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Please more content like this :)

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Jul 17, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Interesting post.

"America needs to build its cities around trains a lot more than it does".

America could also do a lot better at making trains something you'd be happy to live next to, particularly making them quieter.

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The main problems I see are:

1) Deciduous trees lose their leaves in the cold season. This is when shade is less useful, but the city will look quite different in winter. Global warming may help with this by shortening winters, but it isn't clear we want to promote this. It is pleasant and familiar, and many parts of NYC have tree lined streets like that. I remember the summer view from the roof of my childhood apartment building in Jackson Heights; the streets were almost invisible because of all the foliage.

2) For some reason, there are fewer street trees on business streets. I get the impression it involves higher pedestrian traffic, a desire to avoid tree root damage to the heavily trafficked sidewalks and problems with delivery. In dense cities, goods are often taken from the curb directly to the basement via a hatch. It's hard to do this with a tree out front. Trees have it easier on residential streets.

3) Second floor, or other off main floor, retail is always problematic. Urban theorists, like William Whyte, and urban real estate agents know that it is hard to get foot traffic onto an alternate level just as it is hard to get pedestrians to wander more than a few yards down a side street. Ramps and escalators only help a little. Rents on the main level will be way higher than those up or downstairs. Then there's the problem of the upper levels shading the lower levels making them less pleasant in winter and introducing perceived security issues. Raymond Hood's Rockefeller Center is a case in point since it has been around since the 1930s, and remodel after remodel has yet to get pedestrians to the lower levels.

On the positive side, this urban vision works and looks a lot better than the Le Corbusier inspired high rise cluster in a field of greensward and possibly parking lot.

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Spent much time in Asia this year with its dream-like smooth, clean and safe train systems. The return to New York Metro and the Path was simply jarring. The need for improvement is clear but somehow I just don’t think we have the ability (anymore) as a nation to upgrade this sort of deeply embedded infrastructure. We are thwarted by costs, a thicket of regulations and corruption. Would love to be proved wrong, but the WTC/Oculus project with its 4x cost overruns and (still!) incompleteness is a painful reminder.

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Having a River with low banks in densely populated areas is difficult to achieve without massive upstream hydraulic structures. The drivers of flooding- precipitation and snowmelt have frequency distributions that extend to - well, if not infinity- to some very large values. This means there will always be a risk associated with flooding.

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Jul 17, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Great post! Would love more on this please!

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Jul 17, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

One of these is almost Caras Galadhon.

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Jul 17, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Not gonna happen unless we crown Ed glaeser dictator for life (which I don’t mind fwiw)

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Something that, at least for me, makes all these pictures seem a lot nicer than real life is the lack of dozens and dozens of people rushing around and the lack of garbage.

Where I am from, it would be hard to find a place as nice as the picture but almost void of other humans. The pictures also give me a feeling of calm and quiet environment, something that modern cities are lacking.

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Is urban planning the most failed discipline?

Hard to think of something that has done more harm to its subjects, except for maybe early sociology?

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The thing about most European cities like Rome, Prague, Amsterdam but also most smaller cities that make them so liveable is that they were not built for cars. European cities are starting to re-adopt that principle by cutting parking space dramatically and then seeing how it unfolds.

The dramatic effect of all those Ads you have in the picture by Imperial Boy (which went unmentioned), will be lost to us Europeans because of our incremental hate of commerce in public spaces

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One of the most visually interesting aspects of higher density cities, both real and imagined, is the fact that they have multiple levels of public space. This is an idea almost unheard of in the United States but it's key to allowing large numbers of people to interact in smaller, human scale groups without being jammed together like canned sardines.

If perhaps a river walk at ground level were mixed with walkable promenades on a second level with 'very light rail' trolley transit and residences above, this could provide the combination of visual interest, shade, climate mitigation, living space and car free transit that could really make a positive impact on the lives of people there. And to me, it's really that high quality of life we're after rather than just superficial visual appeal.

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Wow... very interesting post!

For me, the "perfect urban landscape" would more or less look like this:

- Have Paris (or similar style-city) as a basis

- Add a bit of Tokyo and New York City.

Then maybe a bit of futuristic technology and architecture...

So, what I am imagining is having a European-style city, with blocks of 8-10 floor apartment buildings facing the streets, interspersed with some high-rises (maybe 15-30 floors), and courtyards between the buildings (inside of the blocks).... there also could be some high-rise/skyscraper areas, like la defense in Paris or Moscow city, or midtown Manhattan....

Not sure what city comes closest to this in real life, maybe Buenos Aires or Vienna...🤔

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Check out this effort in Wisconsin to do exactly this, albeit mostly in smaller towns. It's awesome! Short video here: https://bit.ly/3BeyUvV. And more details: https://bit.ly/3xQvRrD.

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Great analysis, and good message for urban planners and artists. Like many, I fell in love with that image by 帝国少年 when I first saw it, and for many of the reasons you point out. Glad you've dug into those reasons a bit here.

I do love the small city-side 'rivers' in many Japanese cities, although we should imagine that most of them are likely canals, rather than free-flowing rivers!

Thanks for this writing. Hoping more of us study what we like about certain places and understand why, and then ... imagine, draw, write, and share the results with each other.

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Where, exactly, is that illustration supposed to be. Clearly it's Japan, but where? That entrance sign looks VERY familiar to me.

Right now, the Shibuya Scramble Square, Shibuya Stream, and Miyashita Park developments all seem to have somewhat the feel of this illustration. And the new Shibuya PARCO building even has an OUTDOOR staircase all the way up to the 10th floor roof, with little open areas for sitting along the way.

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