Praxis 10: Thurlow Small Essay & Project

Thurlow Small article: Plan-less-ness in Praxis 10 shown in ArchDaily

Introductory paragraph:

In the mid twentieth century, when the American economy flourished and modernization took hold, the process of urban growth appeared simple: cities or developers hired designers who were governed by a particular set of rules; between them, they shaped the built environment. Today, economic instability and resource depletion make the process less one of urban growth, and more one of transformation, requiring complex forms of engagement with an increasingly diverse group of players in a more fluid regulatory environment. Among them are neighborhood and merchant associations, quasi-public agencies and community non-profits, groups that, in many cases, emerged in response to the failure of prior public projects. Not only do planners have to contend with increasingly challenging infrastructural conditions, but they are simultaneously hampered (as they engage in larger and more polarized political battles) by well-intended legislation intended to prevent corruption. Rules such as these, that define how planners operate, significantly limit negotiation tactics that could more easily diffuse crises and build sustainable partnerships; the only options remaining to planners are fighting often futile battles or capitulating via easily hijacked design charrettes. A secondary layer of constraints are rules that define what planners operate on (namely codes and zoning regulations) which have further reduced cities to regulatory agents intent on eliminating detrimental projects rather than developing incentives for beneficial ones. Perhaps this approach makes sense when there is growth to regulate, but regulating no growth means doing nothing. In an environment that increasingly requires adaptability, the one-size-fits-all mentality of codes is crippling; traditional zoning, based on Victorian values, generally only serves to protect us from the dangers of an industrial economy that is barely evident in today’s cities. We are in times of economic decline and regressive design interests, where public budgets are small, private financing unpredictable, and where there is an increasingly dismal view of the new, mostly as a result of the failures of the old. We believe that designers have a responsibility to not only reshape the physical world, but also to reconceive the process of growth as one of change by engaging the formation of projects themselves: the priorities, the principles, the players, and the possible.