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Urban Fables: The Role Of Storytelling And Imagery In Successful Planning Movements

Leonardo Vazquez, Planetizen
New Urbanists and pro-property rights advocates have made good use of both allegory and myth to capture the attention of planners and the public.

The New Urbanism and the pro-property rights movement are two of the most influential planning movements in recent history. While the ideas of each movement certainly have merit, the success of these two opposing philosophies rests not so much in the message, but in the manner the message is delivered. Taking a cue from successful religious movements, New Urbanists and pro-property rights advocates have eschewed the planners’ traditional tools of charts and graphs in favor of the preacher’s tools of allegory and myth. Using the power of stories and images to connect principles to people’s hopes, fears and beliefs, the leaders of both movements have succeeded in creating fervent followings for their respective philosophies.

Allegories and myths are stories that are designed to illustrate what speakers believe are truths about society and the world. Allegories often have a lesson for audiences, such as the ancient Greek storyteller Aesop did with his fables. Myths have elements that despite being unprovable, represent “truth” to believers.

Using architectural images, the New Urbanism movement recounts fuzzy romantic images of a safer, simpler time in promoting compact urban form. The property rights movement offers apocalyptic visions of ravenous governments trying the steal all freedom from property owners. To the New Urbanist, the planner is Prometheus, who brings light and wisdom to the ancient Greeks. To the property rights advocates, the planner is one of those pigs that supports the tyrannical hog Napoleon in George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

…What the success of New Urbanists and property-rights advocates demonstrates is the importance in communicating with people about the principles and goals of land use plans – and connecting them with clear and resonant images that motivate people to support the ideas within a plan. While planning still may be considered a mostly technical exercise, any planning philosophy that wishes to duplicate the success of the New Urbanism or the pro-property rights movement will need to create a convincing message that can persuade the public to not just agree with an idea – but believe in it.
(7 Aug 2006)

Chicago Mayor Pushes Urban Ecology Into the Mainstream

Peter Slevin and Kari Lydersen, Washington Post
Greening of Chicago Starts at the Top Floor
CHICAGO — Atop the scalding eighth-floor roof of the Chicago Cultural Center, workers dripped sweat as they planted row upon tidy row of hardy plants, the latest signal of one big-city government’s determination to be green.

On other downtown rooftops, tall corkscrew-shaped turbines will bridle the winds that race across the plains. A new roof on Chicago’s vast convention center will channel 55 million gallons of rainwater a year into Lake Michigan instead of overburdened storm drains.

Skeptics snickered 17 years ago when Mayor Richard M. Daley added flowers and trees to the city’s honey-do list. They scoffed at the apparent folly of beautifying a sprawling, gritty urban landscape, figuring Daley for a modern-day Potemkin.

A few tulips, they figured, would be the end of it.

But the city-kid mayor raised on the rough-and-tumble South Side stuck with it. The greening project grew strong roots, giving Chicago a reputation as one of the nation’s most committed environmental cities of any size. The company it keeps is not Newark and Detroit, but Portland and Seattle.
(10 Aug 2006)

Reconquering World Cities

Penny Kay, Urban Land Institute
The world’s most successful cities are integrating approaches to social, economic, and environmental issues, as well as addressing governmental concerns.
“In a global world, cities have become more-not less-important. “Global cities are strategic focal points where decision makers are making global, national, and regional decisions,” maintains Michael Parkinson, director of the European Institute for Urban Affairs at the Liverpool John Moores University in Liverpool, U.K. “They really matter. Governments across the globe are recognizing this and targeting it. They are increasingly the ‘wealth of nations.’ We understand that if we want our countries to flourish, we have to love our cities and make them flourish, too.”

Parkinson believes that often the difference between whether a city performs well or poorly is not its location or history, but rather the choices its leaders make. “For global cities, quality decision making is important and quality of life is critical,” he says.

World cities can be judged by how they treat their people and the public realm, according to Jan Gehl, a Copenhagen-based architect, consultant, and author who has advised cities across the globe. “Cities were originally created as a ‘meeting place for man’ where we could meet and develop our culture. As time has gone by, we can see people being squeezed out of the city.

“But in the last 20 to 30 years, we have seen a number of world cities that have decided to change the balance and not let themselves get invaded by cars. They are trying to establish a better balance between cities as a meeting place, a marketplace in which to do business, and a place in which to move around. These are the ‘reconquered’ cities,” he adds.

“Some of the characteristics of these cities are that they are willing to put certain constraints on vehicle traffic, and they are recognizing the importance of public life to society and to the safety and enjoyment of cities. These cities have started to provide quality environments, and people have begun to come back into them and enjoy them in a new way.”

Gehl believes that nine cities, in particular, have made a noteworthy turnaround: Barcelona, Spain; Copenhagen, Denmark; Cordoba, Argentina; Curitiba, Brazil; Freiburg, Germany; Lyon, France; Melbourne, Australia; Portland, Oregon; and Strasbourg, France.
(July 2006)
The original article has links to sidebars on several of these cities.

Build Green, Make Green

Editorial, NY Times
…Buildings are something of an energy-efficiency blind spot in this country. Public attention tends to focus largely on automobile companies and mileage, but houses and skyscrapers consume more energy than cars. According to the Energy Department, residential and commercial buildings account for 40 percent of total energy consumption in this country, versus just 28 percent for the entire transportation sector.

Companies are seeing the light on what are known as green buildings and the lower operating costs that come with them. For instance, The Washington Post noted last week that PNC Financial Services Group’s new green bank branches are using 45 percent less energy than comparable structures. And the company says that it builds them faster and cheaper than through old-fashioned construction methods.

…There are ways for government to make the payoff even greater. California is the model when it comes to offering incentives to utility customers for increased energy efficiency. But even in states that fail to offer rebates and tax benefits, businesses have strong motives of their own to get on board simply for the sake of competitiveness.

Corporate membership of the U.S. Green Building Council, which manages the leading certification program, has increased more than tenfold since 2000. Wal-Mart, famed for its ability to slash costs, is trying to reduce the energy used in stores by 30 percent while also increasing the efficiency of its vehicle fleet and cutting back solid waste.

Companies can choose to be energy-wasting dinosaurs, but in an age of escalating prices, they’ll go extinct. In business, the company with the lowest costs usually wins.
(11 Aug 2006)