24 May 2013

Urban visions at odds: Haussmann, Kuyper, and the Chicago Housing Authority

As a child I had aspirations to become an architect and perhaps even an urban planner. I was especially captivated by an article in the May, 1960, issue of National Geographic titled, Brasilia: Metropolis Made to Order, about the newly inaugurated capital city of Brazil, the brainchild of President Juscelino Kubitschek, who sought to move his country's population away from the thickly settled coastal region. I admired the illustrations of the modern-looking buildings set amid the spacious plains of Brazil's interior. Designed by urban planner Lúcio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer (who died last year at the age of 104), the new capital's public buildings were impressive, giving an aura of a vigorous adolescent finally coming of age as a great nation. I imagined that Brazilians were experiencing something of the pioneer spirit that had motivated Americans to settle their own interior a century earlier, and I found it inspiring. Brazil was the land of the future, and it now had a seat of government to match its larger-than-life ambitions.

There was just one problem: Brasilia is a walker's nightmare, boasting one of the highest rates in the world of traffic accidents involving pedestrians. It is virtually impossible to get anywhere on foot, as the distances between destinations are too great, and so are the dangers to life and limb of trying to get there. Having admired Costa's and Niemeyer's handiwork for so long, I eventually came to understand the drawbacks of planning an urban centre from the top-down, with its flashy expressions of artistic modernism but with little sense of what it takes to build a genuine human community.

Read the full article here.

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