Wednesday, June 3, 2009


In the exurbs of America there are hundreds of housing developments built around professional fairways. Many residents own their own golf carts, park them in their two to four-car garages, and drive them from their homes directly to the clubhouse. Golf course living has grown so much in popularity that, as a development type, it is now found in almost every big city in this country. One will find a conglomerate of suburban ranch houses surrounding a well designed 18-hole course in the mountains of Oregon, in the Great Lakes, in rural Massachusetts, in New Orleans, in suburban Atlanta, or in the center of some of the most infamous retirement communities in the State of Florida.

According to the Environmental Institute for Golf, at an individual level, an average 18-hole golf course covers 150 acres –with approximately 100 occupied by turfgrass; on an aggregate basis, golf courses cover an estimated 2,244,512 acres of land of which 67% is defined as greens, tees, fairways, rough, driving ranges, practice areas, nurseries and clubhouse grounds (also covered by turfgrass), and 33% accounts for water bodies, buildings, bunkers and parking lots.

This vast amount of turfgrass is not considered natural open space and does not come for free; its maintenance requires substantial water irrigation, pesticides, the use of powerful nutrients and chemicals, and several compromising environmental practices; because it is turning into one of the most serious environmental problems in suburban America, we must pay careful attention before it becomes yet another case for the abandonment of “petro-suburbia”.

The project here presented is a proposal for a substantial retrofit of a golf course community in the State of Florida. It includes the redevelopment of the golf surface occupied by the first 9 holes -as a complete community where one could find everything needed for daily-living at walking distance, and the reconstruction of the remaining 75 acres as a Community Sponsored Agriculture project including programmatic elements common to what Andres Duany has been calling “Agricultural New Urbanism” –an organic market, a school of culinary arts and a community kitchen. One of the virtues of this type of retrofit is the manipulation of an underutilized suburban area with serious environmental problems as a dual urban/rural concept in the midst of a retirement community.

The small development includes 8 live/work units, 108 apartments, 55 liner buildings, 236 townhomes, and 94 detached houses. Additionally, its picturesque vernacular arrangement and building placement affords termination of vistas in important civic structures including: a farmer’s market, a sub-police station, a meeting hall, and other buildings of greater beauty and urban presence. The paving, channeling, storage and filtration are designed to comply with Light Imprint (LI) standards as presented by Tom Low in his “Light Imprint Handbook”. While each family contributes to the general welfare and sustainability of the community (with self-sufficient urbanism devices like solar panels, water harvesters, vegetable gardens, compost bins, and more), there are also additional communal services which benefit those whose environmental commitment is limited and less aggressive i.e.: community sponsored agriculture co-ops, solar farms, water recycling projects, etc.

This type of project proves, once again, that the reconstitution of American suburbia must and should become one of the most important sustainable projects of our post-peak-oil future. Let’s open ourselves to the possibilities of developing and transforming the existing urban/suburban/rural infrastructure of America as the most important healing project of our generation.

It is not a matter of will.

It is a matter of time!

Friday, May 15, 2009

SAVANNAH: a paradigm of self-sufficiency

James Oglethorpe’s (1696-1785) interest in prison reform and social justice manifested a most amazing paradigm of sustainable urbanism for the future of this country. The City of Savannah rises among all of the Georgian colonies as a design archetype for self-sufficiency, beauty and sustainability and, it stands as a permanent landmark in the history of urban design.

A map dating from 1735 shows the general regional pattern of land settlement. The city proper is the small rectangle close to the river half-moon -shown divided into six parts. According to the commandments of the Savannah colony, “… a Commons was left round the town for convenience; adjoining to the commons, hath set out Garden Lotts of Five Acres each, and beyond such Garden Lotts hath set out Farms of Forty Four Acres and One Hundred and forty and one Pole each”. Although the commons does not show clearly on the map of 1735, the map shows a remarkable regional congruency between the city proper, the 5-acre garden lots, the 44-acre farms and the 500-acre states granted to persons of means who would immigrate to the colony at their own expense.

Peter Gordon’s view of Savannah of 1734 shows the precise intentions of the plan for its urban core. As depicted, it has the concept of “Wards” as its basic development unit, each having a unique name and each organized as a complete neighborhood. The wards consisted of forty house lots of approximately 60 feet by 90 feet distributed in four blocks (tythings) of ten lots each; a public square of about 315 feet by 270 feet was located at the center of each ward; four “Trust Lotts” flanked each square and were reserved for important buildings –churches, stores, places of assembly, etc. Main streets were 75 feet wide and minor streets, half that dimension, would complete the repertoire of thoroughfares; a small service lane of 22 feet was located in the rear of each housing lot.

Expansion of the city occurred by the orderly addition of ward units when supplementary accommodations were needed. The important sustainability lesson to understand is that, unlike our current suburban city extensions, each increment of urban development retained the concept of the original plan. Not until the 19th century did this system surrendered to speculation and the usual gridiron extensions bundled by economics and unrelieved public space.

Savannah can be considered as the country’s first example of planned urban growth on the basis of an agricultural economy; the type of agricultural urbanism providing self-sufficiency, independence, and economic reliability despite outer circumstances. This pattern of development and growth provides sufficient local food resources and creates an agricultural surplus for a potential exchange amongst regional communities.

The Savannah model of land distribution, as well as its location, is perhaps the greatest paradigm in the age of peak-oil production and climate change.

Choice or fate!

Note: the composite drawing of the City of Savannah, c.1898 was produced by students participating in the "New(est) New Urbanism Studio" at the University of Miami, under the direction of Professors Jaime Correa and Oscar Machado and with the sponsorship of Historical Concepts in Atlanta.

Friday, April 3, 2009


In a country with the most excessive amount of democracy, our education system has been tragically hijacked by the “Life-Tenure System” –a contractual entitlement between a faculty member and its administrators to hold a life-time academic position which cannot be terminated without due cause. The tenure system was originally intended as a faculty reward to guarantee the rights to academic freedom, to protect them when they dissented from prevailing opinions, to avoid retaliation from disagreeing authorities of any sort, or to warrant time dedicated to unfashionable research topics. However, in our current predicament, it is not used for the sake of sustainability, freedom and the common good but as an opportunity to exercise a primitive governmental system where oppression, revenge, and unbridled punishment are its most common attributes.

In a sustainable system the elders tend to be respected, become wiser, and gain sacred attributes that bring about harmony and balance to their own communities; in the extraordinary primitiveness of the current university system, senior faculty tend to become disruptive, unproductive, sloppy, substandard, and even irrelevant. Therefore, universities exercise great care in offering tenured positions to faculty who may prove less pious or unworthy in the long run. The process of candidacy approval is lengthy and may include the review of extensive portfolios of “original” published work, the capacity of the candidate to bring research funds into the institution, confidential assessment letters from scholars in the same field, and ruthless teaching evaluations. If the candidate is judged to be a scholar whose relevancy as a productive individual is guaranteed for a lifetime, he/she will be awarded life-tenure.

Under these conditions, obvious philosophical questions arise: What would be the attributes of the most pious candidates? Who would these people be? What are the ultimate scholarly virtues guaranteeing a life-time award? Is tenure a matter of process or a matter of mindfulness? Is tenure granted on the basis of an examined life or, is it a result of political maneuvers, war tactics, and unethical demeanors?

Answers to these philosophical questions would only ascertain the greater degree of confusion and lack of attentive inquiry in which we currently operate. Most probably, within this system, the greatest minds of the western intellectual tradition would have been set aside for their lack of contribution to society at large. For instance, within the current system of evaluation, Cicero would have been denied as a potential tenure candidate for his lack of originality -after all, he was an eclectic mind whose world views were based on a controlled potpourri of philosophical Greek precedents. Socrates would have been dismissed for his lack of published scholarly material and his criminal record –trialed, convicted, and poison to death. Plato would have been perceived as a parasite of the ideological successes of his former master. And, most importantly, Aristotle would have been rejected as a lunatic.

Can the university system survive without an examined life of its own? Is the universality of our current educational structure threatened by the life-tenure system? Are American universities becoming smaller and less productive? Can we deepen our understanding of concrete and abstract values when dealing with the future of faculty at large? Is the university a true universal system with a complex axiology? Or, are we entering a new period of development in which the teaching of tradition, spiritual values, anthropometric-based aesthetics, or ultimate truth is punished as a nuance to our current cluster of values?

Answers to these questions ought to make the factual picture of a world yet to come!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

COMPACT COMMUNITIES: Building pedestrian cities after the Dark New Age

Suffering outrageous cash shortages at the gas station is a blunt reality for millions of Americans who cannot find viable alternatives in the current market; outdated politics of transportation are clogging the lungs of the world and bleeding our national wealth to death; and, most importantly, our implicit devotion to newness and individuality forbids us from considering the traditional wisdom of “community building” as a substitute to our predicament. As the price of gas goes up, citizens are looking to change their fate at the driving wheel, attacking their pledge to a society focused on unbridle consumerism and, for the first time in more than twenty-five years, questioning their location choices while committing themselves to amazing environmental design alternatives.

America is being confronted with a threat to its own survival; and, simultaneously, it is acting collectively, boldly, decisively, and quickly to solve this crisis and avoid the worst. Little by little we are realizing that as our landscapes were built around places to go, we lost our places to be; that instead of consumption, we can have community; and, that our own two feet can deliver, without a doubt, the best transportation alternative in the market.

Any place affording a walking distance from home to work, from home to recreation or civic amenities, or from home to the grocery store -a little bit more than five minutes or the equivalent of 1,300 feet, makes it possible to pick up a quart of milk without burning a quart of gas; creates a healthy pedestrian population; lowers crime rates; offers less stress; is generally bound by human-scaled architecture; has cleaner air; and, generates greater neighbor-to-neighbor cohesion. These types of compact communities use less land, water, energy and materials; and, most importantly, they are becoming the preferred choice for building cities after the Dark New Age (DNA) of gas shortages.

Before it becomes a matter of national security, due to their scarcity, the wisdom of traditional compact communities like the Medieval European city, the Islamic clan, the English hamlet, the traditional American village, or the twentieth-century garden-city neighborhood needs to be rediscovered and its lessons need to be shared freely to produce an infinite amount of livable and sustainable places. As we move into the future, we must come up with alternatives to reshape our existing suburban territories; we must re-evaluate our notions of development and re-development; we must establish alliances to build new public infrastructure; we must come up with low-impact ways to generate electricity; we must demand pure water and clean air; we must generate neither pollution nor noise; we must create our own “living machines” to process wastewater and sewage; we must produce our own food in our own greenhouses, buildings, and gardens; we must enrich our cultural lives rather than degrade them; we must achieve a level of community where skills sharing and youth mentoring become cultural assets; we must conceive a new way of government where neighborhood associations can become profitable businesses; and, most importantly, we must create beautiful compact communities of purpose where neighbors feel safe, where buildings are designed to promote the welfare of the community, and where our ultimate freedoms are respected and acknowledged; in short, places of dignity and reason.

Compact communities should rescue us from our addiction to gasoline while providing a viable solution to the general ailments of our current consumerist society. The production of walkable neighborhoods should be the central organizing principle of our civilization and the catalyst of design change for the next generation of Americans.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

SEVEN RECIPES for the New Urbanism

Freshly published, the Seven Recipes for the New Urbanism presents an irreverent view of seven magical recipes at the heart of the New Urbanism movement: memory, suburban dysfunction, intellectual precedents, region and ecology, urban form, building type and cultural representation. A number of admonitions and a thrilling professional agenda (cleverly disguised as metaphysical denials and affirmations) are followed by a portfolio of breathtaking projects, drawings and photographs. This is one of the freshest expressions of New Urbanism by one of its most zealous practitioners and scholars.

The book is available at many different bookstores online:

It will soon be available at Barnes & Noble, and Books & Books!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

SELF-SUFFICIENT URBANISM: a vision of contraction for the non-distant future

The recently published book, SELF-SUFFICIENT URBANISM: a vision of contraction for the non-distant future, is the most comprehensive town design mitigation plan available in today’s transitional market. It encourages the creation of sustainable urban villages and rural settlements where almost everything needed for our daily living is found, produced, created, used, re-used and recycled at walking distance from an identifiable center and in closed economic loops. Self-sufficient Urbanism focuses on the "re-localization" of resources, and on the advocacy and development of technologies attempting to eliminate our existent fossil fuel dependency and reduce our current rate of carbon emissions. This introductory pamphlet reviews the existing universal predicament and offers a positive solution of contraction, simplicity and human dignity.

The publication is available through multiple bookstores online:

And coming soon to Barnes & Noble!