Rosenthal Pavilion, Kimmel Center, NYU, 60 Washington Sq South
7:00pm, May 4, 2011
Architect, city planner, and author Rem Koolhaas opened the Festival of Ideas for the New City with a keynote address at the Kimmel Center at NYU. The address was focused on the same topic as the Koolhaas exhibition that was on view at the New Museum’s storefront gallery at 231 Bowery. Titled “Cronocaos”, the show is an adaptation of the architect’s award-winning installation (done in collaboration with Shohei Shigematsu) at the previous summer’s Venice Architecture Biennale.
At the heart of the exhibition and his address is the topic of preservation. Koolhaas pointed out that twelve percent of the world’s surface is, in one form or another, a preservationist domain not open to change or innovation. He cautioned that an admirable organization like UNESCO’s World Heritage Fund, national and regional landmarks authorities, environmentalists, and heritage foundations are often embalming the very things they wish to keep vital. As an example, Koolhaas mentioned a residence that he designed for a wheel-chair-bound client that was designated a landmark upon its completion. Now, the client is dead and the family is trapped in a house that no longer serves anyone’s needs but, because it is landmarked, they are trapped in the past. During the question period, he also decried the destruction of landmarks like the Berlin Wall, a section of which could have stood for ages as a visceral historic memorial and as a reminder of city planning that works like a fist.
Another part of Koolhaas’ address focused on the museum as a home for both preservation and erasure. The former referred to the re-use of industrial spaces for cultural centers and the latter to the elimination of functional details in favor of the emptied-out white cube. A particular target for his criticism was the ideology underlying Tate Modern’s occupation of a vast power station thereby leading to the exhibition of similarly gigantic work created specifically to fill the space. Koolhaas earmarked the Tate Modern as emblematic of a virus sweeping the globe.
Perhaps Koolhaas’ most provocative (and predictable) hypothesis critically echoed Le Corbusier’s notorious plan to raze large chunks of historical Paris in favor a grid of high-rise towers. Koolhaas’s alternative was to impose an arbitrary grid on Bejing and then demolish and preserve sections of the city according to the impartiality of the grid. This plan would be both rational and innovative, nurturing and experimental. While the plan is essentially rhetorical, it also directly synthesizes Koolhaas’ argument against stasis and for innovation. As a visionary theorist and functioning architect, Koolhaas is dedicated to a state of dynamic harmony which was part of his core message.
Panel Discussion: The Heterogeneous City
The Great Hall at Cooper Union, 7 E. 7th St.
1:00-3:00pm, May 5, 2011
The heterogeneous city is the stimulating city: diverse complex, tolerant. The ideal heterogeneous city has a kind of dynamic equilibrium; the real one is frequently, if not constantly, involved in struggles over terrain and influence. A panel of activists, artists, and analysts discuss why heterogeneity is so crucial to great urbanism, what threatens it, and what it takes to sustain it.
Visual artist and performance pioneer Acconci has, since the late 1980s, turned his attention to architecture. His practice, Acconci Studio, is known for its rethinking of public space and the public responsibility of the built environment.
Director of the Center for an Urban Future, Bowles oversees a public policy organization that works to improve the overall health of New York City. He has written extensively on key economic trends, diversification, and the importance of small businesses to large cities.
Recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Award, Haggerty is the founder of Common Ground, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to finding solutions to homelessness in cities throughout the US. Common Ground operates and develops housing facilities across the country.
Professor of Journalism at NYU, Mehta is the award-winning author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, an extraordinary historical portrait of “the biggest, fastest, richest city in India.” He is currently working on a nonfiction book on contemporary immigrants to New York City.
Moderator: Jonathan F.P. Rose
Founder of Rose Companies, a green real-estate development, planning, consulting, and investment firm, Rose also chairs the MTA’s Blue Ribbon Commission of Climate Change. He is a Trustee of the Urban Land Institute and Co-Chair of its Climate and Energy Committee.
“Cities are the cauldron of transformation,” asserted Jonathan Rose, the discussion leader for The Heterogenous City. The discussion began with a deferent, and at times nostalgic, affirmation that New York City is indeed a creatively, ethnically and economically diverse city. However, the tone quickly shifted from celebratory to cautionary, as panelists debated mechanisms that could make heterogeneity sustainable. With a rising gap between rich and poor, which Rose deemed as “unhealthy, destabilizing” not to mention “immoral and unjust,” New York is becoming, according to panelist Suketu Mehta, “one of the most grotesquely unequal American cities” where the average daily income of New York’s top economic tier is greater than the yearly salary of the city’s lowest-income group. Mehta argued against the common conception that for progress to happen, “the old city needs to be wiped out in order for the new city to be built,” thereby calling to mind the familiar colonialist rhetoric of modern gentrification. Rather than an outright resistance to gentrification and its effects on development, what people are asking for, Mehta argues, is coexistence, requiring the city to make room and facilitate new networks of solidarity. Such a city demands “generosity.”
Both Vito Acconci and Rosanne Haggerty offered ideas for facilitating coexistence in order to maintain the heterogenous city. Acconci, an artist and practicing architect who recognizes that “unbuilt projects can be read as a theory of public space,” presented a series of proposed operations that would bend, stretch, morph, fold and mobilize urban space, reclaiming architecture as an activator of the public imagination. He sees the opportunity to re-invent our relationship to and experience of the city, rather than a totalitarian project that encodes a dictated spatial behavior on its users. By challenging the boundary between public and private space, Acconci proposes the use of architecture to facilitate new interactions in the city. By forming small clusters of intimate space within larger public spaces, he argues, people do not need permission to speak, but can move and participate in civic life with a sense of agency.
Rosanne Haggerty approached the issue of maintaining a diverse city through the arguably more practical lens of housing. Haggerty’s organization Common Ground has transformed abandoned buildings in New York City, including The Times Square Hotel and more recently The Andrew’s Hotel on the Bowery, into mixed use housing opportunities for the homeless, low-income families as well as artists who need affordable work and living spaces. Haggerty poses the question: how do we get out of the way to let ground up innovation happen? She argues for a framework that is willing to risk fluidity for the sake of innovative solutions - more specifically, she calls for a re-evaluation of zoning codes in order to maximize the housing opportunities that the city has to offer. Safety and health, she argues, should be the only bases for zoning dictates. Beyond that, “why should we care” how people chose to organize housing? The “well-intentioned guidelines” of the system hinder growth, as our society’s value system arguably shifts away from “family centric” modes of operation. As Acconci argues, the “we,” or our imagining of the collective, is constantly shifting, and our systems of spatial organization need to facilitate innovative responses.
Beyond innovations in housing and public space, Jonathan Bowles suggests that preserving heterogeneity requires strengthening New York’s transit system in order to facilitate connections between places and “unleash economic opportunities” in less developed neighborhoods in the outer boroughs. Such a move would allow people to visit places–such as Coney Island - that make New York City unique, yet will continue to be threatened by foreclosure and redevelopment if they remain largely disconnected from the city center. By establishing new networks that move and connect people, both physically and intangibly, the city can continue to hold on to its unique diversity and remain a place that attracts a continuous influx of people rather than compel them to make their homes elsewhere. By the same token, these same transit systems allow middle class workers who’ve been priced out of the city to move to places such as Philadelphia and continue to work in Manhattan. Efficiency, then, will still require an attenuated sense of place and a political will to carve out a space for the middle class alongside the immigrant population (without whom the city’s economy might collapse) and the globetrotting financiers who (at least for now) call the city their home.
Panel Discussion: The Networked City
The Great Hall at Cooper Union, 7 E. 7th St.
4:00-6:00pm, May 5, 2011
The networked city is the efficient city. Virtually all urban systems are networked, from the streets to the water supply to security and surveillance—and new networks, mostly virtual, are superimposed on our lives every day. Does this interconnectedness make us more vulnerable as well as more effective and efficient? A panel of media theorists and technology visionaries consider the impacts and implications of our networked lives.
Managing Director of Urbanscale, an urban systems design firm, Greenfield is former head of design direction and user interface for Nokia. He is the author of Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing and the forthcoming The City is Here for You to Use.
New-media artist and engineer Jeremijenko is an Associate Professor in Visual Art/Computer Science/Environmental Studies at NYU, where she develops strategies that employ new technologies to track and remediate environmental changes.
Research Director of the Institute for the Future, a nonprofit research group, Townsend researches the impact of new technologies on cities and public institutions. He is a member of the National Foreign Trade Council’s Global Information Forum Brain Trust.
Chair of Culture and Media Studies and Associate Dean at the New School’s Eugene Lang College, Wark is the author of A Hacker Manifesto and Gamer Theory.
Moderator: Joseph Grima
Editor-in-Chief of Domus magazine, Grima is an architect and former director of the Storefront for Art and Architecture. He teaches at Moscow’s Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture, and Design and is the co-founder (with Pedro Reyes) of the Urban Genome Project, dedicated to “map the code on which cities are written.”
The discussion on the “networked city” ranged in tone from reverence at the scalar immensity of the networks that comprise the flow of global capital (described by McKenzie Wark as being “so big as to be invisible”), to paranoia surrounding the potential both for network collapse (Anthony Townsend’s “bugs in the smart city”) and/or manipulation (Townsend’s “surveillance society,” or Adam Greenfield’s spectrum of technological affect: helpful, disrespectful, downright exploitative), to sheer amusement at the possibilities opened up by imagination and the spaces of connectivity (Nathalie Jeremijenko’s prompt that each of us would benefit from picking a product and tracing its development from the factory to the store). Moderator Joseph Grima brought an architectural sensibility to the conversation but refused to deviate into the realm of asking what a networked city might actually look like. The morphological question set aside for the time being, the panelists engaged in a political debate about the structure of networks and sought to locate the source of agency within this seemingly ambiguous space.
Ultimately, the question boiled down to the ambivalent relation between planning and play, a pair that cuts across the outmoded distinction between top-down and bottom-up action. Prompted perhaps by Wark’s evocation of the work of Constant Nieuwenhuys, the radical Situationist architect whose speculative New Babylon project (1959-1974) presented a vision of a ludic society; of individuals at play upon the vast surfaces of his new megacity. The concept of “play” as a source of agency was best suggested by two of Jeremijenko’s examples, the first being that sport is often the largest single determinant in the propagation and preservation of green space within cities. Her second example focused on the FAA’s recent classification of a “sport pilot’s license” to go along with recent developments in small-scale personal aviation. This play-driven change in code, or rather, the framework through which individuals have access to transportation choices (i.e. agency), has the power to change behaviors in the long term.
The latter example is key, as it represents a relation between the legislative/planning framework and the grassroots act. By the end of the New Babylon project, Constant had driven his ludic utopia into a dystopic state. This shift in attitude reflected Constant’s evolving belief that endless, unstructured play would ultimately destroy the city. In effect, individuals required some form of organization with which to interact or respond. Townsend and Greenfield both set out to define such a structure for the networked city, namely, a set of procedures or juridical operations that would make the city more inclusive by making its processes more legible and by holding all parties accountable as much in their dealings in the “abstract” networked world as they would otherwise be in the “physical” world (a distinction, of course, to which none of those on the panel would likely ascribe). Only through such a continual updating of the rules of the game can the actions on the field come to resemble play rather than entropy. The deluge of unfiltered data (what Reinhold Martin calls, “the statistical sublime”) that accompanies the profusion of networks can become a smokescreen behind which to hide or an open-sourced playground for all.
Keynote Address: Jaron Lanier
The Networked City
The Great Hall at Cooper Union, 7 E. 7th St.
7:00pm, May 5, 2011
Jaron Lanier’s keynote address began with notes on a traditional Hmong bamboo flute. Lanier charted the evolution of musical instruments from hydraulic pipes in the Coliseum to the pipe organ, the model for which influenced development of a programmable loom, leading to a programmable calculator and then the computer. Lanier’s point was to convey the crucial role that acoustics play in our imagination of the world, and how that capacity to manipulate reality and the digital acuity of music is essential to innovation in all aspects of life. While music precedes the computer, the latter should not be our default metaphor for the human body. The brain is not like a computer; we actively seek out data and posses a power of acuity that computers do not. Living as though we operate like the technology of our time can produce stifling and harmful results. During the 1940s, for example, operating under “the body as a steam engine” metaphor the British government submitted war-hero/computer scientist Alan Turing to a hormone treatment “cure” for homosexuality that lead to his suicide.
It is this acuity and ability to have random personal encounters that makes our cities unique. Interpersonal encounters on the sidewalks determine the fate of New Yorkers. In New York, you walk down the street and lock eyes with someone and your life changes. Virtual reality technology attempts to study these networks between people but don’t have a catalogue for the ways we connect subconsciously and consciously. In today’s megacities diversity and connectivity are international norms. Social networking is a different kind of encounter though– digital representations of people do not provide the acuity of someone you meet on the sidewalk. People who can connect in fortuitous ways tend to be more successful than those who rely on the social networks on computers. Those who network online tend to spin their wheels a bit because an element is lost in the digital representation.
Technological advances in the 19th century led to the supposition that technology will only improve the quality of life. Better technology, however, does not automatically mean a better quality of life. It does, however, give us the latitude to potentially improve our lot. Approximately eleven years ago the powers corporate innovators turned away from technology’s social contract in a large part because they made technology free for advertising, making advertising the dominant information system. Social networking and self promotion is an illusory objective with these networked sites. The user is not the customer but the product being sold as information in a database, the value is in the information you can’t see publicly– covert statistics that may be inaccurate. Lanier also suggests the social networks limit our acuity which is a skill that comes from primary experience through all our senses in real time. He continued that social technology can reinforce interaction but we should rise to the occasion to rediscover the joys of human interaction and create cerebral jobs to accompany the technology industry.
Nonetheless, technology is still improving though and still ripe with potential. There are now prototypes for self-driving cars, which would make the world vastly safer, and discussions about creating robotics to assist in the health care industry. We need to not think of ourselves in the language of facebook, which only leads to a city of reduction. We should use technology to serve us and generate capital, thinking, in some respects, like technology pioneer Ted Nelson’s Project Xanadu. Doing this requires we humanize digital architecture to maximize freedom and over throw faddism to look beyond the narcissism of our time.
Presentation and Discussion: The Reconfigured City
The Great Hall at Cooper Union, 7 E. 7th St.
2:00pm-4:30pm, May 6, 2011
The reconfigured city is the adaptable city, one that can continually rethink and remake itself without destroying its fundamental character. In this series of presentations two architects, an artist trained as an architect, and an entrepreneur talk about how we can adapt, hack, amplify, and more productively use what we have; how we can tap into the unused excess capacity of our workspaces and transportation systems; and radically re-envision existing buildings and social practices to keep our cities useful long
Founder and CEO of GoLoco, an online ride-sharing community, Chase also founded and is the former CEO of Zipcar. Currently she leads Meadow Networks, a consulting firm that advises city, state, and federal government agencies on wireless applications in the transportation sector.
Founding partner of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Liz Diller is a Professor of Architecture at Princeton University. She and her partner Ricardo Scofidio were the first architects to be awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, and their practice is currently leading the design of the High Line and the redesign of Lincoln Center.
Founder of DEGW, an architectural firm devoted to strategic consultancy that helps businesses create social-scientifically informed workspaces, Duffy is also the author of Work and the City, which tracks the symbiotic relationship between modern architecture and office design.
Architect and artist Reyes’s work is part shelter and part sculpture focusing on the interplay between physical and social space. He is (with Joseph Grima) the co-founder of the Urban Genome Project which is assembling an index of tools for improving the urban environment.
Moderator: Rogan Kersh
Professor of Public Policy and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at NYU Wagner, Kersh has been a Mellon Fellow in the Humanities and Luce Scholar. He is the author of Dreams of a More Perfect Union and works on a continuing basis with Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
Note: The Reconfigured City was a series of individual presentations, followed by a brief conversation and a period for audience questions.
Pedro Reyes presented a series of poster - mini manifestos chronicling his work and offering instances of affected change in an urban milieu. First he introduced the concept of “museum as refrigerator to museum as oven,” a project that proposes museums should be agents of change instead of just repositories of works of art. In “Agent of Death to Agent of Life” Reyes worked with the governor of Cuilacán, Mexico on a program where citizens could trade in guns for a coupon for goods, the pistols were then taken to a foundry and melted down and made into shovels which were then used to plant trees. In “architecture as hardware to architecture as software”, Reyes worked at a park in Monterrey, Mexico where he made parts of the grounds active at different times of the week to deter crime in empty spaces. “Map the bright spots” was a poster campaign in conjunction with a group that brought yoga to jails. These posters diagramed change and created a storyboard for the built environment that outlined steps to create new behaviors. The “urban genome project”, executed with Joseph Grima, applies the genetic code as a metaphor for urban change. The project coded sectors within city buildings (public, private, social and creative) with genetic code letters and recombined and resequenced pairings to arrive at new public policy solutions for cities.
Robin Chase, founder of zip car, discussed the role of the internet in the future city, contrasting her vision for the future with two paradigms of forward thinking in the past: the Jetsons and the Robert Moses/Jane Jacobs debate. Companies like facebook and Google derive funds from “people powered” platforms she pointed out. Socially networked websites are people empowering, from functions like “My Stuff” on YouTube to my photos on “Flickr.” The site “Couch Surfing” is a model of people-empowered, user-generated business whose growth has surpassed its counterparts in the traditional service economy. In the intersections between excess capacity and platforms for participation, we can create systems of collaborative consumption. As another example, Chase presented a site she is working on called “Buzzcar”, which is a peer-to-peer car sharing site using an iphone application. Inherent in this type of system is a built-in network of trust and the environmental benefits of sharing resources. The future of cities will be built by individuals with open data and open regulations using the internet and smart phones as key elements. Individual, unique, customizable solutions to problems will lead to a sustainable economy, but we must be aware of the potential for people to be taken advantage of in open data cities.
Architect and expert on office design Frank Duffy discussed the evolution of office buildings over time from the Taylorist period exemplified by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Larkin and Seagrams building’s which emphasized order, control, and limited mobility, to the socially democratic office building that articulated individual protection, to the networked office building which is the current paradigm. Duffy expressed concern that we are losing our ability to justify place in an increasingly virtual world and suggested that the office building may be a counterpoint to this phenomenon. However the networked city presents new real estate challenges and the demand chain can be the site of reconfigured architecture. Currently designers are failing to challenge the existing chain of supply, which is generic and unilateral. Instead we should create a demand chain that factors in end-users, corporate users and long-term users – a system in which design is an integral element reinforced by construction and occupancy. To achieve this end, architects must learn the value of synchronicity and co-location, and the value of saying no to some projects. Buildings must be constructed in appropriate scale and take advantage of technology to become adaptable. Ultimately we need to justify a sense of place in a virtual world and this requires memory, chance sociability and meaning in the city.
Liz Diller spoke on behalf of unneccessity, presenting Diller Scofidio and Renfro projects as sites of resistance to today’s production-driven architecture. The High Line, arguably their best known project as Diller pointed out about, “doing nothing,” a difficult concept for most New Yorkers to swallow. On New York’s High Line, the architects wanted to save the site from the surrounding, large scale architecture and further an idea of “agritecture” by integrating different types of landscapes into the fabric of the design and weaving together microclimates while nurturing the paradox of renewal and decay at play. At Lincoln Center, Diller Scofidio and Renfro again worked to transform an existing fixture in the New York landscape, this time working to make an iconic Robert Moses design more accessible. They eroded the raised plinth on which Lincoln Center rests to make the campus more open and democratic, undermining the existing scale while working with it by doing things like stretching the stairway, making a more exuberant fountain, and breaking down walls to interface with the streetscape.
During the question and answer session moderator Rogan Kersh inquired about the democratic element and the role of the people in “The Reconfigured City”. This was, as Liz Diller pointed out, a largely political argument. To reconfigure the city to cater to the people requires interfaces that are permeable and understandable as well as spaces that evolve and adapt over time. Design process must solicit everyone’s voice, however consensus can be dangerous; good spaces are self selected and we don’t need to fear certain populations using certain spaces.
Next audience members asked about ensuring efficiency which solicited a range of reactions from Liz Diller’s fear that, because we are so efficiency-oriented we will lose sight of pleasure, to Robin Chase’s view that we are currently so inefficient that we need to swing back to older practices. The most efficient ideas are easily replicated and can be achieved by partnering public, private and social spheres. Architecture can add value to and express ideas, so efficiency per se does not need to be over emphasized. To move beyond the status quo, architecture should weave itself into existing culture and not become overly invested in pursuing technology at the expense of other spaces: the present does not replace the past.
Keynote Address: Antanas Mockus
The Sustainable City
The Great Hall at Cooper Union, 7 E. 7th St.
5:00-6:00pm, May 6, 2011
Antanas Mockus, former mayor of Bogota, addressed the creativity required in city-making. Introducing his remarks with the quote, “make unfamiliar the familiar”, Mockus stressed discovery as elemental in improving the quality of cities and quality of life for citizens. It is about discovering new things under an old light, or old things under a new light, he said and proceeded to recount projects in Bogota that had radically undertaken this goal under the heading of “subart”.
Mockus introduced the “carrot law”. In Colombia the carrot is associated with self control, and the carrot law encouraged citizens to control destructive behavior by banning alcohol sales after 1am, converting real fireworks into symbolic ones, and distributing condoms that one could inflate and explode (as well as actually use).
The “public space kit” came about when the city government lacked funds to properly “greenify” the city. Instead, they sold grass and cement kits in stores so people could plant in front of their homes and beautify the city in a piecemeal way. Mockus was able to induce citizens to pay 63,000 in voluntary tax dollars by explaining the infrastructural benefits that the extra taxes would cover. The “Zebra Knights” program reduced traffic deaths by placing markers at the sites of pedestrian fatalities and morally motivating cab drivers to drive cautiously.
Mockus in fact attributes the success of his playful and unconventional programs to a citizenship culture based on a fundamental understanding of social motivation. A citizen public is cultivated through the invitation to judge and invest in common opinion and common sense. Social and political critique is built upon aesthetic judgment, as per Hannah Arendt’s interpretation of Immanuel Kant, fusing an appreciation of public spaces with reasonable social premises as well as a respect for the constitution wherein one can engage the civic body.
Ethical and informed regulatory practices are also key to maintaining healthy cities. Mockus laid out a rubric of factors that motivate human action and methods to regulate behavior including: fear of sanctions, fear of guilt, fear of social rejection, social recognition, trust and reputation. These can be categorized as social norms, legal norms, moral norms; a harmony between all three is necessary. It is important to cultivate an admiration for the law and to understand individual choices in the context of legal, moral and social codes.
To make cities sustainable people need to feel secure, something achieved through reinforcing “good” behavior and consistent policing. A sustainable city must have its meaning created by its citizens making interrelated decisions and investments that look to the long-term future of the city. To ward off physical and moral deterioration in cities, we need to reframe the conversation and learn the inspirational power of restriction and to respect that. We need to marry management improvements with physical improvement and build upon what exists. This requires optimism and public knowledge of citizen behavior and accountability.
Mayoral Panel: The Sustainable City
The Great Hall at Cooper Union, 7 E. 7th St.
7:00-8:30pm, May 6, 2011
The sustainable city is the city with a future. Between greenwashing and scolding, it is easy to be cynical about admonitions to change our resource-consuming habits, but the fact is that our future depends on it—and on making our cities not only environmentally but economically and politically sustainable as well. A group of leading Mayors discuss their work on making their cities ready and open for the long-term future.
Introduction by David Byrne
Musician, artist, producer, activist, and columnist are among the many hats worn by David Byrne. He is well known for his work with the band Talking Heads, and his collaborations with such diverse artists as Brian Eno and Celia Cruz. He is the author of Bicycle Diaries and is a passionate spokesman for the increased use of bicycles for transport.
As mayor of Medillin, Sergio Fajardo transformed his city from the murder capital of the world into a tourist destination and one of the safest cities in Colombia. His instruments of change were urban and architectural renewal, as well as a transformed transportation system.
As two-time mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, John Fetterman has drawn national attention for his efforts to transform a dying rust-belt city into a center for the arts and a beacon for economic revitalization and community renewal.
While mayor of Seattle (2002–10), Greg Nickels reduced the city’s greenhouse gas emissions “to meet or beat” the levels stipulated in the Kyoto protocols. His agenda included innovation in transportation, public safety, green jobs, and climate production. He spearheaded the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement (2005).
In early 2009 Mayor Nutter launched Greenworks Philadelphia, a 15-point plan to make Philadelphia the greenest city in the United States, with initiatives in areas including green jobs, local food, recycling and energy conservation. In 2010, Philadelphia won the 2010 Sustainable Community Award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Moderator: Kurt Andersen
Host of Peabody Award-winning Studio 360, a co-production of Public Radio International and WNYC, Kurt Andersen is also co-founder and editor of Spy magazine. He is the author of two novels, Heyday and Turn of the Century.
The Sustainable City Mayoral Panel is made possible by a generous gift from John S. Wotowicz and Virginia D. Lebermann.
Musician and cyclist David Byrne introduced the mayoral panel with a power point showing visions of urban planning over time from termite towers to skyscrapers and screening a video of bicycling through history and in cinema.
Moderator and “Studio 360” host Kurt Andersen briefly introduced the panel, composed of two current and two former mayors. The first to speak was Sergio Fajardo, a one-time professor of mathematics who earned his PHD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and was elected mayor of Medellín, Colombia – a city of 2.5 million people - in 2003.
Fajardo’s Power Point was indicative of his pedagogical roots using hand-written charts and diagrams, which transmitted the key points of his campaign and goals in office. Fajardo described how he had decided to “create a civic movement, [knowing that] the way to get into power is to know what you’re going to do once you’re in power.” He outlined the problems he’d targeted to solve during his mayoralty – inequality, violence, and corruption – and to solve them by working spiritually, through the “skin, the heart, the brain.” Campaigning, Fajardo and his team walked through the city, asking why and how people were drawn into “the illegal world.” The answers he received led to later actions such as the construction of major civic buildings by the best architects into the poorest, most isolated neighborhoods. He followed this architectural program with the creation of a new transportation system that provides a connective tissue throughout the city and a newfound dignity for the people inhabiting the neighborhoods.
Mayor John Fetterman was the panel’s youngest member, the only one with a Harvard MBA. Fetterman is mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, an old steel mill city of 200,00 which has, over time, lost 85% of its residents and become the county’s poorest town, with a median home price under $4,800. Now in his second term, Fetterman – with a salary of $150 a month – has started a youth corps which takes a hand - with volunteers and new residents - in repurposing deteriorating housing stock, architectural preservation, and the creation of urban gardens. He has initiated community events like annual block parties, a free ice cream truck, and invited artists to take advantage of the cheap and available space in Braddock. The town now exists as a model of contemporary homesteading, and has gone three years without a homicide.
Greg Nickels, Seattle’s “super-green” mayor between 2002 and 2010, began with the history of Seattle entrepreneurship – Boeing, Bill Gates, Starbucks – and remarked upon the challenges facing the city today, solutions which are “going to require an incredible amount of creativity and innovation.” Taking office soon after 9/11, Nickels once saw safety to be his primary concern, since he “assumed we had smart people in Washington DC who’d take care of the climate.” His “aha moment” came in the winter of 2004-2005, a very dry and warm winter for the Pacific Northwest, which proved to be a tragedy for the thousands of people who relied on snow in the Cascades as a water source, and to power the turbines producing green electricity. “No water, no power!” With newfound purpose, Nickels challenged other United States mayors to adhere to the Kyoto Protocol – which the United States has not signed - and saw results: 1,050 mayors signed the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement which he had crafted. His city government reduced its emissions by 60%. “Cities,” Nickels, said, “play a vital role [since the] vast majority of fossil fuels is burned in cities.” On the other hand, people who live in cities are more efficient, leaving a smaller carbon footprint. Nickels began a “two-year-long conversation in Seattle.” He “wanted the city to be 24/7, and to use density as a tool for achieving that.” To this end, he overturned laws limiting development, and “put people to work reducing carbon emissions, changing the transportation system, engaging in the new green industry.”
The panel’s final speaker, Wharton grad, 14-year City Council member, and currently mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, initiated his remarks by discussing his city’s “historic built environments”. When it comes to issues of sustainability - “putting people to work and the new economy and rebuilding” - his administration has outlined “15 measurable goals dealing with the city environment.” City Hall regularly releases reviews of these goals, publishing the results. Mayor Nutter has also, after forty-year’s on the books, changed the city’s zoning code, “signed legislation that requires major renovations to be LEED-certified,” and overseen a restructuring of the Navy Yards (when they closed, 8,000 people lost their jobs). The Yards are now “becoming the clean technology center of the United States;” the US Dept. of Energy has granted Nutter a 129-millio-dollar grant to carry out this project. The Mayor concluded by saying that now is an “exciting time [to be] in public service – recycling, solar paneling, overall a time of innovation.” He concluded by suggesting that a Festival of Ideas needs to take place across the US.
Following the panelist’s presentations, Andersen line of questioning began with the issue of urban crime. “Philadelphia has one of the highest homicide rates in the US – is that the big problem?” Nutter responded that it is “a big problem,” attributing it, in part, to failures in education and high levels of poverty, along with Pennsylvania’s lax gun safety laws. “You have a line,” Andersen continued, “’the people also have a civil right not get shot’…”. Fajardo asserted once more that, even as a mathematician by training, “I have also been aware of where I belonged…all of my privileges should be rights.” Yes, said Andersen, but why didn’t the criminals kill you? “I have a very special power – being transparent,” Fajardo responded. Andersen then turned to Nickels saying “I don’t want to suggest that there’s no crime in Seattle, [but] I was amazed at how many initiatives you got underway…was this your main reason for being in politics?” My agenda was to provide economic opportunities, said Nickels. Fetterman owned up to his $150.00-a-month salary as mayor, and agreed with Anderson that indeed, “non-governmental sources doing most of the funding.” “My honorarium from being here tonight,” Fetterman said, “is going to our new playground.”
World Café: Downtown NYC Policy Issues
Workshop Session 1
NYU Wagner, Puck Building, 295 Lafayette
10:00am-12:00pm, May 7, 2011
The first session of World Café focused on the topics transportation, community life, environment, housing and residential issues. Attendees selected tables to generate mezzo level discussions guided by table leaders.
Workshop leaders are Kate Ascher, Gretchen Dykstra, Zhan Guo, Louise Harpman, Albert Lee, Ellen Schall. Biographies can be found in Appendix 1.
The Community Life #1 group talked about the need for public open space, and the need for citizens to become activists. Social media is one avenue to keep informed, and a knowledge base will affect public process that funds real estate development.
At the Community Life #2 table, participants raised the importance of authenticity, diversity and communication in public spaces. Taking down fences around public spaces will make people feel more accessible. It is crucial that we remember public space is for everyone and give everyone a voice. We must continue to develop small public spaces and try to acquire privately owned public space, or attempt to keep it undeveloped. Bike lanes should be widened, and the relationship between activate public space and personal health should be made more visible.
The Environment table focused on making and keeping green space for the community through creative use of rooftops on both new and existing buildings, both public and private. Rooftops can be used for urban farms, community congregation, the collection and recycling of rain water.
Transportation table #1 looked at Chinatown, specifically investigating ways to minimize car traffic in the neighborhood, particularly on Canal Street. Macro concerns like cleaning up the subway and improving bus lines are possible ways to reduce congestion. On a more micro level, a solution might be turning Canal Street into a pedestrian walkway with a minimized traffic flow at certain times of day.
The Transportation and Access group expressed the need to expand bike lanes and improve subway and bus lines. The mobile experience should be considered as a full circuit from leaving home to arriving at one’s destination and back. Given this, we should try and better map transportation networks and move to a culture that embraces different kinds of transportation. A “Don’t be a Jerk Campaign,” was suggested to foster partnering with landlords and tourism boards to realize new transportation networks.
The Housing and Residential table voiced concern over the relationship between noise levels and stress in the East Village, proposing a decibel meter that would raise awareness about noise pollution, coupled with more green spaces and silence codes. They also leveled the question, is preservation just a different form of development?
World Café: Built Environment
Workshop, Session 2
NYU Wagner, Puck Building, 295 Lafayette
2:00-4:00pm, Saturday May 7, 2011
Workshop Leaders are David Benjamin, Andrea Blum, Anna Dyson, Mitchell Joachim, Lydia Kallipoliti, Mitch McEwen, Jorje Otero-Pailos, and Roo Rogers. Biographies and selected workshop notes can be found in Appendix 1.
The second world café session looked at different aspects of the built environment of lower Manhattan from more art/architecture/design perspectives.
Andrea Blum led a table on art and public space where attendees discussed the need for open spaces without public interaction. These de-conditioned spaces would promote sensation and respond to a hunger for sensation in thematic zones. Through this discussion they questioned the moral imperatives of an artist in an urban environment.
At the table discussing shared spaces, Roo Rogers led a conversation about sharing networks. In the city there is an excess of skills and of supplies that should be able to be shared within apartment buildings, taking into account the vertical element of the urban fabric. This would require a system of rules and code of privacy, but ultimately sharing makes for a smarter city.
Anna Dyson’s ecology table asked what New York would look like without people. Biodiversity, she said, requires intellectual diversity. Small scale farming, air quality remediation and peer to peer energy sharing can all be used to improve the ecology of the city, as can thinking of the ecology of a building and properly maintaining our built environment.
David Benjamin led a discussion on ubiquitous computing and sensors, asking what we should do with data from sensors embedded in our urban fabric. This requires identifying the stakeholders: citizens, the government and sensor manufacturers, and awareness about sensors as well as incentives to make data accessible like government subsidizing cost of sensors so all collected data could be public property. The table felt that as building facades are public property they could be used as interfaces for this data.
Mitchell Joachim presented thoughts on preservation and conservation. He emphasized the need to make more parks, roof gardens and open spaces as well as creating a smarter infrastructure. His group also raised the need to change our value system to put a premium on industrial goods, and to be aware of good corporations, like Google, while monitoring other corporations whose goals are more debatable.
Jorge Otero-Pailos discussed sustainability, heterogeneity and networkability. All are becoming more efficient but this will, inevitably, create increased uniformity. We need to give the next generation inefficiency. He listed 10 inefficient things to preserve: waterfront, bricks and mortar stores, cemeteries, parking lots, power plants, garbage barges, low rise buildings, banks with humans, subway tunnels, and flop houses.
Mitch Mc Ewen’s group created visions of architectural manifestos for the lower east side, and Lydia Kallipoliti’s group proposed ways to improve air quality through exhaust systems in buildings; the challenges are educating the public and funding the innovation.