29.3.17

TEN YEARS AGO.

We were contemplating gated communities, when they were the local warlord's castle keep.

Everything old is new again, this time adapting McMansions as latter-day castle keeps.
Keith Krumwiede, who teaches at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, envisions an alternative reality in which McMansions are used as building blocks to create small communities not unlike medieval villages or 19th-century communes. These “estates,” aggregated from real house plans used by big homebuilders such as Toll Brothers and Pulte, are set in Krumwiede’s fictional domain of Freedomland.
No, this is not an early April Fool post.
Each 10-acre estate site is only one quarter of a larger 40-acre parcel, three-quarters of which would be farmed. This grid is embedded in a larger checkerboard plan, in which three-square-mile townships alternate with nature preserves. While distant from contemporary thinking about urbanization, the checkerboard plan derives from no less an authority on the American way of life than Thomas Jefferson.
Bishops' reservations, bubonic plague, and marauding Picts optional?  But the reference to Thomas Jefferson, more specifically, to the Northwest Ordinance (and perhaps to the land grants offered to railroads, using the alternating sections previously surveyed) suggest that the technocratic urge knows no bounds.
The houses themselves weren’t necessarily the problem; it was the development patterns that were really problematic. Just the wastefulness in terms of resources, the social isolation that comes with detached dwellings, enclaveism. And I thought, “What can I do? Can I urbanize these houses?”That was the first take, so there were a lot of really weird aggregations that resulted when I just started to play with how I could use these as puzzle pieces and put something else together.
But the curving nests of culs-de-sac that place two McMansions that share a back yard a mile drive apart are an earlier incarnation of Intelligent Design. The castle keep and accompanying hovels were, at least, organic.  I shy away from using "problematic," but perhaps it is the planning imperative, even as farce, that is the problem.  Sorry, vanguardism isn't emergent.
My hope is that when people get through the critique of the culture that is the strongest message in the book, they then start to get down to ideas about new forms of association and new possibilities for living together.
More Experimental Prefigurative Communities of Tomorrow? We're not talking about Thomas Jefferson here, it's more like Robert Owen.  Mr Krumwiede recognizes as much.  But he persists.
There was a period where I imagined that I was working for some delusional dictator who wanted to please all of his citizens, and Freedomland would be that place. Everyone could have what they want, but strangely, no one would get exactly what they wanted—which I think is always a consequence of that [promise].
And that, dear reader, is why Wise Experts ought not be granted too much authority.  To see this, we need look no further than Robert Kwolek in Huffington Post (!)
A myriad of ballooning laws and regulations are making it all but impossible to build the fine-grained mixed-use city districts which are paramount for high quality urbanism and walkability. Regulations are making it more and more difficult for small developers who actually care to compete with large developers (you know, the guys who lobbied for added complexity in the system in the first place). It’s quite ironic that the government is always talking about boosting the economy, but when it comes down to it, their involvement is, more than anything else, a hindrance.
That would be as true if some contemporary Robert Owen decided to use Pulte house plans to convert Section Eight (ah, the wonderful multiple uses of that term) from underutilized land to New Bailey and Motte.
Whereas in the not too distant past our villages and towns grew organically, planned and built locally with knowledge that had been accumulated over thousands of years, today the most simple of tasks, even a new sidewalk, requires an expensive and extremely time-consuming process of permits, studies, and the involvement of dozens of consultants and government departments. The result is that the regular citizen is hardly involved, and the final product insanely expensive and vastly inferior in both logic and beauty to what laypeople once built.

In fact, the most beloved neighborhoods of the 19th century were largely built with very little government involvement. Not only very little government, but very little so-called experts in general. In the 19th century, you didn’t have specialists separated into architects, planners, builders, surveyors, and dozens of consultants.
Trust in emergence.

Put another way, should a latter-day walled settlement make sense, we'll see them happening, without any prompting from Wise Experts.

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