Sunday, September 30, 2012

CPTED, Brasilia, and Pruitt-Igoe - A lesson worth learning

Brazil's capital city, Brasilia. An icon to modernist architecture (photo by UNESCO)

There is a great article in the latest issue of The Atlantic, Brasilia - A Vision of Concrete. It reminded me of a story years ago from my planning classes on modernism.

At 3pm, March 16, 1972, CPTED was born in the death of architectural modernism. That's the date of the first explosion to demolish the Pruitt-Igoe public housing projects in St. Louis. Built in the finest traditions of modernist theory, Pruitt-Igoe soon decayed into a crime-ridden ghetto and festered for years with low vacancy. Demolition was the final epitath for a concept ill-suited to social housing.

Those explosions began less than a year after C. Ray Jeffery's book CPTED and the same year of Oscar Newman's book, Defensible Space. It was Newman who described the social damage to livability from Pruitt-Igoe’s bleak modernist buildings, acres of no-man's land and blight. It’s a story of how not-to-do planning.

Except not everyone listened.

Almost decade after Pruitt-Igoe started, another modernist architect planned the city of Brasilia, Brazil. Controversial from the beginning, Brasilia stands today an icon to modernist architecture and rational planning.

While the Atlantic article caresses the architecture of Brasilia, it brutalizes it's planning. "The city is quite correctly regarded as a colossally wrong turn in urban planning." And now, in time for Brazil's World Cup in 2014 and the Rio Olympics in 2016, it's due for a make-over.

It's hard to say whether crime in Brasilia arises from the modernist nightmare that infected Pruitt-Igoe, from Brazil's epidemic gang violence, from 9 million unregistered firearms, or something else. It was probably all the above.

But if we've learned anything from Pruitt-Igoe surely we’ve learned SafeGrowth-style organic neighborhood design and collaborative planning is integral to safer streets!

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