We started at the Lowry on Saturday — arriving in Media City. My partner argues it should be pronounced Mediacity, which does better reflect how shiny it is, how empty and windswept yet expensive, how soulless though it has gone a half-hearted length trying for soul. A few families gave it some life, some heart. But it feels alien from the vantage point of the estates that lie near it:
And honestly, how dared they name the outlet mall after one of my favourite painters known for his incredible street scenes full of workers, children, dogs and cats, sympathetic views of all of us with all of our deformities and sadnesses and tired loneliness showing. Against a great backdrop of factories. One of the great painters of the working classes, the misfits, the outcasts. What I found most poignant was that he painted what would soon be lost. Preserved memories of a city being demolished around him. Like St Simon’s church here:
And now here he is in the ruins of the lively docks. I wish I had seen his pictures in the old Salford Art Gallery. First public library in the whole of the UK. I could see why some were upset when they moved them, though inside the new gallery the space is lovely. But honestly, the mall.
But this post isn’t about Lowry, not this one. (For more on Lowry you should read Mark Bould’s amazing post here.) It’s about some of the landscapes and the factories as they appear now. Nothing at Mediacity called for a photograph somehow, not even by its ugliness. It’s just bland despite its bling, built for consumption and status. Uncomfortable. Cold.
I love water, and yet the water along these old Salford Quays was nowhere inviting or picturesque until we left the regenerated area behind us. I loved the canal, however, the vibrance of the graffiti down alongside it. The exuberance of colour and character. Educational too, as I learned all about David Icke and his belief that we were being invaded by lizard people from outer space. Then there was the kid who walked past us with a backpack disguised as Captain America’s shield.
But regeneration was everywhere — in the great banks of painfully plain boxy buildings that could be either offices or ‘luxury’ apartments, in the old factories still beautiful and tastefully renovated, but swallowed up by the cheap new build. In the still empty lots strewn with rubbish and the poverty looking even dingier. This regeneration sat strange and isolated alongside the asphalted motorway, the wreckage of earlier decades that tore down neighbourhoods to build roads of great size funneling speeding cars past with a roaring and a coughing of fumes. Much of this walk was experienced as the city planners’ great fuck you to the pedestrian. I wondered who had thought a sign welcoming the driver to Manchester in a desolate traffic circle might be a good idea, especially alongside the changing neon sign that carried advertisements for Sky News followed by a notice in small font that the city was working to end homelessness.
Seems like there are more people sleeping rough every evening I walk through the streets.
Still we found pockets of awesomeness, a sense of the past. A reminder that more existed in life, in our humanity.
Everywhere these contrasts. Click any photo below and it will take you to a slide show…
It is so hard to photograph trees, but the burn of Kelburn Castle was of surpassing loveliness and contrasts on this mid-February day. Wind through branches filled the world, an icy roaring mostly above our heads — a few branches came down around us as we were walking. One huge crack and a falling of one just in front of us provided some photographic comedy gold (Much as did my wearing three shirts, jumper, hoodie and coat), but also a slight thrill of danger.
But the woods, oh the woods. Empty of people, full of forest soundings. They sang impossibly beautiful around us in traceries of twigs framed by moss covered trunks. The red of fallen leaves still glowing.
My little brother, who at over six feet isn’t actually all that little but seemed hidden and small in this place…
Trees surrounding the falling of water…
This incredible mossy bark…
The wooly character of branches
The microcosms that live here
And then to slowly emerge from the trees to see the view of the Firth of Clyde and its islands and snow-capped mountains in the distance:
And its unexpected additions
From there we returned back to the castle, to a most wonderful walled garden and trees tamed — yet not entirely.
Single trees, enormous and ancient yews, some of them planted over a thousand years ago and framing more formal gardens alongside Kelburn castle. Three of Scotland’s most historic trees are here.
The first spring flowers I have seen this year, and a few other budding branches:
This whole place is primarily geared towards kids, families, campers — there were wonderful things for kids all around, though I was glad that the weather meant we had the place to ourselves and I imagine it is heaving in the spring and summer. I quite love what these Brazilian artists did to the castle when let loose on it:
But the last bit of the walk brought an unexpected reminder of some of the underlying social relations that have clouded this place. Not least that it is privately owned, but also in how it connected to power and Empire. All of this beauty was once owned by the Earl of Glasgow, who also served as governor of New Zealand — in an old not-very-waterproof shed sits a small museum with some of his collection. The faces of those who had their own wilds stolen from them stared back at us.
Tristram and I drove down to Kelburn Castle, and it was baltic, with rain almost sleet as we left but we headed from Hamilton towards Largs and occasionally the clouds would break to reveal patches of blue sky. Some sunshine, though lighting the world up far from us. The wind was freezing, even among the trees. Ice lined the puddles of water, though water flowed and rivuleted everywhere down the burn as we climbed it.
It was astounding to see these amazing snowdrops:
Thousands of them. Like these, adorning the banks, among these enormous, ancient trees.
As we walked back to the car park, we passed this last, lone utterly mad daffodil.
In the walled garden there were some beautiful rhododendrons blooming as well — I love walled gardens, what wonderful places they are in this climate! Yet I don’t feel I can count them really.
Portland Basin Museum is full of quite awesome things, Social History on one floor of the beautiful large warehouse, and Industrial History beneath. A series of rooms shows what life was once like, from the inside of worker’s cottages to shops and chippies and pubs…I love these sorts of things, from the collections of old artifacts to the figures placed there in an attempt to bring scenes to life. I’m not sure that it works, we found the recorded humming of the seamstress and chip shop worker rather terrifying. And yet…
Very cool. My favourite things though, the signs of yesteryear. This on the subject of women and drinking is my very favourite:
But they are all good…
The modern signs are pretty enjoyable as well:
And there is more awesomeness, like the bell rung to summon the Chartists of Hyde to meetings:
We came here to do some shopping, but I’m glad we wandered a bit, stared down streets with the moors rising up beyond them:
Wandered past the canals:
The shop is also full of brilliant local history publications…
Original idea? To maybe try Peppersauce cave, but then, you know, no headlamps, no extra clothes, slight fear of dark enclosed spaces and being lost forever even though the internet swears that is impossible. Follow-up idea? To hike up past it into Nugget Canyon, but then, you know, turns out I really hate driving very narrow winding mountain roads with drop-offs to one side when all the other vehicles coming the opposite direction are large trucks, some pulling improbable RVs. So we stopped at the campground and hiked up the wash/road that led up towards the foothills, and that was a rather short walk, but a nice one. despite having to stand aside to let a progression of ATVs and these new four-wheel souped up golf-cart things past us.
It was beautiful, full of oak trees and sycamores, a stretch with gurgling water falling over the stones.
As we climbed up out of the wash up a steep road, the view spread out behind us:
The mountainside to our right was covered with tailings spilling down from mine workings
Small wonder that the road and the wash were full of the most amazing rocks — huge boulders of conglomerates that I haven’t seen before:
Look at the geological history to be read here…
Lava flows, faultlines, clean breaks between past and present:
Some processed ores, and some local shooting:
Finally we saw three more deer, silently climbing high up the hill just as we reached the car again.
A last view of Oracle too, the antique store in town, still with some holiday cheer very reminiscent of that found in Tucson
But also so much more…
I am a bit sad to be back in Manchester, where the cold and damp are brutal and the sun apparently never shines…
This is not the next great book on American cities. That book is not needed… We’ve known for three decades how to make livable cities — after forgetting for four — yet we’ve somehow not been able to pull it off. (3)
He’s talking about Jane Jacobs there, The Death and Life of American Cities. This made me want to like this book, as did the following two sentences.
What works in the best cities is walkability.
Walkability is both an end and a means, as well as a measure. (4)
But really, there are three main points here: (1) walkability is good, primarily in the ways that it supports the real goal of planners — (2) to increase property values, while also (3) improving quality of life for those who are moving back to the city or currently live in the suburbs and are driving too much, i.e. white middle-class people.
There are two broad currents in planning, the first is planning for justice and equity, the second is planning for property values and quality of life for those who can afford it. This is in the second strand, which I rather hate with every fiber of my being
This is the kind of book that in its erasure of issues of equality and lack of any acknowledgment of the results of past patterns of unjust development, disinvestment, exploitation and discrimination becomes a manual for extending the privileges of one (white, middle-to-upper-class) group while erasing everyone else (the poor and people of colour) from the city neighbourhoods they currently inhabit.
I walk cities, walkability is the most important city characteristic to me. Yet to make anything in this book useful to those who care about making neighbourhoods better for those who currently live there, to ensure that planning interventions do not increase displacement and segregation, an awful lot of the framing needs to be discarded. Every time Speck talks about the ways in which interventions to make a city more walkable improve property values, it is clear that issues of gentrification and displacement must be grappled with for those who do care about equity.
When it keeps to analysis of the actual physical streetscapes and built environment, much of this is useful:
Outdated zoning and building codes, often imported from the suburbs, have matched the uninviting streetscapes with equally antisocial private buildings, completing a public realm that is unsafe, uncomfortable, and just plain boring. (4)
Or looking at the four main conditions of walkability:
Each of these qualities is essential and none alone is sufficient. Useful means that most aspects of daily life are located close at hand and organized in a way that walking serves them well. Safe means that the street has been designed to give pedestrians a fighting chance against being hit by automobiles; they must not only be safe but feel safe… Comfortable means that buildings and landscape shape urban street into “outdoor living rooms,” in contrast to wide-open spaces… Interesting means that sidewalks are lined by unique buildings with friendly faces and that signs of humanity abound. (11)
It is in parsing out what these mean that the trouble lies — especially around ideas of safety and comfort as they are shaped by historic patterns of racism, sexism and discrimination. You won’t find any of those complexities here.
But guess what you will find? For Speck, walkability is marketable. He quotes Joe Cortwright’s ‘Walking the Walk: How Walkability Raises Home Values in U.S. Cities’, which I suppose would be useful to look at. Likewise William Frey, whom he quotes:
A new image of urban America is in the making. What used to be white flight to the suburbs is turning into ‘bright flight’ to cities that have become magnets for aspiring young adults who see access to knowledge-based jobs, public transportation and a new city ambiance as an attraction. (35)
Bright fucking Flight. This is the planning whose entire goal is to attract people back to the cities from the suburbs without a thought to issues of community participation, equity, social justice, eradicating poverty, improving people’s lives through improving the city they live in or even a thought to all the talent languishing in the city deprived of quality education and jobs and hope — all the things that brought me to planning in the first place. This is the planning that fills me with nausea. I am ignoring it to focus on what is useful.
As an outline, the steps to a walkable city are useful and it is definitely a good list — the white devil is in the details.
The 10 Steps to a Walkable City:
THE USEFUL WALK
1. Put cars in their place.
This was full of useful evidence to prove that cities have been built for cars, and that wide lanes, multi-lanes, enormous left-hand turn lanes and cutting down all the street trees actually make people drive faster and more dangerously. Speck also lays out the evidence for ‘induced demand’, if you build it, the cars will come and traffic will not improve. Common sense, or research pioneered over 30 years by Donald Appleyard among others, has yet to hit the Department of Transportation. If Speck’s book can help that process of realisation in such departments and city governments, I might be glad he wrote it.
I do love this quote of Bernard-Henry Lévy on our autocentric lifestyle:
a global, total obesity that spares no realm of life, public or private. An entire society that, from the top down, from one end to the other, seems prey to this obscure derangement that slowly causes an organism to swell, overflow, explode. (102, from American Vertigo)
2. Mix the uses.
I like mixed uses. But then Speck makes comments about how
city properties often come burdened with a whole range of utility issues, easements and access challenges, not to mention pesky neighbors. Local banks, until recently all too willing to finance condo clusters on the periphery, shy away from investing in new apartments downtown.
‘pesky neighbors’ has been code for poor people, immigrants and people of colour since the 1930s and 40s with the federal governments’ Home Owners Loan Corporation and Real Estate industry guidelines that gave rise to redlining back when deeding your house to be for Caucasians only was widespread and encouraged. Speck continues:
This contemporary version of redlining is a significant reason that downtown housing often cannot be built without municipal support. (107)
…most American cities do not need more affordable housing in their downtowns. Most American cities have too much affordable housing downtown. Or, more accurately, too much of their downtown housing is affordable, since everyone but the poor was able to join the suburban exodus. (109)
He doesn’t mention that despite this ‘fact’, many cities are in an affordable housing crisis where affordable housing is needed by a majority of city residents including teachers and firefighters, that he conflates the poor with people of colour long discriminated against in any attempt to join the suburban exodus, that such redlining might have contributed greatly to generations of poverty, or that affordable housing is now being erased from all downtowns and nothing built to replace it. Millions of people currently homeless and with not even a fraction of the shelter in existence necessary to house them even for a night also go unmentioned.
Some of his biases can be seen in an uncritical passage on resistance to granny flats:
They are typically opposed by neighbors who are worried about property values. An old college friend of mine from Los Angeles put it succinctly: “We are afraid that nine illegals will move in.” (111)
Nothing could make more clear where Speck is coming from. In response Speck notes they will rather
introduce affordability in a dispersed rather than a concentrated way, avoiding the pathologies that sometimes arise from the latter. (111)
As if the pathologies lie in poor people rather than the forces which maintain their concentrated poverty. I suppose he simply joins a long tradition of blaming poor people for poverty here.
3. Get the parking right.
Ah, Donald Shoup from UCLA, stop subsidising things, raise the cost of everything. It makes some sense, until you start thinking about how this will impact people differently. Then questions of equity come to the fore and it is harder for me to support without a lot more thought on how equity will be addressed in a city so car-dependent as LA. I’ve sat through Shoup’s classes, so I know that he failed to impress me on that. Still, better transit, less parking.
4. Let transit work.
I agree. If only he had stopped there, but instead he waxes poetic on improving public transit:
In some of these locations, the bus is destined remain the “loser cruiser,” the mode of choice for those who have no choice: the elderly, the poor, and infirm. As such, it will always be underfunded and struggling for survival, like any social service.
If it is to become widely used, transit has to be ruthlessly reconceptualized as a convenience, not just a rescue vehicle. Or, more accurately, while certain rescue routes must remain — from the old-age home to the health center, for example — the system needs to focus on those rare opportunities where it can offer a superior experience to driving. Those few line should be earmarked for a higher level of service… (155)
The loser-cruiser? Yet this is in fact the current approach of transit experts, it’s why courts have found LA transit, for example, to be racist and discriminatory and put them under a decades long injunction to improve bus routes serving South Central.
In Europe public transit is seen as a right, as an essential part of a city for ALL of its residents. I think it might be better to start there. There is also, of course, a long tradition of work around environmental justice in the US around improving cities that begins there as well.
We return to planning for property value rather than public good. On Bus Rapid Transit versus trains:
… the biggest criticism of bus systems, that they lack rail’s permanence: how can you drive real estate investment around transit if transit might leave? (157)
I don’t even have words for that sentence, and the pathologies of development it describes.
THE SAFE WALK
5. Protect the pedestrian.
6. Welcome bikes.
I’m all for protecting pedestrians and welcoming bikes, but yet again, we see planning for profit:
In contrast to widened roads and other highway “improvements,” new bikeways actually increase the value of nearby real estate. (194)
THE COMFORTABLE WALK
7. Shape the spaces.
I did like this:
Traditional, walkable urbanism is grounded in figural space. It believes that the shape of the spaces between buildings is what matters, because this is the public realm — the place where civic life plays out. (216)
8. Plant trees.
THE INTERESTING WALK
9. Make friendly and unique faces.
Not faces of diversity and enjoyment of space, faces of buildings and parking structures. Again, back to profits, though I have no objection at all to less parking, and what parking exists to be hidden:
Enlightened developers…know that hidden parking boosts retail sales and property values. (238)
10. Pick your winners.
I like this list. My critique is really a critique of an entire point of view that makes improving property values the goal of planning. In that sense, this book did manage to give an outline of how to create a walkable city, but also highlighted very different ideas of who the city is for, and where the interventions will do most to push out and displace current residents without a larger vision and planning process around justice and equity.
For more on building social spaces and better cities…
Buffalo Bill Cody! Like many I am fascinated by him, particularly as I increasingly realise just how much he had to do with creating the mythology of the Wild West and spreading it around the world. Many years ago, Manny and I traveled to Spain and ended up in the same Barcelona hotel where Buffalo Bill had once stayed — where he had ridden his horse up the marble stairs if my memory does not lie. There are traces of him in England too, and I always wondered what the many people who traveled with him as part of his show felt and thought as they experienced Europe and crossed the US. What an adventure — and yet to be on display, to create mythologies through recreating scenes as they almost certainly never happened — from cowboy life to white victories over Native American tribes.
I never knew that in looking towards his retirement Buffalo Bill partly settled in Oracle, filed mining claims there that he hoped would make him rich but that instead helped bankrupt him. He is not alone in that. A picture of him in Oracle.
William ‘Curly’ Neal, who Cody took under his wing as an aide and scout (and last blog is all about him and his amazing wife Annie and a small window into the lived experience of race in Southern Arizona), was doing very well for himself in Oracle and Buffalo Bill and some of his riders would often come stay with him at the Mountain View Hotel. The Mine With the Iron Door by Harold Bell Wright — both the novel and the 1924 silent film itself filmed in Oracle — helped inspire his desire to find the mine in the Catalina mountains that would make him rich.
When Curly told him the mine with the iron door was nowhere to be found, Buffalo Bill filed claims on High Jinks, Campo Bonito, Maudina, Southern Belle, and the Morning Star mines. They would drain him of all money – partly in legitimate development, which is always expensive and over-cost. But from Marriott’s description in Annie’s Guests, it certainly sounds as though he was soundly robbed by those he employed to manage the mines for him.
Buffalo Bill stayed up at the Hijinks claim, now a series of ranch buildings just alongside the Arizona trail, it’s now a National Historic Site:
A picture of Buffalo Bill can be found there near the entrance:
It is alongside an old cart, driven by Liz Taylor and Tom Skerrit in Poker Alice:
the view looking out across the valley towards the Gaiuros Mountains…not too bad at all:
Views of the Old Maudina Mine:
(and the view from inside this shallow working)
The more traditional mine entrances, fenced off, signs warning of danger riddled with bullet holes…
Some of the tailings spilling down the hill, all iron- and mineral-stained quartz:
Campo Bonito mine was much bigger, a shaft driven deep but mostly obscured by huge rock tumbled from the cliff face above it. Here’s a long-ago view of Buffalo Bill playing Santa Claus here though:
The view looking outwards remains splendid:
In Marriott’s chapter on Elizabeth Lambert Wood, there is a diary entry mostly describing Buffalo Bill’s wife, who had confided to Elizabeth that his long white hair was a wig. She loved knitting, and was using one of Buffalo Bill’s Medals of Honor to wind her wool. Wood also comments that she saw the saddle that Queen Victoria gave Buffalo Bill just lying on the ground. She writes:
They told me they had so many valuable things thay had no place to put them…To her they were only ‘negligible trifles’. (104)
A larger than life character in every way. Elizabeth Lambert Wood later bought the Southern Belle Ranch and the mine, and made a fortune in Tungsten.
The walk to get up to Hijinks and the mines was brilliant. We started at the Arizona Trail head just alongside the American Flag Ranch (our map had that wrong, so it took us a while to find.) We walked up the Arizona Trail to meet the Oracle Ridge trail, along that a ways, and then down along the old roads to the mines and then back to the Arizona Trail. You can see the Biosphere II from here once you come up to Oracle Ridge, though this picture hardly does its SF feel justice as it sits white and gleaming in the desert landscape.
We saw three white-tailed deer, huge numbers of birds, and traces everywhere of a most abundant wildlife. A wonderful spot for hiking.