Bike Paths Redeem Le Corbusier

Brothers and sisters in cycling, you will find the first five minutes and twenty seconds of this clip unbearable to watch, an affront to all thinking men! Do-gooder types flag petty ideas for activating the ground planes beneath high rise blocks of flats, with everything from disco balls, to weed farms, to mutes in furry suits stamping smiles on kids’ foreheads. All they are doing, you will realize, is stretching out a vision of bike paths to the length of a documentary film, for it is only after the grand bike path plan is revealed (5.20), that one can imagine themselves living in one of these council blocks—well, maybe not living. Let us contemplate visiting, or “artfully slumming”, or dropping by to be photographed putting bike stamps on kids’ foreheads. I digress yet again.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCrJ4iMfFiY

To my mind, bike paths were the one thing Corb forgot. Give bike paths precedence, and the Modernist experiment could in fact be restarted—though perhaps not made out of pebble-crete panels, next time around.

12 Comments

  1. kfg says:

    “Give bike paths precedence, and the Modernist experiment could in fact be restarted”

    Best argument for opposing bike paths I’ve ever heard. I suspect your Singaporean dalliance caused some form of neurological disorder.

  2. Steven says:

    Hi kfg, by “Modernist” I’m only referring to the idea of towers built in a park, an urban morphology that can actually yield some delights (on rare occasions)

  3. kfg says:

    “by “Modernist” I’m only referring to the idea of towers built in a park”

    Yes, I’ve read enough of you that I understood that (you may inspire my snarkier side, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like you). The post-modern development of that, rather depressingly, makes rather more sense: condos in the shopping mall. That at least has the advantage of forming around a community core commercial area, like a traditional market town. Many of them are Brompton lane ready and we’re certainly going to have to figure out what to do with those things as well.

    “can actually yield some delights (on rare occasions)”

    So keep them rare.

    The tower in the park, essentially a nihilist storage unit for potential worker units, is inherently isolationist. A unit is unit-ary. They cannot be joined into a single community no matter how many bike lanes you make between them.

    Solution? Don’t try to. Accept that limitation and work with it. Stop thinking of them as a collective of housing units in city parks and start thinking of the them as independent villages in a territory. Give each tower the independence it de facto already has and it will build a community identity. Even a traditional city, once it reaches a certain size, naturally begins to divide itself into a collection of villages. Scale matters.

    Now build your bike paths, not as a way of building a community, but as a way of connecting communities.

    Aside: What the hell is the architectural fascination with expanses of stepped concrete? Just look at the wasteland of Boston City Hall Plaza to see what that leads to. It’s only virtue being that if you begin to feel oppressed by the elbow to elbow crowd of Quincy Market you can, in just a few minutes of walking, be alone in the middle of frickin’ nothin’. There’s no other reason to go there, because there isn’t one. A desert with convenient seating is still just a desert.

    • Steven says:

      Boston City Hall is the worst. I was looking at my city council’s administration building recently, and thinking how similar it is! Is your main objection to the stuff I’m writing, that I’m thinking of ways capitalist developers might make a bike friendly world, while still making a profit? I’m advocating a deal with the devil, right? And this at a time when the “occupy” movement, and the break down of mad lending regimes, should give us hope of some other way. (I’m putting a lot of words in your mouth there, I’m sorry). Is there an acceptable middle ground then?

  4. kfg says:

    “Is your main objection to the stuff I’m writing, that I’m thinking of ways capitalist developers might make a bike friendly world, while still making a profit?”

    No. I’m actually rather fond of the Jeffersonian model of capitalism; profoundly anti-corporate and founded on sound money guaranteed by the government of The People. It’s not an ideal system, but it turns out that Plato was wrong and there are no ideals, so it’s just less sucky than the others, which is all we can actually manage.

    I support the Occupy Wall Street movement for having their hearts in the right place, but their heads haven’t quite caught up yet, leaving them actually eager to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    “I’m advocating a deal with the devil, right? ”

    There ya go! Through his minion; Chucky. Not too fond of Wally and Viky either.

    You are overthinking my position. It is the inhuman, soul sucking thing itself I object to.

    “Is there an acceptable middle ground then?”

    If you insist on a tower per brown space redevelopment as some sort of community focus and object of some sort of civic pride or something, yeah, what the hell, can’t hurt, go ahead. Don’t expect your retiree residents to go gaga over your bicycle ramps up the sides though; they’re all pushing for bulldozing everything billiards table flat. They’re people who ride bikes, not cyclists.

    You’ll find my thinking more along the lines of Nathan Lewis, who can come across as anti-bicycle, but is himself actually a roadie. He isn’t anti-bike, just pro walking and trains.

    I like trains (with bike cars) well enough for traveling distances, but I’d be perfectly happy with the city subways being sub-bicycle expressways myself, but then I’m a roadie.

  5. Steven says:

    I’m guessing this article pretty much sums up Nathan Lewis’s position: http://www.energybulletin.net/53665 ?
    His nightmare vision exists already, in Amsterdam. It’s a city designed for walking, now drowning in bikes.
    That’s beside the point though. It’s 2011, and no-one is making traditional european cities these days. If a developer built an apartment on a 4 meter wide street, no one would buy it. People want outlook, and separation. We can blame that influenza outbreak post WW1, I believe. Also, developers don’t want to dick about with tiny infill projects, of the kind shown in those quasi-Parisian master plans of the late 1980s. They cost more per square meter to build. They don’t put enough apartments around each of the lifts (you might say “elevator”). And they don’t capitalise on our ability these days to build using cranes. Developers want to build big shit, on wide streets, which means we’re left with an urban morphology that needs something faster then legs to redeem it. I love Lewis’s thinking: rational, lucid, etc.. But it proceeds as though the traditional European city should be taken as an article of faith. Have you read Anthony Vidler’s essay “The Third Typology”? I got to the end of that (easy for me, it’s only 3 pages!), and realised what an arbitrary model the walkable city is, to too many people, especially town planners, who I have decided are all pretty feeble 🙂

    • kfg says:

      “I’m guessing this article pretty much sums up Nathan Lewis’s position”

      It’s a reasonable summation, although you can see yourself that he expands on it quite a bit.

      “It’s 2011, and no-one is making traditional european cities these days.”

      Duuuuuuuude, did you really just use the “but that’s not the way we do things” argument? You should really be a bit embarrassed by that. No one is making cyclist utopias either. If you really believed that argument you’d close up shop and just buy a Jag.

      Of course one of the largest and most prosperous Asian cities was built almost entirely on traditional grounds, almost entirely since WWII, but really, what does Asia have to offer in the way of thought; other than, ya know, civilization itself, every major extant religion, the alphabet, shit like that?

      “People want outlook, and separation. We can blame that influenza outbreak post WW1, I believe.”

      Which is why the solution was to pack everybody in ultra-dense tower units where everyone couldn’t help but touch the same door knob that everyone else in the place had touched?

      Come on man, you’re rationalizing without thinking.

      “developers don’t want to dick about with tiny infill projects”

      These would be the developers who are a large part of the problem? Fuck ’em. Who was the “developer” of Free Christiana anyway? Perhaps your background in large projects has limited your perception. There are still a few carpenters and bricklayers around who can infill without the aid of a “developer,” or an architect for that matter. Leave them to simply fulfilling the actual needs of actual people and they can build entire cities. They’ve done it before.

      “don’t capitalise on our ability these days to build using cranes.”

      Then they can’t be doing it right, although not capitalizing on cranes simply produces non cranes that aren’t being capitalized on. It’s a rather specious argument of the sort that can be used to justify anything. It’s apologetics for “but this is the way we do it.”

      “Developers want to build big shit, on wide streets”

      Right, the solution; even more of the problem again.
      “It’s too big!”
      ” We’ll do it bigger then, that’ll fix it, and if not, we can do it even bigger still!”

      Einstein had some things to say about that way of thinking. I’m not the in the erudite mood so I’ll just say; Fuck ’em again.

      “I love Lewis’s thinking: rational, lucid, etc.. But it proceeds as though the traditional European city should be taken as an article of faith.”

      Read what you wrote here. It is a gem of double think. Then go read more Lewis, he provided you with the links. They are hardly Euro oriented, because the traditional city isn’t a European invention in the first place.

      “Have you read Anthony Vidler’s essay “The Third Typology”?”

      And I will do my part and have a look at that. Fair’s fair, although it appears to be written in post-modern academesse gobbledygook of the sort more intended to give an impressive impression while obscuring actual meaning.

      Don’t worry, I’ve done my time. I may not enjoy reading it but I’ve learned how.

      It seems to sum up as “shit evolves.” Who knew?

      “easy for me, it’s only 3 pages!”

      Then a few more pages of the clear and lucid writing of Lewis should be a piece of cake. There’s even pictures, although he’s a bit short on conversations, so Alice might find herself disinterested.

      “what an arbitrary model the walkable city is”

      Ya ever notice that fabric comes in peculiar widths that seem arbitrary? Well, they’re not. The scale of morphology matters.

      “town planners, who I have decided are all pretty feeble”

      They should go on the ship with the telephone sanitizers. Careful though, you’ve defended planned cities to me before and put yourself forward as a planner. There might be a bunk reserved for you. 🙂

  6. Steven says:

    he he, you’re quite the bard kfc (I keep trying to think of some famous professor with your initials, about to pull off his mask and give me a chair!) Until either of us bugs the other so much that this ends, I’ll enjoy the best thread my blogging has thus far attracted.
    Often without realising, I find myself drawn into discussions that assume I care about a better world for everyone in it. I guess that’s an assumption of the planning community, that doesn’t cross architects’ minds. So yeah, I’m really only concerned with eking out ghettoes for people like me (perhaps you and me) who want to orient their lives around bicycle transport, because bikes work for us personally. I see a happy coincidence that profitable building types, and former industrial land, come together in ways that suit cycling enthusiasts, at a time when peak oil and the circumstance of sprawling cities will lead greater numbers to cycling. I liken myself to a gay guy in Chelsea, seeing Queer as Folk topping the ratings and women wearing horrible fashions.
    Am I absolved now of any circular reasoning offences?

  7. tk says:

    mr lewis’ seems to have forgotten one thing: riding is fun! walking… unless it’s through the victorian high country, himalayan foothills or a mile long expanse of empty golden (not white) sanded beach, is boring.

    but given that he, and both of you, are roadies, i guess the concept of choosing cycling over walking, even to cover the same distance, because it’s fun, is an alien one?

  8. Steven says:

    Oh Tom, that’s a bit harsh. I’m having fun with all sorts of bikes lately, my poser Velorbis, my nerdy Brompton and of course my most cherished race bike. The mountain bike scares me, but that’s only since I fell off thrice when I went out with Mr. Do-Bee. http://cycle-space.com/?p=6344
    But to our inquiry: Nathan Lewis is smart, just on a different mission to me. He’s like Socrates constructing an ideal Republic, looking at old cities as though they were transcendent Forms from which to construct rational arguments.
    Discussions like these bring me back to my intellectual guru, of sorts, Arthur Danto, who lovingly uses terms like “deep pluralism”.

  9. tk says:

    well, I was being somewhat facetious. but you knew that right?

    think of that comment as merely more junk miles on the great journey that is the Internet century

  10. Steven says:

    Now there’s a book idea: “Internet Forums Complete: everything typed, 1994-2012”

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