A (re)utopia of the present – March 2010

The distinctive and problematic condition of the shrinking city opens new possibilities for neighborhood design. In a country where urban design is often constrained by market forces and suburbanization, the shrinking city provides the urban designer the rare opportunity to shape new neighborhoods at urban intensities within the bounds of the existing city. Since these neighborhoods are not dependent on market forces, they can be shaped by ideals rather than pragmatism.

Site selection.  Where in the city to site new neighborhoods? Why? A reading of the X(X) lines provides a rationale for the location of one new neighborhood.

Neighborhood theory.  Modernist and premodernist planning theory was replete, almost obsessed, with theories of the ideal neighborhood. Since 1980 in the US few new neighborhoods have been constructed according to these theories;  rather they have been shaped by the market or by resource constraints. The shrinking city offers the opportunity to redress this shortage of ideas and practice.

Neighborhood design. The studio applies neighborhood theories to the sites selected, with a schematic design indicating interventions such as street closures, open space configuration and contents, existing structures to remain and those to be removed, programming for remaining existing structures, location and storage of automobiles, site reconfigurations, and form and programming of new structures (housing and otherwise) in outline. The neighborhood designs attempt to indicate the number of housing units and resolve site-level considerations (distribution, scale, nature, overall form of neighborhood features), and are consistent with and guided by neighborhood programming.

Neighborhood programming. Generating new neighborhoods within an existing city fabric is complicated. The studio explains the mechanisms- fiscal, administrative, regulatory, or otherwise- that will be required in order to generate neighborhood designs and permit neighborhoods to be constructed. These mechanisms are likely to play a formative role in programming the neighborhoods, since this is a ‘market-less’ condition and subsidy will be required. How much funding is required? Where does this funding come from? What are the conditions of this funding? If funding is for housing, how are other activities (eg open space, commerce) to be funded? How many housing units does the funding permit? Does the funding govern aspects of the form of the housing?

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