The contested city
The annual Journalists Forum on Land and the Built Environment concluded last weekend, wrapping up two days with some fifty writers, architecture critics, and editors. The theme of the forum, co-sponsored by the Lincoln Institute, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, and Harvard University's Graduate School of Design, was The Contested City. Highlights:
Clash at town hall. Paul Farmer, president of the American Planning Association, Samuel R. Staley from the DeVoe Moore Center at Florida State University, and Lincoln Institute senior fellow Armando Carbonell explored what was driving the attacks on local planning and sustainability by Tea Party activists, moderated by Kate Zernike, reporter for The New York Times and author of "Boiling Mad:Inside Tea Party America." The panel agreed planners need to do a better job communicating, though building consensus is increasingly challening.
The role of the arts. Elizabeth Currid-Halkett from the University of Southern California, and author of The Warhol Economy, showed how the fashion industry and the arts are powerful drivers of urban economies. Roger Cummings, a graffiti artist from JuxtapositionArts in Minneapolis, explored the sometimes controversial role of the public artist, from chalk drawings to “yarn bombing,” in the life of the city.
Pension reform. Rhode Island state treasurer Gina M. Raimondo recounted the Ocean State’s initiative to overhaul the pension system, which, like in virtually every state, was on its way to bankrupting state and local government. Rhode Island faced a $7 billion unfunded liability, and 30 cents of every tax dollar going to generous pensions to retired public employees.
Occupying public space. Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic for The New York Times, led a panel on protest, free speech, and public space in the city, with the GSD’s Jerold S. Kayden, author of Privately Owned Public Space, and Daniel D'Oca from Interboro Partners.
The just city. Toni L. Griffin, director of the J. Max Bond Center at the Spitzer School of Architecture, The City College of New York, mapped patterns of segregation and inequity …
The City 2.0. Using technology to foster public participation in planning, and to make urban life easier and more efficient, was the topic of the presentation by Frank Hebbert from Open Plans. Hebbert is a co-author of Opening Access to Scenario Planning Tools. Also in attendance was Dan Mitchell from the TED Prize, which this year established The City 2.0, an online clearinghouse for shaping the 21st century city.
Leading the contested city. Former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley said the key ingredients for a successful city included education, a good business climate, infrastructure, and sustainability.
Temporary urbanism and city parks. Rahul Mehrotra, chairman of the Department of Urban Planning and Urban Design at the GSD, and an expert on Mumbai, shared his ideas about the “kinetic city” and new ways of thinking about the formal and informal city in the megacities of the developing world. Peter Harnik from the Trust for Public Land and author of Urban Green, caleld for a "funding quilt" to support great city parks, which he said "beat a yard by a mile."
Redistricting the contested city. Michael P. McDonald from George Mason University and the Brookings Institution showed how community input through tools such as the Public Mapping Project can counter intensifying gerrymandering. Kelli Lundgren, RepresentMe Utah recounted the citizens effort there to make the Salt Lake City area more of a coherent “doughnut” rather than “pizza slices.”
Priming the pump. Joan Youngman, Daphne Kenyon, and Adam Langley from the Lincoln Institute shared research for the forthcoming Policy Focus Report Rethinking Property Tax Incentives for Business, suggesting there was little transparency in the popular practice of offering property tax incentives to businesses making location decisions – and little evidence of benefits in terms of jobs and economic development.
All things digital. Kara Swisher from All Things D and the Wall Street Journal brought the gathering up to date on the continuing digital transformation in the media industry, suggesting that print was inexorably on the way out, and that most media consumption will be on mobile devices and tablets.
Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line, was the dinner speaker at the Nieman Foundation’s Lippmann House, and told the story of one of the most successful park projects in recent memory – the transformation of an elevated freight rail line that was set for demolition. A key question was whether any city can have its own High Line, and how to pay for it, including the potential for value capture.
Participants Roger Showley from the San Diego Union-Tribune, Garth Stapley from McClatchy Newspapers, and Josh Stephens from California Planning and Development Report, writing in Planetizen, all filed dispatches exploring the themes further.