Localism, Regionalism and Political Suicide

I reread a piece from 2009 the excellent Emergent Urbanism Blog  (Mathieu Helie)

It seemed to some up many of the dilemmas and problems we now face with the shift to a localist system.

[the] problem [at] the root of the housing crisis in London, Paris and rural England. Communities are not able to grow their territory as they expand, and smaller communities with territories much greater than they need must protect their political existence by restricting the production of new housing that will threaten their political future. If, by some accident, any one of the hundreds of communes of Paris were to remove density restrictions, the result would be the entire housing demand for the region channeled in this one community, creating a population surge followed by a new political paradigm. Mayors therefore naturally block new development, and will fight proposals such as Mr. Gordon Brown’s to overrule their community’s planning regulations. Their very survival as a political community is at stake.

…The solution to the dilemma of Greater Paris and its many communities would be to create a perforated fractal Paris, with distinct communities and their distinct planning processes existing autonomously within it… the territory of Metropolitan Paris would also be perforated by a constellation of villages and perhaps some entirely artificial and experimental communities.

Cities have grown upon a political blueprint that did not adapt with the communities it planned for. This created regional crises that were followed by regional blueprints and then local crises. A dynamic territorial structure would not adopt a regional or local scale but all scales at once, nested within each other. Such a territorial structure would result in institutional simplicity while resolving regional complexities in its emergent dimension.

For Helie

The problem to be solved is to create a division of the metropolis that is simultaneously local and regional, that allows local communities to grow through their own specific urban processes while making it possible to launch and plan projects at the regional scale. The divisions have to be simple enough internally that people can easily understand how they work, thus forbidding the layering of levels of governance and bureaucracies, the territorial mille-feuilles. The closest object that describes such an organization is the Sierpinski Carpet.

The Sierpinski carpet is an object that has structure at infinite levels of scale and can therefore solve problems that occur at the biggest and smallest scales. In real-world terms, it implies that a regional community has grown around small communities and towns, each with their own separate and contrasting scale. This organization recognizes that cities happen at all scales and harmonizes them into a coherent whole. It is a fractal, perforated city.

This is the kernal of an intriguing idea, that localist and regionalist spaces are complementary and must co-exist.  That a regional plan must create autonomous zones within it.  That it is not a question of localism or regionalism but how the two nestle to create a space at multiple scales.   We we start to rebuild planning again on rational and not extreme ideological foundations ideas such as this need to come to the core.

Improving Slums: Granting Titles or Informal Zoning?

Excellent post on the excellent blog ‘Old Urbanist’

Recently, in acknowledgment of the counterproductiveness of demolition, various South American governments, notably Mexico and Peru, have begun issuing formal titles to the possessors of slum properties. The stated purpose of this approach, advocated by economist Hernando de Soto and endorsed by none other than Milton Friedman, is to increase tenure security and to permit the land to be used as security for business loans.

So far, although titling of properties has led to an average 25 percent increase in land values, the promised access to capital has largely failed to materialize. Further, the awarding of formal titles has often served as an invitation to outside real estate interests to enter the market, futher inflating prices and potentially driving out the very people whose tenure the titling program was purportedly designed to protect. In Mumbai, this process took the form of large apartment towers sprouting in the low-rise Dharavi slum, adding height without necessarily increasing density (in any event population density in these areas appears to be exceptionally high even in the absence of buildings over three stories).

An alternative approach, adopted mainly in the Brazilian city of Recife, has been to provide tenure security not with titles, but by recognition of the community’s claim to the land, combined with the implementation of what is perhaps the simplest zoning code to be found anywhere in the world: 1) a two-story height limit; and 2) a maximum lot size of 150 square meters (1,615 square feet). Informal exchanges of property, without deed recording or title transfer, continue unhindered, reducing transaction costs and encouraging an extremely flexible urbanism where boundaries and structures rapidly adapt to changing needs.

Mathieu Helie argues that the remarkable organic form of these slums is dependent on this openness — an attempt to make them conform to a particular notion of property rights (that of individual freehold ownership by way of titles, deed recording and plat maps) is to deprive it of the flexibility that allowed it to take shape in the first place:
“After praising slums for their ability to generate economic opportunities, they are denounced [by a City Journal article] for not fitting into the conventional model of property rights. Yet it is precisely the use of more natural methods of property allocation that gives slums their organic morphology. …

Mann Island Liverpool, Hot Favourite for Carbuncle Cup 2011

BD has opened voting for the 2011 Carbuncle Cup.

For the first time one winner could be bang next door to another. In 2009 the Terminal Building by Hamilton Architects won, for despoiling the setting of the Three Graces in Liverpool – a World Heritage site.

This year we have Matt Brooks scheme by Broadway Maylyn for Neptune Developments at Mann Island, right next door.



UNESCO has had the World Heritage Site under review for three years because of poor planning, including

‘adhere to the townscape characteristics, wider values (building density, urban patterns and materials) and sense of place;’

But Mann Island was already under construction before Liverpool published its Pierfront World Heritage Site SPD.

The background of this view is likley to be further despoiled by tall buildings as part of Peel Holdings scheme for North Liverpool Docks, Liverpool Waters, critcised  by English Heritage and called a ‘Shanghai Like’ scheme.  The refusal to make further changes to the project led to Peel Holdings being called ‘Arrogant Bastards’ by the Liverpool Preservation Trust.

Will Unesco do the decent thing and strip away the designation?

Saving Spain’s Drover’s Greenways

Great article in the Independent

Spain’s once magnificent network of greenways, despite apparently strong state protection, is fast dwindling. And with it the centuries-old practice of driving herds of cattle and sheep from lowland winter pastures to summer upland grazings – known as transhumance – is on its last legs.

In Andalucia alone, some 76 per cent of the 30,000 kilometres (18,600 miles) of greenways were recently estimated as being blocked off or otherwise inaccessible, while the 200,000 or so cattle and sheep which went through transhumance in the early 1990s has now dropped to a tenth of that number….

everything from housing estates to reservoirs, roads and barbed wire fencing have been reported as obstructing their progress. There are even reports of poison being daubed on to the pasturelands that their cattle use

transhumance is far cheaper and more ecological than transport by road, and it benefits biodiversity, too… scientific studies by the Andalucian government discovered greenways can act as protected corridors over hundreds of kilometres for extremely rare and highly mobile animals such as the Iberian Lynx, or are sanctuaries for rare breeds of plant, such as types of rockrose

Then there’s the whole series of social rituals that go with transhumance – the celebrations, songs and tales in the villages whenever a herd stops there for the night. So it wouldn’t just be an ecological setback if transhumance and the greenways disappeared: we’d be losing part of Spain’s cultural past, too