goto Appendx main menu Ring City : George Thrush
text | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | notes
previous page 

What Is Ring City ? 
Ring City is a transformed version of today's segregated metropolitan areas, where a traditionally dense downtown core is separated from its more prosperous suburbs by a ring of underdeveloped and disenfranchised land. It involves employing a circumferential civic boulevard, called  an Urban Ring, to connect the areas between the urban core of the traditional city and the surrounding suburbs in order to allow for the density of the metropolitan area to increase. The result would be that one or several  of these Urban Rings would connect the large-scale systems of regional highway transportation (existing ring roads, highways, beltways, commuter rail lines, parkways, etc.) with the denser fabric of the traditional city through a series of transit stations, parking structures, and other opportunities to conveniently exchange the automobile for public transportation while still outside of the center of the city. The advantage of this strategy is that it makes use of the only system of spatial organization that operates at the regional scale–the transportation system–and transforms it into a mechanism to coordinate pedestrian and public transit–oriented neighborhood urban design into a cohesive metropolitan network. 

An Urban Ring could spur private development in areas that lack connections to the commercial world around them, as is the case with many of America's decaying urban industrial areas and disenfranchised ghettos. It could also transform many parts of the existing city, by re-presenting them in the light of a new spatial hierarchy. It could add prominence to the public aspects of our built environment at a time when there are many forces at work that would further privatize it.  By serving as an important public sequence, an Urban Ring would be the ideal place to locate civic institutions–schools, government buildings, hospitals, day-care centers, churches, synagogues, mosques—as well as commercial developments and housing. It would also be the perfect place for civic celebrations and parades, as it would pass through several different neighborhoods and districts throughout the city. This Urban Ring would both prioritize existing places and encourage the development of additional ones. 

But an Urban Ring could do much more. The Ring City that it would help create would give our metropolitan areas a single civic thread that might resist some of the centrifugal forces of fragmentation that isolate individuals and expand our cities ever Appendx 3 page break 127 | 128 outward. It could also help to reinforce the existing center, both physically and politically. It could resist the diminution of municipal political authority and lend spatial prominence to public institutions on the Urban Ring itself. One can easily imagine neighborhood and minority interests occupying positions on an Urban Ring in the form of community centers, and religious or cultural institutions. These smaller groups, whether composed of ethnic, racial, or  other minority interests, would have a formalized "place at the table" on the civically important Urban Ring. As a result, this new kind of city would have a civic structure designed to represent a mixture of cultures while retaining an overall system of spatial hierarchy. 

From the standpoint of urban design itself, Ring City could be understood in terms of what Kevin Lynch called "the image of the city."6 By providing a ring of common experience and markers (transit stations at the Urban Ring's intersection with primary radial arteries would be marked with towers visible from a great distance), the Urban Ring could help to coordinate one's mental map of the city with a coherent set of landmarks that could highlight important nodes located in districts around the core. In this way, one's orientation in the region would be greatly  enhanced. Moreover, playing a role at both the scale of the individual street landscape and the regional skyline, the Urban Ring would express its synthetic character, joining previously separated parts of the city. 

Why Is the Ring City Desirable? 
The following three arguments in favor of Ring City address different types of social, political, and formal problems, but together, they make a strong case for pursuing the idea in a more detailed way. The most traditionally progressive reason for advocating the Ring City idea is what we might call the altruism model. This is a traditional argument grounded in moral responsibility for the poor, and it has served as the philosophical underpinning of much of the Western architecture and urbanism in this century. Despite the transparent failure of many of this model's architectural progeny–America's anti-urban slabs of modernist public housing are  the starkest example–it remains for many the most compelling argument for political action in the built environment. In this regard, an Urban Ring would afford access to jobs, education, services, and integration with the rest of the city. This argument says that we must salvage those disenfranchised and underdeveloped parts of our metropolitan area because it is our moral duty to do so. For those motivated by this moral position, the Urban Ring could serve as the means to a more just, egalitarian society.Appendx 3 page break 128 | 129 

The next argument for pursuing the idea of the Ring City is more self-interested. It suggests that we all have much to gain from a society that is less fragmented, more cohesive on public issues, and clearer about the rights and responsibilities of its public life. This argument might be called "communitarian", for its similarities to the contemporary American political movement of that name.7 Many look at American society and see social decay in all classes that stems from a lack of respect for, and responsibility toward, the fate of those around us. There is a great anxiety about the future economic, social, and political health of the country. The sense that we are coming apart as a nation, breaking up into smaller and smaller subgroups, is evident in many ways in our society. The 1992 Los Angeles riots warned yet again of the consequences that await if we continue to fail the large disenfranchised segment of our society. But corporate downsizing, the retreat to "cyberspace," the rise of militias, and other signs of instability threaten to put a much larger segment of the population at social risk. Moreover, the number of Americans facing economic risk is also growing.8 One need only peruse the campaign literature of almost any contemporary political candidate to appreciate the pervasiveness of this anxiety. Ring City is a strategy for creating the physical conditions for a renewed sense of public life that might offer some comfort to those battered by the shifting economic winds. By linking the fates of that growing portion of American society that is uncertain about its future, Ring City could create a climate for a reinvention of liberal society in America. 

The final argument for Ring City ignores social concerns entirely, pays no attention to the social content of our cities, and instead focuses solely on their potential for formal expression. This argument completely disengages form from content and replaces the prospect of social meaning with the possibility of beauty. This is essentially an argument for composition. It says that for architectural or urbanistic beauty to be appreciated, there must be a context against which to register its rhythms, hierarchies, surfaces, spaces, and patterns. The idea is that an Urban Ring boulevard would enhance the opportunities for great architecture and urban design simply by providing a more consistent backdrop with which such work could interact. 

Inasmuch as architecture and urban design are experienced in motion, the sequence of spaces leading up to and through them is critical. Interestingly, by creating something of a datum or common reference, this would allow designers who sought to "deviate" from established norms not only  the possibility of doing so, but of being understood as deviant–an opportunity that today's cacophonous urban landscape frequently denies them.Appendx 3 page break 129 | 130 

These three arguments for creating a Ring City: altruism, communitarianism, and enhanced opportunities for public beauty—are all compelling, as far as they go. But Ring City is a proposal to address contemporary social and spatial fragmentation with a transformed historical urban design typology. If it is to work, we must examine both the nature of the problems and the type  in order to evaluate their page 

text | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8
appendx inc.©1997