How to design a city?
You don't!

A city will design itself if we get out of the way:
so long as we do not sic planning departments on them!

Cave painting, Lascaux, France, 15,000 - 10,000 bc.

Well, we've come a long way in ten thousand years.
Depending upon your place in the pecking order life was fun!

If you're brown, though, sitting on oil, life's been short, brutish and harsh.

Still, I'm told our cities are our greatest achievement . . .
That was probably true aeons ago . . . but if we believe that now,
then . . . errr . . .ummm . . . we have a long way to go.
. . . Yup!

Predella: Christ as Man of sorrow,
The Courtauld,

Night watch,

Man at the center,
Palacio de Bellas Artes
Mexico City.

Guernica 1933.
Could be Sirte, Libya, 2011.
Museo Sofia, Madrid.

. . . designed primary to entertain, not inform . . . (Peter Phillips speaking to Project Censored at the Grand Lake Theater, Oakland USA. Sept. 21, 2011) . . . referring to corporate media today. He tells of what we already know.

Church media, pre and during the Renaissance was intent to push the party line: visual art was media then, television is today.

The Predella was the medieval altar frontispiece conveying the Christian message closely to those receiving the sacrament: Immaculate Conception and Resurrection . . . or auto-da-fé. Ecclesiastical brainwashing was as intent then as is corporate brainwashing now.

Rembrandt 's Night Watch depicts a group of men who took it upon themselves to patrol the streets for safety's sake at a time well before John Peel's, organized police force. The little girl, center left: has anyone figured out who she is or why she is included?

Abby Rockefeller was an admirer of the Mexican painter Diego Rivera. She persuaded her husband, John D. Rockefeller to commission the Mexican to paint a mural for the entrance foyer to the, under construction, Rockefeller Center New York. Needless to say the two where politically polls apart and as Rivera's message emerged Rockefeller put a stop to it, paid the artist off, and had the unfinished work destroyed.

Subsequently Rivera painted a replica where it is on permanent exhibition at La Palacio del Bellas Artes: Ciudad de Mexico. Talk about rich in information . . . phew!

Art may well inform but it obviously doesn't influence.

During the Spanish civil war Franco's fascists were the first to engage in intentional bombing of innocent non-combatants. Subsequently the technique has become very popular among democratic governments. I remember the out cry then: I haven't heard much indignation since!

The Basque town of Guernica was the first to be honoured and Picasso described it indelibly and permanently to the world.

Art is media, albeit more subtle in the past than today. The city is media, architecture is media, the blogs are media, wrapped up in the security blanket of their own little gossip world: GIGO, garbage in garbage out, applies to all media, telling us who we are and what we are about: or NOT.



Our lives are controlled by a grand ponzi. The rich get richer and we blog away oblivious all the time believing they are listening. They? Who are they?

As George Carlin used to say, "it's a club and you ain't in it!" He is not laughing!

It's a financial scheme, run for the benefit of a few insiders that cannot go on much longer, I'm told. I don't know about that. Occasionally the Praetorian Guard would bump of the odd Emperor. Still the Roman Empire took the best part of four centuries to wind down.

I was present at the winding down of the British Empire after, what, one hundred years on the down side. The Brits are far too polite to bump anyone off. Besides they don't need to.

What on earth do they do with all that money?

They just give them a title and shove them off to the countryside to hob nob with the royals and oh boy does that shut them up.

Fractional reserve banking whereby the bankers lend out way more money than they have and compounding interest means we are constantly in debt. In fact the whole system is rigged so we, everyone, business, governments, can never get out of debt because all money created is essentially debt.

Anyway I do not know much about money but I do know I would have paid double or more if I had stayed with my mortgages to the end.

So why do we allow decrepit old men to do usury at us? Absurd!

If cities want to get real about green they'd better start looking at the ponzi!

Frank Gehry Architect.

SHARP CENTER for design: 2004
Will Alsop Architect.

Daniel Libeskin Architect.

Is urban architecture supposed to add to the amenity of public urban space? Not according to the additions to the national inventory shown above!

Surely urban architecture is a different game to say, a free-standing school, purposefully surrounded by playing fields, in the suburbs?

What happened to the party wall? You can see it all over the place in Canada's worst slum: the Down Town East Side. And yet the party wall was so much a part of Renaissance urban space: beautiful facades butted together; curving to enclose those urban plazas we travel distances to enjoy.

Looking at the above examples of recent, built in Canada, architecture are these wonderful things bizarre or what? I really love this stuff but it goes against my precept of good place making charactering every thing anti urban: it is the expression, appropriately, of corruption, disruption and anarchy. I notice all have been designed by off-shore practices. Is there a message here for the Canadian architectural profession?

It contrasts, dramatically, the dour dis-functional fragmentation of global corporate economics. In a way Vancouver's downtown public library is the apex of that architectural style. No doubt in my mind the articulation of downtown VPL's exterior space leaves whatever peripheral public amenity there is open wide to hectic noise and traffic disturbance, north on Georgia, and, south on Robson. One thing the faux Roman coliseum form does not do is contribute to public urban amenity.

But then, neither does that hairy scary, boldly imaginative architecture, above!


Planning office? No, not really: I mean, look at the results after decades of paper shuffling. Try approval office!

The late Arthur Erickson, an over rated architect in a corporatized profession declared, "concrete is the new marble": an absurd statement given what it did to the urban environment. Concrete was his only palette.

He seemed unable to grow and learn from experience. Unfortunately his acolytes live on.

Experts in urbanism seem unable to rise to any occasion without parroting one or another platitude from the trade journals.

Au currant, is New Urbanism, a fading fad, more intent on marketing real estate than a place to call home: or a work place that says what it is!

Yup, when I first started in 1957, my first project, Riley Park Swimming Pool (now Percy Norman), I do not remember the labyrinth of approvals we have to endure now. I do remember a more innocent city, trams running out to Steveston and up the valley and the tallest downtown building the Marine Building.

Click for the dream
Et tu Canada!

I had over two years enlightenment at my planning Alma Mater, (SCARP, UBC). I cannot say I learnt a lot about planning but I was given an insight into the goings on of a city administration. I certainly appreciated the opportunity.

I suppose the key is innocence, but we felt wealthier than we do now!

An advocate of New Urbanism, UK's Prince Charles, built Poundbury to the overall concept of Leon Krier and the architecture of Quinlan Terry: inveterate new urbanists. They prefer picturesque anachronism to economic/social reality: such is the ethos of a global economy that is rapidly turning out to be a bust.

For the Prince, it was the wrong concept at the wrong time with the Duchy of Cornwall struggling, now, to make it work.

Locally pretenders, poseurs now prey on unfortunate neighbourhoods, Vancouver's DTES comes to mind, desperately looking for attention.

These people have the temerity to suppose dabbling in urban planning, and reading a few popular trade magazines, plagerizing their colleagues, gives them insight to lecture authoritatively on this intractable social milieu.

The state of the DTES has very little to do with planning and a lot to do with banking!

Let there be change!

Bewildered cops!

Got MSM's attention!

HUH . . . HEY:
What gives?

Blame, blame, blame! The blogs are calling for blood. So far there have been no arrests and for the first time in my life I find myself on the side of authority, not withstanding the Keefe/Furlong conclusion.

There was a hockey riot on Vancouver's Robson Street in 1994. Then there was another starting at the CBC's live site, 2011, spreading on to Georgia.

Huh I wonder why all the commotion. The UK has suffered soccer riots ever since it's empire began to tank. There is nothing left to be proud of so let's worship the Becker and the Spice Girl and heat up the street in the process.

Vancouver has Luongo and Cherry: hardly a substitute!

Actually Europe got so sick of the English hooligans they were banned permanently from the continent.

So there is nothing unique or new about Vancouver's riot scene.

What actually was the baseline cause of the riot is a mystery evidently to the powers that be but not to the bloggers: booze, evidently, is the popular prognosis.

But it goes much deeper than that.

For decades Vancouver has been preening itself, like a spoilt child before a mirror preparing herself for a pageant: views, world class, paradise (if you can afford to live there), the shallowness is nauseating.

Always looking outwards to the mountains and the sea, never looking inward to an introspective reassessment of who we are and were we are going. Evidently its youth sees it that way too.

Imagine growing up in a world idolizing a bunch of bozos that are paid millions to chase a chunk of plastic around a glassed in paddock, fighting brawling and being generally infantile and for what? A lousy chunk of polished tin!

The Canucks lost to Boston: Roberto Luongo, Canuck captain and goalie, started out well then collapsed when Boston applied the pressure: there is a graduating psychology thesis in there somewhere. Don Cherry, another case study, loud-mouthed ignoramus, another shameful act?

Vancouver: world class and now its number three. No substantial future awaits its youth: all they have left is booze and a rumble.

It's that simple!

Final report was a white-wash.

ABBOTT & CORDOVA, 7 August 1971: 2010
Stan Douglas.

Richard Attila Luckacs.

Douglas Coupland.

That mural under the big W doesn't do it for me! As for it's intended message, inadvertently I walked into what turned out to be quite a rumble that Saturday in August some forty years ago.

I was going to a sensitivity group on Water Street sometime that afternoon. As far as I could see the crowd was pretty jovial, a legalize marijuana be-in: peaceful even with a few mounted cops milling thru the crowd.

I was very surprised to read, in The Sun, what happened later that evening. I dunno what Stan knows of the event. What happened to the crowds?

Stan's depiction of events echoes Jeff Wall's technique of staged, wooden eminently perishable techno-tableaus of people doing what they do. Siting it above the west entrance to the Woodward Tower complex's atrium is an unfortunate choice. As the Sun beams in the mural is a wash.

I have to take Stan's interpretation as it is: I'm told the cops went bananas.

But Luckac's work is different in that it is a complete volte-face from his powerful earlier work. Has Richard run out of steam? What happened to the powerful skinheads we all thought was his world?

So, Red White Flag! Okay if that is what it is any deeper message is lost on me except to muse, where is he going with this?

Douglas Coupland, better known as author, was the winner of a 2010 competition to design replacement of the Terry Fox Memorial at BC Place.

I had entered the original competition in the early 1980's with a design that essentially described a public urban space as an entrance to the sports sanctum.

Douglas Coupland, the winner of the 2010 event, chose to replace an obelisk (the original) in space with a lineal composition of four objects partially filling the space, IMO, to all intents and purposes, replicating the mistake of thirty years ago.

Vancouver has never had a mature understanding of public space Pigeon Park and Victory Square notwithstanding.

I suppose real estate/money/ponzi has always taken precedence over public amenity, a hard habit to shed. A pity really for a sensitive understanding of public place interwoven within the streets and alleyways could do a lot for an ambient urban culture and the money boys too (if they did but know it).


Guido and I attended the same school, in York, albeit at different times. And, believe me, the ruckus he caused had nothing to do with Papal Bulls or Henry's riotous married life (as we were taught) and a hell of a lot to do with the King coveting Papal lands.

Land use is the perennial issue, isn't it, Yet Guido screwed up, so let's not!

Guido Fawkes

When Stephen Harper tells you he'll have the national deficit paid off in three years you know he's drinking tar sand koolaid.

I see our neighbour to the south is getting into a bit of a scramble, money-wise. I wouldn't like to see that happen here. Somehow I get the idea we Canadian are too polite to make a noise but . . . I dunno do we have limits?

Urban garden along the interurban: 2011
Vancouver BC.

Dirk Becker's urban farm: 2011
Lantzville VI, BC.

Somebody's garden: 2011
Vancouver BC.


Two preliminary points of discussion: 1. If you can accept that Canadian cities are a 21st. century disgrace: easy prey to speculators, ugly, cacophonous, dirty, too expensive to live in and 2., not entirely related to the urban environment, but that we are foolishly squandering our natural resources, be they wild salmon or forests, then we can proceed. Otherwise put your umbrella away, get in your gas guzzler and go home. We have nothing to say to one another.

So, here's my idea of the ideal city: but how to get there?

I have procrastinated enough. Yes we need lower taxes, quieter neighbourhoods, gentle interconnected public places less traffic and, for some, density without towers: certainly more local control over development.

Top of my list, local control over banking, keep the debt local and manageable, as top priority: surely, a no-brainer. Huh, vested interests are pretty strong. Wars are fought over less. Anyway let me give it shot. Here is my list in order of priority of what would make life much better for all of us. The idea city is:

1. Local control of banking and debt with the proceeds of usury interest staying local. No more ponzi banking!
2. With local control of the money supply the cost of shelter can be controlled: affordable housing.
3. Savvy leadership: integrity: how to attract good people. So for that's a toughie!
4. Avoid the monster city, develop the city as local autonomous interconnected villages.
5. A well educated public aware of the consequences of what is going on.
6. Take all the verboten subjects academics wont talk to their students about and talk to their students about them.
7. Interconnect those villages with emissions free public transit trams. Provided roads for movement of goods not endless suburban commutes.
8. Design narrower streets a lá the Woonerf system to discourage endless traffic jams. Sooner or later drivers will get fed up waiting in line-ups and use public transit.
9. Local wealth producing manufacturing that brings wealth into the community circulating it and keeping it there.
10. Work towards import substitution and competitive advantage.
11. Develop around public amenity, urban places, squares, parks.
12. Incrementalize almost everything: education, health care, transportation while recognizing some parts of those institutions cannot be localized and be effective: life is complicated, live with it . . . massive bureaucracies have not improved services so far and never will: but in a failing society at least they keep people off the streets and occupied.

Idealistic nonsense, well of course: but so are meager attempts at sustainability and the green city. So far those latter slogans have turned out to be nothing less that corporate marketing slogans.

Well, I've now I've given it my best shot. I try to practice what I preach, (no gas guzzling device of any kind, no dead animal for lunch), something few do as they gossip about how the world is going to hell in a hand a basket while egging it along with their personal habits.

I very nearly included a plea to rediscover the sentient human being within and among us, yunno something like the cave artists of Lascaux, France. Well, perhaps in a later incarnation.

May we at least attempt another paradigm to arrest a failed, war obsessed, facile society before circumstances conspires to wallop us in our tender spots?

Respuesta por favor . . . QED!


In the mean time, this is how a city designs itself, with a bit of help.

1. Recognize neighbourhoods that have grown, over many decades, organically . . . . . . encourage them to develop according to historic and natural economic purposes.

Each will become recognizable according to its own purpose: encourage it.

2. Some will attain citywide importance . . . . . . as in the case of the Vancouver BC. Canada, neighbourhood Mount Pleasant.

When that happens, stop being a busy-body planner and, allow sub-centers to take on their own neighbourhood function and character.

Florida market, Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC: Eileen Mosca and crew: 2003.

Roger Kemble ma(urban planning) rca maibc

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