Some Inspiration from Guatemala

Turn the lights down, and the volume up. It’s time for some Market Urbanist media, courtesy of some future urbanist leaders who’s ideas may one day liberate our cities from yesterday’s unenlightened technocrats.

Architecture students at Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala participated in Professor Gonzalo Melian’s (more on him and his work in future posts) Dynamic Urban Planning Workshop. Obviously very proud of his students, Prof. Melian offered to share his students’ inspiring videos with the readers of Market Urbanism, which you can watch below. Prof. Melian described the course as followed:

The Dynamic urban Planning workshop started this year. It has two parts. One part is theory and the other one is practice. The theory part has 15 sessions (90 min) and it is divided into two parts: Static Urban Planning and Dynamic Urban Planning.

Static Urban Planning is divided into different lectures about: the ontology of cities, what is a static urban planning, the modernist ideas as the beginning, some critics, such as Jane Jacobs, the history of the static urban planning system from 1950 to today and the static urban planning system in theory and practice.

The second part of the course, Dynamic Urban Planning, is divided into different lectures like: the importance of private property rights: the problem of the commons and the problems of the anti-commons; public goods and externalities in cities; the theory of economic goods of cities; the price formation in cities: the importance of free market prices; the theory of monopoly onto cities; entrepreneurship, knowledge and spontaneous order in cities; theory of the impossibility of economic calculation in cities; the capital theory of cities; the economic cycle applies on cities; the expansion of credit without saving as a distortion of cities; charter cities; and looking for free cities.

The practice part is divided into three parts: analysis, dynamic urban planning and dynamic urban design.

And the result is what you are about to watch [and is posted] on the dynamic urban planning blog.


GUATEMALA FREE CITY from Diego Saenz on Vimeo.

Video: Sandy Ikeda on The Unintended Consequences of “Smart Growth”

I came across this video interview of economist Sandy Ikeda by the Mackinac Center. Sandy currently blogs at thinkmarkets and has contributed guest posts to Market Urbanism. I thought Sandy did a great job discussing many of the topics we cover in this site. Sandy is particularly insightful when it comes to the “dynamics of intervention” as it relates to how the planning philosophy in the early days of the automobile created living patterns now disdained by modern planners. Today, Smart Growth planners want to use top-down coercive methods to correct the wrongs of past planners top-down follies, but will they get it right this time? Check it out:

The Unintended Consequences of “Smart Growth” from Mackinac Center on Vimeo.

Update: Here’s what Sandy has to say at thinkmarkets…

Urban[ism] Legend: Traffic Planning

Mathieu Helie at Emergent Urbanism posted a link to a interesting game created at the University of Minnesota. Mathieu explains it better than I can:

The game begins in the Stalinian Central Bureau of Traffic Control, where a wrinkly old man pulls you out of your job at the mail room to come save the traffic control system. You are brought to a space command-like control room and put to work setting traffic lights to stop and go. Meanwhile frustrated drivers stuck in the gridlock you create blare their car horns to get your attention, and if their “frustration level” rises too high you fail out of the level. As the road network gets as complicated as four intersections on a square grid, the traffic becomes completely overwhelming and failure is inevitable, but the old man reassures you that they too have failed anyway.

OK, you’ve played the game? If not, don’t go further until you have.

Now that you’ve played the game and failed to control traffic, compare that top-down system with this amazing video a friend sent to me from Cambodia. You’ve gotta see this:

Man, I love this video! I must have watched it a couple dozen times. I keep expecting a crash, in what to me (only being familiar with top-down planned traffic systems) looks like complete chaos. Yet pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles, scooters, rickshaws, and cars all make it to their destinations safely, and probably quicker than in the system in the game above. It must be similar to how capitalism must seem chaotic to people who have always lived in planned economies.

Don’t mistake me as an advocate of a world without traffic signals. I am quite certain that some sort of traffic signaling would likely emerge from a free-market street system. But, my bigger point is that when information is dispersed widely among decision-makers without government monopoly, sustainable solutions emerge from the uncoerced behavior of individual agents over time.

Another article at Infrastructurist discusses the philosophical differences Dutch and American road designs, and gives an example:

A fascinating example is a major–20,000 cars a day!–intersection in the Dutch city of Drachten that used to look a lot a typical American intersection, with lots of bright paint and traffic signals and enormous signs telling you what and what not to do. Traffic planners tore that stuff out and went naked, just putting down a roundabout in the center. The sidewalks even disappeared as distinct structures. Everyone figured it out though. Fatalities at the intersection dropped markedly, as did travel times.

Also read Tom Vanderbilt: News for Traffic Signal Manufacturers

President Obama on Jane Jacobs and Cities

Without getting too political on inauguration day, I’d like to share a positive video featuring our new President that urbanists should appreciate, regardless of political persuasion:

Let’s hope President Obama keeps Jane Jacobs’ lessons of spontaneous order from The Death and Life of Great American Cities in mind as he makes economic decisions.

While on the subject of Jane Jacobs, Sandy Ikeda discusses Jane Jacobs’ thoughts on poverty from The Economy of Cities (1969).

[hat tip for the video: Vince Graham]