Rethinking Urban Design Can Save Energy and Reduce Congestion

Director Robert Zemeckis chose for a quaint town square shadowed by a massive clock tower for his iconic DeLorean-powered-by-lightning scene in “Back to the Future.”

Such squares give residents the impression of community, allow them to mingle and experience common culture. For the past 70 years, however, that town center has been shoved aside and is experienced undamaged only in communities that have remained relatively intact and development free. Some in New England come to mind.

Now there’s a growing effort to change that through innovation and a re-creation of those old styles.

Most cities, Fresno, Calif. especially, have seen their historic town centers marginalized by sprawl and pockets of massive outward-bound commercial construction. In Fresno, the city moved north. Some of its deserted streets in downtown would make great post-apocalyptic movie sets.

Seattle and San Francisco found ways to beat the trend, focusing inward while still experiencing an explosion of suburbia. But their successes are overshadowed by a majority of U.S. cities and towns, whose residents learned to accept longer commutes, parking battles and frustrations that come with congestion.

Michael Freedman, urban planner and founding partner at San Francisco-based Freedman, Tung + Sasaki, spoke of such sprawl and its beginnings at the Smart Valley Places kick-off convention at the Radisson Hotel in Fresno. Then he tore off the veil. Smart Valley Cities is a partnership of cities, organizations and regional groups to promote sustainable development in the San Joaquin Valley.

“The market has shifted,” Freedman says.

Young people increasingly are gravitating to urban environments, settings made popular on sit-coms like “Seinfeld,” “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother.” They don’t want the cookie-cutter neighborhood, which almost served as the evil villain in “Edward Scissorhands.”

Somehow, Freedman says, developers missed this shift in demand that started in the 1990s, continuing to plunk subdivision after subdivision ever farther from city centers and work places, forcing commuters to endure longer drives, use more energy and spend more money.

Reversing that design mentality would save energy, reduce commutes and cost less. Energy savings alone would be a huge boon. Fewer vehicle miles traveled means huge reductions to greenhouse gas and emissions production.

Freedman gives a history lesson in community design in his presentation, explaining that our current system for designing cities arose from mechanization, industrialization and the assembly-line mentality of the early 20th Century, when Henry Ford pioneered profits by separating tasks and creating worker specialties.

The idea to separate housing, recreation, work and transport caught global fire after the appearance the Athens Charter, a treatise on urban planning by Swiss architect Le Corbusier. It was based on ideas reached by the Fourth Congress of the International Congress of Modern Architects, which took place in 1932 “mostly aboard a passenger boat which steamed from Marseilles, France, to Athens, Greece, and back again,” according to clio-online.

“We embraced this,” Freedman says. “This was cool. This was modern.”

Subdivisions were separated by incomes. “We had business parks,” he says. “We had shopping centers, separated by function with miles and miles of pavement… with miles and miles of utilities.”

The current system has fallen apart. Freedman cites Emerging Trends in Real Estate by Price WaterhouseCoopers, which says, “Homeowners slowly will accept that they can live comfortably and more affordably in smaller houses or apartments and gain economies from driving less.”

The annual report also says infill areas, or vacant lots, and cities with active neighborhoods and “urbanizing suburban nodes” will become more desirable among aging, baby boomers and their children. “At the same time, fringe suburban subdivisions – long car rides from work, shopping, and recreation amenities – lose some appeal.”

Innovation, Freedman says, is the answer and new design must incorporate cluster and density, synergy and mix and public places. Of course, he says, that’s exactly the opposite of most existing zoning regulations. “It’s a time of tremendous opportunity but also tremendous anxiety,” he says.

Urban Clothing – Surviving In A Digital World!

Urban Clothing in its infancy was considered by some to be nothing more than a passing phase that was expected to quickly fizzle out. Going on four decades later it’s easy to see that urban clothing, and more importantly urban culture have become a household understanding. Fashion brands that were originally designed for minorities have seen their brands enter into exclusive deals with some of the most reputable retailers associated with designer fashion world wide.

However, the question that rests with everyone is, how has urban clothing thrived where many other fashion genres have failed?

In the Late 70’s and 80’s the whole thing started. It is important to understand that this is known as the “old school” hip hop time, or to some the “golden age” of hip hop. This was when items like the track suit, and bucket hats were the most stylish things you could wear. It is also a necessity to clarify that large gold necklaces, shiny over-sized earrings, multiple rings on each hand, large rim glasses, and shiny name belts were popularized through his time. So for the record the age of “bling” was started from the beginning of the culture. Even with all of this flamboyance hip hop clothing was still only popular by word of mouth, and in desperate need of some help if it was going to survive. The late 80’s provided the exact help that urban clothing needed to push to the next level. In 1988 on of the single most important things to happen to not only the hip hop clothing, but the hip hop industry in general happened. The birth of Yo MTV Raps. Urban clothing now had a digital vehicle to be able to travel for everyone to witness. With this exposure, the late 80’s in the 90′ saw an emergence of every possible style imaginable. This time saw lots of color dominating the fashion landscape. Some groups across the US even used the video outlets to show off their political views or local affiliations. Video gave the middle and upper class a view of the word they would normally try to ignore through urban clothing and music. It was an important time in hip hop history.

Next is the late 1990’s, and this is where we saw a split in urban clothing wear. While some chose to wear throwback jerseys, baggy jeans, and heavy work boot. Some of the elite in fashion chose to follow the mafia style and wear suits, baller hats, leather shoes, and more. The women of hip hop followed suit by electing to leave the image of copying the male style of baggy urban wear and embracing their femininity. Women would now be seen dancing on stage in high heels, and would e seen around here respective towns in only high end fashion. As well urban clothing accessories switched at this time from gold to platinum, and this is why many people consider this time synonymous in urban history with bling.

Next is the present and this is where the savvy of urban clothing designers, and wearers really comes out. Now more than ever their are new, fresh and hungry urban wear designers starting their own labels. This has been made popular by the consistently rowing popularity of the Internet. The same way that video, and TV and cameras were used to propel urban fashion forward, the Internet is propelling it to the next level and allowing it to solidify its position as an integral part of modern culture. While it almost a necessity to have a website in today’s urban clothing market that isn’t enough for some.

Currently rap star Nelly has used the Internet on more than one occasion to launch international modeling contest. Sean John clothing and Southpole Clothing have used similar tactics to bring notice to their brands. Recently mega brand Rocawear has gone as far as creating a social media site for its customers/fans to interact with and meet. With all of these things in mind it’s clear for all to see that urban clothing isn’t just surviving in a digital age, it’s pushing the digital age to the next level.

There is no question that urban clothing will be around for any years to come and the main reason is that the culture is constantly willing to evolve with the times.