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The Humane Metropolis

The Humane Metropolis: People and Nature in the 21stCentury City

Edited by Rutherford H. Platt
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 340
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  • Book Info
    The Humane Metropolis
    Book Description:

    Fourfifths of Americans now live in the nation’s sprawling metropolitan areas, and half of the world’s population is now classified as "urban." As cities become the dominant living evironment for humans, there is growing concern about how to make such places more habitable, more healthy and safe, more ecological, and more equitable—in short, more "humane." This book explores the prospects for a more humane metropolis through a series of essays and case studies that consider why and how urban places can be made greener and more amenable. Its point of departure is the legacy of William H. Whyte (19171999), one of America’s most admired urban thinkers. From his eyrie high above Manhattan in the offices of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Whyte laid the foundation for today’s "smart growth" and "new urbanist" movements with books such as The Last Landscape (1968). His passion for improving the habitability of cities and suburbs is reflected in the diverse grassroots urban design and regreening strategies discussed in this volume. Topics examined in this book include urban and regional greenspaces, urban ecological restoration, social equity, and green design. Some of the contributors are recognized academic experts, while others offer direct practical knowledge of particular problems and initiatives. The editor’s introduction and epilogue set the individual chapters in a broader context and suggest how the strategies described, if widely replicated, may help create more humane urban environments. In addition to Rutherford H. Platt, contributors to the volume include Carl Anthony, Thomas Balsley, Timothy Beatley, Eugenie L. Birch, Edward J. Blakely, Colin M. Cathcart, Steven E. Clemants, Christopher A. De Sousa, Steven N. Handel, Peter Harnik, Michael C. Houck, Jerold S. Kayden, Albert LaFarge, Andrew Light, Charles E. Little, Anne C. Lusk, Thalya Parilla, Deborah E. Popper, Frank J. Popper, Mary V. Rickel, Cynthia Rosenzweig, Robert L. Ryan, Laurin N. Sievert, Andrew G. WileySchwartz, and Ann Louise Strong. Included in the back of the book is a DVD of a 22minute film created by Ted White, which serves as a companion to the text.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-151-9
    Subjects: Environmental Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Rutherford H. Platt
  4. Introduction: Humanizing the Exploding Metropolis
    (pp. 1-20)
    Rutherford H. Platt

    “This is a book by people who like cities.” Thus began William H. Whyte Jr.’s introduction to a subversive little book with the polemical titleThe Exploding Metropolis: A Study of the Assault on Urbanism and How Our Cities Can Resist It(Editors ofFortune1957, hereinafter cited as TEM). Drawing on a roundtable of urban experts convened by two prominent magazines,FortuneandArchitectural Forum,the book in six short essays reexamined the nature of cities and city building in the postwar era. The book also defined future agendas for “Holly” Whyte (as he was fondly known by his...

  5. Part I “The Man Who Loved Cities”

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 21-24)

      Among many tributes paid to William H. “Holly” Whyte after his death in 1999, Norman Glazer (1999) characterized him in theWilson Quarterlyas “the man who loved cities … one of America’s most influential observers of the city and the space around it.” It is fitting to devote Part I of this book to personal recollections of this perceptive urbanist written by several people who knew him well in different capacities and at different periods in his career. Ann Louise Strong, emerita professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania, worked closely with Whyte on the pathbreaking open space...

    • Whyte on Whyte: A Walk in the City
      (pp. 25-31)
      Eugenie L. Birch

      William H. Whyte(The Observation Man)left a remarkable body of writing that addressed three principal aspects of the United States after World War II:

      1. The sociology of large organizations and their new suburban habitats (The Organization Man,1956)

      2. Suburban land use and sprawl (two essays in Editors ofFortune; The Exploding Metropolis,1957;Securing Open Space for Urban America: Conservation Easements,1959;Cluster Development,1964; andThe Last Landscape,1968)

      3. The functions and design of public spaces in urban settings (The Social Life of Small Urban Places,1980;City: Rediscovering the Center,1988).

      Only today, as we are rebuilding...

    • Holly Whyte’s Journalism of Place
      (pp. 32-34)
      Charles E. Little

      “So let us be on with it…. If there ever was a time to press for precipitate, hasty, premature action, this is it.” These words are from the penultimate paragraph ofThe Last Landscape,Holly Whyte’s roundup of how, and why, we ought to preserve metropolitan open space. Not later, but now. Not after great long studies, but now.

      One day in the deep, dark 1960s, Stanley Tankel, the estimable chief planner at the Regional Plan Association in New York, invited Holly Whyte and me to lunch at the Harvard Club. Holly was writing his landscape book at the time...

    • The Energizer
      (pp. 35-36)
      Ann Louise Strong

      My first acquaintance with Holly Whyte goes back to the early and mid-1960s. At that time, he was overseeing and editing the multivolume Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission report. I was writing a book for the Urban Renewal Administration (URA),Open Space for Urban America(Strong 1961), to publicize and promote the URA’s newly enacted and funded program for preservation of urban open space. It was the time when open space arose to importance on the national agenda, with Lady Bird Johnson our cheerleader in the White House. Holly, then as always, was an articulate, informed, and vigorous proponent who...

    • Sowing the Seeds
      (pp. 37-37)
      Thomas Balsley

      Holly Whyte’s reach and influence were as diverse and unpredictable as the silent constituency he observed and championed. Some listened and were immediately persuaded; others nodded their heads approvingly but continued with their preconditioned behavior (only to be slowly converted after many observations and, in some cases, failures); and many others became disciples, joining the immediate family and sowing the seeds with actual practice.

      My relationship with Holly fell into this last category, based mostly on my personal need to act, not talk. In many respects, Holly’s simple, straightforward, and commonsense observations were the perfect formula and approach for me,...

    • The Wit and Wisdom of Holly Whyte
      (pp. 38-40)

      People sit most where there are places to sit.

      Good aesthetics is good economics.

      What attracts people most, it would seem, is other people.

      The street is the river of life of the city; and what is a river for if not to be swum in and drunk from?

      The human backside is a dimension architects seem to have forgotten.

      New York is a city of skilled pedestrians.

      Supply creates demand. A good new space builds its constituency—gets people into new habits, like eating outdoors; induces them to new paths.

      So-called undesirables are not the problem. It is the...

  6. Part II From City Parks to Regional Green Infrastructure

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 41-46)

      As access to “country” beyond metropolitan areas gets ever more distant and frustrating, existing parks and other preserved greenspaces within reach of the four-fifths of Americans who live in metro areas become increasingly vital. Accordingly, Part II addresses one of William Whyte’s favorite topics: city parks and regional greenspaces. Who better to open this section of the book than Peter Harnik, one of the founders of the Rails to Trails Conservancy and now director of the Green Cities Program based at the Washington, D.C., office of the Trust for Public Land. Harnik’s essay is based on his seminal research on...

    • The Excellent City Park System: What Makes It Great and How to Get There
      (pp. 47-60)
      Peter Harnik

      The total area covered by urban parkland in the United States has never been counted, but it certainly exceeds one million acres. The fifty largest cities (not including their suburbs) alone contain more than 600,000 acres, with parks ranging in size from the jewellike 1.7-acre Post Office Square in Boston to the gargantuan 24,000-acre Franklin Mountain State Park in El Paso. The exact number of annual visitors has not been calculated either, but it is known that the most popular major parks, such as Lincoln Park in Chicago and Griffith Park in Los Angeles, receive upwards of twelve million users...

    • The Role of Place Attachment in Sustaining Urban Parks
      (pp. 61-74)
      Robert L. Ryan

      Sustaining urban parks requires developing a constituency of dedicated park users, neighbors, and stewards. Urban parks that do not have a cadre of local residents who have “adopted” them are subject to vandalism, neglect, and even destruction. Yet there are strategies for planning, designing, and managing parks in a manner that builds an attachment between people and their parks. Several research studies on urban parks and natural areas illustrate the factors that influence people’s attachment to these precious urban natural areas. An important part of this work is to expand the definition of traditional park users, as studied by William...

    • Respecting Nature’s Design in Metropolitan Portland, Oregon
      (pp. 75-86)
      Michael C. Houck

      Henry David Thoreau’s aphorism “In wildness is the preservation of the world” has driven the conservation agenda in the United States for over a century. The emphasis has been, first and foremost, the protection of wilderness, pristine habitats, and agricultural lands in the rural landscape. If we hope to succeed in protecting rural resource lands in the twenty-first century, a new corollary to Thoreau’s mantra might be “In livable cities is preservation of the wild.” We must commit significantly more attention and resources to the protection and restoration of natural resources in the urban landscape as a strategy for protecting...

    • Promoting Health and Fitness through Urban Design
      (pp. 87-101)
      Anne C. Lusk

      Sixty-five percent of the U.S. population is now overweight, and the resulting negative health consequences include premature death, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other chronic diseases (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 1996, 2000). This rise in obesity is a result of poor diet and physical inactivity or an energy imbalance from an increase in caloric intake and a decrease in physical activity. In 2002, 25 percent of Americans did not participate in any physical activity during the preceding month (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2002), and in 2003, 38 percent of students in ninth through twelfth...

    • A Metropolitan New York Biosphere Reserve?
      (pp. 102-122)
      William D. Solecki and Cynthia Rosenzweig

      By 2025, it is estimated that five billion of the earth’s total population of eight billion people will live in urban settlements (United Nations 1995). Urban environments involve complex and intense interaction between ecological and human systems at various geographic scales from the neighborhood to the megalopolis. Yet even though natural functions and phenomena are greatly transformed by urban development, they are not eradicated. Indeed, urban places retain many vestiges of ecological functions and services. For example, coastal wetlands in urbanized settings simultaneously provide areas for active and passive recreation, spawning ground for regional fisheries, places for water quality control,...

  7. Part III Restoring Urban Nature:: Projects and Process

    • Restoring Urban Ecology: The New York–New Jersey Metropolitan Area Experience
      (pp. 127-140)
      Steven E. Clemants and Steven N. Handel

      Interest in restoring urban ecological services and biodiversity is a growing part of modern biology. To protect and restore ecological services in urban areas, two approaches are being tried.Conservation biologyseeks to keep relatively intact remnants of our plant and animal communities from being destroyed. This conservation tradition dates back about one hundred years and is now a significant academic and public policy pursuit.Restoration ecology,a new strategy, seeks to restore and expand ecological services. Restoration aims to restore plant and animal species to areas where they have been eliminated or degraded.

      Conservation and restoration share biotic knowledge...

    • Urban Watershed Management: The Milwaukee River Experience
      (pp. 141-153)
      Laurin N. Sievert

      A National Resource Council study,New Strategies for America’s Watersheds,reports, “Successful watershed management strives for a better balance between ecosystem and watershed integrity and provision of human social and economic goals” (NRC 1999, 270). That is, contemporary urban watershed management must recognize and achieve balance between multiple goals, strategies, and interests, including those of both people and nature.

      To achieve these ends, new approaches to watershed management necessitate innovative partnerships and collaborations among scientists, resource practitioners, and public interest groups. Further, basinwide management strategies are needed to manage watersheds as systems and to optimize geographic distribution and connectivity of...

    • Green Futures for Industrial Brownfields
      (pp. 154-168)
      Christopher A. De Sousa

      Once viewed as symbols of urban economic power, older industrial brownfield districts located in inner cores are now perceived as little more than prime examples of urban decay. The list of socioeconomic and environmental ills associated with these districts and their surrounding neighborhoods is an extensive one and includes such “blights” as high levels of crime, crumbling infrastructure, contaminated soils, vacant buildings, “bottom-feeding” businesses, and poverty. Indeed, the physical extent of these districts and the range of the problems they face have left governments in a quandary as to what to do about them, while most city residents appear to...

    • Ecological Citizenship: The Democratic Promise of Restoration
      (pp. 169-182)
      Andrew Light

      The writings of William H. Whyte do not loom large in the literature of my field: environmental ethics, the branch of ethics devoted to consideration of whether and how there are moral reasons for protecting nonhuman animals and the larger natural environment. Environmental ethics is a very new field of inquiry, only found in academic philosophy departments since the early 1970s. Although there is no accepted reading list of indispensable literature in environmental ethics, certainly any attempt to create such a list would begin with Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, and a more recent handful of...

  8. Part IV A More Humane Metropolis for Whom?

    • Race, Poverty, and the Humane Metropolis
      (pp. 187-196)
      Carl Anthony

      The truth is, I hadn’t thought much about William H. Whyte for almost a decade until Rutherford Platt came to my office to discuss a conference on the humane metropolis, celebrating Whyte’s life and work. I explained to him that I have long been dismayed that most writers I had read on urban design seemed to have little understanding of the role that issues of race had played in the shaping of the nation’s cities and land policies. I told him that I had been enthusiastic about the writings of Holly Whyte over the years. I did not, however, see...

    • Fortress America: Separate and Not Equal
      (pp. 197-205)
      Edward J. Blakely

      The ability to exclude is a new hallmark for the new public space in the United States. Fear created by a rising tide of immigrants and random violence ranging from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to the snipers in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., in 2002 has transformed public areas with an explosion of public space privatization.

      Gated communities are clear indicators of the spatial division of the nation by race and class. In the 1960s, suburban exclusionary zoning to achieve this result was challenged and, to some degree, rejected through judicial or legislative open housing laws. De...

    • “The Organization Man” in the Twenty-first Century: An Urbanist View
      (pp. 206-219)
      Deborah E. Popper and Frank J. Popper

      In his first great book,The Organization Man,William H. Whyte (1956) offered a new perspective on how post–World War II American society had redefined itself. Whyte’s 1950s America had replaced the Protestant ethic of individualism and entrepreneurialism with a social ethic that stressed cooperation and management: the individual subsumed within the organization. It was the age of middle management, what Whyte thought of as the rank and file of leadership, whether corporate, governmental, church, or university. Those of us who grew up in the 1950s hadThe Organization Manseep into our consciousness well before we heard of...

    • Sustainability Programs in the South Bronx
      (pp. 220-230)
      Thalya Parrilla

      The South Bronx in New York City has the reputation of being a haven for drugs, prostitutes, and drag racing. Because of community intervention, however, its reputation is shifting. Today, a number of community programs are working to ameliorate social, economic, and environmental inequalities that are rampant in the South Bronx.

      There are different definitions as to where the South Bronx begins. At the most southern part of the Bronx is Hunts Point. The neighborhood is generally broken into industrialized and residential areas. The industrialized area is concentrated around the waterfront, with most residential homes in the central area. High...

  9. Part V Designing a More Humane Metropolis

    • The Smile Index
      (pp. 235-239)
      Andrew G. Wiley-Schwartz

      If there is a single symbol that sums up the work of William H. Whyte Jr., then it could be of the green bistro chairs scattered over the lawn of midtown Manhattan’s Bryant Park. Whyte loved to watch people in a public park or plaza walk up to a movable chair, turn it an inch or two, and then sit down. The moves, he said, were important, not only allowing a person to express himself or herself in what is usually a proscribed environment, but also sending subtle social messages to those nearby. The message the chairs sent to the...

    • Zoning Incentives to Create Public Spaces: Lessons from New York City
      (pp. 240-260)
      Jerold S. Kayden

      In 1961, the City of New York inaugurated a new concept of “privately owned public space” to be created by developers in exchange for zoning concessions.¹ Through a legal innovation known as “incentive zoning,” the city granted floor area and height bonuses and other zoning concessions to office and residential developers who would agree to provide public spaces in the forms of plazas, arcades, atria, or other forms of indoor or outdoor space on their premises. Ownership of the space would remain with the developer and subsequent owners of the property, and access and use would be open to the...

    • Criteria for a Greener Metropolis
      (pp. 261-277)
      Mary V. Rickel Pelletier

      “Sun and Shadow,” “Bounce Light,” “Water, Wind, Trees, and Light,” and “Sun Easements” are poetic chapter headings under which William H. Whyte Jr. outlined the interplay of nature and urban life in his last book,City: Rediscovering the Center. To Whyte, the sensory qualities of our natural environment—especially sunlight—are public rights that ought not be carelessly lost to large private development projects. To raise public awareness, Whyte recognized the need for accurate representational models and rendered drawings of proposed buildings to evaluate the effect of new development projects on the local microclimate. Through movies, still photography, and audio...

    • Building the Right Shade of Green
      (pp. 278-296)
      Colin M. Cathcart

      Green architecture seems to be a contradiction in terms. By definition, architecture is opposed to nature, because it is through architecture and urban design that we cope with our discomfort here on this earth, keep one another company, and together confront an otherwise inhospitable wilderness. Nevertheless, our design responses are instinctive. Humanity has been successful as a species because architecture lies deep within our nature.

      No doubt, there are limits. Over the next century, the builders, designers, and maintainers among us will confront our next great challenge, to tailor our constructed habitat to the now apparent finitude of our earthly...

    • Green Urbanism in European Cities
      (pp. 297-314)
      Timothy Beatley

      In few other parts of the world is there as much interest in urban sustainability as in Europe, especially northern and northwestern Europe. Many European cities are pushing the envelope of urban sustainability, undertaking a variety of impressive actions, projects, and innovative policies to reduce their ecological footprints as well as to enhance long-term livability. For several years, I have been researching innovative sustainability practices in European cities, with many of the exemplary cases described in the bookGreen Urbanism: Learning from European Cities(Beatley 2000). What follows is a summary of some of the key themes from this research...

  10. Epilogue: Pathways to More Humane Urban Places
    (pp. 315-322)
    Rutherford H. Platt

    William H. Whyte’s 1957 essay “Urban Sprawl” was indeed prescient: despite the open space movement of the 1960s (which he helped to nurture) and its outgrowths—growth management, smart growth, and New Urbanism—metropolitan expansion has continued relentlessly. In 1961, geographer Jean Gottmann defined “Megalopolis” as a region of more or less continuous urbanization extending along the northeastern seaboard from just north of Boston to the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Since then, Megalopolis has sprawled north, west, and south beyond its 1960s geographic size.

    Megalopolis today would include southeastern New Hampshire and the southern Maine coast, Massachusetts west to...

  11. About the Authors
    (pp. 323-327)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 328-328)