Neomodern urbanism recognizes that a grid of streets is not essential to urbanism but is instead a product of historical circumstances. Neomodern urbanism recognizes that the circumstances which brought the urban grid into being no longer exist.
From an existential perspective, the urbanism that we actively produce is the urbanism that culturally defines us. We are not defined by the grid-based urbanism that we inherit; we are instead defined by the spine-based urbanism that we currently practice. (Is it really necessary, at this particular moment, to point out that "we are what we make?")
Until we embrace the urbanism that we actually produce, the best we can hope to accomplish is the design of modest, Bilbao-like projects of urban restoration. The worst we can accomplish, and often do accomplish, is the design of reactionary, class segregated theme parks shamelessly promoted under the banner of progressive urban reform. Piano at the Daimlerplatz, Foster at Masdar, OMA at Waterfront City, New Urbanists everywhere, begin a long list of apologists for the closed urban systems that are required to sustain the fantasies inherited from our outmoded urban past.
In fact, these closed urban theme parks of postmodern urbanism exist precisely because the legitimate urbanism of our time has been portrayed as illegitimate or "sub-urban" in the eyes of most all who participate in urban discourse. It is the failure to overcome our collective attachments to the city of blocks and streets, and to validate the urbanism that is our own, that has brought about the present balkanization of the urban body. There is no more future to closed urban systems than to the urbanism of our past. Neomodern urbanism seeks redress...
Albert Pope is an architect living in Houston, Texas. He is the Gus Sessions Wortham Professor of Architecture at the Rice University School of Architecture. He has written and lectured extensively on contemporary urbanism and is the author of Ladders (Princeton Architectural Press). He is a principal of zoneresearch.org.
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