carfree cities, a review

I was directed to the book as it was listed as having
been one of this cheif influences on J.H. Crawford,
the author of "Carfree Cities", and I'm actually going
to begin my comments there.

Carfree Cities calls for the removal of private
automobiles from urban areas. He cites a number of
(very reasonable) issues with urban automobile and
presents a number of (equally reasonable) possible
improvments to current mass transit systems in order
to cope with the increased load that eliminating the
private automobile would bring. So far I agree.

But I really think he goes too far. He dedicates at
least half the book to detailing an imaginary city
built from the ground up with the sole purpose of
being carfree, and goes on to seriously propose that
such a city be built. Moreover the city itself is
unrealistic, consisting of a series of isolated,
introverted neighbourhoods connected to eachother by
an ultra-modern subway system. It lacks anything
which could be construed as a centre. Being designed
strictly around it's transit system, he feels the need
to eliminate a downtown in order to eliminate potential
congestion at any one transfer point. Finally, a
glance at his maps indicates that his transit routes
loop back upon each other in ways which prohibit
future expansion or contraction. If there are too may
people, he suggests - we must imagine with a straight
face - a seccond city must be built. We're not
exactly certain how he planned to deal with too few.
His suggested methods for adapting his utopain city to
real, pre-existing cities are, to say the least, less
than satisfactory. In short, at least on it's most
obvious level, it comes from a long line of utopain
manuals on city design which have contrived to ignore
real life. He may, indeed, be interested that such
models were partially responsable for getting us where
we are, or at least justifying where we are. Consider
Howard Ebinezer's Garden Cities of Tomorow or Le
Corbusier's plans for the "reconstruction" of Paris,
and the influence these texts had, and you'll see what
I mean.

This is not to say, however, that I didn't like the
book. It was a wonderful read, and ideas from it
really do need to be pulled out and put into use in
real life. He's obviously connected with groups who
ARE successfully opposing our outdated love affair
with the private automobile, and I respect much of
what he's doing. It's just to say that he has the
tendency to be a self-proclaimed visionary, and that
we need to be wary of taking him, perhaps, as
seriously as he takes himself.

Back to the Pattern Language. The instant I cracked
the covers I could tell where J.H. Crawford was
getting much of his tone and some of his ideas from.
A Pattern Language points again to a utopain society
and and calls for the implementation of said society,
preferably immediatly. There are brilliant ideas in
the book, but there are also ideas which should be
taken with a grain of salt, ideas which should be made
slightly more practical, and a handful of ideas I
positivly balk at (the patterns forbiding a single
significant centre to a metropolis and forbiding
buildings over four stories are both deeply
misguided). The society called for is something of a
return to a golden age of craft-work and introverted
neighbourhoods which hasn't ever really existed, but
which every generation for the past several centuries
has taken deep pleasure in institing HAD existed just
a few generations ago. It takes only minimal account
of differences between neighbours more significant
than the colour of their hair. That there might be
both successful and unsuccessful people in the same
neighbourhood, indeed that such distinctions might be
made at all is pointedly ignored, despite the fact
that such integration is desperatly needed in the
modern world. That people might make plans and have
ideas which could disrupt the work of the great
planner working on high is, quite frankly, an abhorant
thought. In A Pattern Language I didn't read "fire the
architect". Indeed, I read "If you disagree with the
architect, you're deeply depraived".

Not to say that I didn't enjoy the book. Taken with a
grain of salt it's amazing, and most people, indeed,
do take it with a grain of salt. If not the case, we
wouldn't be typing this today.

I recall reading somewhere that if a solution to all
the world's problems begins with "If everybody..." or
"If nobody..." then it automatically won't work.
Quite right.

Benjamin A. Vazquez, U.E.
Couchsurfing Group,
Benjamin Vazquez posted this message to: architecture

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