Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
Photo Courtesy of the Lake Oswego Library

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Central Planners rehash failed plans

60 years later, Central Planning comes to America as utopian vision

New Urbanism is a retread of the Soviet utopian ideal of egalitarian, mass-produced housing for the masses.  Even though the Soviet experiment became a dystopian failure, the dream of a controlled society re-emerges in new places, always with the idea that the next wave of planners will do it better.  It's a totalitarian attitude that has had great appeal over centuries.  Hubris, arrogance, blindness to the truth, and indifference to the wants and needs of others, allow elites to act as if they know best how to control others and dictate how they should live.  The housing "solution" in the USSR, as in the US today, was caused by previous government policy failures. (Lysenkoism, urban growth boundaries, urban renewal.)

Soviet-era housing construction and post-WWII social-communist ideals are strikingly similar to New Urbanism's Central Planning theories.  It is inevitable then that the outcomes of today's micro-planned cities and suburbs will have the same result as their Soviet predecessors - dense, banal, dispiriting cities forced upon a populace that lost the power to control their own lives.

Smart Growth "Transportation-Oreiented Developments" (TODS) comparisons to Soviet mikrorayons are surreal.  Built near Metro stations, with employment pre-planned at nearby factories, suburban towns were built, all with the same, monotonous style apartments and town plans.

Today, public assistance for private developers to
build high rises in public open spaces allows developers to reap financial rewards while existing residents live with the impacts.  This sounds like urban renewal and urban infill to me.

This is a look into our future.  The Central Planners would vehemently deny Smart Growth and New Urbanism have anything to do with Stalin (and Kruschev) housing plans.  But when you see blocks of monotonous, boxy apartments popping up in Portland and surrounding towns, the loss of local, suburban control,Bthe configuration of town centers, and disregard for how people want to live, there can be no doubt about what is happening.  There isn't much left to do but to wait.  Check out the web articles below.

From The Calvert 22 Foundation:
Radical suburbs
Owen Hatherley on the secret history of Moscow's mass housing experiment
The Calvert Journal

The sense of quiet torpor here is fitting given that Russians call their suburbs “sleeping districts” – not much more than cubicles to come home to at the end of a day’s work. Yet Novye Cheryomushki is certainly one of the more attractive places to sleep, and live, with low-rise buildings, lots of social facilities, and a metro station nearby. It is also the common ancestor of every mikrorayon (micro-district) in Moscow; the forefather of nearly every suburb in the capital and far beyond.

K7’s reward was to be replicated in the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, all across the Soviet Union. Thus began the largest experiment in industrialised housing in history, where homes would become mass-produced commodities like cars, fridges and TVs. Industrialised housing made up 75% of all Soviet housing stock by 1991 – this is where the overwhelming majority of Muscovites live; not in the Tsarist-Stalinist oligarchgrad within the inner city, nor the hipster enclaves of Chistye Prudy or Gorky Park. 

Initially, each mikrorayon was planned with all of this included, all to equally standard designs. An instant prefabricated community on this scale had not been attempted anywhere in the world, and visitors flocked to see it. Shostakovich composed an operetta titled after the district, satirising Muscovites’ desperate desire to move there; it was adapted into a colour film in 1963. Built in the year of Sputnik, it seemed to suggest the Soviet way of doing things — an egalitarian, centrally planned, mass-production economy — was getting results.

Searching for the secret meaning of the suburbs of eastern Europe
The Calvert Journal

The Soviet concept of the dormitory suburb was a progressive and future-oriented ideal. Those idealistic images seem to endure in the mind even though they’re wholly divorced from reality nowadays. We live among the ruins of a vast empire. Utopia has proved itself a dystopia several times and to some extent we’re all traumatised by the disappearance of the future-oriented idea of socialist progress, even those who never wanted anything to do with it. It’s why our native land is the way it is today.

The key to my interest in the city and its edgelands is the idea of alienation. It is something socialism was trying to overcome but paradoxically ended up embodying in its architecture. This remains a crucial feature of today’s post-Soviet environment where a loss of ideological meaning has turned the urban environment into a meaningless setting, deepening the isolation of its inhabitants.

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