Re-imagining Cities: The Aesthetics Issue

Learning to sell sustainability through a new visual vernacular.

During a workshop on local urban design yesterday morning at the Re-imagining Cities symposium, K.T. Ravindran from the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi raised an interesting point. We had just seen presentations filled with futuristic-looking renderings of things like buildings with heliostats, and Ravindran responded, “In times of stress and change, it can be hard to absorb new forms.”

Robert Socolow addressed this same conundrum in his presentation at dinner last night. The state of New Jersey recently approved plans to construct a massive offshore wind farm in the Southern part of the state, but the news was dominated, Socolow noted, by the site of wind turbines on the seascape. The picture that ran with the story in The New York Times emphasized local fears that turbines would be an unsightly mar on the pristine seascape (never mind the existing scar of belching power plants on our landscape—we’ve apparently become blind to that):

Kenneth McCown, an architect and landscape architect based in Arizona, said that he has learned to tread carefully when presenting new ideas to communities. He intentionally downplays innovations and works to relate new forms to past precedents. In one instance, McCown referenced historical images of a town’s agricultural past to sell the idea of reintroducing urban farms to the cityscape.”People connect to an uncertain future when they can relate it to the past,” he said.

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