Hip Cities That Think About How They Work (Cape Town included!)

A post found on Archinect about another  “best cities” list – this one from the New York Times and notably for us here at the Southern tip of Africa, it includes our beloved , photogenic and somewhat dysfunctional Cape Town, this is in stark contrast to many other “livable cities ” indexes such as previously posted  City Rankings: More Harm than Help? and  Liveable v lovable amongst many other postings on these fashionable lists and  my recent posting on Richard Sennet’s views on what makes a city truly “sustainable”  WHY COMPLEXITY IMPROVES THE QUALITY OF CITY LIFE, little of which is being encouraged or actively pursued in any of these cities either, anyway here is the NYTimes’ view:

This survey is not based solely on quality of life, number of trees or the cost of a month’s rent. Instead, we examine some cities that aim to be both smart and well managed, yet have an undeniably hip vibe. Our pick of cities that are, in a phrase, both great and good… — nytimes.com

The NYT selects Auckland, Berlin, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Curitiba, Santiago, Shanghai and Vilnius as the hippest cities for young professionals.

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A  paper by Richard Sennet of the Urban Age Project ‘s recent conference in Hong Kong restates the need, expressed by many urbanists, that the real purpose or value of cities is to allow locals and strangers to intersect in a way which increases the available choices or opportunities for the maximum number of its residents and not that of the control of its inhabitants by an elite. This is at variance with the current spate of “livability” and “happiness”  indexes as published by many influential and elitist magazines such as Monocle magazine, Forbes, Mercer and The Economist, previously critiqued here Liveable v lovable and  City Rankings: More Harm than Help? These articles laud cities where difference is reduced to enticing “new” experiences for the voyeuristic satisfaction of a moneyed and sophisticated global elite bearing little or no relationship to the lives of the local population who are not able to partake of this lifestyle and are in fact actively prevented from even being part of the scenery ,which they helped create, that made the relelvant districts and places what they currently are, in much the same way as “undesirable elements ( read non-consumers”) are excluded from elite shopping centers and urban renewal precincts the world over. This extreme “Disneyfication” is the subject of the second article by Author William Gibson, where a similar theme is explored.

“I want to explore the concept of ‘quality of life’ in cities. My own view can be stated simply: the quality of life in a city is good when its inhabitants are capable of dealing with complexity. Conversely, the quality of life in cities is bad when its inhabitants are capable only of dealing with people like themselves. Put another way, a healthy city can embrace and make productive use of the differences of class, ethnicity, and lifestyles it contains, while a sick city cannot; the sick city isolates and segregates difference, drawing no collective strength from its mixture of different people.”

This simple concept of urban ‘quality of life’ has informed my writings and my design practice through my entire career; it first came to me as a young man attending a conference somewhat like this one, held in Washington in the late 1960s, discussing mental health issues among poor urban residents. The conference focused on alienated, often violent, adolescents, at a time when many of these young people were rioting. Perhaps because most of the professionals at that conference were psychiatrists, they focused on individual psychology. The objection I had was not just that impersonal conditions shape personal sentiments, but more that the city shapes personality in a particular way. The process of human maturation, particularly the passage into adulthood, requires that human beings learn how to deal with situations beyond their personal control, and with persons who are strangers to them, strangers who are ineradicably different, and difficult to understand. America’s racially segregated ghettoes offered no such opportunity to learn this, nor do isolated ghettoes today, anywhere in the world. Continue reading

The challenges of our time in the city _Sakia Sassen at Venice Biennale

Some reflections with sociologist Saskia Sassen on the increasing political agency of urban space in global cities and the decline of the nation-state: Sassen’s lecture last month was entitled When the fundamental challenges of our time materialize in the city. In an overflowing lecture hall, she accompanied us on a journey through the different places and passages of her research on the “state of things” in urban and global sociology. In the aftermath of the events taking place around the world, this was an opportunity to explore her thinking on the growing political content of the actions undertaken in the urban space of global cities in relation to declining politics in the nation-state. An interview from Venice by Claudia Faraone on Domus

Claudia Faraone: Starting from your earlier reflections on globalization, we notice an evolution from the materiality of the global processes at a city scale, to a smaller and activ(ist) scale, that of cities’ public spaces. It seems a quite logical shift, assuming that globalization has reduced the powers of the nations through the disintegration of borders (both material and not), re-producing the conflict, once internationally produced, inside the city. In sum, inducing an urban conflict. Is it in those cities where critical mass has accumulated, and significant actions and movements have been enacted, that politics plays out nowadays?
Saskia Sassen:
 Yes, that is how I see this shift, though from the beginning I have argued that the growing concentrations of capital power in global cities also brought with them added meaning to the struggles against gentrification, for the rights of immigrants, against police brutality. The local struggles taking place at the level of a block or a neighborhood or a square were in my view global struggles…the making of a globality constituted through very localized issues, fought locally, often understood locally but which recurred in all globalizing cities…Today’s street struggles and demonstrations have a similar capacity to transform specific local grievances into a global political movement, no matter the sharp differences in each of these societies. All these struggles are about the profound social injustice in our societies—whether in Egypt, Syria or then US and Spain.

When you talk about “open-source” in respect to urbanism, especially in Smart-Cities critics, it seems there is a double use and meaning of it, very stimulating. On one hand, open-source technology is the tool to get within a network of people and thinking, where cities are both like stages, theatres of events, and symbols of people or media’s imaginary. On the other hand, the term “open-source” is used to name a way of making urbanism, in which inhabitants participate of the “making” of the city in which urbanism is being considered as a political practice. Would you share this interpretation? Could we say then that the “open-source urbanism” will be something in-between? Trying to put together the incompleteness and indeterminacy of the city, always changing and transforming through its actors (not always the inhabitants) and these latter. 
Yes, I think your list of cases and examples is good…it gets at some of this. But I think in my own research I am more interested in developing/discovering that in-between space, and yes, you said it right that incompleteness and indeterminacy of the city. It will take practical and technical knowledge and it will take art!

Saskia Sassen is professor of sociology at Columbia University in New York and co-director of its Committee on Global Thought.

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Paris Covered Passages and Shopping Arcades

The typology of the covered street and arcade as was made famous in Milan and Paris inteh 19th Century would be a fantastic reintroduction in todays cities – no the artificially controlled one of the shopping mall, but true public urban space, especially in cities such as Cape Town which has many days of inclement weather 

In the early 19th century Paris contained nearly 150 covered passages filled with shops and studios that helped establish Paris as a shopping capital of the world. But after the large department stores came into being, that number dwindled to a precious few. Janet deAcevedo Macdonald here lists passages couverts de Paris worth a visit from Bonjour Paris.

Galerie Vivienne. Photo: DolceDanielle

Passages are pedestrian pass-throughs beneath glass ceilings created to protect shoppers in inclement weather. Shopping today at a passage is an uncommon shopping excursion that combines architecture and pleasures of window shopping; or as the French say faire du lèche-vitrine (literally, window-licking).

Galeries VivienneColbert and Véro-Dodat are among the most magnificent of the Paris passages and all are located in the first and second arrondissements.

Passage Colbert. Photo: couscouschocolatVéro-Dodat. Photo: NOV-A-KA-IINN

Galerie de la Madeleine in the Paris 9th is a tinier location, just 173 feet in length, but earlier this year it served as a backdrop for haute couture runway shows. The early 19th century setting has a blend of antique shops, fashion boutiques and librairies anciennes.

The popular Passages Jouffroy and Panoramas by the Grands Boulevards retain centuries-old charm with shops for collectors of stamps, books, old postcards and vintage toys.

Passage Jouffroy. Photo: Interzone00Passage Panoramas. Photo: Interzone00

To find these places and more visit

Some passages are devoted entirely to a theme, such as the Passage du Grand Cerf (Big Deer Passage) located in the quartier Montorgueil, Paris 2nd. Passage du Caire, built in 1798, is popular with contemporary artists, craftsmen, artisans and designers. The busy Arcades des Champs-Elyséespassages in the Paris 8th offer the world’s finest in luxury shopping.

Enjoy discovering these mystical, ancient places filled with old-fashioned charm from Paris past.

PHOTO CREDITS: Galerie Vivienne. ©DolceDanielle; Passage Colbert. ©couscouschocolat; Véro-Dodat. ©NOV-A-KA-IINN; Passage Jouffroy and Panoramas. ©Interzone00

To find where they are read more here

Alexander Cuthbert on Urban Design Methodology

How do we change the way cities are conceived when the extant division of profesional territories inhibits any change – a book reference from [polis] by  Melissa Garcia Lamarc
We have also seen that urban design methodologies remain seriously connected to rationalism as the favoured methodology, one where linearity, hierarchy and modeling dominate (Figure 1.8). Hence, the suggestion that urban design should adopt a context derived from the social sciences, particularly spatial political economy, stands in contradiction to the continuing rationalist position in urban design methodologies.

How then do we supplant a navel-worshiping rationalist process with contextual and encompassing urban design methodologies that are qualitative, feminist and sustainable? To retain our design skills and meaningfully inform their use, we are therefore forced to look much deeper into the human condition if we wish to develop an urban design knowledge that is courageous, humane and relevant.

— Alexander R. Cuthbert, from “Understanding Cities: Method in Urban Design,” 2011.

This is part of a collection of quotes related to cities. They don’t necessarily reflect our views, just topics of interest. We welcome you to add others. 

Credits: Image of the Kartal Pendik Masterplan from Zaha Hadid Architects

Trevor Manuel’s South African Government NPC goes YouTube

It is very encouraging in the sea of “bad mouthing” that african polticians and govenments get, that an initiative such as the National Planning Commission should exist and that it should have at its head the likes of the very highly regarded and successful ex-Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel, who is widely regarded as being responsible for the best run of the SA government departments, namely SARS ( the South african Revenue Service), now in his position as National Planning Minister he is innovatively tackling one of the most daunting jobs in any country and especially in South Africa with its legacy of colonial and apartheid divisions, newly resurfaced racism and general 21st century cynicism  and apathy. From the Daily Maverick

South Africa faces nine key challenges – that’s the word from the National Planning Commission. But to get the critical buy-in from everyone concerned, it first needs to inform and explain; the NPC has turned to YouTube for help. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

Trevor Manuel’s first job is explaining what the future holds. A 10-minute video posted by the NPC on YouTube explaining what it’s all about, and what the nine challenges are is the first step in the commission’s long walk to win the hearts and minds of everyone. It needs to explain why it exists, and in a manner clear and compelling enough so ordinary South Africans can buy into the plan.

A 10-minute video posted on YouTube comes closest to explaining what the commission is, what it is trying to achieve and why anyone should care. It shows an artist drawing out a summary of the speech given by Manuel, who explains (once more) what the commission is all about.

The video is in line with what we’ve come to expect from the NPC – innovative and compelling rather than in-your-face and brash. It’s not a big-budget production, but it gets its message across clearly.

Watch: 9 challenges facing South Africa – diagnostic report:

Want to read about it – the full skinny on the Daily Maverick

kengo kuma + associates: new taipei city museum of art

Seen on Designboom Kengo Kuma’s design shows where “green architecture” might be headed, albeit only attainable for the rich part of the world the integration of design and technology takes the creationof habitable green engineering to new heights.

‘new taipei city museum of art’ by kengo kuma + associates, taipei, taiwan
images courtesy new taipei city museum of art

the ‘green cell’ proposal by japanese architect kengo kuma of tokyo-based kengo kuma + associates has placed second in the international competition for the new taipei city museum of art for taipei city, taiwan. an undulating double skin generates the iconic form which radiates in a waving manner into the encompassing urbanscape. a main hall connects the museum’s program with a nearby train station, cable car, riverbank trail transforming the site into a dynamic hub. The addition incorporates public amenities such as a park pavilion, retail, and flexible program to contribute to the city’s established context.

See more of the Designboom article here

Or see more of the competition boards and other presentations on the Tapei City Museum Website