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Streets with Nooks and Crannies Are Beloved and Endangered (theamericanconservative.com)
191 points by pseudolus 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 139 comments





"Why are nooks and crannies no longer produced? One reason is that their value is not understood, and in any case no longer taught as part of place-making."

Many times they weren't deliberately produced, nor was their deliberate design taught: they were the result of accretion layers built up over time as new structures are built next to & on top of existing ones.

They're not dying out through lack of appreciation, they're dying out because most times it's just plain cheaper to tear down the existing structure and rebuild.


On addition some narrow alleyways are a bit dangerous —they are narrow and in the event of emergency they can find themselves blocked off (when fire escapes empty to them, as they usually do).

If a modern developer doesn't address liabilities first, they would quickly be out of business. Hence, design is restricted to the parameters of what one can successfully defend if sued.

Fire departments and fire codes are especially difficult to design around in tight spaces, as they can basically veto any construction that doesn't allow ample room for fire trucks to get around. The city also doesn't want to get sued for preventing the building from being built.

See the recent $800M MGM hotels settlement for the Las Vegas massacre. Expect more cameras, more searches, more cover your ass protocol. Not directly related to the article, but an example where one's first thought will be "how do I protect myself from being sued for any possibility in the future".


Just looked up the settlement: it seems crazy to me that the hotel could be held liable for the shooting. Is there really an expectation for the hotel to keep tabs on what its guests are doing?

Edit: I looked into it further: MGM was insured for 751M for the payout and I suppose they figured an additional 100M to get it out of their hair was worth it. The existence of a settlement doesn't create a precedent, but I worry about these incremental movements towards a society where there is some expectation of invasive tracking.


There is now. Prepare to have your bags checked, and hotel rooms inspected at least once, if not multiple times per day. It's a ludicrous settlement, and I'd love to see an explanation from the judge(s) that let the suit(s) proceed instead of throwing it out.

The whole situation in America at this point is you're liable for anything and everything that could be connected to you (and definitely if it's on your property), but it only matters if you have assets you can have taken from you. So better hope you're big enough to protect yourself as much as possible with a team of lawyers.


Next time you check in to a hotel, notice that the little hanging sign on the door no longer has a side that says "do not disturb."

Is that true everywhere or only in high-risk places like LV?

It's spreading.(They're also doing this to crack on fly by night meth cooks)

> There is now. Prepare to have your bags checked, and hotel rooms inspected at least once, if not multiple times per day. It's a ludicrous settlement, and I'd love to see an explanation from the judge(s) that let the suit(s) proceed instead of throwing it out.

Because someone has to be held accountable for the tragedy, and since we can't hold politicians, or the gun manufacturers accountable for it, you find the next person in line.


> Because someone has to be held accountable for the tragedy, and since we can't hold politicians, or the gun manufacturers accountable for it, you find the next person in line.

What happened to holding the shooter responsible?


Gun owners in the USA aren’t required to carry liability insurance, so going after shooters in civil cases isn’t very productive.

True, but it isn't just to sue someone else just because they do have liability insurance.

There is no pointing in suing someone for hundreds of millions of dollars unless they have some chance of actually paying that much.

It's unjust to sue someone who is not at fault just because they have money.

A settlement isn't a court deciding that they are liable, its the MGM Grand paying out rather than taking a risk of the court case (likely would generate a ton of bad PR).

I can’t imagine avoiding bad PR (for something that clearly wasn’t the hotel’s fault) is worth $800M.

They must have thought there was some possibility of legal liability, at least the the cost to defend with lawyers. But there shouldn’t be, in a sane world the suit would have been tossed immediately.


What they thought is mostly irrelevant, acting as if this is some kind of precedent and that hotels are now responsible and prepare to have your bags and rooms searched every day is stupid overblown alarmism.

The payment was large because they had liability insurance that covered 7/8ths of it, and the plaintiffs realized it would be very easy to get them to pay at least that amount out.


In my experience, just because your insurance pays, it doesn’t mean you don’t have an incentive to stop the payout. Premiums are based on how much insurance pays in claims, so their future premiums will be higher than if there were not to be a payment in the first place.

I still don’t see why a hotel would be at all culpable, so I would love to see the analysis of the lawyers involved. It is not legal precedent, but it is precedent in the sense that if MGM’s lawyers thought it best not to fight it, then what can a smaller company do?


Right, in a statement it said it was not to be “interpreted as an admission of guilt”. Or some legal boilerplate to that effect.

It is sick that our society is making architectural decisions based on liability as described. A surveillance society is an ugly, anti-human place. We are not only headed there, we are there.

Tokyo seems to do just fine with innumerable tiny alleys that can only accommodate humans or the occasional bicycle. It’s all about balance.

Tokyo, and Japan in general, has a high degree of social trust and cohesion. That makes possible many niceties that are difficult to exist in places with lower amounts of social trust.

So get started with fixing your society?

This is what's really admirable about that place: The world's largest city by some metrics, and still manages to be one of the most safest and cleanest, organically blending cutting-edge technology with ancient culture.

How?

I love all those little shrines [0], for example. It's paradise for anyone who loves exploring nooks-and-crannies.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgIj0tzO15c


The Japanese gov't employs a huge number of older people to do small tasks and keep things running well. The down-side is that Japan has a staggering two-hundred-thirty-six percent debt-to-gdp ratio, which it will have massive trouble paying off with its shrinking population.

Much of that debt is the result of infrastructure projects and a large savings demand by the population. Sure they could have done much better in investing that debt (to help with paying it off later), but it would have still been there even if they did (since the demand was there unless they pushed it out into the stock market or American treasuries).

It's illegal to build things without enormous parking lots and roads around them in most instances now. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lvUByM-fZk includes an illustration of how this even results in the destruction of nice, walkable places when old buildings are renovated in to apartments.

Quite a lot of developments in the UK - certainly in London - are proposing zero parking.

We had a (now shelved) plan near where I live to build 700 2 & 3 bed apartments in a new development with zero parking spaces in the design. This strikes me as blindly optimistic that of those 700 apartments (that will likely have between 2 or 3 people or more per apartment on average, so somewhere like 1500-2500 people) absolutely none of them will bring car with them... not even spaces for people who need a car for their disability!

I think their usual rationale of being "environmentally friendly" is really wake-washing/cover for wanting to fit in more apartments that sell for £650,000-1,000,000+ each, vs parking spaces which only sell for £25,000 each.

(incidentally is there a word for this willful ignoring of reality, where people basically just keep on repeating the same false/questionable statements as if they were genuine facts over and over regardless of any reasonable evidence to the contrary? E.g. this insistence that something is for environmental reasons when it is clear to everyone that it is not, or the rhetoric politicians keep on wheeling out for e.g. Brexit. I guess "lying"is one word...)


" think their usual rationale of being "environmentally friendly" is really wake-washing/cover for wanting to fit in more apartments that sell for £650,000-1,000,000+ each, vs parking spaces which only sell for £25,000 each."

...and?

The fact that apartments cost more than homes means that the market values that area more highly for human habitation than for car habitation. Perhaps you simply can't afford to store your car there.

Also, what are you talking about? Lying? Please support your statement before leveling this accusation.


Sheesh, these “conversations”. Just “eliminating” parking at new developments does not eliminate the _need_ for parking. People still have to get to work, school, the grocery store.

We had that happen near us 30 years ago by a developer who used a similar argument. A golf course was developed into 13,000 apartments with virtually no parking.

Overnight, the surrounding neighborhood’s streets were changed. Once they had been calm quiet places with plenty of parking. Now they are loud, crowded with double-parked cars blocking the street, blocked driveways, yelling and fist-fights. They’ve tried many thing to “fix” the problem. But 30 years later, the problems only gotten worse. It still sucks. Of course the neighbors will oppose it - label it NIMBYism or whatever you like.

But, we do have a problem and it would be great to actually change the status-qo. So, here’s a proposal:

*New buildings may be constructed without parking but _only_ if both of the following conditions are met:

1. The occupants are not allowed to own or operate motorized transportation of any type. This is enforced by the local police and the fines are huge.

2. 20% of the sales price of the new development is used to build mass transit.


I agree with the idea of impact fees being used to fund public transit but your first suggestion sounds very confrontational for a few reasons:

First, why are only the people who "got there first" allowed to use the public streets for storing privately owned items?

Second, why not require that people who do have parking are only allowed to own as many motorized vehicles as can fit in their parking and cannot use the public right of way to store their private possessions, with huge fines?

It seems like we need more carrot and less stick.


Tokyo manages this problem before it ever becomes a problem: you can't register your car to a Tokyo address unless you can prove you have a parking spot. It could be a spot in your front yard (in this case probably the entire yard) or a rented space in a parking garage. If you can't afford a parking spot at market rate, then you can't afford a car.

More than that, registration is actually a national requirement for full sized cars (kei's don't need a registered spot). And the country as a whole generally does not have street parking. Conjoined, means that illegal/congested streets from parking isn't an issue

One way or another, prior development had to provide adequate parking. Conversely, cars cause a lot of problems - pollution, gridlock, greenhouse gas emissions. And I can understand a developer who is committed to changing the world we live in by not allowing parking on their new development. That's awesome!

So, the suggestion is not confrontational. It's going with the dream that the developer is suggesting. We'll never get there if the people who believe in the dream don't commit to it. People have to get around somehow. And if they aren't allowed motor vehicles, then they will push their politicians to invest in public transit.

I think what you're intuitively feeling is that developers don't actually have that vision. Instead, they want to freeload on parking that was provided by others and make life worse for everyone. A few weeks ago, there was an article in HN that suggested Los Angeles could solve their homeless problem by converting every parking spot into housing, which might be true. The idea seemed to be taken seriously with lots of comments supporting it. Yet, that would truly be confrontational and unbelievably disruptive. And kinda dumb since anyone with a map can see that Los Angeles is bordered by hundreds of square miles of open land to the north and west. Plus there's Griffith park, the stadiums, unused warehouses and on and on. So, one has to wonder - was the story truly written by someone who cares about the homeless? Or, was it a developer wanting to increase their profit margin?

If the vision is to get to something like this wonderful "nooks and Crannies" story, then the challenge is getting from the current situation to that vision. I'd love to see that vision come true. Unfortunately, I can't see is a humane way of changing many (most?) existing neighborhoods.

But, what could work would be to change zoning in large undeveloped areas to allow for much higher density housing, walkability, and to link them together via public transit.


> why not require that people who do have parking are only allowed to own as many motorized vehicles as can fit in their parking and cannot use the public right of way to store their private possessions, with huge fines?

> It seems like we need more carrot and less stick.

I feel like that suggestion is precisely more stick and less carrot. More carrot and less stick would indeed be to put some of the money toward public transit, or to build parking spaces for smaller vehicles (e.g. bikes/scooters, motorized or otherwise).


So, eliminate on street parking.

Oh I've got no doubt that the value for humans is higher. It's just the unrealistic expectations from developers that zero people will bring a car and park on street that is absurd.

Often these "luxury apartments" that they build like this actually don't have cars so they are kinda right but for the wrong reasons: these sort of apartments in London are often bought by people for speculation/money parking/laundering and are actually never occupied (1) so it is more that the market values the apartments as assets/money laundering opportunities more than human habitation. Locals cannot afford to buy these sort of places.

1 - https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/may/20/uk-foreign-...


Street parking should be illegal in the first place. Want to own a car? You should have to pay to park it somewhere.

Eliminating parking requirements is also starting to gain traction in the US: Seattle did it [0], and it's underway in Los Angeles [1]. Unfortunately it tends to make NIMBY opposition to development even more intense than it already is ("They'll use up all the street spaces!"), but fingers crossed we can keep this trend going.

[0]: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/transportation/sea...

[1]: https://la.curbed.com/2019/8/6/20698162/parking-minimums-dow...


Eliminating parking requirements is not the same as eliminating parking. If you can park in a parking garage the multi-level part means that the cars do not take up so much ground space. However garages are very expensive and so they won't be built unless people are going to buy a parking spot.

Well that NIMBY response was the same here.

In London generally on-street parking is already at- or over-capacity, so adding an extra couple of hundred to a thousand people wanting to park their car in the surrounding 3 or 4 streets is not just NIMBY-style petty complaints of "I don't want someone parking outside my house" and so on, but more "there physically isn't enough space for even more people to try and park in the already over-capacity on-street parking - get a reality check, this isn't going to work".

I think there is a difference between those two responses


"get a reality check, this isn't going to work".

If I gave out free hot tubs then there would pretty quickly be a hot tub shortage. The problem is that parking is the leasing of public land for insanely low amounts for private property storage. You are forcing everyone around you to pay for your private property storage because you don't feel like paying for it yourself.

After all, can I pay the council the £100 a year (or whatever tiny amount it is) for an on-street parking spot so I can store my hot tub? Have a little garden? No? Then perhaps we shouldn't let you store your metal box there either unless you're willing to pay market rate for the land.

Keep in mind that any time you say developers must be forced to add room for parking, they were trying to add room for humans and NIMBYs told them places for cars to sleep were more important.


I'm not defending parking on street parking, and I am not saying we should force developers to add parking (I just find the fingers-in-ears ignoring of the issue frustrating), but with respect I think your views on the parking are a bit maladjusted.

That's because you could use your same argument about any public service. We pay for it in spades through income and council taxes.

Deliberately semi-quoting your argument:

You get public services for an insanely low price (healthcare, firemen, police, libraries, schools) for your own private benefit. You are forcing everyone around you to pay for you to not die/not have your house burn down/not get robbed/learn/get your kids educated etc because you don't feel like paying for it yourself.

Can't afford your own healthcare/fireman/police/library/school? Then perhaps we shouldn't let you use them unless you are willing to pay market rate for the service.


There are reasons why most services aren't public ones and should not be - this argument actually works.

For each service that is public there's usually a good counterargument. Is there one for public subsidizing of private car parking?


In and around a commercial district, there is. If your customers are living in a standard suburban area around your commercial core, the city will often provide parking so that those customers can reach the businesses in that area. See the publicly owned parking lots in Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, Palo Alto, etc. Without those lots, there would be a lot less business (and thus less tax revenue) because the customers couldn't get to the businesses.

Or you can design your city to not be so car-centric. Why aren't commercial districts designed so that walking or using public transportation to reach them is viable?

If you put cars right at the center of urban planning, you'll always build cities that require people to own cars.


This is true, but the challenge is that you can't just change how wide the streets are or how big the buildings are in an urban area overnight. It takes decades to change the transportation orientation of a neighborhood, and in the meantime, people have to live/work there.

When I lived in Santa Monica it was pretty frustrating they used my taxes to subsidize homes for cars and not people.

Every service you named has huge positive externalities for the community. Parking is the opposite.

Does London not have buses and trains? Why do people need to park or drive anywhere?

Why not both? It seems to both be more profitable for the developer and better for the environment.

Because there isn't enough space. 4 or 5 parking spaces is the same footprint that a 1 bedroom apartment would consume, then multiply that by the number of floors which is often between 4 or 8 in the outer parts of "central" London.

So 4 to 5x25000 for parking spaces, or 4 to 8x650000.

Underground parking is possible but rare - you see it more these days, but then it costs significantly more than just a tarmac lot outside both to construct and to purchase a space in. Multistorey aboveground would take up space that would be used by apartments and would never get past planning approval in a residential area.


It sounds like the problem here is that cars just aren't feasible in semi-dense urban areas. Based on your comments you seem to feel that cars are pretty much the only solution to transportation.

I think this is a pretty poor way of thinking that leads to US style cities where there are these "dense" urban areas that have oceans of lifeless areas and greatly increased cost due to the amount of space taking by car parking/storage areas.


> Underground parking is possible but rare - you see it more these days, but then it costs significantly more than just a tarmac lot outside both to construct and to purchase a space in.

An apartment costs significantly more than just a tent outside, too. We still choose to build apartments instead because they're easier to build vertically and they're more attractive.

> Multistorey aboveground would take up space that would be used by apartments and would never get past planning approval in a residential area.

You can always build apartments on top of the multistory aboveground parking. That's pretty common in San Francisco.

An ideal would be for every building to have parking underneath it at street level, and then for there to be an upper "street" dedicated entirely to pedestrian and bicycle traffic (and perhaps rail). It'd be a huge upfront cost (which is why very few - if any - cities actually do this), but it'd be a much better experience for pedestrians and drivers alike. It could also potentially pay for itself (by charging for parking), and having all cars underground could make it easy to recapture any automotive emissions (hopefully electric cars will mostly or fully displace ICE cars, but if not, then it's at least a lot easier to trap greenhouse gases in a tunnel than out in the open).


You see both underground and multistory above ground in residential builds in LA. However I’m willing to bet that those 2-4 stories of parking make up most of the cost of building.

"Building Living Neighborhoods" https://www.livingneighborhoods.org/ht-0/bln-exp.htm

Christopher Alexander (of Pattern Language fame)

> Our goal is to help everyone make our neighborhoods places of belonging, places of health and well-being, and places where people will want to live and work. This has become possible through the use of Generative Codes, Christopher Alexander's latest work in the effort to make possible conception and construction of living, beautiful communities that have real guts -- not the sugary sweetness of pseudo-traditional architecture.

> The tools offered are intended for the use of ordinary people, families, communities, developers, planners, architects, designers and builders; public officials, local representatives, and neighbors; business owners and people who have commercial interests. The processes here are expressed in the belief that the common-sense, plain truth about laying out a neighborhood, or repairing one, is equally valid for all comers, amateurs and professionals. They help people build or rebuild neighborhoods in ways that contribute something to their lives. Many of the tools have their origin in 30 years of work published in Alexander's The Nature of Order.

This is the site that made me believe that the "unit" of human society is the neighborhood.

('"Atom" is the smallest amount of a phenomenon that evinces all of its properties.' G. I. Gurdjieff)


Do you know where that Gurdjieff quote comes from? I've not heard it before.

IIRC "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson". It's not verbatim.

I think it's about power.

If you have one guy calling all the shots, then he will necessarily have a very abstract and simplified view and use simple patterns like straight lines and rectangles. There just isn't time for complexity.

If everyone has their own little piece to design and evolve as they see fit, then they will take into account the local factors and nuances.


Agreed. re: power. But perhaps I'm seeing that power relationship differently. I'm feeling very strong parallels with economist Eleanor Ostrom's view on governing natural commonses [1].

Basically, she spent 4 decades disproving the "tragedy of the commons" in a whole set of defined cases, showing that a group of people DON'T selfishly destroy a commons when looking after it. She codified the requirements for a group of people properly governing a shared place/resource. Two of the 8 key requirements were 1) Local autonomy; 2) Appropriate relations with other tiers of rule-making authority (polycentric governance).

aka, powers must not be pulled too far from the place in which they are executed. to the extent that we need to seek efficiencies, system should offer through support from above to operate more efficiently (e.g., offer services and "kits" to self-manage). DO NOT CENTRALIZE OR CONSOLIDATE POWER.

Of course, the above recommendations can be discarded, but then collective governance fails, and keeping commonses alive and vibrant requires more and more central support systems to prevent its failure. Her rules are who you'd follow if you wanted decentralized and resilient governance structures and patterns.

[1]: https://evonomics.com/tragedy-of-the-commons-elinor-ostrom/


Per your description “disproving” sounds wrong. Sounds like she proved its overall correctness but found ways to correct for it.

Ah good point. She found the structures in which commonses can thrive, the permutations of which past generations had stumbled through and "discovered" (which persisted through the practices surviving time). But then we forget them and invented other truisms that seem reductive and perhaps wrong :)

As often is the case, cars are the elephant in the room. In the alley? We have rebuilt our urban spaces for cars instead of people. Now we wonder at what we've lost but have trouble connecting it to the automobile because t's ubiquitous and most of us can't imagine it otherwise.

Yup. It's the main reason many European cities and Manhattan feel so engaging and alive in comparison to other US cities (just using my experiences).

In walking cities you interact with the city itself -- you can stop and look at things closely, walk into a small store you've never noticed before, run into a friend and chat, or pause and just people watch.

In car cities everything's far off and viewed through glass, your only interaction being which direction you point your car and how fast it moves. And becoming distracted by something interesting causes expensive and dangerous accidents. Plus, driving is inherently frustrating and exhausting, in my experience, especially when compared to walking which is at least a nice bit of exercise. You just want to be where you're going and WHY IS THERE ALL OF THIS TRAFFIC?


The crazy thing is a minor change could make many suburbs much more walkable: put the stores on the street and parking in the back. Not sure why they started doing the reverse. I've lived in a lot of California suburbs that are still within walking distance to shops (~1 mile), but the experience is so bad because of the way they've arranged parking.

I don't understand why in many suburban areas there will be sidewalk for miles, and then it will just cut off for maybe a mile or so, just to have the sidewalk pick back up again on that same road

Typically the road w/o sidewalks was put in earlier, when sidewalks weren't required.

Or there is a change of jurisdiction, and one didn't require sidewalks and one did, often city vs. unincorporated county land.


In suburbs, the sidewalk is supposed to be installed by the contractor who is doing the building. Some of them "forget" and the inspector doesn't notice/care.

Because laws requiring sidewalks went into effect after some land was developed, and the city would have to pay for the land owner to put a sidewalk in.

Unfortunately many shopping centers that build out to the sidewalk will display a blank wall with ventilators and so forth facing the sidewalk, and the real entrances are in the interior, facing the parking.

In one way this makes sense since almost all customers arrive by car but it certainly makes the street visually unappealing.

EDIT: I wrote "arrive by foot", obviously it is arrive by car in suburban locations.


This also means that if you arrive on foot you have to walk around to some back alley or something in order to access the building, which defeats the whole purpose of fronting the shop directly on the sidewalk. Or they'll drop or raise the sidewalk in relation to the walk-up entrance and put a railing up making it impossible to access any shops from the sidewalk. As much as developers think they're favoring sidewalks they're really just paying lip service to the idea.

Many centers have no entrances on the street. All of them face inwards to the parking area.

Lip service - just fooling the planning departments which sometimes seem to fall for the dumbest ideas.


Bait parking is the sad reason. People are more likely to park and go into the store if they can see from the road that there are available parking spaces.

Maybe they need automatically-updated signs in the front that announce the number of parking spaces available in the back.

What I noticed when I lived in Manhattan is that I CONSTANTLY ran into people I knew, everywhere. Despite living in San Francisco much longer, and the city being much smaller, I ran into acquaintances far less often.

Manhattan? Manhattan seems like a grid made for cars. Not place full of "nooks an crannies". I'm not saying it's not nice but it doesn't seem to fit the article at all. Most European cities are a wonderful mess of winding roads. Manhattan is mostly a grid. They don't seem comparible.

Manhattan's grid was laid out in 1811, a hundred years before the automobile.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commissioners%27_Plan_of_1811

Lower Manhattan has plenty of nooks and crannies. My father had a secret street that he would park on when he needed to visit Battery Park City. It was a little-known street maybe one or two blocks long that was perfectly legal to park on but that hardly anyone knew about because it didn't go anywhere. I went with him a few times, and we were the only car to park there.

Plenty of nooks and crannies can be found, even in grids. There are always irregularities and sacred cows to be worked around.

Also, Chicago has a lot of nice nooks and crannies. Including an ordinance that requires that a cattle path be maintained through some of its downtown skyscrapers, and an old barn at the end of an alley.

https://www.chicagoarchitecture.org/2009/04/08/the-loops-mos...


It isn't about whether the roads are in a grid or full of nooks and crannies per se, but that the city itself wasn't planned around the existence of the automobile, either deliberately or because the automobile didn't exist yet.

A good example of this is parking minimums, which make Manhattan-style density literally impossible in places like the SFBay.


The big thing about Manhattan isn’t that its built in a grid, but that the shopping/offices/living are all mixed together. People are coming and going all day long. A lot of suburbs are like deserts.

Still, the ratio of people to cars is striking when visiting from more suburban areas. Many places seem like a sea of cars and pedestrians are very out of place.

Lower Manhattan is older and European in style. It’s only a grid above Houston (pronounced ‘How-ston’, not ‘Hew-ston’ like the city in Texas.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commissioners%27_Plan_of_1811


Yeah Robert Moses had a big influence, but there are still some areas that are more like what the article describes. They just tend to be little pockets off the beaten path that you almost have to stumble into.

Downtown, like below 14th st, feels a lot more like that, and even more the further south (i.e. older) you go. Midtown and uptown not so much.

The premise of the movie Crash (Academy Award winner) is that these glass and steel objects insulate the various cultures and races from each other... until they crash into each other.

And people actually live in the cities.

Also safety, or the pretence of safety. Who's going to be the architect signing off on an obscure narrow alleyway with poor visibility and hidden recesses in a major metro area today?

We're obviously living in some of the safest times there's ever been, but that probably plays on some minds (alongside the "it's more efficient to build straight lines" part).


In very expensive real estate markets high-end shops and chain stores will tend to dominate the store fronts on the streets. One way to create a sustainable space for small shops--flower shop, toy store, sandwich shop, etc--is to provide small, out-of-way commercial spaces such as along alleyways. Their size and location make them permanently unattractive to big stores, so you create a relatively safe inventory for mom & pop business ventures. The bonus is that now these spaces have a constant presence of people.

This is how Ginza in Tokyo is laid out, and it was wonderful to be able to just walk around and shop without listening to traffic noise all day.

Another thing that often plays into this is access for firefighting apparatus. A lot of modern streets in North America are designed to be wide enough that two fire trucks can pass each other. But North American fire trucks are huge (often around 8 feet/2.5 meters) and a 5+ meter road isn't really human-scaled.

Part of this might be necessitated by the fact that we build most structures out of flammable materials, but with better fire-control technology (sprinklers) that could be mitigated.

It's amazing how often alleys/laneways are some of the most treasured parts of a North American city.


I agree entirely. People are also somewhat blinded to it as well. They will complain about how trams slow down car traffic, while they are waiting on foot at a busy intersection that breaks up a shopping precinct. Completely ignoring the enormous impact that cars are having on their current space.

My city has caught on, and there are a bunch of car free streets and alleys being made in the CBD. They have boutiques and restaurants with outdoor seating, and it changes the dynamic of the area entirely. People are relaxed, not rushing, chatting with eachother without yelling . You get a lot more friendly encounters with strangers. It feels like you've reached some kind of special community area, just for you and the others there.


This is why it seems surprising to see an article like this in The American Conservative. I'd think those folks don't wan to give up their cars for anything.

> The American Conservative

Oh the irony.


Before there were cars there were horses. Some places are dense and cramp, the countryside is spread out. Talk of car cities or waling cities is mere confabulation. Some prefer dense cities, some the sprawling countryside of farms and having the nearest store an hour away. Why can’t people be free to live in less crowded, less crime ridden, less dirty and noisy locations if they prefer that?

> Why can’t people be free to live in less crowded, less crime ridden, less dirty and noisy locations if they prefer that?

Who says they can't? The question being asked was "why are there no nooks and crannies". Those by definition only appear in dense places. You can't have a nook in a large empty field.


> Before there were cars there were horses

There was never a time where the average city dweller had a horse, let alone two or three. In 1915, there were est. 20M horses in the US, for ~100M people. There are way more motor vehicles per person nowadays.


Because sprawl has enormous externalities that the proponents thereof refuse to pay for, and likely couldn’t actually afford without massive subsidies. I know lots of people have a homestead fetish (which I don’t deign to understand), but it’s not sustainable.

I keep seeing the word "homestead" lately. Is that a thing now?

It generally refers to the practice of living on enough land to support yourself, producing your own food, heating fuel, etc. Depending on how many people are involved you might be able to do this on 5 acres with a good water source, though of course that depends quite a bit on whether you want to eat meat, have cold winters, have bad soil, etc.

It's been popular with plenty of folks for some time, like libertarians, fundamentalist Christians, environmentalists, etc. - I notice it's becoming more common among people concerned about climate breakdown, who are probably concerned that the support structures which make cities possible will fail.

Calling it unsustainable probably refers to half-assed homesteading, where you basically do some gardening on a big patch of land but still drive everywhere and use lots of energy. Homesteading (grow your own food, coppice trees for heating fuel, solar panels for electricity, ride a mountain bike to get around, etc) can have a very low carbon footprint.


I think usually the unsustainability argument is about scaling it to the population of the world. Our modern and in many ways awful systems of mass food, energy, and water production are just vastly more efficient per capita of resource requirements than individuals could ever hope to be "living off the land". Even if their footprint's a bit lower, it's only a solution for the relatively-elite of the planet, and they're actually being more wasteful than others of net resources in some senses.

Just doing the quick ugly napkin math for rough validation, Wikipedia says the world has roughly 14,000,000 km² of "arable land". If you convert that to acres and divide by the current global population, that's a little under half an acre per human. If the average family grouping were of size 4, that's only 2 acres of supposedly-arable land somewhere in the world per family. That's skipping over a whole lot of details and side-points, but still, it doesn't seem like this is a sustainable path for the whole planet to go down.


They can - but they shouldn't expect it to remain cheap forever to commute by car into the city they don't like.

They have been optimized away.

Grids, blocks, straight lines, clear boundaries, maintenance space, standardized signage, standardized safety and accessibility, standardized everything... these are all things which reduce TCO.

Non-standard, interesting, niche, characterful, bespoke, artisan, historic... these all carry hidden costs that manifest in property prices or taxes or inefficiency.

Everyone admires the aesthetics of the latter type of cities but not so many are willing to pay the price for them.


Weird, the masthead photo is the street where I grew up. Now clogged with people lining up to Instagram, sadly.

Plus nobody lives there anymore, really - they are all the owners’ vacation homes.


Interesting. Thanks! Seems to validate and speak to the point: that these places are scarce (and so overcrowded) and valuable (as wealth has moved in and captured it as showpiece with low utility).

There used to be a neighborhood in Boston called the "West End" which was actually pretty far east in the city, bumping against the North End, Beacon Hill, and the Longfellow Bridge which crosses the Charles River.

Most of the buildings were brick tenements built in the 1800s. One of its most famous native sons was Leonard Nemoy, who left the West End in his late teens to start his acting career.

The West End had narrow, winding streets, and the city government said this was a fire hazard because fire apparatus couldn't be driven down certain streets and alleys. That was true (I saw an old black and white picture of a fire truck that got stuck making a turn) but there was another motive in moving to have the tenements cleared and the area flattened: "Urban renewal." The city wanted other buildings built there, not to mention the elevated central artery. Over the strenuous objection of residents, almost everyone was cleared out and the buildings flattened from 1958 to 1960. The elevated highway, new hospital buildings, government buildings, and commercial structures went up in its place.

The history of the West End is covered by the West End Museum (https://thewestendmuseum.org/)

Leonard Nimoy was never able to go back home; his parents relocated to West Roxbury. The central expressway was demolished in the 1990s and the highway put underground (part of the "The Big Dig", see https://www.mass.gov/info-details/the-big-dig-project-backgr...).


I was walking with my mom and her dog up Brotherhood Way in San Francisco and we tried to take a shortcut through the new development on Summit Way to get into Park Merced. (There is no shortcut, BTW. There are some abandoned could-have-been-stairs but, as I say, they are abandoned.)

Anyhow. The houses are each quite nice but the neighborhood itself is terribly soulless. It's like a locker room for people. The vibe was so creepy it was like a horror movie. You can check it out on street view: https://goo.gl/maps/ZGANULkeqQjKF6Yy6


That's always super annoying. In my mother's old neighborhood there is a former train yard that was an empty field for decades. It was two or three blocks wide, about dozen blocks long, and split into thirds by a couple cross streets. When uppermost third was finally developed, instead of joining the existing street grid, they surrounded it in a fence and ran a silly meandering loop inside.

Ugh. That streetscape is terrible, just garage door after garage door. Absolutely no character, no charm, no expectation you might run into an interesting art installation, parklet, store, or anything. Bland and pedestrian hostile.

> Unbroken sheets of glass, prefabricated panels, poured concrete, steel girders—these are the basic units of construction, and all resist the kind of random puncturing and cobbling that subordinated the work of the architect to the changing needs of the community.

Glass curtain walls are progress, civilization, and enlightenment. "Random puncturing" by contrast, is pernicious just from the sound of it. Romanticism.


Glass curtain walls are many things-- lightweight, easy to prefabricate, etc. You can make an excellent claim that they belong in the repertoire of any builder. But to claim they represent progress or civilization is just silly. The point of any architectural element is to serve the building, that building's purpose, and the people around it. For the same reason you wouldn't build a skyscraper out of masonry an outhouse with all glass curtain walls is an expensive failure, not a triumph of enlightenment.

[flagged]


Could you please stop posting unsubstantive comments to Hacker News?

Weird article. Doesn't really cite any trends or data about such nooks and crannies being at risk.

It features a photo of a newer glass building from Washington, D.C., likely downtown or in the "Golden Triangle" south of Dupont Circle. There are no nooks and crannies to be found in that part of town, never were. DC has the highest proportion, by 3x, of properties with Historic Preservation designation of any US city. Most of the city was built according to the L'Enfant plan which specified wide streets and strips of green space in front of buildings (they look and are maintained as front yards, but these "public parkings" are owned by DC and not private property, and must be maintained as green space).


Agreed. My city's local "planning commission" has overstepped many old timers long planned future family-development agreements because big money has come in wanting to develop large scale housing communities. The communities once plotted as kid friendly cul-de-sac, have become thoroughfares for big business by touting "connectivity needs". It's a joke, especially when you see that the make up of the planning commission is 2/3 land developers and contractors.

Meanwhile, other purists decry cul-de-sacs as a suburban abomination that inhibit walkability.

There is a third way. Suburban single-family zones full of cul-de-sacs are designed to be metaphorically put under glass and never changed. Building massive towers, on the other hand, is very drastic and has the potential to destroy the character of a community.

I like the approach advocated by the Strong Towns movement: allow the next increment of development by right, everywhere. So a neighborhood of mostly single-family homes should allow accessory dwelling units (mother-in-law apartments) and conversion to duplexes by right. A neighborhood of duplexes should allow conversion to triplexes or quadplexes by right. A neighborhood of those should allow conversion to even denser development like townhomes, and multiplexes, etc. This allows a town or city to grow gradually and naturally.

The way they put it is, "No community should have to experience extreme change... but no community should be exempt from change". Wanting to build massive towers to address housing shortages is not ideal, but it's an understandable reaction, when it's illegal to address the shortage by having every neighborhood in the city "thicken up" a bit.

This is how the great cities we love all over the world became great -- through gradual, incremental change and intensification.


I like their idea for height restriction as well--allowing a story higher than those buildings around it.

Which puts the neighborhood under glass. If you are going to rebuild that means your payout needs to pay for the current value of the building, tear down fees, and new construction fees. If the neighborhood is in decline no problem - land is cheap and the buildings are not being maintained, but there is no demand to build anything there so nothing gets built. If the area is in demand land values are high, the people living there maintain their property (to ensure it keeps the value), and so the costs of building one more floor are always greater than the costs of keeping the building.

That needn't be the case though. Many estates with cul-de-sacs are better designed and have paths between them so while cars can't drive straight through pedestrians (and depending on local rules, cyclists) can get around more freely.

They are a sterile insular abomination when the only way out is by car to get anywhere useful. Then save some more money by leaving out sidewalks. Who needs those? The real problem is poor oversight of developers who think they know what they're doing when they draw their silly street designs on paper.

Cul de sacs historically meant that you or your kid can't walk or cycle two other cul de sacs without going on a busy arterial street, though modern approaches that preserve walking/cycling paths while blocking cars seem better.

LA used to have a lot of little cut throughs and stairways going up and down the hillier neighborhoods during the streetcar era. Some of them are still around of course, but they are pretty secret as their original use case (getting to the street car stop) has been gone for 60 years.

New builds don't really consider the pedestrian or the neighborhood, and are generally hostile to the cohesiveness of the area. They are massive and take up sometimes the whole city block (while only building 5 or so stories generally), and the only way to bypass them is to go all the way around them which can take 10 minutes sometimes (vs. like 2 if there was a cut through).

Due to the homeless, most apartments also gate their parking lots so you can't cut through there either. My current apartment is one of these places and walkability is severely limited because there are only two exits (despite the place taking up nearly a block). If the surrounding fencing was removed or at the very least I had an exit on every cardinal direction and not just to the east and south west, I'd be able to walk to the subway that is NNW of me 10 minutes faster(calculated by google maps).


“Modernism is the problem!” harrumphed the American Conservative, forgetting as usual that X was also once very modern. ◔_◔

In this case “Modernism” is a term of art (or jargon) referring to a specific 20th century movement against conservative classicism in art and design.

I am sure all the subscribers to that magazine have smart phones. But it’s a magazine that takes a conservative stance.


It's almost as if 'Modernism' refers to a specific (albeit vaguely defined) style, and not to the property of being new itself.

They're not ranting against semiconductors or antibiotics (both also relatively modern), are they?


Of course not, but these are not relatively modern. They're now part of traditional fabric of society for current conservatives. I think it's more apt to look at how conservatives of the time felt about new and paradigm shifting advances.

They led the charges against the scientific revolution when it threatened to subvert authority & mechanisms of control, strongly opposing Copernicus, Bruno, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton. Opposition to Darwin continues to this day in some quarters. And antipathy towards modern advancements in reproductive health is still very strong.

In any case, if conservatives come at modernist styles of expression & ornamentation, they should bring receipts. Or their arguments will smack of the notorious cries of "moral degeneracy" for which conservative thought is justly infamous.

In this case, I feel like the author is found wanting and the article unworthy of HN. There are amazing, actionable critiques of dehumanizing trends in architecture and urban planning (Jane Jacobs, Christopher Alexander), but this is not one of them.


> Of course not, but these are not relatively modern.

About as modern as the steel-and-glass/nookless style he criticizes, that gained prominence after the World Wars [1,2].

Ignoring the guilt-by-association/ad-hominem part of your post, what do you find so lacking in his critique? I'll grant that it's a long-winded way to say "it's ugly, sterile, and unpleasant to live in", but I'd say that's a valid (if subjective) complaint. What sort of critiques did Jane Jacobs and Christopher Alexander make? I'm very curious.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_antibiotics

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_architecture


Yeah, I'm not sure I buy the premise that books and crannies are beloved in the first place. Maybe if you have no fear of being trapped or surprised as you walk down a street, but for the folks who don't want to get mugged, maybe wider, flatter streets are a good thing.

Such is civilization. The eternal turn of the wheel. What was once exciting and iconoclastic is now drab and dated.

Ideas that have stood the test of time might be better than a flash in the pan craze.

Key word there being "might." It could also be that the new thing is way better than the old thing. Being traditional does not make something right. After all, slavery has been around for probably tens thousands of years, and only in the past few hundred has the common moral fabric largely agreed that it is a Bad Thing.

Being new doesn't make something right either and they have been less tested. Also, the Lindy effect suggest that ideas that have been around longer will also continue longer.

This remind me of this wonderful article on fractals: https://aeon.co/ideas/feel-good-fractals-from-ocean-waves-to...

tl;dr - human instinct guides us to prefer aesthetics with a certain "fractal dimension" (measure of repeating patterns across scales, ranging from 1.0-2.0) that mirrors the dimensions found in nature: 1.3-1.5

This sort of symmetry is the signature of living and biodiverse places. We are hardcoded to prefer it, through deep history.

My read on this is that we're finding solace in manufactured landscapes that fall within this range, and nooks help create this balance of chaos and order. The places we build outside this range subtly increase our stress.

The place I've visited where this struck me most, was Juifen, the Taiwanese mountain town that inspired Spirited Away. Walking through the long market "tunnel" was like walking along a forest path -- you'd look up and there's be many layers of canopy and hanging vines and accreted layers of human intervention. It felt so organic and layers and mentally energizing. https://www.tofugu.com/travel/jiufen-spirited-away/

Disclaimer: failed biochemist and evolutionary geneticist.


This reminds me again of why I am obsessed with A Pattern Language[0]. Building close together, setting maximum building height, quiet backs, etc. This may be a naive opinion but I think if development regulators in cities followed many of the patterns in A Pattern Language those cities would be much more enjoyable to spend time in.

[0]http://caper.ws/patterns/


Yuri: There are a lot of alcoves in the Astridpark. You use this word, alcoves?

Ken: Alcoves, yes. Sometimes.

Yuri: There are not many people around in these alcoves at Christmas time. If I were to murder a man I would murder him here. Are you sure this is the right word, alcoves?

Ken: Alcoves, yes. It's kind of like nooks and crannies.

Yuri: Nooks and crannies, yes! Perhaps this would be more accurate. Nooks and crannies rather than alcoves. Yes.


With the variety of systems in place that tend to reject this sort of "old world" architecture, I too find it sad.

That said, if anyone knows of an architecture school or architect that is investigating "modern" community housing that is people focused and not 'car' focused I would love to look at their work.


I wonder if security might be a reason. Hidden areas are also areas where you can be mugged, attacked, etc. without witnesses. Maybe on some level people are intentionally designing things to avoid that.

I really like the look of medieval villages. All the erratic roads, leaning houses, not a straight line anywhere. I sometimes wonder why a subdivision developer doesn't try to mimic that.

This reminds me a lot of Shinjuku Golden Gai.

Also, of "Golden Guy", a Burning Man cluster of micro-camp groups that creates a Golden Gai type experience each year.


Designing and building places people find nice to be in have gone out of style because building places that suck to be in the name of making them suck to do the "wrong" things is in fashion.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hostile_architecture


This isn’t a one sided problem.

There are: owners, the public and law enforcement.

In SF there were (and are) laws against panhandling, being a nuisance, harassment, etc., yet owners and or business people had to pressure for additional laws (known as sit/lie laws) because police were not enforcing existing laws and some people were abusing and taking liberties. Yes there is an aspect of social failing in this, but local businesses and residents should not have to bear the brunt of this.




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