By Shannon Harvey
The two most devastating urban catastrophes of recent memory in America, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, also appear to be the most frequently cited examples of the failings of urbanism today. In rebuilding New Orleans, the only architects who were organized enough to immediately respond were the New Urbanists, and even their primarily prescriptive plan was quickly undermined by political, economic, and cultural forces. Similarly, at the World Trade Center site in New York, even the powerful vision of a singular, virtuosic architect has been compromised and transformed beyond recognition by the local political and market conditions.
In this post-Katrina, post-9/11, post-Bilbao, post-2008 moment, the principal players in the process of city-making (namely developers and policy-makers) have repeatedly treated architects as irrelevant in the battle for control. It is in this opportunistic urban landscape that Fast-Forward Urbanism seeks to reconfirm the role of architecture. Edited by Dana Cuff and Roger Sherman of cityLAB (a think-tank in the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at UCLA), and stemming from the proceedings of a 2006 symposium on the topic, the book puts forward a collection of essays, opinions, and design projects that together lay the groundwork for a new theory of architecture-as-urbanism.
Fast-Forward Urbanism is based on the proposition that change today occurs as a series of jump-cuts, with effects appearing as if out of nowhere, without any sense of how we got there. The result is a fragmented urbanism that is only understood in retrospect, when historical narratives help piece together the disparate events. The editors propose eight principles of the fast-forward urbanism that call for a “rejiggering” of existing behaviors, encouraging an accumulation of interventions as a means of catalyzing change, and demanding a renewed connection to the local political economy.
The manifesto builds upon the infrastructural outlook of landscape urbanism but articulates a concern for the limited progress that the field has made in urban settings. At a time of unstable economic horizons, the grand gestures of a modernist tradition fail to address specific conditions, while “everyday urbanism” rejects the top-down flow of capital and all-too-readily relinquishes the role of design in shaping cities and stimulating their recovery. Fast-Forward Urbanism seeks to fill in the city’s weak spots not with unique projects but with systemic transformations that are neither top-down nor bottom-up and instead negotiate a middle-ground through applied research and the direct interaction of architecture with commercial and political spheres. READ MORE >>