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Peter K. Kresl and Daniele Ietri

Successful architectural city planning initiatives usually incorporate a set of features such as those we list at the outset of this chapter. Not all cities manage to implement these or other similar features, and their initiative usually comes up short. We examine four such examples in this chapter. In Syracuse, the city leaders lacked the foresight to implement the plan to reconfigure the center of the city. In Detroit, the RenCen was not sufficient, by itself, to revitalize the downtown area, let alone the entire city. The St. Louis Gateway Arch was abandoned by city development that drew activity to the other, western, side of the city. And Rotterdam failed to incorporate into its design the urban life preferences of the residents. In each case, time, resources and opportunities were wasted.

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Stimulating the revival of the city

Architecture and Urban Competitiveness

Peter K. Kresl and Daniele Ietri

History is replete with examples of cities, or urban economies, that have lost the heart of the local economy. This may be the result of the collapse of a single major employer, for example Youngstown with Youngstown Sheet and Tube, or even the collapse of an entire economic sector, for example Pittsburgh and steel or Detroit and automobiles in the 1980s. This chapter focuses on a set of cities that experienced a severe economic downturn or collapse and that then adopted the strategy of recovery through investment in architectural projects, or a single project, that redefined the essence of the city, gave inspiration to its residents and local firms, and gave the city a reputation that extended internationally. There are many examples of this, and the chapter offers a selection.

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Some observations and conclusions

Architecture and Urban Competitiveness

Peter K. Kresl and Daniele Ietri

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Relating the city to the nation

Architecture and Urban Competitiveness

Peter K. Kresl and Daniele Ietri

Architectural structures have long been used to assert political authority and identity. The wall separating East and West Berlin is a classic example. The same can be said of the wall erected by Israel through Jerusalem. Massive imposing buildings have been used in Washington, London and Moscow to consolidate and represent national political power to the citizenry and to the world. Structures can also be used to represent some event that was crucial in the history of the nation, that communicates unequivocally to the citizenry, and that serves as both a symbol and a physical representation of the identity of the nation. These structures also create a political unity that facilitates development of other projects and strategies that enhance the vitality of the economy. All of the structures selected here are located in cities and enhance the meaning of the city to the citizens of the nation.

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Introduction: architecture and modern cities

Architecture and Urban Competitiveness

Peter K. Kresl and Daniele Ietri

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Peter K. Kresl and Daniele Ietri

Building the world’s tallest (for a few years) building has been a popular way for cities to gain international status. For Chicago the Sears Tower was a natural outgrowth of the city’s place in the structural development of the skyscraper since the 1880s and of the memory of Frank Lloyd Wright’s notion of the “Mile High Building.” For others, having the world’s tallest building said to the world “Look at us!” Or it established the city as a significant location in the world of corporate centers. This latter approach has been taken by several cities in Asia or the Middle East that previously lacked status or recognition throughout the world economy and its major actors and had to adopt the strategy of “catch-up.”

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Establishing business center status

Architecture and Urban Competitiveness

Peter K. Kresl and Daniele Ietri

Being recognized as a major center of business activity – headquarters, access to financial and other professional services, recognition of this status throughout the world, and attractiveness to other firms in their locational decisions – has motivated local leaders to accept and to encourage companies to construct major corporate headquarters buildings and sites in many of the world’s major cities. Some of these efforts merely reinforced the power of the city center (New York), while in other instances they led to renewal of a derelict part of the city (London, Detroit) or to creating a business center in a city that had been bereft of one (Paris). In other cities an entirely new site was developed to assert that city as a new, major economic and financial center (Shanghai, Lagos).

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Establishing a “brand” or “identity”

Architecture and Urban Competitiveness

Peter K. Kresl and Daniele Ietri

It has become a staple of urban economics that a successful city must have something that differentiates it from other cities that are in similar situations. Branding and identity have been promoted by strategic planning consultants as being absolutely necessary if a city is to compete successfully in the struggle to gain tourist expenditures or a distinctive position in a larger geographic space, or to create an integrated economic region where there previously was none. Two examples will make this clear. Las Vegas has developed its slightly off-color reputation with its wink-wink slogan “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” The …resund and the Channel Tunnel initiatives have created something significant where there was not an integrated cross-border region before. Other structures have given a substantive identity to a city.

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Creating transformative parks

Architecture and Urban Competitiveness

Peter K. Kresl and Daniele Ietri

The Austrian Camillo Sitte celebrated Italian cities because of the fact that squares got in the way of straight streets leading the pedestrian endlessly and boringly through the city. In the US, while early Northern cities had streets that were determined more by topography and the contour of a port than anything else, by the time we get to Midtown Manhattan and post-fire Chicago the Savannah grid had become the standard. But there was still a desire to break up the monotony of the grid and to create some beauty and respite from endless straight streets. From the mid-19th century on, there was a desire to give access to green spaces to lower income, working class residents of the city and to immigrants. Frederick Olmsted, and other landscape planners, stressed the need for trees to “disinfect” the city air and for parks to improve the health of city residents. Louis Wirth, among others, argued that living in the densely populated urban setting would generate a sense of alienation; parks were seen by many as a way to ameliorate this malaise. In all cities parks were created; Central Park in New York, and the lakefront parks and Grant Park in Chicago created a place of recreation and pleasure accessible to all the city’s residents. In addition large cities had dozens of smaller parks. The well-known urban parks in Europe are largely the result of initiatives far earlier than the period considered in this book – from the 1870s on.

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Creating community

Architecture and Urban Competitiveness

Peter K. Kresl and Daniele Ietri

In this chapter we discuss how cities used architecture to create community among many individuals sharing the same urban context but frequently not related by family or background and origin, as would be more frequent in rural communities. The chapter starts with a discussion of two projects designed during the first wave of industrialization and urbanization. Architectural interventions in residential areas were largely intended to provide decent housing and socialization for a growing urban lower class. In these years, the prewar utopist ideals of architecture, planning and community were frequently associated with the construction of mega-structures. Examining examples from the postwar period, we see the emergence of two aspects that are still relevant for contemporary architecture: first, large size, as we will see with the mega-buildings in many residential peripheries; second, the emergence of “archistars,” as the large interventions were frequently ideated and led by famous personalities.