Metropolis

The death of central business districts is here, and with it comes an opportunity to reshape our cities

Picture a typical downtown in your mind. What do you see? Historically, it may have been soaring peaks of commercial skyscrapers, the bustle of commuters running to and from the office, and perhaps a local institution like a famed restaurant, theatre, or place of cultural significance. Most, however, wouldn’t immediately think of the people and the streets that form the foundations of a community. But that’s beginning to change.

Over the last century, cities have evolved from centers of industrial production reliant on heavy manufacturing and trade, to re-orienting themselves into centralized hubs focused on attracting corporate commuters who occupy…


Metropolis

Why the well-being of cities depends on a people-first approach

Strøget in Copenhagen, one of the first streets to re-pedestrianize after being overtaken by cars.

For the last 70 years, cities around the world have been torn apart, retrofitted, and codified to accommodate 2-ton vehicles at the expense of all other modes of transportation. These deeply engrained patterns have dispersed people and businesses out to a sprawling landscape of dependency, diluted our places of vibrancy, and have left behind environmental devastation. In a silver lining to an otherwise devastating year, it only took a few months and a bit of political leniency to revert to a pre-car world.

Life as we know it came to halt in March of last year. As people sheltered in…


Metropolis

Wall Street is an easy scapegoat. The real villain lives much closer to home.

Overhead view of a typical residential street. Source: Auction.com

Concerns over high housing prices have been ubiquitous this past year. Even the White House is talking about it. Finger-pointing has increased commensurately to pin blame on the rise. Explanations have ranged from low interest rates, a lack of supply, and pent-up demand (likely a combination of these factors), to inflation run amok and wealthy families snapping up extra bonus homes. But dig a little deeper into the finger-pointing, and eventually, perhaps inevitably, Wall Street emerges.

If Twitter replies are indicative of anything (a tenuous metric, admittedly), people are not happy with the accused. The other week, the Internet collectively…


Metropolis

Why EV’s are false prophets in the fight for a better world

Source: Motortrend

Few narratives in the last decade have generated as much momentum as that of electric vehicles. They’ve been heralded as a revolution. Saviors to our gasoline addiction and warriors in the fight for a more sustainable world. Federal departments have noted they have the potential to dramatically improve public health and reduce ecological damage. Financial observers have christened EVs as the next frontier for outsized opportunity and returns. To be seen in one is the ultimate status symbol, signifying that you’re not only someone, but someone who cares about the world, and how the world thinks of you. …


Metropolis

How to solve America’s homelessness crisis

San Francisco city-sanctioned homeless encampment with social distancing squares across from city hall. Source: KTLA/Josh Edelson/AFP.

Homelessness is an artificially created problem. Though it’s a dire reality faced by hundreds of thousands of people daily, it’s a reality that need not exist. This isn’t just idealistic posturing.

The primary challenge faced by any homeless person, definitionally, is that they do not have a permanent home to live in. If a homeless person is provided permanent housing, definitionally, they are no longer homeless. This is good news for any one concerned with the crisis that’s been plaguing cities and people around the country. There is a simple solution that can theoretically universally be implemented in relatively short…


On fleeing or defending areas vulnerable to rising seas

Flooding in Miami after Tropical Storm Eta. Source: Miami Herald

The Ocean is coming. Whether we like it or not, the seas are rising. Slowly, but ever so surely, it will swallow entire places and inundate others. It’s up to us how we choose to respond to this existential threat for hundreds of millions globally, and tens of millions domestically. Not responding is not an option.

There are two schools of thought with respect to dealing with sea level rise in the built environment: the first, fortify our existing communities to create defensible places. The second, shift our resources and attention away from the coasts to prepare for life inland.


Metropolis

The institutionalization of real estate and the rise of ‘placeless’ places

Fenwick, a 310 unit apartment building in Silver Spring, Maryland. Source: SK + I

Many of America’s towns and cities could charitably be described as boring. New development, that is. America is home to an incredible diversity of regional architectural and planning styles. We cherish what makes each of these places special, traveling far and wide to take in their idiosyncrasies and beauty. But somewhere along the way, we stopped building according to local traditions. Over the last 70 years, America hasn’t put its best design foot forward.

It would be disappointing enough to fail in gracing a land as physically beautiful as the US with the built companions it deserves. But it’s downright…


Metropolis

Making sense of what’s going on in the red-hot housing market

Photo: Bob Sacha / Getty Images

Real estate. It’s on everyone’s minds. At least it certainly feels that way. Everywhere you turn, there’s an article about home prices soaring to record highs, a tweet about someone getting outbid on a home they offered 10% above ask, or a video trying to make sense of the market right now and if one should get involved. Anecdotes have prevailed in these uncertain times. It’s a bubble! Home prices have increased 25% in our market, and it’s going to pop like 2008. We’ve all heard or uttered these words in the past several months.

There’s talk of bubbles and…


Technology should be in the service of people, not the other way around

Rendering of Sidewalk Toronto’s Quayside Development in Toronto. Source: Sidewalk Labs

In 2017, Sidewalk Labs won an RFP to develop 12 acres of land on the Toronto Waterfront. Sidewalk framed it as a disruptive project that would revolutionize the way places were built through implementing a series of innovations that would finally make cities smart. Over the course of 3 years, the Alphabet (née Google) subsidiary developed a vision for the site replete with a 1,500 page plan, and a $1.3 billion price tag. This vision was cut short in May of 2020, when it was announced (on this platform, no less) that the project would be shelved.

One could reasonably…


A westian take on the state of American places.

Artwork for Kanye’s smash hit Stronger. Source: Daft Punk Anthology

In 2007, Kanye released what has become one the most recognized and celebrated songs of the 21st century: Stronger. It earned him a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance, and has been played at weddings, pre-games and bar mitzvahs incessantly since its release. Don’t worry, I’m humming “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” as I re-read this too. The question no one thought to ask, until now, is if it had anything to do with architecture and cities? Probably not. Actually, almost certainly not. But for the sake of an eye-grabbing headline and a compelling lede, let’s roll with it! It’s not…

Coby Lefkowitz

Urbanist, Developer & Writer working to create more sustainable, equitable and people-oriented places.

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