I'm With Witold: First a Crowd of Townhouses

Well, CNU 19 has come and gone (sadly I couldn't attend), but apparently had only one session on small-scale urban infill development, and even that session you had to pay extra to attend.  I guess I'll have to keep blogging.  I watched the final session online, and last month's op-ed by Witold Rybczynski in the NYTimes was mentioned: "American cities are always looking for quick fixes to revive their moribund downtowns. Sadly, the dismal record of failed urban design strategies is long: downtown shopping malls, pedestrianized streets, underground passages, skyways, monorails, festival marketplaces, downtown stadiums — and that most elusive fix of all, iconic cultural buildings. It appears likely that we will soon be adding elevated parks to the list. "And herein lies the problem. The High Line may be a landscaping project, but a good part of its success is due to its architectural setting, which, like the 12th Arrondissement, is crowded with interesting old and new buildings. The park courses through the meatpacking district and Chelsea, heavily populated, high-energy residential neighborhoods. Very few American cities — and Manhattan is the densest urban area in the country — can offer the same combination of history and density."  Full article here.  I tend to agree with Witold: large, exogenous, non-distributed "revitalization" projects only revitalize surrounding areas if such areas already have a mostly-continuous fabric of pre-existing (but neglected) small, dense, adaptable-use urban buildings.  That's why hollowed-out cities first need new townhouses.  (Photo credit: Brian Harkin.)