goto Appendx main menu Ring City : George Thrush
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In a 1991 essay Margaret Crawford asked, "Can architects be socially responsible?" Her answer was not very optimistic. She described the unquestioning servitude of today's corporate architecture firms to their private clients and the social, cultural, and political irrelevance of their academic counterparts. She concluded that "both the restricted practices and discourse of the profession have reduced the scope of architecture to two equally unpromising polarities: compromised practice or esoteric philosophies of inaction."1 At this point in the evolution of both architectural and political history, we acknowledge Crawford's twin poles with a kind of numbness; a dulled assent born of a lack of alternatives. The state of social responsibility being what it is, it is hard to imagine an architectural practice that isn't "compromised"; and at the same time, it is equally difficult to envision a way to imbue one's work with meaning and beauty commensurate with the rich histories of architecture and urban design without resorting to "esoteric philosophies."  The result is a dilemma that forces architects to choose between form and content. 

Form and Content 
This situation lies in stark contrast to the social and ideological backdrop to much of the most important urbanism of this century. Whether it was the healthful, efficient utopia of Le Corbusier's Ville Contemporaine, the deified individuality of Frank Lloyd Wright's Broadacre City, C.I.A.M.'s socialist housing projects, or even the later anti-utopian proposals of outlined by Rowe and Koetter these proposals were conceived Appendx 3 page break 124 | 125 in a context of dynamic relationships between form and content.2 All of these formal strategies were driven by the expectation that a certain kind of social relationship was expected to occur within them; or at the very least, that whatever social relations occurred would be demonstrably different than those they sought to replace.  This kind of socially prescriptive design in the contemporary American city seems noticeably less possible today. Designers have less and less authority over the overall vision of their projects (much less of the built environment as a whole) as the development process transforms vision into image, ideas into marketing, and public concerns into private ones. 

Indeed, the physical form of our public environment seems more separate from the reality and scale of our social problems than at any time in this century. Architecture's public content–its development of new functional programs, progressive social concerns, and political ideologies–seems no longer capable of lending meaning to its forms. Instead we see architecture and urbanism most frequently reflecting the increasingly privatized, isolated, and discrete  concerns of its patrons (private industry and an increasingly privatized government), or occasionally its authors (academic architects whose set pieces are often beautiful, but whose influence remains small). What is clearly missing is a strategy for addressing the enormous social and political problems  facing our country in a way that takes advantage of architecture's inherent power to prescribe experience. Such a strategy would join the design quality and public purpose missing in private commercial development with the viable means of implementation missing from today's academic proposals.  What is needed is an alternative strategy to rejoin form and content. 

The City as a Whole 
This rupture between form and content in the built environment can also be said to exist in our political and social culture. Rather than view our democracy as a rich, diverse, and complex political unit, we instead tend to separate it into parochial interest groups that work against any kind of compromise for the greater whole. It is the premise of this essay that we can find a way to create a clearer definition of our shared interests in metropolitan areas by means of enlightened urban design. This proposal is intended not only to mend our urban fabric, but to create a physical basis for greater political cooperation. The key is to find a way  to view the metropolitan area as a whole.Appendx 3 page break 125 | 126 

What follows is a proposal to use urban design as a catalyst to encourage the development of a denser, more integrated society. It involves persuading city and regional planners that it is not impossible to conceive of today's complex and diverse American city as a singular whole, and to pursue planning and urban design strategies which support that conception.  The proposal is an effort to link a reinvented notion of American liberalism with a reconceptualization of how our cities are physically structured. It is a renewed attempt to link a progressive political idea to urban design and to resist the country's continuing social, political, and spatial fragmentation. 

The political idea behind this proposal is something called civic liberalism. It is an idea put forward by Mickey Kaus in his book, The End of Equality. Kaus claims that what most offends Americans is not the inequity of income among citizens (which many acknowledge as reflecting differences in economic productivity), but the social inequality that often accompanies it. By this he means the perception that people who are wealthier are "not just better off–but better."3 This perception is possible, according to Kaus, because money has been allowed to supplant all else in dictating how we value one another in American society. Although this may seem a banal observation to some, it actually holds the seeds of a profound revolution in liberal political thinking. For Kaus proposes that by focusing on the social equality that comes from a vibrant civic life, rather than on that which comes from economic equality in the private sphere, American liberalism could move from being almost completely ineffectual to being very effective in a short time. 

Kaus describes the failure of what he calls money liberalism, or the traditional liberal agenda that "seeks to prevent income differences from corroding social equality by the simple expedient of reducing the income differences—or, more accurately, suppressing the income differences continually generated in a capitalist economy." In its place, he offers civic liberalism, which "pursues social equality directly, through government action, rather than by manipulating the unequal distribution of income generated in the capitalist marketplace."4 This distinction between money liberalism and civic liberalism holds tremendous opportunities for programming a redesigned landscape for America's cities. 

Kaus speaks of the importance of recreating the "public sphere" if we are to pursue civic liberalism. He cites a number of democratic institutions that might be used to reinforce social equality. "Public schools, public spaces, and the draft,"5 for example, are areas of public life whose decline Kaus feels can be reversed, but he is not so sanguine about the prospects for other parts of the public sphere. "We can't, for example,Appendx 3 page break 126 | 127 easily undo the process of suburbanization," he says. But the new kind of metropolis envisioned here–the urban design idea called Ring City–is intended to be a start toward doing just page 

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