3.12.2012

I Predict A Riot

The big news of the weekend was Jack White playing Track 29. That’s a bit of a coup for the venue and the city, and apparently a good time was had by all. I like Jack well enough, but not enough to try to get tickets (which were nigh upon impossible to find, I have heard). I was all set to eschew the music scene and spend the weekend at home with D and the boys- a little work, a little play. That was until Saturday morning when the newly-licensed landscape architect L.Rushing, invited me to the ATL to see Kaiser Chiefs. (Not familar? See this, this, and this)

Small world: while at the show I ran into fellow Chattanoogan G.Cruze...yes, the G.Cruze

The fact that I am an Anglophile is no secret. I am defenseless against English music- they play it, I love it. Aside from hip-hop artists, all of my favorite bands are English: Oasis, The Beatles, Stone Roses, Radiohead, The Stones, New Order (to name a few). While KCs are not one of my Favorite Bands of All Time, they are English and I couldn’t turn down the offer. The only problem with accepting the invitation is that travel time to and from Atlanta ate up all of my writing time (that, and a most inconveniently scheduled time change). But rather than leave yall hanging for a week, I’ll do my best to write on the fly and try to make urban design connections to the trip.

I could have spent those four hours in the car thinking about a suitable subject for the blog. Unfortunately, my mind was mush, and I succumbed to the desire to roll the windows down, crank the (English) tunes up and think through some of my more pressing design issues. I considered writing about Atlanta vis a vis urban design issues, but that’s an awful lot to bite off. Additionally, that city is a $#!+hole, and I'm not in the mood to deal with their problems. That leaves elements of the show as potential topics. I have identified two for this post – the title of the Kaiser Chiefs latest album and my observation of how the band operated.

The big deal about the KC’s latest album is its distribution format. Instead of crafting an album with a set number of songs in a specific order, they let the user “create” the album. The user could go to their website, select 10 songs from a pool of twenty, organize them as they see fit, select some cover art and thereby create their own bespoke version of the album. (This is a fun video which caricatures the process) A novel concept indeed, but I’m not 100% down with it. I understand that it is a form of interactive art that need not be constrained by tradition. However, I can’t shake the sense that they have abdicated their responsibility to make the tough decisions that artistic enterprises require. But this is neither here nor there. The title of the album is “The Future is Medieval”. I don’t know much about the political philosophies of the band, but I can’t imagine they were thinking of land use and urbanism when they created the title. However, they may well be on to something.

The concept that American land use patterns (and the way society operates) is unsustainable is the main theme of Kunstler’s fantastic blog. Our current land use system (and society) is built on the fundamental concept of a cheap and plentiful supply of oil. Oil is so utterly and completely ingrained in everything that we do, that the system can’t exist without it being BOTH cheap and plentiful. The dream of running the system on renewables is just that. While part of a worthy pursuit of a broader strategy, those alternatives can’t be produced in the awesome quantities and scales required to keep this thing afloat. Chasing down that rabbit hole also misses the point- why should we be trying to perpetuate a broken system? We are doing our best to sustain the unsustainable and squandering precious resources in that pursuit. The solution does not lie in finding more complex fixes to prop up a bad system. The solution is to scale down and localize our activities. We’re already seeing a society that is open to the concept- primarily in the realms of clothiers, and locally grown and harvested food. We are headed back in that direction (willingly and organized or otherwise) and our land use patterns will more closely resemble the patterns that have served humanity for all but the past 60 years of our existence. So, in a sense, our future may indeed be medieval.

video 
I'm way too old for this...


The other thing that struck me at the show was how the band performed. Not in the sense of how well they played, but simply how they played. A few weeks ago I wrote about members of a band and members of the community being similar in that they combine their talents in the creation of a product that is greater than the sum of the parts. As I was watching the band perform, it was clear that each of the five musicians were off doing their own thing. Rarely did they look at each other, much less communicate in any other way than through their music. Yet, each of the musicians knew their role, their part in the larger plan, and executed accordingly. Did they walk into a room and instantly know all of the songs, how to play them and what the other band members will be doing? Of course not. Those conditions are created through a plan, and hours upon hours of hard work, practice and rehearsals. The same holds true for the city. Do any of us come to our stations in the community with all of the answers?  Of course not. The building of the city is an ongoing “song”. We “practice” and “rehearse” through our collective dialogue and ongoing civic conversations about what we as a city aspire to be.

A rather obvious example of community dialogue is River City Company’s Urban Design Challenge. Speaking of the Challenge, the next presentation is this Thursday night the 15th, 5:30pm at the Majestic Theater. It is your responsibility as a member of the band to come out and support the collective conversation. (and if you see me, please say hey!)

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