I'm so busy, blah, blah, blah. I don't have time to explore new topics, blah, blah blah. You're tired of reading it, I'm tired of writing it. This week, however, I had it all figured out. We were traveling for a(nother) soccer tournament, and I was set to use that as a jumping off point for a blog post about another city. I have heard many great things about Huntsville, AL. As one of the big four cities in my home state, I was predisposed to believe these things. Growing up in God's Own State, I learned many lessons from my Baba. One such lesson was that if you don't have anything nice to say about something, don't say anything. Keeping that in mind, I offer my thoughts on Huntsville...

On Saturday morning, the youngest and I drove down to Huntsville to rendezvous with the spouse and the oldest who traveled down the night before. While we were there Alabama put on the most dominant display of the college football season. On Sunday we returned to Chattanooga.

Baba taught me a great life lesson, but she did provide much help for my blogging efforts. On the bright side, thankfully my initial blogging idea did not work out as I have something else for you to read. I invited the eminent Trey Wheeler of Cogent Studio to write a guest post for the urbanism space of Benwood's Community Voices. You can find his excellent post here.


Time Tangent

I love Noel Gallagher, and you know this. I must say, however, that he is officially on my shit list. Monday he had a press conference to announce the impending release and pre-sale of his upcoming album…IN MARCH. C’mon man, that’s six months away. Eh, who are we kidding, he knows I’m going to buy it anyway. At least he teased us with the first song.

Moving swiftly on, it’s probably worth reading any article that refers to brunch as “a symptom of the soulless suburban conformity that is relentlessly colonizing our urban environments.” You can find that here.

If you haven’t already, please read K.Fitzgerald’s excellent post on the Benwood site. Less talk, more action, indeed. I will now pile on and take those thoughts on an urban design tangent.

There is a fundamental disconnect between the nature of a city and the current cult of ________ (fill in the blank with your favorite buzzword such as innovation or disruption. By the way, does any one remember paradigm shift or synergy?) The movers and shakers these days are embracing the characteristics of being lighter, quicker, and more nimble. This seems to be a great approach for many things in business and in life. Unfortunately, city building isn’t really one of them.
Clearly, cities cycle over much longer time frames than the activities that occur within them. The innovation buzz will last for a couple of years before we move on to the next paradigm. The city, however, is pushing 200 years old and continues its deliberate, inexorable march into the future. City building is a slow, cumbersome, and tough process. It requires significant capital resources, there exist physical conditions that can’t be ignored, the internal process has many moving parts, and byzantine layers of bureaucracy and legislation regulate the external process. Making any lasting impact on the built environment requires significant effort.

If you will recall, “Creative Placemaking” was all the rage a couple of years ago. The term occasionally pops up, but as with so many other buzz phrases it has been diluted if not neutered. Although they are tough to define as a body of work, the Creative Placemaking projects essentially attempt to impact the city via lighter/quick/nimble projects. While many of these projects have made some impact, the tend to be transient in nature- when the party is over, so is the imapct. The positive activity in the city is great, but the jury is still out on their lasting impact on the built environment (which by definition must be long-term). We expend a great deal of energy on transient urbanistic projects- and this is fine. These projects can be very cool, but don’t mistake a hammock in a street tree for urban design. There is something to be said for temporary measures to address symptoms. The real work, however, is found in fixing the root of the problem.

Inertia is the blessing and curse of the built environment. A city is patient; it outlasts trends and fads. Even American sub-urbs, a “fad” in the long view, came about after determined and decades-long institutionalization of that philosophy (not to mention a gargantuan resource incentives). There is an opportunity to couple the enthusiasm and expertise of the innovation/disruption set with the process of city building. The challenge is to applying that type of thought consistently over a long period.


Wheel of Fortune

The ole C.Rushing blog may be in it's death throes. The author finds it exceedingly difficult to come by those once easy hours of free writing time each week. His goal, however, is to make it to the four year anniversary of the page (January 1), and reassess then. Will he make it? Time will tell.

With minutes left before the weekly deadline, I will acknowledge THE urban design issue of the day. Yes, I speak of the riverfront Ferris Wheel. A group of citizens has made a push to install a Ferris Wheel somewhere on the Chattanooga riverfront. Unsurprisingly, the idea seems to be unpopular with many (just read the comment sections of any of the wheel articles).

I see both sides of the argument. On the positive side it is an active public realm improvement that draws people, action and activity to the city. At best, the wheel can be a beautifully designed piece of engineering. Face it, the wheel is fun, and frankly there can't be too much fun in a city.

On the negative side, a lot can go wrong with this one. As one commenter opined, "Ferris wheels are the world record holders for 'most depressing objects once dilapidated'". Unfortunately, cheap traveling carnivals have stigmatized the noble Ferris wheel. When we think Ferris wheel, it conjures images of such places as Panama City, Gatlinburg, and the Northgate Mall parking lot.

Wheel or no wheel, I love the conversation. A group of non-designers thinking about big design moves that have the ability to change the face of the city. Big ideas, big plans, big thoughts- bring it on! Regardless of whether this happens or not, I hope these types of discussions continue.

So, where do I come down? Hmm, it's a tough call. If I had to pick a side, I would probably roll with The Wheel. Although it's probably more fair to say that I'm in favor of something big, vertical and well-designed at the riverfront. If we do go with a wheel, let's just be sure to think more London Eye than Lake Winnie.

Lest you think that there is no conceivable way that I can connect a Ferris Wheel with Louis Sullivan, think again. The original Ferris Wheel was constructed for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1892. The Beaux-Art veneer of the fair derailed budding American architectural expression, and effectively ended Sullivan's career. Later in life,  Sullivan reflected on the Exposition: "Meanwhile the virus of the World's Fair, after a period of incubation ... began to show unmistakable signs of the nature of the contagion. There came a violent outbreak of the Classic and the Renaissance in the East, which slowly spread Westward, contaminating all that it touched, both at its source and outward.... By the time the market had been saturated, all sense of reality was gone. In its place, had come deep seated illusions, hallucinations, absence of pupillary reaction to light, absence of knee-reaction-symptoms all of progressive cerebral meningitis; the blanketing of the brain. Thus Architecture died in the land of the free and the home of the brave.... The damage wrought by the World's Fair will last for half a century from its date, if not longer."