“Words on the Street” highlights the best writing on urbanism we’ve encountered this week. Send tips to @NewUrbs.
Why Geographic Equality Matters | Conor Sen, Bloomberg View
An environment in which high value economic activity happens in just a handful of cities would make the country worse off, and ultimately starve those cities of what they need to thrive — talent and ideas. … Without the ability to import talent from the rest of the country and the rest of the world — talent that the large cities didn’t pay to develop — large cities would collapse. A look at the titans of Silicon Valley shows this to be the case. Mark Zuckerberg grew up in Westchester County, New York. Tim Cook grew up in Alabama. Marc Andreessen moved around in the Midwest. Silicon Valley, you didn’t educate that.
Message to Tech Firms From Palo Alto Mayor: Go Away. Please. | Thomas Fuller, New York Times
“Big tech companies are choking off the downtown,” Mayor Patrick Burt said. “It’s not healthy.” … Last year, the city of 66,000 people set a cap of less than 1 percent a year on the growth of office space in most of its parts. In the charming downtown, where battalions of tech workers from companies like Amazon stroll the streets, their eyes often glued to their smartphones, the mayor is looking to enforce, in some form, an all-but-forgotten zoning regulation that bans companies whose primary business is research and development, including software coding. (To repeat: The mayor is considering enforcing a ban on coding at ground zero of Silicon Valley.)
Did Construction Unions Kill California Housing Affordability? | Roland Li, San Francisco Business Times
It was the boldest California housing policy proposal in years: Allow any residential project that complies with local zoning and sets aside as few as five percent of its units as affordable to be built “as of right,” removing review from local municipalities. The idea was to fast-track approvals and reduce the cost of building as the state struggles with a crushing housing crisis. But after three months of debate and widespread opposition, the proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown, meant to boost the state’s housing production in the face of record-high housing prices, appears to be dead. … Dozens of community groups, environmentalists and the League of California Cities – and even some tenant groups – opposed the measure. One of the most powerful opponents of the bill was a sector that could directly benefit from more development: construction labor unions.
What Happened to the Future of Architecture? | Jonathan Meades, London Review of Books
Given that petty bossiness and online manipulation are everywhere to be found it is hardly surprising that the smartest of smart buildings are already being programmed to exercise control over us – caring control, softly spoken – and with a degree of subtlety that quite evaded B.F. Skinner and still evades the uniformed gorillas who patrol gated ‘communities’ and apartment complexes. So far the patrons of this new, chummy determinism are the barons of parallel reality and fiscal mockery – Apple, Google, Amazon etc. Skinner’s bludgeon may be absent, his menu of reinforcements may be diluted but his intentions stretch from the grave. According to one of Norman Foster’s apparatchiks working on the Apple project, ‘We have a building that is pushing social behaviour in the way people work.’ Maybe not so chummy. While over at Google: ‘We … hope to bring new life to the unique local environment … enhancing burrowing owl habitats.’
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dream Cities | Anthony Paletta, City Journal
Neil Levine knows that Frank Lloyd Wright was far from an urbanist. He acknowledges early on that the title of his new book—The Urbanism of Frank Lloyd Wright—“must strike many as an oxymoron.” In fact, the architect was famous for his jeremiads against cities. But Levine has come not to praise such concoctions as Broadacre City, a conceptual project viewed by many as the pinnacle of anti-urban planning, but to reconcile them with the image of Wright as the modern architect even traditionalists can appreciate. Like Broadacre, most of Wright’s urban ideas never moved passed the conceptual stage. Some—such as his proposed Point Park Complex in Pittsburgh and his Baghdad Civic Center designs—achieved modest recognition; others are almost unknown. In Levine’s book, they are collected and examined in a single monograph for the first time.