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2005 08 08
When Cities Crash and Burn
When no one was killed in last week's crash of an Air France jet in Toronto the media called it a miracle. No heavenly intervention was required though. This miracle came from the engineers who designed the aircraft's safety systems. It played out through the actions of well-trained personal who responded to the emergency as they'd practiced time after time. Emergency crews were on site 52 seconds after the large Airbus slid off the runway into the ravine. The plane crashed and its passengers were saved in a span of three minutes. No miracles, just good design and knowledge derived from decades of best practice improvements in the aviation industry.

When cities crash - and they do - we're not so lucky. Bad design and poor or even corrupt leadership decisions can create years of unnecessary suffering, hardship, and yes, even death for a city's inhabitants. But our ability to perceive these disastrous urban crashes is obstructed because while ultimately very visible they evolve slowly. Bad decisions have consequences that are often only revealed generations later. That's why paving over, for example, the Oak Ridges Moraine may seem justifiable today but will ultimately be seen as a tragic mistake. Yet the people who make the decisions to allow it will probably never have to face the consequences of their actions.

Is there a resource for city best practices others can use to mitigate or avoid entirely the effects of these urban disasters? Is there a way to model the complex patterns of the world's cities to determine who is innovative and who is destructive? Is any research institution leading in this area? With very few exceptions our Schools of Architecture have long since abandoned any comprehensive, long term analysis of these issues in favour of architecture as fashion. That may be the result of years of professional marginalization because the normative practice of architecture has become commodified. Yet the profession is trained to understand the consequences of time and development. It has the innate DNA required to unite the heuristics of design, social theory, statistics, economics, and information technology and use the resulting tool sets to first understand and then improve the modern city. But where is the architecture school of the future? Toronto? Not yet.
[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 08/08 at 11:46 AM

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