Saturday, March 27

Review of Foreclosing the Dream

There may been no shortage of monday morning quarterbacking over the housing crash, but University of Virginia planning professor Bill Lucy sits in a unique position to offer a more comprehensive analysis of how the recession may be reshaping our communities. Having studied for over thirty years the spatial ebbs and flows of the housing market, and publishing in 2006 with colleague David Phillips Tomorrow's Cities, Tomorrow's Suburbs, he is prepared to fit this event into the longer view and wider frame of the contemporary situation. His recently released book Foreclosing the Dream tells this story.

Last week's numbers from the National Association of Realtors reveal that home values have turned downward again, dampening hopes that the economy may be out of the woods. We've already heard all of the blame being poured onto predatory lenders, credulous homebuyers, negligent oversight agencies, and maybe a corrupt politician or two, but we're left with the feeling that there must be some deeper undercurrent to all of this. Do we really think a few tweaks in the financial system and legal structure will patch things up for good? Bill Lucy suggests that the "American Dream" itself, or at least how it's currently visualized, will have to be adjusted to thrive in a new economy.

"We are at the threshold of some sort of reversal," Lucy writes.
There's evidence of a reversal of the conventional flight to the suburbs, according to a variety of indicators.
  1. Studying the spatial distribution of foreclosures in the 35 most populous metro areas, Lucy found that many of the farthest flung exurbs were hit the hardest. Of course, every city is different and foreclosures were very clustered in certain geographic areas (Nevada, California, Florida). Some inner cities like Cleveland and Detroit were hit hard, but cities such as San Francisco and Washington DC show a clear spectrum of foreclosures emanating outward. More often than not, this is the evident pattern.

  2. Sale prices have confirmed a similar pattern in many cities. Washington DC saw an 8 percent increase in home values between 2007 and 2008, while exurban Loudoun County homes lost 17 percent of value. (The difference in sale prices in the DC metro have stabilized slightly in the last year, but that could just be a blip when viewed in context.)

  3. For the last couple of decades, the age-old formula of "trickle down housing" has seen a new twist. It used to be the case that homes had their highest value when they were new, and the value dropped through time as they aged. Since the 1990's, this pattern is still the case with the exception of the oldest bracket - homes built before 1940. These are valued, on average, more highly than the newer houses built in the 50's and 60's. Apparently, their location in predominantly walkable neighborhoods closer to an urban center overcomes their age disamenity.

  4. The gas price spike of 2008 alerted many homeowners to the volatility of living in a high-mobility environment. Prices may have dropped since, but there is more awareness now of the fixed costs of transportation associated with a particular housing choice.

  5. Demographics nationwide are moving toward more households that are elderly, emptynesters, and singles. These are all cohorts that tend to favor urban or inner suburban settings. Perceptions of school quality and safety continue to make suburbs attractive to families of all races, but this may be changing in some places. The Lower Manhattan School Board recently ran into trouble when they grossly underestimated the number of children that would be enrolled in public schools.
However, there are strong entrenched interests that push back against this changing market (and the interests of the planet):

Local governments in metro areas are fragmented, more suitable for the much smaller population centers they once were, and they tend use zoning to protect their tax bases by pushing residential growth to the edges. The federal government has been slow to move away from the preference for highway funding over other transportation options. Many homeowners still don't want density for other people near their own home, and they rally against it. Some developers and corporations have hefty financial interests tied up with continued outward expansion. For these reasons and more, there's considerable friction involved in moving toward a more sustainable urban future.

Yet against all of these forces, it seems to be happening anyway in many cities.

The thesis of this book received some confirmation this January with an EPA study of building permit distribution over that last few decades:
"The permit data showed that, in several regions, there has been a dramatic increase in the share of new construction built in central cities and older suburbs."
Even throughout the housing crisis, many multifamily developments in denser areas remained stable. Urban development was particularly strong in major global cities and medium-sized cities known for smart growth policies. The study sounds a lot like Foreclosing the Dream. They call it a "fundamental shift."

Wednesday, March 24

Affordable living data released for 337 metro areas

The Center for Neighborhood Technology has been working on a Housing + Transportation Affordability Index for at least five years. Census block by census block, the index evaluates the cost burden, relative to area incomes, for housing and transportation on the average family living there. They released a pilot project for the Minneapolis-Saint Paul region in 2006, then expanded the analysis to major metro areas all around the country.

The index has made a big splash. It has been used to inform mortgage underwriting practices as well as regional housing public policy. Today they release data for a broader range of metropolitan areas, including the Charlottesville MSA. The newer website also allows users to break all of the data down into owners costs and renters costs, different income classes, greenhouse gas emissions, and a variety of other factors.

Screenshot from CNT Housing + Transportation Affordability Index for Charlottesville region

Andres Duany made the following point about affordable housing ten years ago,
"Affordable housing must be provided in a form and a place that allow for affordable living, even if it comes at a greater cost. Although land may be cheaper on the urban fringe, that location fails to provide residents with easy access to jobs and services."
Working toward the availability of truly affordable living requires a coordinated effort between the various spheres that make demands on the family budget, housing and transportation being the two largest. For too long the affordability goal has been set strictly at spending no more than 30% of income on housing, a rule of thumb based not on data but on convention. (It's also migrated upward over time. No more than 25% used to be advised.)

The trouble is that the old measurement leads to a systematic bias in favor of a low-cost housing/high-cost transportation arrangement, what is known in the real estate business as "drive until you qualify." If you can't afford a home closer to jobs and services, just head outward toward the urban fringe where land costs are cheaper. Or from a policy perspective, outer suburban jurisdictions appear to be performing better on affordability goals because, strictly speaking, housing costs are relatively in line with area incomes.

In reality, transportation costs are not only substantial, about 18% of expenditures, but they are volatile and tied directly to housing choices. One gas price spike can squeeze a budget to the breaking point, and families can only cut back so much with a lifestyle tweak if they've chosen an inaccessible home location.

If housing costs are the only measurement we have to work with, it makes some sense to run with it as a rough estimation of affordability. That's why these CNT numbers are so important. Maybe some day we'll see this model shimmy its way upward into the Census Bureau or coordinated federal agencies and built into policy, like the current convention is. The State of Illinois just adopted the H+T index as a benchmark for their own agencies. The affordability index will become that much more robust and accurate to a finer grain as it evolves.

... then maybe we could start talking about incorporating affordable food access (12% of the budget) into it.

Update: Elana Schor provides a nice outline of how this index is already being used at the federal level.

Tuesday, March 23

Americans could fit within New Hampshire

The folks over at Good magazine (update: Shane Keaney to be precise) are the masters of pithy, attractive charts that make you think. How about this one?

Ryan Advent adds that the whole global population, living at the density of Brooklyn, would be able to fit within the borders of Texas. And if we were willing to get things as tight as Manhattan, the land area of Virginia would serve us just fine.

Ok. This might need a little preemptive defense. Nobody is suggesting a federal ordinance requiring everyone to move en masse to the "Live Free or Die" state. And, yes, agriculture and most industry are not included within this hypothetical situation. It's not as if Brooklyn right now is exactly a self-sufficient community hermetically sealed from the rest of the world. There will need to be extra space provided for this.

But, that being said ...

Doesn't this create an interesting frame for the density discussion? Promoters of suburban lifestyles always raise the trope of density, more often than not conjuring up images from Blade Runner or high-rise soviet bloc apartments, to express how horribly crowded a smart growth scenario would have to be. Last week, Joel Kotkin's piece "Forced March to The Cities" interpreted some attempts to have motorists pay for their own parking as "social re-engineering" and a "cramming policy." A smog-filled downtown of skyscrapers is pictured to accompany the text. Kotkin's overall goal is to create a sharp dichotomy between a suburban lifestyle of yards, natural surroundings, your own detached home, and a visceral picture of an urban extreme - the kind of place that elicits the proverbial, "I enjoy visiting, but I wouldn't want to live there." Then he wants you to choose between the two.

But is Brooklyn really that bad? People spend good money to live in those brownstones on tree-lined streets. The homeownership rate isn't as high as most places, but many people do own (and there's nothing about the physical form itself that would prevent more ownership, or more tree-lined streets for that matter). The scenario already accounts for the addition of more parks to allow access to natural areas. On top of this, even in Brooklyn, plenty of space is currently devoted to motor vehicle access. Reduce driving, and we have an even more livable and spacious environment.

Then there's the fact that this scenario is scalable: How about half the density of Brooklyn on twice the size of New Hampshire?

Sometimes its useful to step back from economic analysis and debates over policy to take a moment to look at the raw physics of the matter. This is one possible scenario we could live in if we choose to. Once calibrated to reality, then we can talk policy.

Saturday, March 20

The managed chaos of a Zoöpolis

Black-tailed Prairie Dog. Flickr: blucolt
I drop quotes from A Pattern Language often on this blog. There's one section that seemed especially outlandish to me when I first read it: #74 Animals. The architect Christopher Alexander inverts our notion of the zoo and of pet ownership and recommends we integrate wild and domesticated animals alike into the heart of the city, allowing them to roam along connected greenways or in private fenced pastures. He notes that everyday contact with "animals in their animalness" enriches our lives, especially children.
"Examples of ecologically useful animals in a city: horses, ponies, donkeys - for local transportation and sport. Pigs - to recycle garbage and for meat. Ducks and chickens - as a source of eggs and for meat. Cows - for milk. Goats - milk. Bees - honey and pollination of fruit trees. Birds - to maintain insect balance."
Another professor at UC Berkeley, Jennifer Wolch, uses the term Zoöpolis to describe the "reintegration of people with animals and nature." In a recent article in the Journal of Urbanism, she describes efforts being made in the exurban planned development of Harmony, Florida to do just that. According to their website, it was "consciously designed to offer a peaceful balance with animals and nature." Wolch's ultimate goal is to raise the stature of animals in the eyes of humans, and she believes that everyday exposure to other species will naturally lead to a stronger ethical commitment to protect them.

Whether or not we want to completely collapse the boundaries between human and non-human habitat, the fact still remains that animals currently do share cities with us, and we may be able to expand our tolerance - in certain strategic ways - for sharing this space more amenably. The only other options are expensive relocation or unpopular extermination. Much attention has been paid to the loss of animal habitat due to the encroachment of suburbanization, but it's also worth considering those that have stuck around and adapted to us.

Animal control and protection is something that all cities have to grapple with. My personal favorite is this single sentence lifted from a Columbia, South Carolina ordinance.
"It shall be unlawful for any person to kill, maim or otherwise annoy with firearms, air rifles or slingshots, or in any other manner, the squirrels and birds within the limits of the city or within the limits of any park or playground owned by the city, or to disturb the nests of such birds and squirrels; provided that any owner, authorized agent, lessee or tenant of real estate in the city frequented by squirrels in number sufficient to create a nuisance on or cause damage to any property thereon may apply to the police department for a permit and may be authorized by the police department to trap squirrels on such premises and dispose of the squirrels, provided that the disposal of such squirrels is accomplished in a humane and sanitary manner and that the disposal of the squirrels is not accomplished by the use of firearms, air rifles, slingshots or poison"
The Smithsonian magazine tells the story of the "street-smart prairie dogs" of Denver. The black-tail prairie dog has been depleted in population throughout the western states, but researchers are finding that some colonies have actually been adapting fairly well to urban conditions. Surveys of residents show an almost even split between those who want to protect them and those that want them dead. They apparently can't decide whether they are lovable, cuddly creatures or pests that burrow through their yards. If we can be assured that there is no significant threat of disease, it seems reasonable to me that humans could adjust our own landscaping preferences a little to make room. But what do I know.

As far as urban domesticated animals go, chickens have certainly been in the forefront of the movement. Friends of ours have a flock in the city that's just about ready to lay eggs. They somehow ended up
An eclectic, but not entirely unusual, street scene in Cuba. Source unknown.
with a rooster by accident, which are too noisy for cities, but fortunately their warranty allows them to exchange him for a hen. The two-year-old neighbor spends hours in the coop, chasing the hens around and attempting to hug them. Soon our friends will have their daily protein taken care of, right from their backyard.

Exploring Cuba the other day on Google Earth, I came across a number of interesting uses of donkeys, mules, and horses throughout the streets of Havana. Without easy access to oil or parts for automobiles, Cubans have been forced to improvise in their transportation. In the year 2000, there were 16,000 registered public transportation operators using animals. Many cities in the United States have horse-drawn carriages as a novelty experience, but this is an everyday reality for Cubans.

About a hundred U.S. cities have a mounted police unit, but many are just now falling victim to budget cuts. Boston ended their mounted police program last year, prompting one citizen activist to lament,

"Except for police dogs, they are the last working animals in this country who are around people who aren't around animals because they are in the city."

Is this something that has value in its own right?

Thursday, March 18

LaHood announces a "sea change" at the DOT

DOT Secretary Ray LaHood stood on top of a table to address the National Bicycle Summit last week, but he waited until a few days later to reveal on his blog a new federal approach in transportation priorities:

"Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.

We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities."

League of American Bicyclists says,

"It is simply the strongest statement of support for prioritizing bicycling and walking ever to come from a sitting secretary of transportation."

I imagine that LaHood enjoyed a little reprieve from press conferences on spontaneously accelerating vehicles. This announcement comes a few days after new numbers were released showing another drop in highway traffic fatalities for 2009, partially attributed to Americans' decisions to drive less. Transitions seem to be happening on a number of levels.

The new policy is available on the FHWA website, and they encourage state and local agencies to adopt a similar statement.

Friday, March 12

From hope to choice in federal housing

Boston's Maverick Gardens HOPE VI development. flickr: Urban Mechanic
The back incorporates defensible space principles. flickr: Urban Mechanic
Chicago's Henry Horner housing projects before demolition. source: Calthorpe Associates
It's HOPE VI redevelopment by Calthorpe Associates. source: Calthorpe Associates
Back in July of 2009, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, which the Obama administration considers the next stage after HOPE VI in the evolution of public housing rehabilitation. Much like the Sustainable Communities program that has been generating lots of positive press, Choice Neighborhoods is intended to create a bridge across federal agencies that had previously been rather insulated - this time also drawing the Department of Education into cooperation with the housing administration. To cite the language of the draft bill itself, the purpose is to:
"transform neighborhoods of extreme poverty into sustainable, mixed-income neighborhoods with access to economic opportunities by revitalizing severely distressed housing, and investing and leveraging investments in well-functioning services, educational opportunities, public assets, public transportation, and improved access to jobs."
That's ambitious. The president is asking for $250 million this year for Choice Neighborhoods, in addition to the $65 million that Congress allocated last year. All of this before the actual details of the grants program have been hammered out and passed through the necessary committees. Housing advocates are waiting in anticipation.

When HOPE VI was launched in 1992, the primary purpose was to integrate households of various income levels into one neighborhood, and from an urban design standpoint alone it represented a major paradigm shift in policy. Most conventional public housing had been notoriously unlikable. Modernist architects, unable to attract willing residents to living in Le Corbusier's vision of towers in the park, were allowed to experiment with people who had no other choice. Streets were demapped into superblocks and abundant common spaces attracted vandalism and crime. Even the Garden-style varieties almost universally turned inward as fortresses on the urban landscape. Without tying into their surroundings, they had a deadening effect on the neighborhood. As Jane Jacobs noted, it wasn't long before there was little adjacent urban fabric left for them to relate to.

To be fair, the lack of resources allocated to design was probably the greater problem. Back to the Housing Act of 1937, Congress put tight limits on per-unit budgets. What seemed to be a financially prudent move ended up being anything but, as the projects decimated property values of everything around them. In Secretary Donovan's words, they become "warehouses for the poor." The median income of residents dropped from 57% of the national median in 1950 to 20% by the time HOPE VI was announced. It was obvious that something had to be done.

Almost two decades into HOPE VI, most evaluations of its success have been positive. Fiscally speaking, it has leveraged about twice as much private investment as it spent. The innovative Main Street branch allows smaller towns to tie affordable housing into downtown revitalization. Most importantly, HOPE VI neighborhoods have shown a successful record in attracting middle-income residents, and evidence shows measurable improvements in the workforce participation and earnings of the original residents and surrounding neighbors. Less tangibly, the face of public housing has changed for the better. In a Brookings report:
"Soviet-style subsidized apartment blocks have been replaced by walkable, diverse, livable communities. Public housing that isolated the poorest of the poor has given way to places where low-wage workers and families transitioning off welfare literally live next door to teachers, police officers, and other professionals."
The Housing Choice Initiative, as it's currently being presented, takes HOPE VI and expands it in at least three ways:
  1. HOPE VI was focused entirely on severely distressed public housing, but Choice Neighborhoods seeks to "broaden the scope of the program for broader impact" beyond public housing.
  2. Education reform, and early childhood education in particular, are being incorporated into the program.
  3. There is an explicit requirement for one-to-one replacement of existing subsidized housing stock. This addresses one salient criticism of HOPE VI, that it resulted in a net loss of subsidized units. (This is a fair point, but the loss in occupied units has been smaller. About a third of the severely distressed housing units were vacant.)
As of now, the expanded scope of the program has not been matched by an expanded budget request. HOPE VI began in the 90's with a $300 to $500 million a year and climbed steadily into the latter years of the decade. If Obama gets what he wants, Choice Neighborhoods will start off with approximately half of this.

In the competition for design ideas, there is no doubt that healthy urbanism has won the day through the HOPE VI program, and it will likely translate seamlessly into the next phase of federal housing policy - however it's finally arranged.

Wednesday, March 10

Google adds bicycle directions to maps

Cycling blogs are all over this already, but Google has released a "Grab Your Bike and Go" feature to give cycling directions for all maps. Google's Shannon Guymon is the opening plenary speaker at the National Bike Summit and she's expected to announce the new feature this morning and give a demonstration.

Screenshot: from Jefferson's Rotunda to the Charlottesville Downtown Mall in 8 minutes

The feature
  • Identifies cycling facilities (for now in "hundreds of US cities")
  • Shows which routes are considered safer than others, including paths that have limited or no driving
  • Uses elevation grades to estimate times and recommend routes

It shouldn't be too long before many localities and non-profit organizations are able to feed their information to Google. Unlike transit routes, there's nothing proprietary about safety recommendations. Right now Google lists the Charlottesville pedestrian mall as a recommended route, although its actually prohibited to cyclists. Google accepts feedback on all of these recommendations, so we can all take part in building the most accurate and useful mapping tool.

This addition from Google coincides nicely with U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (Ore.) introduction of H.R. 4722, the Active Community Transportation Act of 2010 in the U.S. House of Representatives last week.

Monday, March 8

Pedestrian Survival Techniques

For the last few months, I've left my bike at home and made my way throughout town mostly on my own two feet. During this time, I've observed a clever strategy, used by countless walkers, for crossing two or three-lane streets. It's especially common among the regulars - the truckers of the pedestrian world - who have optimized their safety and efficiency by repeating the same trip over and over again. It's quite possibly the perfectly rational cross.

The way it works is simple: As you're walking toward your destination, you remain constantly aware of the vehicular traffic coming from either direction. Once a clear break appears, you cross at that moment. There's no wait time, because you continue walking while you watch for the opening. It's highly safe, or at least you have maximum control over your own safety. Before "jaywalking" was stigmatized and banned through a campaign by automobile lobbyists, this was a perfectly acceptable way to approach a typical dilemma.

Walkers are now supposed to wait until they reach the intersection before crossing, but for obvious reasons they do not want to do this.

  1. Vehicles could be approaching from a number of directions and its impossible to simultaneously monitor all of these possibilities.
  2. Turning lanes increase the total distance that must be crossed.
  3. Stoplights encourage a certain number of drivers to speed to try and beat the red light. The severity of a hit would be much higher.
The only three times I felt my safety compromised over this period was while legally crossing. On one occasion, watching the walk signal I almost stepped out in front of a truck careening through the red light. On two other occasions, right-turning cars were not paying attention to the crosswalk and had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting me. None of these were near-death experiences, but they underscore the tension pedestrians feel between trusting in official protection and using their own safety intuition.

When walkers must cross at intersections, pedestrian buttons can make things more problematic. In Charlottesville and many other towns, a walk signal will not be displayed unless the button is pressed. This means that if you push the button one second after your cycle begins, you will need to wait for another entire cycle before your signal is given. Research shows that only half of pedestrians press buttons at all, and most folks who do press will not wait unnecessarily. They attempt to cross anyway, only deprived of information about how much time remains in the cycle. Unless the button is "hot" and adjusts signal timing or activates lighting, there's no reason to have it at all.

Pedestrians should be empowered by engineering solutions to follow their own safety intuitions. They have a huge incentive to protect their life, and the truly reckless (or inebriated) will ignore signals or legalities anyway. FHWA sponsored major studies of various pedestrian safety devices in high-crash intersections and last year released a treasure trove of information about what techniques proved effective. In many cases, focusing on modifying driving yield behavior and speeds was more effective than attempting to herd pedestrians.

Engineering is incredibly important, but the best engineers will tell you that they offer sets of trade-offs not absolute solutions. The relative values between pedestrians' right to life, motorists' right to convenience, and costs of implementation cannot be calculated but must be provided subjectively by the ones who make the final decision. Hopefully in a democracy, that's you and me.

Monday, March 1

Some limits to emergence (or why planners are still needed)

The continued maturation of the internet, from a select set of information-providers to a huge crowd of users who create our own content, has been a defining shift for my generation (well, at least for some of us). We have some real examples of how collective efforts of informally organized actors have successfully developed into highly sophisticated systems. The crown jewel of this era is probably Wikipedia's decisive win over Encyclopedia Britannica. Hundreds of thousands of mostly-benevolent volunteers have incrementally grown a body of knowledge from the bottom up that surpasses in breadth and depth the prevailing institution of experts operating from the top down. This is an amazing feat, and it keeps growing.

Many have made the conceptual connection from this online paradigm shift to the physical world of cities. Steven Johnson's 2002 book Emergence: the Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software has been highly influential in this regard. The concept of the emergence of urban complexity, whether of medieval cities filled with meandering donkey paths or of the slums of Mumbai, has reverberated throughout social media and academia ever since. Australian Dan Hill's recent article on Emergent Urbanism flirts with the idea of the unplanned city:

"One might even argue for the removal of all planning guidelines and structures. After all, most of the world’s great cities are not the product of planning, no matter how enlightened. Certainly some have been well-formed by benevolent dictators or patrons, yet their personality has come from the slow accretion of individual citizens adopting and adapting those spaces, like ficus thriving on béton brut monuments."

I'm fairly sympathetic to these ideas, and I certainly recognize that the self-organizing potential of cities goes back to Jane Jacob's organic metaphors (the last chapter of Death and Life) and certainly well before this. Still - and maybe this is just my personality - I want to reach for the brakes just as the concept reaches a level of exuberance. Pure self-organization can be taken too far.

Equating the bottom-up potential of online networks with the human construction of the physical space of cities has some deficiencies that should be recognized before deciding on a balance between fixed structure and fluid evolution:
  1. The internet does actually need a foundational structure to function. Online networks are both dependent upon and shaped by multiple layers of structure that are, at least to some degree, fixed and imposed "from above." There is the hardware of computers. There is the fundamental software (operating systems, programming languages) and the web-based platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Youtube). From the perspective of the end users, it appears as if the operative force is each of us collectively shaping the complexity of networks through individualized actions. But this is only because the underlying structure is much less visible than its surface level expressions. In reality, they both work together.

    To follow the analogy, cities would be formed by a similar wedding cake of authority, ranging from a federal government defining loose contours, to local governments refining them, and to individual actors painting within the lines. The relative weights given to each layer will perpetually be debated, but this seems to be how decisions that affect the public realm are actually made. This is planning, as far as I understand it.

  2. Unlike the internet, physical space is made up of fixed relationships. Our only experience of physical space is through an embodiment in a particular place at a particular time, and movement through space requires energy. Therefore, individual places are fundamentally and immutably connected to each other in a way that nodes on a online network are not. An adjoining website cannot block your sun, cut off your access, influence your property values, pollute your air. You do not have to see, smell, hear the adjoining website unless you choose to. Of course, there is no such thing as an adjoining website. The relationships of an online network are completely voluntary and malleable almost instantly. This is not the case with land.

  3. Land is more limited than online real estate. During the era of manifest destiny in United States history, it appeared as if the western frontier was a limitless expanse of land ready to be formed by European settlement. We eventually ran into some hard limits of productive land and natural resources, hence the birth of the modern environmental movement. Although there are technically limits to the capacity of the internet, it is still in the stage of apparent limitless expansion. The emergence of online networks does not necessarily teach us lessons about how to arrange complexity within constrained space.

  4. Modern land development happens at a scale and with an irreversible impact that is not necessarily conducive to incremental change. Wikipedia has emerged through the collective action of millions of tiny additions and alterations from thousands of actors, each operating with the benefit of instant feedback from prior changes. The economies of scale and financial structures of modernity compel most development to happen in large chunks: mega-projects, entire subdivisions, shopping malls. Raymond Unwin, back in 1909, noted that this distinction is what makes modern development different than the fabled medieval organic models of growth:
  5. "The very rapidity of the growth of modern towns demands special treatment. The wholesale character of their extension almost precludes the possibility of our attaining that appearance of natural growth which we have admired in the medieval town, where additions were made so gradually that each house was adapted to its place, and assimilated into the whole before the next was added. We already see in the modern suburb too much evidence of what is likely to result from any haphazard system of development. Modern conditions require, undoubtedly, that the new districts of our towns should be built according to a definite plan"
  6. Although it seems counter-intuitive, emergent systems online depend upon a civic bargain and mechanisms for self enforcement of these rules. Clay Shirky explains how this works for Wikipedia:
    "The basic bargain of a wiki means that people who care that the site not be used for pranks have the edge, because it takes far longer to write a fake entry than to fix it."
    So even the anonymous mobs of the internet have a code of conduct, a shared sense of mission, and a means for enforcing it. Those who construct physical space may have been governed by a similar set of purely social moral suasion at one time, but the scale of modernity once again seems to require a more rigid set of laws to protect the common good. Spiro Kostoff on this point:
    "The structure of city-from - the integration of uses, the concatenation of passages and nodal points - could possess the sort of coherence demonstrated by Old Dehli, and this is in the absence of municipal authority to police and an articulate public space, only because the social structure was well formulated, and tradition stood as the guarantor of a consistent modus operandi. Without the force of tradition and a consolidated social agenda, unsupervised city-making will succumb to disorder."