All posts filed under: politics

What is the story of a place? Thoughts on field research.

A lecture I gave to the Qualitative Research for Urban Planners course at Harvard’s GSD.  The talk was based on my Master’s thesis, which I have just now (finally) published online. * I came across this headline in the Onion yesterday – about a planner who got through his whole urban design before all of a sudden he realized, oh my god, he was recreating a city that already exists, in a totally different place.  This is funny of course because this is what people imagine planners kinda actually do.  So today, I want to talk about how not to be that guy.  How to ensure with your research process that you are intervening in a place on its own terms, based on a good understanding of what is already there,­ and not imagining that DesMoines is Philadelphia. Here’s the guiding question of what I’m going to be talking about: “What is a place’s story?” Questions are important because they’re the basis for entering a research problem with an open mind, and also to focus …

the nostalgia machine.

I’ve been thinking a lot about nostalgia lately.  Here I’ve written a lot about history, about memory, about temporal multiplicy in the urban fabric and the importance of historical context for civic engagement and cultural identity.  But what happens when we think that in order to remember, we must freeze something in time?  Or, to reconstruct it to how we imagine that it may have been, a la Carcassone?  Even further: when we commodify and articulate that history-myth for economic gain or political power? I’ve raised these issues before.  But what I haven’t seen is a broader discussion of this problematic outside of the realm of historic preservation.  But consider: what are food trucks for?  What is a bike path, or a greenway, or a pedestrianized plaza?  Are they so different from what urbanists have done before, in pursuit of a competitive, attractive city? Consider, for example, Ebenezer Howard’s scheme for the Garden City of To-Morrow (1898). Today we recognize in this plan for a world of “slumless, smokeless cities” a master plan that eventually …