Last week, noted New York City planner Amanda Burden spoke at NasherSALON. The presentation was valuable, especially considering the city officials and notables in the audience, for its reminder of just how seriously NYC takes urban design and development. In particular, Burden emphasized two aspects of New York’s planning initiative that she considers vitally important to a city wishing to remain competitive in the 21st century 1) dense development that relies on its extensive public transportation network, and 2) an activist planning department that has aggressively rezoned large swathes of the city as a way of determining where and how future development will take place, while ensuring such development isÂ acutelyÂ sensitive to quality design, down to theÂ minutestÂ detail.
That said, in my recap I expressed how it felt as if some of those lessons got lost in the somewhat self-satisfied, mugging nature of the Q&A. Most of the weekend I wondered if I had been overly sensitive in my reaction to the lecture. But this morning, a Frontburnervian sends me this Salon article that reminds us just how bad off Dallas’ attitude and approach to urban development actually is:
If you took all the clichÃ©s about horrible urban design and shoved them into 75 acres, you’d probably end up with something pretty close to Dallas’ Victory Park. A pre-planned billion-dollar collection of imposing hyper-modern monumental structures, high-end chain stores, enormous video screens, expensive restaurants, a sports arena and tons of parking, completely isolated from the rest of the city by a pair of freeways, Victory Park is like the schizophrenic dream of some power-hungry capitalist technocrat.
The article goes on to discus the failure of so-called “entertainment districts” in their effort to promote renewed urbanism in post-auto cities like Dallas. And yet, this model continues to dominate our city’s thinking about design. There’s much to take away from the Salon piece, but this is the line our business-friendly city hall must take to heart, especially in light of Burden’s talk about activist urban planning:
It’s not just that the developers are boring people – the economics of single-owner districts incentivize blandness.