V I K T O R   M A S H I N S K Y

The pervading feeling that history is at a turning point makes us cast a fresh look at products of present-day civilization, including its most important aspect - the theory and practice of urban planning. The 20th century has been rich in ideas initiated by progress in transportation, construction technology and new materials. Competition has often given these ideas an extravagant turn. One result was a sharp criticism of new cities by population. The rapid turnover of fads and voguish ideas made B. Fuller utter harsh words about architects as anecdotal personages that cannot be trusted with the important business of creating man's habitat. What is the way out? We have entered a new stage: having had the taste of the benefits and temptations of technical civilization, society returns to fundamental human values. In this connection, it appears appropriate to recall and accept as the main criterion Aristotle's formula: "A city is called upon to ensure happiness and safety of its inhabitants". It would also be appropriate to understand the role of the architect - the demiurge, the creator of a second - artificial habitat, the demiurge whose hands have been made extremely powerful by modern technology. The understanding of this role and the fact that their cities must endure centuries should make architects erect, brick by brick, the solid edifice of the school of present-day urban planning, having shed extravagant ideas as unworthy of this role, with calm dignity as in classical architectural epochs. Just like scientists are now looking for general principles underlying nature, architects need to search for general principles of creating a man-made habitat, mindful of Ya. Buckem's prophetic utterance: "Architecture is an isolated case of urban planning". It is from these perspective that the author attempts to assess a number of current theoretical ideas and formulate and illustrate some of his principles of modern urban planning with projects.

Ecological Urban Planning?

The term which originated in the 1970s designates the formation of an environment beneficent for nature and man. The term appears indubitable and attractive, though in fact it is incorrect and dangerous for it does not identify the priority of one of the two opposite interests. Indeed, if priority is given to nature, man and his destructive civilization must be removed from the earth's environment altogether. But is this the urban planner's task? Man's interests have priority beyond natural reserves. It is a different matter that his interests include conservation of nature as an optimal element of his habitat. It follows that urban planning should be anthropocentric rather than environmentalist. The architect who forms a habitat does a job which is too serious to admit of any illusions.
The lack of emphasis on anthropocentricity as a priority criterion leads to big mistakes. One example is skyscrapers. The economic calculations behind them proved, in the final analysis, a ploy of the village fool: it looks like society has lost much more in terms of human health and declining genetic fund because of harmful effects of living higher than the 10th floor than it has saved in terms of land prices. The 1980 revival of the common dangerous gas-filled street and. placement of industries in residential developments for some "environmental reasons" must have a similar effect. The list of sins can be continued. The fact that architects who design skyscrapers, transportation routes and industrial enterprises in the midst of residential developments, prefer to live not above the 10th floor, away from transportation and any enterprises, will hardly enhance the profession's prestige in society.

The Environment: Mobile or Static?

The problem has been highlighted by rapid changes in the urban environment. In the 1960s avante-garde projects pictured the city of the future as a clanking mechanism surrounded by steel tunes. But the picture of man placed in a sterile microcosm of capsules separated from the living world, and the entire landscape were so frightening that the nightmarish vision quickly disappeared. In the 1970s the avante-garde took a totally opposite stand: the real mobile environment was challenged with the ideal of an absolutely stable man-made environment. Obviously, the task of the professional is to renounce extravagant avante-garde extremes and determine a reasonable degree of mobility, paying due regard to man's interests.
An objective precondition of qualitative changes in the environment is progress in technology, processes, structures, materials, construction equipment. Preconditions of quantitative changes are expansion or folding up of the industry, different communication lines, services, housing. Objective preconditions of the environments stability is its function of a sign system to which man has to adapt. This is why rapid changes in the environment cause stress. Yet /the environment must include novel elements to keep the nervous system active. Over historical epochs slow changes in the environment meant greater stability of the environment as a sign system. Today changes snowball. New developments, communication lines, industrial zones. The number of floors, scale, silhouette, color, ratios of volumes and spaces, the very form are changing. The environment is constantly disturbed as communication lines, business centers and enterprises are expanded and rebuilt. The historical environment has become an island which is eroded by "bulldozer restructuring" with tragic ease. Styles come and go quickly, revitalization of buildings to change their functions breaks down image stereotypes. The result is instability of the sign system and acute psychological discomfort which manifests itself in rejection of the present-day environment, nostalgia for the historical environment, man's desire to nestle in the stable sign system. Therefore, the main task today is to check changes in the urban environment.
Changes in areas of industry, communications and business centers are virtually unstoppable. But their visual impact can be minimized by using methods of "container architecture" (with the "universal space" inside), preserving the existing scale of the environment and isolating mobile zones from housing. Moreover, this will simplify the expansion and reorganization of such areas. With regard to crowded public centers which strongly affect perception of the environment as a whole, these measures should be supplemented with stabilization of forms, materials and colors of each center. But it is housing whose function is most stable that should become a haven of stability in a dynamic urban environment. A single block of houses should not change either qualitatively or quantitatively. More living space must be added by building new discrete blocks. A comfortable of an urban environment can be achieved by such measures which have different degrees of toughness.

"A City Is Not a Tree"?

Is К. Alexander's observation which was made in the 1960s still valid? He believed that dispersed placement of housing, services and industries within an even net of streets provides the best variant of links - probably, the only criterion of a city's quality for a mathematician. A city, is not a geometrical figure, it is something much more complex. Its qualities are determined by many criteria - social, functional, environmental, organizational, and economic. But Alexander was also wrong about the links, one of the functional criteria. The degree of accessibility in a city should be defined not in terms of geometry or the number and length of links but the reduced time of travel (with the help of the comfort coefficient - on foot, by a mode of transportation, with or without changes, etc.) to all points of attraction, i.e. places of leisure, work, services. I apply the following formula to determine the degree of accessibility in similar cities with similar points of attraction and conditions of their functioning:

where P is one of the (n) sets of points of attractions in a given territorial unit (m) of the city; K1 - the visit coefficient of a given set per year by inhabitants of a given territorial unit, as determined by the type and rank of the points of attraction; K2 - the reduced coefficient of the length of a visit to a given set; T - the reduced time of travel
to a given (n) set from a given (m) territorial unit of the city; R - the degree of accessibility - the numerical indicator of points of attraction per 1 minute of the reduced time of travel. According to this indicator, small-sized historical centers within a dense net of streets may have good characteristics. Superimposed on a city of 250 thousand - 1 million inhabitants and more, these schemes lose their advantages.
K. Alexander regarded accessibility together with freedom of visits. But ibis is a special, priority problem which has several aspects. The problem is removed by work places normally determining places of residence. The scope of informal human contacts is determined by age, social status and the nature of contacts. Children, people with a low level of education, and neighborly contacts require smaller populations, people with a higher level of education and special interest groups requires bigger populations. Identification of precise characteristics in this field is an important task of sociologists o As for the choice of the services, the author developed a concept of this system based on the following principles: "standard-uniqueness", "additional functions", "addition of levels", "typological and environment zoning of public centers", and "interaction with the context". Determining requirements of the customer and the producer of services are also taken into account. But this is a separate special subject. Of course, the city and all of its subsystems, including services, have always been hierarchical systems. Any deviation from this fundamental principle results in the theater of the absurd.
As regards the city's optimal structure, a discrete structure obviously meets all the requirements. These include autonomous built-up areas with a minimum of local transportation which are located on the skeleton of the modern city, i.e. high-speed roads. Their discrete nature is dictated by the main structure-forming factor - high-speed public transportation, its structure - spans and stops. The higher the speed is the longer a span is and the more discrete a city is" These structures are more advantageous in terms of the following criteria: - the social criterion: a combination of a quiet and socially secure life in a small town with a wide range of jobs, possibilities of communication and services offered by a big city;
- the functional criterion: convenient location, expansion and renovation of industrial zones, business centers and communications; a good hygienic and psychological environment for living; wide opportunities for private housing; renunciation of landscape-spoiling suburbias;
- the economic criterion: the small size of streets and the city as a whole per 1 inhabitant characteristic of a small city, combined with a reasonable size of the technical and social infrastructure characteristic of a big city;
- the environmental criterion: the application of the principle "discrete construction - continuous natural environment"; dispersion of pollution sources and reduction of the paved area mean less pressure on the environment; construction on lands unsuitable for agriculture/ rehabilitation of part of home gardens;
- the organizational criterion: administration of a discrete city is facilitated by a sharp reduction of interacting elements and their greater stability compared to a compact city.
It is obvious therefore that a discrete city whose development varies with size is the most rational model of the modern city, a "day-to-day urban system" put together by labor and domestic ties. The city has always been such a system which becomes increasingly discrete with the development of transportation; by virtue of architectural systems' deductive nature it approaches settlement systems of a higher rank: "local", "regional", "national", "continental", and "global". The thesis that "a city is not a tree" is obviously correct. But only in the sense that, possessing a priori a hierarchical structure, a city is denied the degree of perfection, purposeful self-regulation, among other things, characteristic of any tree as a creation of nature - the architect's eternal and unattainable standard.

Urban Development: Planned or Inertial?

This is no idle question. Given the unreliable nature of master plans, the inadequate attention they pay to various factors which determine the life of a city and urban dwellers, and the pervading planning of the urban environment which provokes resentment, some theoreticians come to an amazing conclusion about the correctness and "viability" of inertial, spontaneous development of urban areas. Paradoxically, this removes the need for theoreticians. As for the essence of the question, the founder of systems dynamics Jay Forrester proved with a strict formal method that the quality of a city as a complex system necessarily declines with spontaneous, inertial development. It is a law of territorial expansion, functional confusion, degradation of the environment, the clogging of transportation arteries, degradation and destruction of the historical environment. All of the things we, alas, observe in many cities. Prediction of crisis thresholds is hardly a humane and economical method. For a crisis of transportation, economics and ecology is also a crisis of the quality of life. Clearly, it is more humane to design structures which ensure crisis-free development.
Yet designing is not a cure-all. The urban environment is complex and multifaceted, and human needs cannot be fully accounted for and predicted. This is why today's urban environment - a product of total planning and design - is badly suited for life and is even anti-human for it sees man solely as an object of design. Obviously, a combination of spontaneous and planned formation of the urban environment is more appropriate. Clearly, planning and centralized designing should concern themselves only with the skeleton structures of systems at all levels: from settlement systems to individual buildings and housing units (communication and other structures, functional zoning, basic spatial and artistic principles). The "field" of systems of all levels should develop spontaneously: from a specific area to the planning of housing territories and units. The type of spontaneous activity is determined by the level of a system: from professional designing to creativity of inhabitants. I think that the combination can ensure high quality and humaneness of cities.

The Methodology of Urban Planning and Rating

The problem is made acute by the unreliable nature of today's urban planning, with master plans including a lot of figures that are dynamic and interdependent in real life. Hopes for their computer processing are futile for cities are complex systems in which the quantity and quality of elements and ties differ. Accordingly, quantitative assessments assign arbitrary "prices" to each quality, with arbitrary results. The solution is the use of a new method rather than the application of new technologies within the framework of the old method. The key is the fact that complex systems are determined not by the number of quantitative parameters by behavior and quality of the system's structure, i.e. the few most stable elements and ties. It follows that to manage a city's development master plans must concern themselves solely with its structure - territorial organization (its transportation and technical skeleton - development axes of the city, location of built-up areas, functional and spatial zoning). Only vector characteristics are examined in their dynamics. Planning of the multitude of quantitative characteristics which are difficult to predict (density, number of floors, composition), i.e. the "field" of a system, is a secondary task which lies outside the scope of a master plan. The use of only a few stable data makes for. a correctly designed and effective master plan. In this case, the master plan of a city's structure is the content of strictly planned basic design which is based on long-term (25-50 years) forecasts and includes pre-design (the development of the master plan) and periodical adjustments" The design of the "field" of a system, i.e. a concrete built-up area, is the content of spontaneous adaptive design based on current information, including public opinion. The main instrument of basic and adaptive design should probably be factor analysis which deals with both qualitative and quantitative characteristics. The fact that the end result is not a "deus ex machina" (a computer's "black box", in this case) but product of factor analysis which corresponds to the structure of, human thinking, the monitoring and interpretation of the decision-making process are in themselves a prerequisite of humane urban development. Urban development rating should be structured accordingly. The data for adaptive design are a subject of operational rating (5-10 years). The few fundamental data for basic design that determine the continuity of the city's most important characteristics are a subject of long-term rating (50-100 years). For Vetruvius' urban development: these are still valid. Thanks to the deductivity of architectural systems these principles of design and rating apply to spatial design, too.
So, the principles of present-day urban development are as follows:
- anthropocentricity;
- the need to stabilize qualitative characteristics of the urban environment;
- the discrete structure of the city built around the skeleton of high speed transportation;
task-oriented design structure of city systems and spontaneous formation of their "field".
- long-term basic design and rating of structures of city systems and short-term adaptive design and rating of their "field"

*   *   *

The above is some of my ideas. They are certainly not universal or absolute. Yet I hope that they may prove helpful in forming a school of urban planning which will seek to realize Aristotle's formula.

© Copyright:  Viktor Mashinsky. No parts of this work covered by the copyright hereon may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written permission of the author
Programming and web-design by Oleg Woolf