In Praise of Messiness

Four community plans—for Marpole, the Downtown Eastside, Grandview-Woodland, and the West End—are among the City’s planning priorities for 2013. Each of these neighbourhoods also has the distinction of showing up on one of the Heritage Vancouver Society’s Top Ten Endangered Sites lists within the last few years. The society considers aspects of each area’s historic character under threat by development.

Lively neighbourhoods are characterized by a mix of old, new, and in between—innovative projects, heritage character, and unrealized potential. Development, however, typically prescribes that every space is slated for its highest and best use as determined by the private market. Does this overlook another, less quantifiable, aspect of city making?

The BMW Guggenheim Lab has argued that decay leaves gaps in which citizens can shape the urban fabric according to their desires. While this results in an uncontrolled, “ugly” city by the traditional standards of urban planning, the Lab found that people actually felt happier and more stimulated standing in front of an older, crowded, messier streetscape.

Architecture often attempts to attain a transcendental utopian vision of order and beauty, but truly vibrant spaces might actually require some degree of disorder or dishevelment. If so, how can we reconcile the necessity of new development and redevelopment with the gaps and decay that enable ownership and liveliness?

Can—and should—we plan for disorder in the city-building process?


February 18, 2013 | 4 Comments

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