On generative capacity and other things….

Instead of typing this in the comments over at Mammoth blog I thought I would post my extended thoughts here. First I thought Mammoth’s post on “generative capacity” was a great follow up to a brief conversation in a previous post re the politics of  and the tools for implementing contemporary urban challenges.

However, I wonder if a distinction can be made between civic and political. For example in the cited article from Places, Hillary Brown discusses a federally initiated program, one which sort of reminds me of the type of make work (suggesting real urban interventions) the Dutch provide for designers in an economic downturn. I wonder though if it is possible to distinguish this from a more civically produced urban/landscape design strategy. Wherein the citizens are perhaps  the instigator/agency of record or even just laborer. A more formalized and infrastructural (even if distributed) guerrilla gardening of sorts?? I suspect that this would work best in the sorts of lo fi approaches FASLANYC has discussed before as opposed to the big master planned centralized landscape infrastructural project.

Additionally, regarding the stated concern raised by them (and following on an earlier  comment by FASLANYC) about the default inclusion of public parks as a the go to multi-functional program of any major landscape infrastructural project, I would personally say that outside of safety concerns I think that this is not a bad thing. Especially, given the relatively low per capita availability in most urban areas of public green space. And if the ecosystem services equation is added, public semi-wild parks have additional positives in terms of ecological diversity and habitat. However, I would agree that in principle malls are public in some limited sense (unless we are talking malls a la the National Mall) but are also highly commercialized and private in real terms. It seems as if the question is really more a rhetorical one though aimed at stimulating debate as to whether or not there is an option that could be included for a multi-use program that isn’t “park”.

Finally, to the meat of their post regarding generative capacity. I wonder if it is useful to make a distinction between generative and productive urbanism here? Meaning with the growing focus on ecosystem services, urban agriculture etc is productive as a quality of urbanism focused more on what the infrastructure can support/provide? Whereas generative has to do more with the broader physical or non-physical effects (explicitly defined or not) of said infrastructure on the shape, direction and form of urbanism? Or would the explicit definition of these generative effects of infrastructure as part of a projects program render such a distinction meaningless. In my mind, generative is currently almost a post rationalization or better yet recognition of the possibilities of infrastructure “oh look what else it can do”. In either case it seems to me that both offer a way out of the NU/LU types debates re: form, style etc and stem from the growing focus on performance as the defining factor of contemporary urbanism.

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2 thoughts on “On generative capacity and other things….

  1. Nam,
    good points about the difference between generative and productive. there is less of a clear distinction between the two from my side of the fence – it might just be an interesting semantic point. urban ag provides other ecosystem services beyond providing food – though how much and what sorts depends on the growing system.

    Discussing Civic v Political space evokes flashbacks to the ’90s (and perhaps the ’70s). At least the mall is dead and being converted into a new-urbanist neighborhood or lifestyle center. I’m still paranoid about the privatization of the public realm, at least I don’t live out in the burbs…

    Guess I now need to find time to finish my own post about Hillary Brown’s piece.

    • I suspect that your are right re: the semantics. I think it is also useful to wonder whether productive can be applied beyond urban ag, to other forms of productive urbanism (energy, water etc)

      As for the issue of privatization. It is a real concern of mine. I tend not to be overtly focused on the political but increasingly the civic realm (where i suppose the political often occurs) is a real concern of mine and things like Arizona debating whether to privatize public parks.

      I look forward to reading your response to Hillary’s piece.

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