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The City After The Automobile: An Architect's Vision
By Moshe Safdie, With *, Wendy Kohn, Basic Books
Publisher: Westview Press
Number Of Pages: 200
Publication Date: 1998-10-08
ISBN-10 / ASIN: 0813335450
ISBN-13 / EAN: 9780813335452
One of the world's leading architects combines past urban archetypes, present socioeconomic realities, and the promise of future technology to create a dramatically new kind of metropolis. A former Director of Graduate Urban Design and professor of architecture at Harvard, Moshe Safdie's innovative proposals (elevated moving sidewalks as one example) challenge us all to create a more satisfying and humanistic environment. Illustrations.
Reading Moshe Safdie's book The City After the Automobile feels at times like dipping into science fiction, particularly when considering his call for publicly owned electric cars kept in storage depots and rented to the masses. Most of the book, however, is a discussion of how to revolutionize city planning in order to reduce the necessity for cars. Safdie, an architect, uses his own plans for rebuilding portions of cities around the world as the basis for his argument supporting strong land-control laws and restriction of urban sprawl. Instead of suburban shopping malls, Safdie proposes a "linear center," a central area of concentrated development that would serve as a public arena.
By restricting land use and concentrating development in city centers instead of on the fringes, Safdie argues that reliance on gas-guzzling automobiles would become a nonissue. His truly is a revolutionary idea, especially for a culture that idealizes suburbia. Although some of the suggestions in The City After the Automobile might seem fanciful, any argument in favor of better planning, less pollution, and less waste of time, money, and resources makes a lot of sense.
Summary: Life after cars?
Safdie is most famously known for his revolutionary high rise design for the 1967 Montreal World's Fair, "Habitat." An entirely new way to create urban housing, Habitat consists of private garden apartments, each enjoying three or four directional views, pedestrian access to shopping, dining and other amenities, and yet still providing the high density necessary to modern city population dynamics. In the years since, he has turned to larger projects -- even whole cities -- attempting to address the failures of our automobile age and design a post- auto future. This book is a brief summary of his thinking. Though his title includes "after the automobile" his answer is more accurately, "after our relationship to the automobile has changed." He sees no possibility that we will let go of the freedom of movement permitted by passenger cars, particularly since we have built cities around the world which preclude function without that mobility. His means to a cure for the pollution, sprawl, anti-pedestrian downtowns, and ugliness we have created since WWII, lies in re-thinking what we need and what we think we need. For example: do we need to own cars? He envisions a utility car, a U-car, part of a system like a rental fleet. Your key will be a credit card, which lets you use the vehicle and charge it to your account. When you get to a mall, an airport, a train station, or an office complex, you will turn it in. No parking problem, short or long term, no tickets, no maintenance, no worries. Later, you check out another vehicle when you need it. Parking U-cars in rows (since the next user takes the next car instead of recovering a specific one) will permit three or more times as many cars in a given parking area. The lots full of parked cars at businesses and mass transit centers will largely disappear. Such autos will be the perfect units for new smart highways (almost operational in California right now), which automatically guide cars while occupants read or work en route to their exits. Electric cars now on the market can fill the need. How about pedestrian access? Safdie observes that elevators enabled building heights to exceed four or five stories, and sees the future city with similar horizontal transport systems. Just as moving sidewalks and trolleys make vast modern airports more pedestrian friendly, his conveyors would allow foot traffic throughout a city center. With parking garages largely eliminated from downtown areas, more green space can be included. He envisions roofed shopping districts, with hinged domes that permit fresh air and sunlight in fair weather, and office buildings without interior offices (lacking contact with the real world outside). Safdie has designed cities of 200,000 (for Singapore) which feel open and friendly instead of boxed and boring, and has demonstrated that new construction in an old place (Jerusalem) can be marvelously modern and yet merge seamlessly into the avenues and alleys of the past. Altogether, a very hopeful and practical view of how we might build toward a workable future for our increasingly urban and crowded planet.
Summary: It might be flawed, but it doesn't shy away from the ideal.
Flaws there might be. Logistical errors there might be. Totally impractical aspects there might be. But none of it detracts from what this book is. Some architects build to the practical present, and some build to the ideal future. Safdie does the latter. Genius does not require anything more than vision, and this book glows with that. A new way to live; a better way to exist. Humankind has never, in all the spans of history, moved forward. It has always been dragged by a few farsighted and great individuals. Buy this book. Read this book. And see an apsect of our future that will one day be a reality. It won't be Safdie's vision through and through. But it will be Safdie's vision. Leap in on the ground floor now, as humanity prepares to embark on its next stage of growth - without even realizing it.
Summary: An Architect's Inaccurate View of Urban Mobility
THE CITY AFTER THE AUTOMOBILE by Moshe Safdie. I found it an interesting review of urban architecture and what many might find as more desirable high density living, assuming your dream is high density living. However, in my opinion, this book offers little in the way of mobility solutions. One idea Safdie presents is the availability of U cars, presumably government provided, at airports, office buildings, park & ride lots, etc. His system would save time parking but that is so little to be gained in return for such massive trade-offs. He maintains that aspect alone would allow rail to displace airline usage in the northeast corridor, make urban rail greatly used, etc., failing to recognize the inherent weaknesses in the "transfer" system he would make worse. I could not determine how this improves on the present rental car or taxi system or why we would want to replace the existing system with a national system of providing cars for everyone everywhere. I found the logistical questions unanswered; the assignment of personal responsibility for bad driving unaddressed; as well the notion that every possible origin and destination would have to be provided with the maximum number of cars that would ever be needed at any one time at all times and in all places. The notion of all of our mobility provided by and maintained by the government is something that our society would not accept and could not afford. Mr. Safdie's demonstrated knowledge of transportation history, transportation, in general, and transit, in particular, leave much to be desired. He perpetuates that myth that streetcars were put out of business by car, oil and tire manufacturers. He believes that intercity high speed mag lev systems running at 300 miles per hour are applicable within urban areas. How many stations could you have in an urban area and allow for trains to get to and slow down from 300 MPH speeds. He talks about economies of scale disregarding the higher costs of living in dense "downtown" areas. Safdie's contention that communication and culture can exist only in high density appalls me. Melvin Y. Zucker
Summary: Interesting but nothing new in this book
Persons interested in finding ways to get cities out of the auto and rail transit mess will be disappointed - because Safdie doesn't know anything about urban transportation. He does know about humane architecture and his thoughts on this subject are very good. He suggests two new urban transportation modes. One is the Utility-car, a small rentable probably electric car that is sitting around everywhere ready for you to use - if you have the right smart card to make it go. This is not a new idea as it is already being done widely in Europe and even in the U.S. The other is the Conveyor which is highly similar to Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) which has been worked on by many people around the world since the early 1970's. The Raytheon Company is building a U.S. version right now called PRT 2000. Beyond transportation, Safdie suggests we need the New Cardo, a linear downtown that has lots of street life. This idea appears in a plan for the Urban Detroit Area prepared in the 1960's by Doxiadis and Associates for the Detroit Edison Company. The book highlights the fact that architects and urban transportation planners never talk to each other. Apparently, architect's don't read the literature either. Persons interested in a advanced transportation technologies can see what is available and learn the history of this field at a website called Innovative Transportation Technologies: http://weber.u.washington.edu/~jbs/itran