Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Demotivators for Urban Planners

Not that the field needs demotivators, as anyone who has worked in the field of urban planning can surely attest to the many aspects that grind at you from the moment you begin your job: the thankless work and pay, stupid and inept politicians, uncreative, lazy, developers with their amazing sense of entitlement, attorneys who think they're planners, mind-numbing bureaucratic red tape, archaic GIS software (depending where you work), a general lack in the local culture of what is exactly "urban" so you feel that you're a "sub-urban planner" and, of course, the public (NIMBY's). I discovered these lovely demotivators at Cyburbia, and now I'm inspired to create my own at

God help the planners fighting the good fight in various community planning offices! For the above picture, I mean those slaving away in Design Review and Code Compliance. Where the hell is this sidewalk going? "Don't come in here, we hate you!" it says to me. No need to say anything about that crappy mis-matched masonry wall. It's developments like this that make America ugly and make Jane Jacobs turn over in her grave.

Public participation is an integral part of proper planning we all strive for, supposedly. To be brief, no one likes it when no one is informed, consulted, or asked to participate in community planning initiatives. Personally, I love community meetings and hearings--it's when the crazies come out for show! Many moons ago I worked for a community planning commission and I always attended as many meetings as possible, for it was the best show in town. I'm also the nerd who loves public access television. Nevertheless, the above picture properly shows an concerned citizen making her case, and the case on behalf of the children, whoever they are, wherever they are, who knows. I loved to hear this craziness at meetings, right up there with "I don't think poor people deserve to live near me," and "I don't want people to walk in front of my house"--it's right up there with this supposed responsibility planners have to protect and maintain the value of private property. At a recent meeting regarding a new affordable housing development, one nearby resident stated "poor people don't deserve a green roof" (we're trying to employ many LEED standards in the building's construction).

When I think of Brutalism, I can respect the idea, the movement, and how the style and theory MAY have been artistically and beautifully executed. That said, I can't reside and work in the Boston area and not make the obvious statement regarding the very ugly Boston City Hall. This structure is amazingly horrible, it's rather shocking and sad--sad that such an amazing city has such a disappointing City Hall. If you like this building, or if you want to read positive reviews, please look here. The pictures I always see online don't show the side facing Faneuil Hall, which features a huge brick wall facing a very popular public space. The current mayor, who I've been told does not even keep his office in the building on purpose, but rather on Beacon Hill, has advocated the structure's demolition and relocating City Hall to the supposedly up and coming "Seaport District" -- it's South Boston but that's the new, fancy term the real estate industry has dubbed it. The plaza surrounding Boston City Hall is pretty pathetic. It's a big expanse of red brick, pretty boring, actually--maybe a good metaphor for the night life in this city, among other things local. I think it would interesting to see someone paint parking lot lines all over it.

As an aside, I think moving Boston City Hall to the Seaport District would be a mistake. There's no real transit there except the insufferable Silver Line (it's a bus, but they call it a line, bus rapid transit). Government Center is an ideal location for City Hall, it's just tragic that architectural decisions made years ago have rendered the site such an embarrassment.

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