Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Urban Oasis' Furious Five

1. Recent Pittsburgh Post articles have highlighted the rapid loss of farmland to single family residences at the fringe of the city’s urbanized area. Locals lamented “you can’t fight city hall” while township executives admired their bottom line, temporarily flush from new construction. Little do they know that in 20 years they’ll be trying to talk the city and first ring suburbs into helping bail them out of financial and social crisis.

2. The Washington Post from a few weeks back detailed that the city’s booming housing market involved half of DC home purchases over the last 5 years having been bought with interest-only mortgages. For some, this will certainly pay off, as the federal government isn’t getting any smaller and Washington’s housing stock may be unparalleled (except maybe by Boston) in its age and quality. But while this bubble may not burst, it will surely spring a leak in the coming years. As serious as the oil peak for us doomsdayers? Not quite, but it's up there.

3. Sam Bass Warner characterized the finely-grained urban housing form of suburban Boston as “The Weave of Small Patterns.” He meant that the small-scale speculating and homesteading in the city’s streetcar suburbs, taken together, demonstrated the individuality and variety of individual owners and builders in a large system of suburbanization. Driving through Washington DC’s many neighborhoods Sunday afternoon, it seems that this same weave of small patterns breeds street activity. Working in the “lonely financial zone” as I do, even with some mixed use, the city block-sized buildings do not generate enough activity to make street life interesting. My earlier screeds on the lameness of DC are amended to recognize that I work in one of the worst areas in DC in this respect.

4. Two non-academic goals I’d like to achieve by the end of my graduate program. A. Help establish a non-profit housing corporation to develop affordable housing in Ann Arbor (particularly for students, but as a start to making Ann Arbor broadly affordable). B. Help build the Ann Arbor Community Car Cooperative into a viable transportation option for Ann Arbor. Both of these fall within the scope of my New West Side and Ann Arbor Alliance work.

5. Recently, I was awarded a research grant from the UofM Center for Non Profit Management to study the partnerships that several cooperatives formed with Frank Lloyd Wright to build residential and recreational communities in Michigan. Cooperatives, I may have mentioned, became rather popular ways to deal with Depression-era economic problems and to aid in the modernization of rural areas. Rexford Tugwell, the genius behind Greenbelt MD, prior to directing the Resettlement Administration served as undersecretary of agriculture. Due to his influence we have many of the ag coops still functioning today. Anyway, this surge in cooperation continued into the 40s and led to the formation of several groups who contacted FLLW. The architect was coming out of a period of dormancy and disgrace and was promoting his ideal of Broadacre City. He began working with cooperative groups to design and help develop Usonian communities as a part of his Broadacre vision. The two communities in the Kalamazoo area constitute the largest concentration of Usonian homes in the world. I will be studying 5 Michigan coops. Look for an exhibit on the UofM campus in April.

Please note the term "Furious Five" unabashedly ripped off from the Daily.


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