Category: philosophy

Several decades ago, on the #1 train during the morning rush hour, there was an exchange between two strangers. A man and woman started talking about the delays at each station as more people packed themselves into the graffiti-covered car—the interior temperature inching upwards despite the open windows. Through several stops, they kept chatting. Finally, she had to get off. There was an awkward pause until he asked her if she would like to grab a cup of coffee. She said yes, there was hasty scribbling of a phone number on a piece of paper, and off she went. I…

My oldest son graduates from high school today and will attend college in the fall. There will be one less person in the house, lightening the laundry load, freeing up some wi-fi band width, and saving us a few bucks on food. After he leaves home, neither my wife nor I will be around each day to witness the events that will guide his transition to adult life. With our cultural chaos, I worry about the pressures on him to develop a mature set of values. With more years behind me than ones ahead, I spend a considerable amount of…

Santorini is an ancient Greek Island at the southern end of the Dodecanese islands. Shaped into a crescent by a volcano that blew it apart in the second millennium BCE, it wraps its arms around the caldera that still steams offshore. The towns of Thera, Oia, and Akrotiri sit along the inside of the crescent where cliffs rise out of the water and white-washed buildings tumble down the slopes as far as they dare to go. At sunset in Oia, you can join the applauding throngs as they watch our star disappear over the earth’s edge. During my first visits…

Recent months have been a struggle for those who envision cities as centers of justice and civic virtue. With the raw emotions elicited by the shootings of unarmed men, wide ranging protests, and unprovoked attacks against police officers, it is hard to see how an architect and planner could initiate a conversation between balanced justice and creative inquiry, and consider the ways design might serve justice. But I will give it a try. A Profession in Design When I was 17, I expressed an interest in two careers: designing rocket ships and becoming an architect. This was a couple of…

Cultivating Community in a School Garden In January of 2011 I co-founded Sprout Farms, an urban agriculture education nonprofit project. The idea for Sprout came from my aspiration to understand urban infrastructure and to develop means to make it sustainable. My partner, Katie Hope, a teacher with a master’s degree in early childhood education, brought expertise, both in the garden and the classroom. We shared a personal desire to expand our own gardening space beyond our apartment windowsills. Through Sprout we’ve learned how to mold public space into a catalyst for community connectivity. We’ve learned how to work with the…

The word “homeless” is based on a judgment that reflects on the lack of architecture, of shelter, a person has, which leads to a solution that fulfills just that. However, there is yet another deficiency that is often overlooked, ignored and left undone which is the relationship between the poor and those that are not poor. This large gap between the two parties, not in terms of societal structure, but rather in the space for interaction that is needed in order to effectively help someone in need, remains a void that is one of the loudest aspects of the city.…

Louis Sullivan’s mantra for the first three rules of architecture, “Get the work, get the work, get the work”1, underscores the primary importance of securing architectural commissions; for without clients, most architects cannot design to have buildings constructed, for they do not have the necessary financial resources. Little, if anything, is taught in architectural schools about how to obtain architectural commissions. Once one has successfully traversed the arduous route through formal education, internship, and professional exams, one is faced with the problem of how to obtain work if one chooses the path of independent practice. I once asked a principal…

A few years ago, I co-founded Gowanus by Design. This was before the Gowanus Canal, a heavily contaminated post-industrial waterway in Brooklyn, New York, was designated a Superfund site. The canal has became a symbol for the urban planning challenges facing us in the early part of the 21st century that are a direct result of misguided 20th century industry growth. The Canal’s future remains still in doubt. Will the clunky vision proposed by developers such as Lightstone justify Spike Lee’s disgust with the gentrification of Brooklyn? Or will the hard work of many community based organizations, coupled with “Bridging…

As I start to write this, I am sitting in my darkened office on lower Broadway two days after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on our city. There is no power in Lower Manhattan, the subways are not running, and my staff is scrambling to take a computer offsite. I am grateful for the battery power stored in my laptop. My wife, two sons, and I walked down to the Gowanus Canal the day after the hurricane swept across our city to survey the storm’s aftermath. Though the waters had receded slightly, there was ample evidence marking where the canal’s waters…

A few weeks ago, Sam Schwartz, traffic guru and the former New York City Traffic Commissioner, presented his Equitable Transportation Formula [ETF] at the monthly Institute of Urban Design breakfast club. With a series of images punched up with bold graphics, Mr. Schwartz laid out the pitfalls of the congestion pricing plan proposed by Mayor Bloomberg in 2008; gave us a brief historical snapshot of the East River toll rates for horses, pushcarts, and automobiles at the beginning of the 20th century; and presented his solution for increasing transportation revenue to support infrastructure development. Part of the current challenge with…