HIRISE, Cities are Obsolete - Let's Prehend
Let's Prehend
A Manual of Human Ecology and Culture Design

HIRISE, Cities are Obsolete

High rise buildings are like pyramids, monuments of a ruling class too shy to flaunt their wealth and power more personally. `Monumentalism' describes what drove the pharaohs of Egypt and elites throughout history to build gigantic monuments to glorify themselves and preserve their mummies and memories. Today, high rise buildings express the triumph of the ruling class, expressed through superb engineering, if not always elegant architecture. The thrill is shared by ordinary people who are impressed by their grandeur and feel identified with their `place'. Like the pyramids of Egypt and the cathedral craze of Europe, HIGHRISEs manifests monumentalism.

This HIGHRISE urban blight continues, slightly slowed by good sense and market forces. The inherent un-economy of these monsters expresses feudal pomposity hanging on to the coat tails of capitalist vigor. But as the cold forces of MOM's marketplace manifest themselves, HIGHRISEs will fade into historical anachronisms, like tax collectors in shining armor and steel framed gothic cathedrals. The 88 floor grandiose Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur were not bad enough, epitomizing as it does conspicuous consumption of the Suharto and his MUNCs amid the poverty and squalor of what could and should be a tropical paradise. One last gasp of these "URBAN BULLIES" is the proposed Grollo Tower in Sydney, an 1837 foot 120 story pointed monster, thrusting its point into the sky, an embarrassment to every Freudian Australian.[ See *URBAN BULLIES, in the Guardian of London, 12/14/98, as reported by Jonathan Glancey in 4/99 *WORLD PRESS REVIEW.]

These giant buildings come about by fiendish fiscal mechanisms that make them economically profitable to their builders and owners. These monstrosities are only feasible because of their tax - depreciation and a surfeit of subtle subsidies. They seem economical not only because of the many subsidies but also because of the externalization of their damage to human and natural ecology. High-rise buildings result in long commutes (personal stress), high smog pollution (health hazards), fragmentation of families (divorce, poverty, alcoholism and abuse), alienating suburban environments (isolation and loneliness) and disastrous big city slums (crime and degradation).

The sickness of cities is maintained by a network of tax laws, depreciation incentives, zonal welfare systems, highway departments and meter maids, testifying to the system's innate malice and subconscious hostility, which grips us all. Those big buildings would not be built if the economic rules of depreciation and other incentives were in harmony with the ecological damage involved. They certainly have no honest economic use, since people communicate by electronic means even from adjacent rooms or adjacent desks, and the amount of hanky-panky is too sparse to justify the superficial proximity in an office building.

Much of the jobs done in cities are the most abstract and pathological the world has ever seen, a triumph of the abstract life, contributing little to production or service and much to harassment and control. Touted as the `middle class life style', the abstract urban life promotes pathologies at every level. High consumption requires the labor of masses of productive people and destructive access to the world's resources, with little gratitude or acknowledgement.

The cities are decaying, as many critics point out. But instead of a smooth transition toward organic sustainable communities, the HOGs irresponsibility simply lets them rot. (p.281) The stench of rotting culture spreads to the suburbs, even to the country side. Each intervention may be well intentioned, but too little, too poorly thought out, and too corrupted by `interests'.

Humanity's greatest evils, such as the selling of cigarettes, the promotion of plantations, the construction of armies and prisons are all instigated and directed in urban environments, truly the cultural sewers of our day.

In the poorest neighborhoods a few crumbs of community life exist when the kids gather to play, make mischief together, or hang out making face-to-face deals. The urban community may be thin and sick, but it often has more organic social life than the wealthier urban and suburban neighborhoods. Even the intense utilization of mothers as chauffeurs does not bridge the gap. People are increasingly separated by the machines that bring them together: the car, the telephone, the TV, the Internet and its virtual community.

It is not simple conurbation that causes the disaster of common cities, it's the malice of the managers, CGMs (p.248), just doing their job. Objectively, the operational purpose of the city is to enslave and degrade the poorer classes - an operating motive rarely conscious. Though few of the victors admit to experiencing this triumph subjectively, many of the vanquished suffer every day, often aware of the causes. A confirming example is the policy of rebuilding inner Los Angeles essentially the way it was before the quake and burning in 1992, perhaps with a stronger police force.

The legislators design our far-reaching tax and financial programs under the guidance of the moguls and multinationals whose lobbyists support their campaigns. Few builders are aware of the negative effects of such building. They probably enjoy their work and believe in its value.[ Ayn *Rand, a RIDLY elitist who calls herself an `objectivist', portrays this glory in her book and its movie, *FOUNTAINHEAD.] They are just ICERs doing their jobs (p.236, 241). Unfortunately, they follow the current rules of `unrealestate'. They repress their awareness of the external costs, and the financial, ecological, and cultural damages.

Modern accounting laws lower the owners' taxes by depreciating the costs over time. These expensive buildings are considered `capital investment', regardless of their contribution to wealth and human welfare. The damage they do is `externalized', ignored and denied by the network of constructing corporations, collaborating contractors, lobbied legislators, and zany zoners.

The costs to the human and natural environment never show up in the ledgers and legislatures. When the ugliness of crowding, gridlock, smog and slurbs is noticed, the public relations department distracts and evades the issues. Worse yet, the loyal citizens ignore and deny their own suffering out of loyalty to the system that has so successfully socialized them. Common folk personalize the problem with "Ain't it awful", "Why don't people stay home" and "Population explosion, too many people, that's what!"

"POPULATION EXPLOSION!!" is a poor excuse for bad culture design. Granted, Earth has exceeded its most comfortable human population, and ZERO POPULATION is only a few decades away given present trends. But the present populations and ten times more could easily live sustainably (p.225) with a better quality of life than today if only human values were applied to culture design instead of corporate values. (ICE, p.236, 241) Unhealthy crowding has been a problem throughout history (OOPS, p.233) and fewer people would not necessarily alleviate the problem or increase the quality of life, unless the culture is better designed. The complaint itself characterizes an ICEy primitive, passive, point of view that human should be adjusted to the SAM system.(p.238) A human based world view would adjust the system to the humans. Technology and resources make the task easy, but SAM makes it almost impossible.

The first move would be to stop doing the wrong: Stop subsidizing high-rise construction in the city and proliferation of the slurbs. Stop subsidizing the automobile transportation that enables these absurd constructions. But this Libertarian move by itself is not enough. We postpone attention to how one might go about reversing these lobbied and legislated disasters.

Human ecology describes the problem and culture design suggests solutions. Picture an E chart, perhaps distorted and misapplied, with the i scale representing simply the height of the buildings and E the distance of the commute. Similar to Fig 4-2 (p.?) the chart even looks like a building with a long road. The culture design solution is simply represented as Fig 4-3: smaller buildings and less commute. Solutions in general address the problem of human ecology first - the reconstruction of organic social life ROSL - and second, redesign of the supporting natural ecosystem.

Reconstruction organic cities and suburbs means promoting neighborhood ecovillages that include residences, work places, shops, and culture. We are blessed with a urban designers constantly promoting such revitalization.[ See books by Roberta *Gratz, Jane *Jacobs, Tony *Hiss, Moshe *Safdie, Sim *Van der Ryn, Peter *Calthorpe, Norman *Mintz, Chee Wa *Tung - and many others.] Unfortunately many fall into the MAC trap with dazzle and sculpture, but a dearth of community. WARD, p.223, and LIBERTYVILLE, p.227, offer simple images of reconstruction of organic urban life.

Critiques of the city are frequent and vigorous. Mike *Davis's ECOLOGY OF FEAR and LA, CITY OF QUARTZ elicit scathing criticism from the ICErs of ECONOMIST, BUSINESS WEAK, and even the LA Times, as reported by Jon *Wiener in the 2/22/99 NATION.

Urban planning is a vigorous field and much improvement is taking place, against the odds. Roberta Brandes *Gratz's book CITIES, BACK FROM THE EDGE, Jane *Jacobs DEATH AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES, and Tony *Hiss, THE *EXPERIENCE OF PLACE, and many other books, periodicals and institutions, such as *WORLD WATCH offer constant enlightenment and encouragement. The PBS TV documentary *JOURNEY TO PLANET EARTH, surveys four great cities: Mexico City, Istanbul, Shanghai, and New York, comparing culture, richness, style, water and air supply, etc.[ *JOURNEY TO PLANET EARTH, Mexico City, Istanbul, Shanghai, and New York. PBS TV 3 tape set $60. 1-800-PLAYPBS c Screenscape Inc 1999.]

Imagine organic urban environments. People walk and talk. Neighborhoods have a village quality. Children are safe. Cooperation and culture evolves. Ecological values rise while economic costs decline.

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