Tuesday 20 February 2018


Cities are becoming large, complicated and debt-ridden. They should be allowed to creatively destruct.

The city concept of “creative destruction” started in the 20th Century. Henry James pronounced New York “a provisional city,” a phrase echoed decades later by Le Corbusier. The architectural historian Max Page suggested that “creative destruction” – the intentional razing and building of New York – represented “a crucial dynamic of urban life.” O. Henry summed it up more succinctly. It’ll be a great place”. At the start of the 20th century, Henry James pronounced New York “a provisional city,” a phrase echoed decades later by Le Corbusier.
.The architectural historian Max Page suggested that “creative destruction” — the intentional razing and rebuilding of New York — represented “a crucial dynamic of urban life.” O. Henry summed it up more succinctly. “It’ll be a great place,” he said, “if they ever finish it.”

The economic concept of “creative destruction” was first introduced by the Austrian School economist Joseph Schumpeter. Creative destruction can hurt. Layoffs of workers with obsolete working skills can be one price of new innovations valued by consumers. Though a continually innovating economy generates new opportunities for workers to participate in more creative and productive enterprises (provided they can acquire the necessary skills), creative destruction can cause severe hardship in the short term, and in the long term for those who cannot acquire the skills and work experience. Can we conclude that the current “green-clean-tech” movement is but another form of “creative destruction”?

Michael Leeden in The War Against the Terror Masters suggests that America is a revolutionary nation, undoing traditional societies: “Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our own society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and cinema to politics and the law.”

However it is John Muir who suggests the following principles about Nature “Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion…” Nature is our guide, so we should pay far more attention to the creation, transition and destruction of our cities.

There are no land animals bigger than an elephant because Nature doesn’t permit it. Yet we are still wrestling with a satisfactory land area for them to exist, even with “culling” practices, we are not doing a good job of clearly understanding their migratory patterns and lifecycles. The natural system therefore limits them and herd reduction is normalized when there is not sufficient forage from rainfall that might cause drought conditions and severe water shortages. Nature thus curtails their expansion.

The United States, State and local governments are impeding Cities growth and life cycle processes. The government is preventing the downturn in land value appraisals that would clear the way for a new generation of healthier, more nimble, city design patterns. Furthermore, the staggeringly difficult redevelopment and conservation processes in existence are polluting the real estate financial system with toxic piles of debt incurred by aging infrastructure and inability to move swiftly to remedy the past let alone the present conditions.

This matters because it applies to everything in the narrow little patina of life we call the biosphere. This also means cities and the civilizations that build them.

The megalopolis as we’ve come to know them is not the result of natural processes. They’re more like grotesquely bloated, government-sponsored mega corporations. And it is foolish to try to continue to prop them up.

We have become complacent with government attempting to meddle with the natural order and the inevitable incremental growth and change. One vainly holds out hope that our giant cities will be allowed to collapse for something better. Urban design renewal must look at replacing itself to emerge from the plight we remain to wrestle with a “fix it” mentality.

The built environment to which we’ve become accustomed is the product of conditions that are rapidly fading and are non sustainable. Abundant and cheap energy coalesced with easy credit has begotten an eminent domain morass of devalued dollar and warped real estate values. When vehicle rubber met that road, we got the dehumanizing industrial mega-city.

But like the pachyderms, the mega-cities must now be rethought…and remembered only for their ugliness, apartheid and territorial prejudice. The age of these gargantuan conurbations is over.

Let’s look at a solution for places rather than submitting to the existing habitation trap with a fear of stepping into change. Government has not provided leadership in city building nor can it help with housing—no matter how much money they throw at social re-arrangements.

Most American cities will be looking for new urban development solutions. People migrating to jobs elsewhere, foreclosures, industrial core manufacturing collapse, property acquisitions by blackmailing banks, frantic demolishing of large swaths of abandoned blocks of city land. Most of all the threat of health safety and security is diminishing. The infrastructure system of water, power, sewer, waste disposal, security emergency, healthcare, transit and social support services are failing. Government planning idiocy cannot get in the way of this necessary spiraling destruction.

I f one examines Detroit as an example in this our 2009 financial hiatus, changes are being made by the hardy populace to keep the lions from marauding their establishments but are finding it hard to keep the hyenas from circling to scavenge bargain real estate. The city fathers are desperately trying to keep the glue of their rule in place by offering bad meat scraps as solutions to desperate hunters seeking the spoils, while they expose themselves to serious vulnerabilities.

The “Transitional City” program fostered in Great Britain is a new form of fast reality in creating a path that is self-sustainable with its citizens. Detroit and other industrially driven cities may cast this somewhat uncontrollable future virus into many American cities. The compliance with our pattern of zoning codes and building regulations will have to be seriously re-examined for innovative paths to satisfy our insatiable demand for clean energy and clean technology.

The path that is obvious for human survival based on Makabusi core principles after clean air and clean water is food and fiber. The appropriate organic household nutritional needs should be placed nearby to conserve energy requirements. This transition is essential in contrast to the enormous consumption of energy by massive corporate mono crop agricultural businesses, their processing, packing and freezing plants required for the specific crops currently in production. Add to this the exorbitant trucking and transportation costs and you have the picture of current energy consumption expenditures for currently feeding ourselves.

Making agricultural and forestry land areas proportional to population needs for sustainability to occur in our existing cities is going to require an upheaval in conceptual thinking about new urban design prototypes for settlement patterns. Land presently used for transportation must yield to a lesser consumptive percentage footprint. Low-density structures must face higher density arrangements. In fact a significant policy change in the scale of “eminent domain” and the “transfer of development rights” might well become a hard thing to swallow. A solution to individual land ownership patterns and taxing policies will be more troublesome.

John Muir ends his thoughts about Nature by writing; “Chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another”. This is a new paradigm we the collective urban designers should consider for our future transportation and habitation patterns.
One must not to look at cities only for which they are seen, but at the components which are not seen, in order to build a better and beautiful fit with Nature.
Graham Kaye –Eddie
M.U.D. 1262 words 11/12/09

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