21 January 2008

The Dimension of Scale

Over the past year, much has been made about downtown and “human scale.” This discussion of human scale is often in the context of building height. As many know, James Rouse is known for criticizing other communities (both cities and suburbs) for being out of scale with people. This post provides the background information to determine the context of Rouse’s comments and how he viewed scale. This research was first spurred on by a post on the Tales of Two Cities blog and Wordbones longtime friend Jim Binckley.

The following excerpts were taken from four speeches made by James Rouse at Berkeley, California (1963), Chicago, Illinois (1965), before Congress (1966), and in San Juan, Puerto Rico (1967). These speeches are important because of their place in Columbia’s history. In each instance, James Rouse discusses scale as it relates to people.

The first excerpt of the speech comes from the James Rouse speech “It Could Happen Here.”

I believe that many of the most serious problems of our society flow from the fact that the city is out of scale with people; that it is too big for people to comprehend; to feel a part of; to feel responsible for; to feel important in. I believe this out-of-scaleness promotes loneliness, irresponsibility, superficial values.

“IT CAN HAPPEN HERE”
A Paper on Metropolitan Growth
By James W. Rouse
at Conference on The Metropolitan Future
University of California at Berkeley
September 23, 1963


Here, the term scale is introduced, but it is more aligned with feelings (loneliness) and social capital (to feel a part of) than any particular dimension or entity within a city. By this time, Rouse has already purchased most of the land in Howard County for Columbia, and within six weeks (November 1963), will have brought together the work group.

From Berkeley, we move on to Chicago, Illinois in the spring of 1965. During the intervening months between Berkeley and Chicago, James Rouse has been busy in Howard County. The work group has come and gone, he has presented his intentions to the Howard County Commissioners, and has worked with county officials for a year to get the zoning for Columbia.

At Chicaco, James Rouse spoke to a different audience. Rather than a conference on growth, this speech was presented to “The Annual Honor Awards Luncheon of the Chicago Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects,” at a time when the John Hancock Center was approved for construction. This building has 100 floors and rises 1,127 feet in the air. Commenting on the building, Rouse said:

Of more immediate interest to all of us is this recent manifestation of happy wedlock between good business and good architecture – The John Hancock Center. So contagious is the Chicago spirit that it has infested a Washington developer, an international architectural firm, and, most important, a great New England life insurance company to bring to your city a new landmark that may well become one of America’s greatest buildings.


Later in the speech, Rouse comes back to Columbia, and the issue of scale:

Forgive this amateur excursion into architectural philosophy – this audience and this platform produced a temptation that was irresistible. I was invited to talk about the City and the City I know best is Columbia – one that doesn’t even exist, but which has already brought to those of us who are working towards it, experiences and hopes we yearn to share.

We were drawn to the idea of building a City by our intensive involvement in suburban sprawl. As mortgage bankers and developers, we have financed for others or built for our own account most of the components of a City – but they have been splattered over the countryside in the unrelated bits and pieces that mark the accidental, fractured growth of our cities.

We have seen, as has each of you, the desperate need for comprehensive planning in metropolitan growth. We have made speeches about the loneliness and sterility of stratified, incomplete suburban sprawl and pleaded for communities in scale with people and responsive to the need for beauty, space, nature, culture, education, entertainment, and involvement. We have mourned the annihilation of streams and forests; cursed the bulldozer; fretted over the lack of mass transit and wrung our hands in despair as our cities surge toward the infinite Los Angeles that we have come to call Megalopolis.

April 8, 1965 – Chicago, Illinois
Great Cities for a Great Society
The Annual Honor Awards Luncheon of the Chicago Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects


Here, we find an expansion on the subject of scale and its relation to sprawl. Beyond the feelings and social capital, aspects of nature, mass transit, and civic purposes (education, culture, entertainment) are introduced. Moreover, scale is related to an “infinite” Los Angeles and Megalopolis. Even in the 1960’s, with the John Hancock building in Chicago and the World Trade Center in New York under construction, I do not believe the reference to infinite was in a vertical sense. Los Angeles is known for expanding far and wide across the California countryside. Similarly, the term Megalopolis refers to the merging of distant cities.


From 1965 Chicago, we move to Washington DC in 1966. During this year, James Rouse testified before Congress in support of the New Communities Section, Title II of the Housing Bill. The following quote comes from a paper written by Morton Hoppenfeld, “The Columbia Process – The Potential for New Towns,”

The following statement by James W. Rouse, the founder of Columbia, before a committee of Congress in support of the New Communities Section, Title II of the Housing Bill for 1966, expresses a real personal commitment on the part of the principal decision-maker in the effort to build a better city; his values are shared by the entire Columbia staff.‘

Our cities grow by accident, by the whim of the private developer and public…By this irrational process, non-communities are born – formless places, without order, beauty or reason, with no visible respect for people or the land…The vast formless spread of housing, pierced by the unrelated spotting of schools, churches, stores, creates areas so huge and irrational that they are out of scale with people – beyond their grasp and comprehension – too big for people to feel a part of, responsible for, important in…

From “The Columbia Process – The Potential for New Towns,” page 3,by Morton Hoppenfeld. The Garden City Press Limited, Letchworth Hertfordshire, England


Here we see a further evolution of the term scale. Scale is unequivocally equated with “the vast formless spread of housing.” Without question, Rouse has now identified development over large areas as the dimension of scale.

The final speech looked at here is the speech “Cities that Work for Man – Victory Ahead.” This speech was delivered in San Juan, Puerto Rico at the Lions International/University of Puerto Rico Symposium on “the City of the Future.”

[t]he bits and pieces of a city are splattered across the landscape. By this irrational process, non-communities are born – formless places without order, beauty or reason with no visible respect for people or the land. Thousands o’ small separate decisions made with little or no relationship to one another, nor their composite impact, produce a major decision about the future of our cities and our civilization – a decision we have come to label suburban sprawl. What nonsense this is! What reckless, irresponsible dissipation of nature’s endowment and of man’s hope for dignity, beauty, growth.

Sprawl is inefficient. It stretches out the distances people must travel to work, to shop, to worship, to play. It fails to relate these activities in ways the strengthen each and, thus, it suppresses values that orderly relationships and concentration of uses would stimulate.

Sprawl is ugly, oppressive, massively dull. It squanders the resources of nature – forests, streams, hillsides – and produces vast, monotonous armies of housing and graceless, tasteless clutter.

But worst of all, sprawl is inhuman. It is anti-human. The vast formless spread of housing pierced by the unrelated spotting of schools, churches, stores, creates areas so huge and irrational that they are out of scale with people – beyond their grasp and comprehension – too big for people to feel a part of, responsible for, important in.


[and later in the speech]

Sprawl is thought to be better than slum because it is greener, cleaner and less crowded. We accept the deficits of non-community; the scatterization of facilities, the frantic, fractured living, the loneliness amidst busyness, the rising delinquency among middle-class children, increasing neurosis, alcoholism, divorce; the destruction of nature and the dull monotonous man-made replacement. We accept it all as if it were a pre-ordained way of life beyond our capacity to significantly influence, shape or control. Lacking images of urban growth in communities that are in human scale and sensitive to both man and nature, we take what the developer gives us and we think we have to like it.

Cities that Work for Man – Victory Ahead
The Lions International/University of Puerto Rico Symposium on “The City of the Future”
San Juan, Puerto Rico
October 18, 1967


It is in this speech when it all comes together. James Rouse directly links “scale with people” with sprawl. The reference to loneliness recalls Berkeley. The reference to nature brings to memory Chicago.

What we do not find is any reference to scale and building height. It may well be that at sometime in future history a document may surface that spells out James Rouse’s position on height, but for now there should be little doubt that Rouse equated scale and sprawl, not height.

13 comments:

Frank Hecker said...

Thanks for digging this up. I think one can reasonably infer from Rouse's comments that "scale" is a relative thing: what is appropriate in a city of several million people (e.g., the John Hancock building) is not appropriate in a town of 50,000 people, and vice versa. "Sprawl" in this sense is simply a refusal to adopt urban measures of scale as the population in an area grows to urban dimensions. The opposite of sprawl is "orderly relationships and concentration of uses" (to quote Rouse).

So in today's context I think that the appropriate question is not "would Jim Rouse want 22-story buildings in Columbia?" but rather "does a 22-story building represent an appropriate 'concentration of uses' in a city of almost 100K people?". In my opinion we don't need to appeal to a unique "Columbia vision" to answer the question; we can simply look at other cities of similar size with similar-sized buildings and make a judgment as to whether that scale works in context or not.

Young at Heart said...

Thanks for the terrific research. It really contributes to the quality of the discussion about Town Center.

I think this information makes it clear that the human scale that Rouse was talking about referred not to heights of buildings, but to wide-spread suburban sprawl. He wanted people to be able to meet the needs of daily life, as well as business, entertainment, and cultural needs without traveling vast distances of irrational and unplanned suburban development.

This fits in perfectly with his development of the village centers, although they are no longer working as well as he hoped. It also fits with his plans for the development of a city center that would have greater density and meet the needs of a larger population for cultural, business, and entertainment facilities--that would create a sense of context and relationship that suburbs don't have.

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Tom said...

He's baack!!
Excellent, thought provoking blog. Continuing Frank's thought. The WCI bldg scale should be view not in the present, but the future. We should have a better vision of the future shortly when GGP unveils it's plan for downtown. I guess we can wait another month or two.

wordbones said...

Bill,
Very nicely done.
-wb

B. Santos said...

wb,

Tell Jim thanks for the inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Bill,

This is very informative, and I appreciate being able to read up on Jim Rouse's speeches. We may never know exactly what he meant by scale since he never really specified it himself (at least not in the speeches referenced).

However, there is something that I think is being overlooked by you and most of the commenters, who seem to be very much in favor of the redevelopment of Town Center. That something is that Columbia is itself a sprawl development.

When it was first conceived, and then built, the area was nothing but farmland. The nearest "developed" area would have been Ellicott City. If Rouse believe so much in not sprawling things out, why didn't he expand/redevelop Ellicott City? Isn't what he ultimately did completely contrary to the very concepts that drives "smart growth", which is in turn the concept being used to justify and rationalize the Town Center redevelopment idea?

Another factor that is missed in this whole discussion is that Town Center, as currently developed, was based on the ultimate build out design for Columbia. How is that people are trying to justify the redevelopment proposal by saying that the Town Center has not kept up with Columbia??? All of the newest constructed areas of Columbia (River Hill) were factored into the Town Center Plan already,when the overall plans for Columbia were created.

I can't help but conclude that much of the "justification" for the Town Center plan is nothing but hogwash.

If certain portions of Town Center can be redeveloped within the current approval limitations for Columbia New Town, I'm ok with that - if the parking can be accomodated, if the traffic is not problematic, if more green space can be achieved. But to have a wholesale redesign (changing the ring road to a grid pattern) would not function and is unfeasbile, and is unnecessary.

If people want it more pedestrian friendly, fine, I agree with that idea. Add sidewalks. Add greenspace. Add artwork. That's all good. But don't knock it all down and rebuild something completely new.

And, factor in that a lot of people bought a house in Columbia because they liked it as it is. Why should they have to accept a massive change like what is being proposed? Columbia/Ellicott City wasn't voted 4th best place to live/work for no reason. It's vibrant enough as it is.

PZGURU (I couldn't figure out to post without being anon).

B. Santos said...

PZGURU,

It’s so nice to hear from you! You bring up a lot of points worthy of discussion, and I believe we will be looking at many of them in the coming months. I would like to respond to your comment regarding this specific post.

Although Rouse does not state what he believes is “in scale,” he does provide ample opinion of what he believes is “out of scale,” or “not in scale with people.” Two specific examples are the 1966 speech before congress (emphasis) mine:

The vast formless spread of housing, pierced by the unrelated spotting of schools, churches, stores, creates areas so huge and irrational that they are out of scale with people

In addition, in the speech in San Juan, Puerto Rico:

[t]he bits and pieces of a city are splattered across the landscape. By this irrational process, non-communities are born – formless places without order, beauty or reason with no visible respect for people or the land. Thousands o’ small separate decisions made with little or no relationship to one another, nor their composite impact, produce a major decision about the future of our cities and our civilization – a decision we have come to label suburban sprawl…

Sprawl is inefficient. It stretches out the distances people must travel to work, to shop, to worship, to play. It fails to relate these activities in ways the strengthen each and, thus, it suppresses values that orderly relationships and concentration of uses would stimulate.

But worst of all, sprawl is inhuman. It is anti-human. The vast formless spread of housing pierced by the unrelated spotting of schools, churches, stores, creates areas so huge and irrational that they are out of scale with people

I believe it is pretty clear, Rouse equated “out of scale” with streatches out the distances, vast formless spread, areas so huge. And he juxtaposed this with “values that orderly relationships and concentration of uses would stimulate.”

Anonymous said...

From PZGURU.

I consider Columbia to be spread out, which would seem to qualify it as sprawled. Plus, aside from Town Center, it certainly does not have a concentration of uses (not high density), which would also qualify it as sprawled. But, it was developed in an orderly design, with village centers and so on. So, does that make it unsprawled? Does that make it "in scale"?

It does seem contradictory that he spoke in favor of "in scale" development, that is not a vast formless spread. But, in many ways that is what Columbia was/is. It's not "formless", but is certainly vast, and certainly did not take an urban shape to it other than for Town Center.

It certainly would not pass the "smart growth" test that many planners and government officials have touted for the last 20 years.

In essence, Columbia was an atypical (in that it wasn't just row after row of houses) suburban sprawl development, that certain people now want to convert into an urban area (at least the Town Center portion).

B. Santos said...

PZ,

Thanks for following up. It appears to me that you have some well thought out opinions. However, my opinions differ from yours. I believe for the most part we are just looking at the same thing from different points of view. Where you see atypical sprawl (not as sprawled as, say, Crofton, MD), I see the progenitor of Smart Growth (not as adherent to Smart Growth principles as, say, The Kentlands).

We must both recognize that in this narrow definition, we may both be missing the point. Since Columbia’s birth, there have been some very good examples of Smart Growth development, and there have been many horrible cases of sprawl (think Mt. Airey, MD). What is unique about Columbia is that it was (and on many fronts, still is) one of the best (successful) examples of anti-sprawl.

Anti-sprawl does not necessarily mean Smart Growth, but let us agree that our differences in opinion largely lay within those two terms.

jessie n said...

I certainly appreciate reading perspectives about sprawl, smart growth, and Mr. Rouse's infamous "human scale."

I can offer my personal experience here. I want my life within a walkable distance to have some degree of daily functionality. It doesn't. I walk to the mailbox. And when I was a kid and parents actually allowed (and wanted) kids to walk to school and such, I did that.

But today, in pedestrian-friendly (sic) Columbia, beyond walking to the mailbox, pretty much everything I do requires a car. And worse, even when I'm in an area where things SHOULD (in Utopia-ville) be close to each other, e.g. a movie theater with restaurants nearby, or downtown offices which SHOULD have shopping right around the corner, I still have to drive everywhere.

It boggles me.

How in the world could Mr. Utopia-ville planner Rouse speak such a good game about human scale, stopping the blight of sprawl and having pedestrian-friendly spaces ... yet create a car-centric, spread-out, anything-BUT-human-scale Columbia?

I'm all about Columbia. 37 years and counting. My world view as a child was formed by living in Utopia-ville. Yet my experience as an adult, now that my world has expanded beyond creeks, the pool, bike paths and school, is the place is dreadful from a "human scale" perspective.

I offer that densifying downtown is, on one level, absolution of Mr. Rouse's sin of hubris. Let's have the diversity of housing that Mr. Rouse promised the pioneers and all who came after.

Let us honor the promise by making it so, even in his death. I take a stand for this. I want it.

Anonymous said...

From PZGURU,

Jessie - I agree (except for the last part). It's strange that Rouse talked such a good talk, and has been quoted ad infintum as an anti-sprawl pioneer, but he did not walk the walk. Your points demonstrate how very much Columbia is a sprawl development.

Why would that be? Well, the obvious is that Rouse was a developer (not a negative) and he hyped up his product just as any good salesman wood. I'm not saying that Columbia was a failure - quite the contrary. It was a very successful, surburban development, which was very much in demand at that time, and in many respects today as well.

I simpy wish people would understand reality versus unsubstantive words. Which is why I find it ironic how much people invoke his name when trying to convince people of the need to not have sprawled development.

wordbones said...

Okay, a couple of points of order here...

First to PZGURU comment "When it was first conceived, and then built, the area was nothing but farmland. The nearest "developed" area would have been Ellicott City. If Rouse believe so much in not sprawling things out, why didn't he expand/redevelop Ellicott City?"

What Rouse did was stop the unplanned and ugly sprawl that was bleeding out of of Ellicott City down the National Pike (Route 40) and the Columbia Pike (now US 29). The same forces were coming in from the Montgomery County end of 29. By amassing the 14,000 acres in the middle of the pike, Rouse essentially bought order to this sprawl.

Second, I had the opportunity to speak with Jim Rouse on two occassions after he left The Rouse Company. Both times he readily acknowledged that his greatest disappointment with Columbia was that it was still heavily dependant on the automobile.

He regretted that he had not been able to change that dynamic in Columbia.

Perhaps now that can finally be rectified at least in Town Center. It would be a fitting tribute.

-wb