Week 15: The Urban Imaginary – Correy Woods

Restructuring of urban imaginary essential is the “new urbanism” at its finest. So, re-thinking how central city is thought of in today’s sustainability movement redefines old terms with a new twist… This is the reason “vintage” is considered cool, instead of old! Or, a used car is sold as “pre-owned.” All of these are ways redefine the space and place in time as known. So, the resurgence of life back into urban sectors of central cities. According to Soja, “hyperreality describes the confusion and fusion of the real and imagined.”

 Another thought that came to mind while reading Soja’s piece on Restructuring the Urban Imaginary, is David Cooperfield… Or as my father would say, “the same soup, just warmed over” as related to reinventing the wheel as related to sustainability (aka smart growth, bka lean management, aka “efficiency”). No matter what the trendy term of the decade, is sustainability (i.e. – environment, social and economics). With that being said… Jean Baudrillard; Celeste Olalquiaga; Howard Rheingold; and M. Christine Boyer provide good takes on interpreting spatial analysis through different forms of viewing cities.  


Week 14 – Jimmy

Readings this week from Soja Chapter 11, “Restructuring the Urban Imaginary” and the remaining chapters 5-9 in Italo Calvino Invisible Cities.  In talking about theurban imaginary, the discourse brings one into thinking about how the way that we consciously think about the city (since we are inhabitants, and therefore partakers of the city) influences the way we live – our thought patterns, our preferences, the choices we make, etc.  Even the public political sway that is exerted by the proletariat influences urban form – just as people vote with their choice to purvey certain businesses.  Earlier on a couple months ago, we discussed the three different ‘spaces’, with the 1st space representing spatial practice, or how we actually live.  2nd space is a representation of that first space, such as a map or image of the lived space.  And 3rd space is the space of representation – the symbolic dimensions, the perceived space, how we feel about a space.  This 3rd space is opened up in this chapter as is its interplay with the other two.

For example, one of the perceptions that has changed about our world in the past century is that the perceived distance between locales has shrunk with the onset of modern communications.  In fact, the distance between cities has smashed so violently into one another, that many cities can actually multiply exist simultaneously right on top of each other.  This occurs on a separate layer from the 1st or 2nd lived or conceived spaces – this perceived space takes form as a community of role playing game simulations, online forum users, even a group of bloggers discussing theory of urban form.

However, for the most part I find the arguments presented in this chapter of a level and frill that I don’t care for too much.  The assertion that the ‘representation has become the real’, or that a conceived space takes precedence over the actual lived space, seems overly philosophical and unfounded.  It doesn’t jive to purport that no value can be found in studying actual current cities, as the textbooks and news articles that represent one can be found to represent all.  Perhaps my mind just doesn’t think exactly the way Baudrillard’s does.  I can see how dismissing real events and trading them in for what the media feeds to the public does trade in empathy based in reality for mere conceptions (as in the Gulf War example).  But that still doesn’t change that reality.

The rest of the synopses of other writers doesn’t intrigue me much, until the discussion on Simcities!  Perhaps because SimCity (the original) was one of my favorite computer games growing up (and without even having read the essay on the history of cities and city planning included in the user manual).  I can relate to the experience of getting caught up in the simulation exercise – and the everyday experiences of the Sims and your issues faced as government become very real and encapsulating.  I can also hence imagine how the experience of designing a real-life simulated city, such as a theme park city, would invoke the same senses and excitement, though ramifications of playing around with real-world and real-people does cause trepidation.

And this Soja chapter ends with such a scathing discourse on many things, some of which have to do with the chapter topic, that if one ever wondered what Soja’s political bent was before this conclusion, they would never be in the dark again.  While I tend to agree with his suppositions, I still think it an almost mis-fittingly strong chapter conclusion, but entertaining indeed.

Week 11 Discussion Jeff Gross Jr

America is a country of the wealthy and there is an increasing divide between rich and the poor.  There are the standard reasons given for this phenomenon such as the belief that capitalism by its very nature produces the poor, or economic restructuring.  How we choose to define the problem and where we position ourselves in the distribution of wealth is one that is constantly being argued politically.  However, what is not disputable is that the economic restructuring that has taken place has never been so varied and politically unpredictable.  The issues that are emerging from this economic reality is that the city geometry, and the way we live is being reshaped by a small group of people called Upper Professionals, Soja states that” they are the most aggressive territorial infighters in fighting Urban Planning policies, they are the gentrifier’s”,what is worse is that the city is more racially divided than ever.  Soja refers to this “old” social geometry as a Fractal which is a fractured social geometry.  I say old because it is the same divided America it has always been, but as he contends it is a more complex horizontal social and economic model, which includes not just the old vertical model of white high class, white and black middle class, and the poor, but white and black high class, etc.  Soja’s proposal to use fractals to map the cities geography to try and make sense of complexities of the cities social and spatial patterns is needed, because of the alarming answer to the fractals, which is isolation, barricades, security and destruction of the public domain.  All of which brings into question the real issue that this creates for Urban Planners and one it must  confront, which is how does these approaches affect the public domain and who gets to use it?  The public domain is all that is available to all regardless of income or status, if it is compromised for a few, then there will be consequences for all of us.  The people they seek to barricade off and remove from the public domain will revolt at some point as they have in the past, and the liberties that were taken from them will be taken from those that seized it lawfully, but with a malicious intent.  The solution is to restore the public domain so that the city can be used for the enjoyment of all, this may mean that sidewalks lead to a place and are owned by the public, not the private. It also may mean that there are less gated communities, or neighborhoods that are designed outward instead of inward, security camera for the safety of all and not just a few.   In short, a fair and just city is an American city.

Manufacturing Inequality

The pairing of chapter one and nine this week was an insightful revisit. The history of settlement, class hierarchy, agriculture and migration compared to the postmetropolitan regions that are highlighted throughout chapter nine, represented a clear connection. On page 268 Soja provides an accurate summary of how historic settlement and class divisions, continue to affect majority of citizen living in developed nations today. In the section Soja states,
“Both left – and-right wing versions of the counter-discourse can be identified and they are curiously united around a shared belief that capitalism, by its very nature, perpetually produces and reproduces inequalities of wealth and power as part of its inner workings, indeed as one of its primary motors of socio-economic development. What we see today, viewed from this essentially historical if not historicist perspective, is therefore just more of the same thing.”
Throughout history we can see that nothing is unique, from development to the trends in which classes shift from the centre city to the outer city or suburbs. But what is most interesting about chapter nine is the section that Soja devotes to economic discourse connected to immigrants.
Every week there is new news about immigration reform, population control, labor and so on. Most recently with a fluctuating economy many politicians have blamed immigrants for majority of America’s employment concerns. As noted by Soja, the true income squeeze can be attributed to rapid globalization or an “accelerated round of creative destruction”. In America, where Hispanic Americans are quickly becoming the majority and many manufacturing jobs have moved elsewhere, I believe the discussions of labor need to begin shifting to reflect the world we live in today. In America, we rely on the free market to regulate the incomes and for the most part the economy, but in a global market everything is connected and I believe that is why we are begin to witness larger gaps between classes.

Ideas about Urban Sprawl

Previously I rather hated urban sprawl personally and I didn’t get used to living in Houston when I just arrived the US: Hot long summer without trees, long distance to walk, not bicycle lanes, not convenient to take bus at all, etc…..I missed the living in Shenzhen, one of the most beautiful and most convenient cities in China, best place to living if we measured with Jane Jacobs’ idea.

However, I suddenly realized one thing I forgot: Housing is rather expensive in Shenzhen, Beijing, Shanghai… every city in China. When I worked in Shenzhen, my rent made up 1/3 of my income, the same percent as my family in Houston now, however, the space where I rent in Shenzhen was only 15 sq ft! Only a single bed and a desk for laptop. If I wanted to buy condominium with the area of 1000 sq ft in Shenzhen, at least RMB 1 million was required, which equaled to $150, 000! No mention  buying a single family house! Look back in Houston, or other sprawl cities in America, we might see, how wonderful to have large space to enjoy big house, private garden, large yard to children running.

Another example in Houston, around Rice campus, it’s much more friendly for pedestrians and cyclists than average level in Houston. The price is expensive too, both apartments and houses. But if I chose the place just 3 miles farther, it’s much cheaper.

So here is the balance, if someone enjoy mix-use, transit oriented development (TOD) community, which convenient for them to work, shop, entertainment within 10-min walking or cycling, the housing might not be cheap, because developer needs profit, because mix-use, TOD or complete street increase the land value and make the community attractive.  Along with the agglomerate effect, the developer is more and more to prefer high-rise as the land value increase continuously. With the high rise, the land value will further increase. Then we might find, only middle class and up class can afford it, even middle class will feel burden. Then residents might find, why not move into suburban, using times of commuter to change cost of housing living?

Also in the article the author mentioned sprawl is an artificial system supported by federal funding. I can’t help to ask, where is the federal funding from? It came from all the tax payer. While in the past several decades, most people, except poor people and people who can not drive, enjoyed the suburban housing and highway. While in American, can poor people, elderly, disabilities get more refund from their tax file?

Maybe along the technology of automobile, we’ll have more efficient electronic car to decrease burden to environment. We will have more mini car to decrease traffic…

The above is just what I think needs to supplement to the sprawl analyzed in the article, but I’m personally still suppose anti-sprawl development at large, because public housing policy and other political or social approach might help to prevent housing price increase beyond affordability.

Discussion Week 10 Jeff Gross Jr


he suburbanization of America is at the core of the decline of the city center. There is evidence of this throughout the country and Houston is a perfect example.  It has been suburbanized to the extent that the entire city has become a suburb including some of its city center, at least in concept.  It is a mix of single use structures built in the middle of parking lots that have no relation to each other, or its environment.  In short, there is no sense of place, no sense of what has traditionally been called a city.  If government policies created cities like Houston, the question is why don’t we have government policies to help restore the city centers?  While there have been efforts to restore city centers by some local governments, and strategies like Smart Growth to attempt to control suburbanization, there have not been large scale investments by the federal government into city centers.  The investments are always on the next wave in transportation which is important to a city, like the high speed rail, but not a true focus on city centers. Incentives to build in the city’s center could restore American cities to the traditional neighborhoods that allowed more time for living and less time for commuting.  The positive to this is that all major cities across America that have been victimized by these policies could restore itself and offer both the suburban and urban lifestyles that could accommodate lifestyles for all of its residents. The solution is simple, if you destroy, you must construct.



ALL throughout European history, the concept of the gated community existed, because the European appeared to have always been an intruder and or unwelcome element of the community. In its essence, the gated stabilization period of protection based on land intrusion, and stabilization, during the conquering process. Some literature points out that the new world was a gated community and the fortress protection was the Pacific and Atlantic ocean, whereas the Aristocracy in Europe ridded itself of the non- Aristocracy. The new world was caused by this. When those, who were the expelled criminal (2nd class citizen) left Europe for the new world, those who were of means stayed put. In the American city, the established, like those in River Oaks (New World Aristocrat) remained in Houston and in other cities during the said riots etc. Literature notes that, those of lessor means fled to the newly formed constructed space[s], thereby creating their own empires, forcing the rural community to sit at its feet. The gated community appears to stem from a genetic guilt of a population who steals to maintain. The Old World European stole and colonized to acquire wealth; the new world profited off slavery; the Sub- urban population profits off the less fortunate rural population. The article points to significant cause[s]; none, being created by blacks and latinos., all being creating by political structure to unarm resources, and arm and protect by conservative rhetoric and ‘stand your ground,’ gun laws allowing for vigilante style overseers to patrol the gated community from an invisible monster, proven by recent incidents in the news. The gate is a paradox, because the historical criminal holds the key to the gate, therefore the criminal was and will always be inside the community they try to escape. The Slaughter of Cities: Urban Renewal as Ethnic Cleansing, by author Dr. E. Michael Jones, Ph.D. documents this extensively in its works.

Some literature argues: the suburban urban concept, was/is the new segregated water fountain; school systems, etc. In fact, the HBCU, Historically Black College and University (separate but equal) American social; economic; and politically institutionalized these practices, in contradiction to its own global position on the world, yet, the non- white appears to have always have become the scape- goat based on gated communities discourse of urban fear. This is a great article, as well.

Wk- 12

The Edge and the Center Gated Communities and the Discourse of Urban Fear, was particularly interesting to me because it talks about the effects that gated communities really have on its residents and overall community.  The recent gates being put up around campus by TSU administration has been a major topic in almost all my classes thus far.  The gate gives off several messages to students and community residents, for students it alarms them that the crime on the other side of the gate is dangerous, that it’s unsafe to walk outside the gates, or that we want to be excluding from the community because we think we are better. To the community it sends a message that we don’t want them on our campus because we are private and exclusive. This approach for the University is interesting because most University do not have gates, and the actually crime rate around the 3rd area has decreased in the last couple of years. Therefore, the gate was and is not warranted as in gates in most gated communities.   Its basically a form of segregation, which the article discusses were the reasoning behind the gated communities in the 60’s and 70’s when they came about, which was to keep black people out.  Without just cause and reason the gate does exactly what the phone application that we discussed in class, it creates and causes fear in areas when in fact there is nothing going on.  Since moving to Texas, I have noticed almost all apartment complexes and a lot of the subdivision here are gated and it kind of made me concerned that I was in a not so safe neighborhood.  However, I have lived in my safe apartment complex for two years and I have not experienced any crimes personally or heard of any in my immediate area.


I also enjoyed the reading “Suburban Nation”, I guess because I kind of think about the suburbs the same way the author exhibit.  I think it is human nature to want to live in the most secure and safe neighborhood, which in turn is predominately a middle income or o higher income areas.  I now know that it just decreases the value of lower income areas because we are not spending money or living in those areas for our various reasons.  I think it’s almost impossible to come up with an adequate solution because people will and should have a right to decide where they want to live and spend their dollars.  However, I do feel slightly convicted that the lower income areas appear to be doomed and isn’t America the land of equality?

Week 12: Suburbs/Exopolis – Correy Woods

The Anthropology of Space and Place: “The Edge and the Center: Gated Communities and the Discourse of Urban Fear” –Setha M. Low

What is your preference? (urban or suburban)… According to Low, there is a divide that has existed since “rural” and “urban.” Nevertheless, this division is magnified when gated communities began to decorate the landscape in the 1970s and 1980s. The issue of the have’s vs. the have not’s amplifies the underlying tone of difference between race, class, ethnicity and gender. This divide was driven by the free-market (deregulated capitalism) and common interest developments (CIDs).

Both Jane Jacobs and Oscar Newman defined space as either “Defensible” and “Eyes on the Street,” therefore seclusion is not in the best interest of a walkable city. There are four factors that make a defensible space:

  1. Territoriality – the idea that one’s home is sacred
  2. Natural surveillance – the link between an area’s physical characteristics and the residents’ ability to see what is happening
  3. Image – the capacity of the physical design to impart a sense of security
  4. Milieu – other features that may affect security, such as proximity to a police substation or busy commercial area

Sidenote: Oscar Newman’s basic five principles of designing defensible space as quoted in Design Guidelines for Creating Defensible Guidelines are as follows:

  1. The assignment to different resident groups the specific environments they are best able to utilize and control, as determined by their ages, life-styles, socializing proclivities, backgrounds, incomes, and family structures.
  2. The territorial definition of space in residential developments to reflect the zone of influence of specific inhabitants. Residential environments should be subdivided into zones toward which adjacent residents can easily adopt proprietary attitudes.
  3. The juxtaposition of dwelling interiors with exterior spaces and the placement of windows to allow residents to naturally survey the exterior and interior public areas of their living environments and the areas assigned for their use.
  4. The juxtaposition of dwellings—their entries and amenities—with city streets so as to incorporate the streets within the sphere of influence of the residential environment.
  5. The adoption of building forms and idioms that avoids the stigma of peculiarity that allows others to perceive the vulnerability and isolation of a particular group of inhabitants.

Setha Low conducts research in both New York and San Antonio, which consist of open-ended interviews (1 – 2 hours) with residents of both cities and asked a serious of questions. For example, who was the realtor utilized during home search process, marketing, sales and advertisement documents. And, the underlying problem was both safety and security of residents whom lived in the gated communities vs. non-gated dwellers.


Suburban Nation: “The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream” -The Global City: “Dispersal and New Forms of Centralization”

Traditional neighborhoods vs. suburban sprawl… The difference between the two is traditional neighborhood represent mixed land-use and pedestrian friendly space for all. The difference Virginia Beach, VA (suburban sprawl) and Alexandria, VA (traditional neighborhoods) are highlighted. Whereas, suburban sprawl does not adhere to traditional land form as done by traditional neighborhood land-use. Sprawl is categorized into five components, which consist of:

  • Housing subdivision: clusters or pods
  • Shopping centers (strip-centers)
  • Office parks and business parks
  • Civic institutions
  • Roadways

Week 12 – Jimmy

This week’s readings are enjoyable, because the topic of suburbs and urban sprawl is something that most of us can relate to, regardless of where exactly one’s upbringing took place.  The reason for this, is that the development of suburbs is intricately linked to the social challenges faced by urban centers, as mentioned in Setha Low’s article, The Edge and the Center: Gated Communities and the Discourse of Fear.  The changes to inner cities and suburbs are necessarily linked.  De-industrialization of cities and post World War II public policy had a spatial ramification, namely, the suburbanization of America.  One aspect that has ushered in a great population shift from urban to suburban America is that of fear of the violence, vice, crime, and general danger of the inner city.  Low follows this train of thought all the way to describing the eventual class separation and strongly engrained residential segregation in the built environment by explaining the nature of gated communities with respect to the reinforcement of urban fear and class exclusion.

I find Low’s article well-studied and well-documented, and conclusions difficult to argue with.  I think the challenge to someone that agrees with the concepts is that this person now is faced against an entire cultural norm.  I find it easy to say that I accept people from different economic classes or from different backgrounds than me, because I really do.  I can share a meal together and friendly, helpful discourse with others naturally.  But people living in gated communities are motivated by the implications of actually having to live somewhere.  And when it comes down to it, it just might be easier to live full-time in an environment free from harm (or at least perceived to be), where one will feel safe, where they will not worry about their kids’ well-being as they play in the neighborhood.  And admittedly, as one who would say right now that my ideal living situation would be tightly amongst people of all varieties and walks of life, I have to wonder if I would feel differently were I to have three kids?  Would I have complete disregard towards others that fear for my children’s safety?  I would feel safe living in most Houston neighborhoods now, but would I always feel this way?  And this is me I’m talking about – I know I’m way more embracing of everything urban and of people different from me compared to most people I know.  So it is not necessarily surprising that this storm of class distinction through gated communities has taken our country by force over the last half-century.

I enjoyed also reading Duany’s Suburban Nation as not concepts from it were new to me, but always interesting.  I found myself asking the same questions, as both my parents grew up in the suburbs of Denver – when their families weighed all the options, this suburban world seemed most ideal for them to raise a family in.  And I don’t fault others for defaulting to the same conclusion.  Many external factors stacked the deck and fixed the game against urban areas, such as transportation and housing policy and the like.  But when it comes down to it, people are simply out to make a choice of where to live, and are unconcerned with urban issues that may dampen the American lifestyle they seek.  Concern for the environment, or for low-income residents, or urban public education or other services, or for the most ideal public good, or for the good of future generations, is in the background – while the immediate need of providing what is best (and most convenient, efficient, etc) for the immediate family usually takes precedence.  And if everything that is needed for a subset of the population’s immediate families (the subset that carries the clout to drive policy), this drives the outcome, with all its social and spatial and built ramifications.

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