The Architecture of Fear

05.26.10: The Architecture of Fear – David Byrne’s Journal

Went to Atlanta for a bikes and cities panel that was different than the others I’ve done. This one was part of a New Urbanism conference. New Urbanism is a movement that developed at least a decade ago, and the goal is to advocate for less sprawl and a return to cities where pedestrians, drivers, cyclists and the rest all interact — where there is vibrant urban life, rather than the dead zones that many of the US downtowns have become. One branch has become associated with purpose-built towns, the most famous being Celebration, the Disney version of a small town — in all senses of the phrase.


It’s fakey in a way that makes me squirm, but it can’t be denied that it’s a valid alternative to the sprawl that has proliferated everywhere. My parents moved to one of these places — Columbia, Maryland — when I left for college, and it smelled of a managed tastefulness that was simply lifelessness to me. The town decides what colors you can paint your door, or your house, for example. However, there were little town centers within walking distance of most residents, so that was a big change from the typical suburban developments and malls that were taking over the farmland. There was no realistic public transport in and out of Columbia, so it was an island, and without (being able to drive) a car my parents are trapped there.

Not all the New Urbanists are about Disney towns; their interests range from retrofitting dead suburban malls to bike lanes, which is sort of where I come in.

As the taxi pulled up to the Atlanta Hilton, I was surrounded by smiling, handsome black men in a variety of doorman outfits. All charming, and all welcoming me effusively to Atlanta. Southern hospitality — what a change from New York! As I passed through the double doors into the massive lobby, suddenly all the people around me were white. Or at least that was the initial impression. It was like I’d gone through some magical portal — with one group left outside, and another inside. The black people of Atlanta have all the social service jobs and are largely kept separate — outside, if possible — from the white masters. I’m exaggerating, but this is the first impression one gets.

It’s horribly insulting, but it’s as if the masters have created live lawn jockeys, welcoming visitors to their property. Now, to be fair, Atlanta had Andrew Young as a mayor and has a whole slew of black universities, as well as quite a few major music artists of note; but, well, this was my perception.

Atlanta has the worst sprawl of almost anywhere in the country — the amount of time people spend commuting and driving (stuck in traffic actually) and parking is beyond belief. So having a conference here about more sustainable towns that foster a sense of urban life is a bit of a poke in the eye to this city.

In Atlanta, as in many other US cities, in the ’60s, white flight accelerated — fear of a black planet, as the Public Enemy record is titled, had taken hold in a big way. The cities were where you lived if you couldn’t afford to get out. John Portman, the architect and developer, began building massive, futuristic hotel complexes in the center of town. They were so big that once inside, one never had to leave. A fellow conference attendee compared the Marriott Hotel, one of Portman’s projects, to the extraordinary sets for the old sci-fi movie Things To Come, a film directed by William Cameron Menzies.



This shit is real! The future is here… and it’s white! (This is the interior of the Marriott that he built.)

The exteriors of these complexes are awe-inspiring and forbidding; they don’t relate to the street at all — no surprise there — but rather present from the outside a gleaming tower with “fortifications” at street level.


So the street life surrounding these complexes gets killed, as there are no stores, businesses or anything feeling out to the sidewalks. Everything takes place indoors, and it’s all self-sufficient, depending on what you call living. In subsequent decades what are now referred to as gerbil tubes were added to link adjacent complexes. These second floor aerial walkways connect the mega complexes, so that one doesn’t have to come in contact with the dreaded street — or the black people that might be lurking out there — even if one had to, for some strange reason, leave one mega building to enter another across the way. Stores then sprung up on the second floors to cater to these gerbils who never venture onto the streets. Obviously any folks who might have been on the streets, walking or strolling from here to there, were once excluded from those establishments. In fact, to them, those establishments were invisible.

As in LA, many of the entrances to shops and businesses are primarily through the parking lot. The entrances and facades turned away from the streets, and towards either an interior atrium or a parking structure. In Atlanta you can walk for blocks in the center of downtown and find no shops — not any visible ones anyway. There are some restaurants and bars, but no other establishments. There might be interior courts with drug stores, stationary stores, copy shops, newsstands or clothing stores, but access to these from the street isn’t possible.

Now one might say that this inward turning could be viewed in a less skeptical manner; that there might be a kind of civic life that could arise in the food courts and gerbil tubes — a kind of street equivalent — and that I am just being old school and prejudiced. However, it sure doesn’t seem like that is what has happened. People do get supplies at the drug store or gift shop, but the life has been drained out. Any risk of randomness has been eliminated. The reference to gerbils by the locals isn’t that accidental. It seems like an architecture of racism to me… everything is designed to facilitate avoidance of contact with the other.

Here is an early similar structure — the great walled city of Carcassonne in France. Within its walls only those vetted to be appropriate to that town were allowed in.


It’s claimed that when Napoleon III widened the streets of Paris with the help of Baron Haussmann, it was to enable troop movements and to make the avenues sufficiently wide that they couldn’t be barricaded as they were during the revolution. The straightening of these boulevards, it is also claimed, was to allow the troops a straight line of fire on any insurrectionists.


Before the renovation, various social classes lived on different floors of Parisian buildings, so there was a fair amount of mixing, though limited. Afterwards one result of the changes was that rents went up, and the poor were driven to live on the outskirts of town, where they still are today. In a sense segregation was effected that has been partially maintained ever since.

There were quite a few benefits to this urban renewal project too — benefits that significantly improved the lives of the poor — and in this respect, the project was surprisingly enlightened. Sewers were added and access to fresh drinking water (the Seine was long since too polluted to drink) was installed. The right of eminent domain was claimed as many large houses had to be eliminated in order to widen and straighten the boulevards.

There were aesthetic “improvements” as well — buildings next to one another had to have their floors the same height, and it was a rule that quarry stone had to be used on the facades, giving the center of Paris the uniform look we know it by today.

The wide sidewalks and ample air and light on these wide boulevards made sitting in the sidewalk cafes and restaurants pleasurable — and they proliferated, adding to the life of the city.

So, though there may have been some military principles behind the plan, it had its human side too.

Not so for a lot of contemporary government buildings and condos. I’d propose that almost all government buildings have a slight fuck you attitude — they’re meant to be inspiring, but that often comes off as imposing and intimidating. That attitude seems to carry over to luxury condos — maybe it’s the testosterone.

Here are some new condos in my neighborhood:


Here is what could be a dinky condo, but is actually the Chinese Embassy in NY. It used to be a Holiday Inn, with a revolving restaurant and a view of… the Circle Line.


Here is the proposal for new US embassy in London — a modern version of Carcassonne, complete with a moat! We’re back where we started. Every sort of direct approach from the street is blocked, and of course the relationship to the street, where people meet and mingle, is distant and suspicious.


I live in New York, and Manhattan in particular over the last decade or so has sadly moved further in this direction. Though thankfully there is still plenty of life left on most streets, it’s being chipped away at. How can places like Atlanta bring some life into their urban center? I think it’s a long haul, and they should…umm…think small. When I was there, I asked if there were some neighborhoods and communities that might become less car dependent and more people friendly. A couple, maybe, was the reply. I don’t know where they are, but in the center they are not. One could imagine that if there were little town centers outside of the towering urban hospitality zone that one might bike or walk from one’s home to a transportation hub that would then get you to a place of concentrated offices. You’d leave your bike at a parking shelter, like they have at Millennium Park in Chicago. Park and ride, only without the massive car parking. One could also take public transport in, and pick up your bike at a parking/storage place in town and ride to work from there. Or maybe even walk from that drop off point.

If those options or others aren’t available soon, I would suggest that Atlanta residents move to nearby Athens or Savannah if they want a more pleasant life.

Plan 2040 Neighborhood Forums: Steering transportation in the right direction

Now that we FINALLY have a plan for funding regional transportation improvements, how should we spend our money? More transit? More HOV lanes? Sidewalks? You tell us: Please join The Civic League for the first of four Neighborhood Forums on Plan 2040 on Thurs., June 10 from 6:45 to 9:00 p.m. in the Community Room at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce (240 Interstate North Parkway, Atlanta GA 30339).

Developed and administered by the Atlanta Regional Commission, PLAN 2040 is metro Atlanta’s evolving plan to accommodate economic and population growth sustainably over the next 30 years. In developing Plan 2040, we have an opportunity for assessment, evaluation and possibly redirection as we develop regional policies and actions that direct resources for transportation investments and provide assistance to local governments. Citizen input and feedback is essential to creating a plan that accurately reflects and effectively addresses the region’s needs.

As always, Civic League Neighborhood Forums are open to all, but registration is requested to ensure that we have adequate seating and materials. The remaining three 2040 Forums will be held in July in Henry County, September in the City of Atlanta and November in Gwinnett County; dates and locations to be announced.


This Thursday evening, 13 May, we will hold our next LLCC General Membership Meeting. It will begin at 7:00 PM with David Green (Perkins+Will) presenting our new Geographic Information System (GIS). David will give us a brief introduction to GIS technology, introduce our customized system, and explain how this tool will be used in evaluation of the Blueprints Study recommendations and our future planning efforts. What makes our system unique is that it is customized for the LLCC community, spanning the jurisdictional lines between the City of Atlanta and unincorporated DeKalb County.

OK, so you are asking yourself, “What is GIS and how can I use it?”

A geographic information system (GIS) integrates hardware, software, and data for capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information.

GIS allows us to view, understand, question, interpret, and visualize data in many ways that reveal relationships, patterns, and trends in the form of maps, globes, reports, and charts.

A GIS helps you answer questions and solve problems by looking at your data in a way that is quickly understood and easily shared. We plan to share ours on our website.

In addition to basic demographic data, we hope to displace crime stats, flood plains, zoning, property ownership, tax valuation, real estate trends, traffic patterns, just to name a few. While you are viewing this presentation, we hope you will share with our design team data you would like to see tracked and displayed as well.

To find out more about GIS, in a clear, concise format, visit

Our meeting will be held in the Fellowship Hall of Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1438 Sheridan Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30324.

Pedestrian safety success story

Henry Batten
Henry R. Batten, LLCC President & CEO
by Henry Batten, LLCC President

I was giving an LLCC update at a recent Woodland Hills Neighborhood Association meeting when
a resident mentioned that the crosswalk signals at the Lindbergh/LaVista/Cheshire Bridge intersection were still missing/not working. I said I had contacted the City of Atlanta several times since September, got the usual run-around and was told, “we don’t have enough funding to fix the problem”. After the meeting, I tried one more time, but this time I went to the media: John Becker, who writes the Take to Task feature for the AJC. John published the complaint on March 5 and a follow-up article March 12. Click here to read it and find out the result!

U.S. DOT Embraces Complete Streets Policy!

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announces the department’s recommendations for a Complete Streets policy. LaHood has issued a new policy statement that calls for full inclusion of pedestrians and bicyclists in transportation projects, with particular attention paid to transit riders and people of all ages and abilities – essentially, a Complete Streets policy. In his blog, LaHood stated that “this is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.” Now it is more critical than ever to achieve a federal Complete Streets law. Please continue to use the Advocacy Network to urge your legislators to support Complete Streets legislation.

Good Urbanism 101

Good Urbanites,

Thanks for your support and interest of past Good Urbanism courses and events. Our Spring 2010 course has been scheduled and I hope that you will share this information with your coworkers and contacts. Richard Dagenhart, Doug Allen, and David Green will again be our lecturers and we have some new material which will add to the enjoyment of the class. We have an added focus on density and will be utilizing the classic work of Jane Jacobs as outside reading and a last class discussion topic. Registrants will receive a copy of The Death and Life of Great American Cities as part of the course material package. Please see the information below for more details. Feel free to contact me with any questions. 

I appreciate your help in spreading the word about this spring’s class!



GOOD URBANISM 101: Lessons for Designing Cities
Tuesday and Thursday evenings, April 15-May 4, 2010
6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

What is Good Urbanism 101?

Good Urbanism 101 is a six-session course on quality urban design. Learn about the history, principles, and current practices of urban design, including an emphasis on walkability, integration of alternative transportation options, sustainability, and the relationship between urban infrastructure and the urban experience. Join the Georgia Conservancy’s Growth Management Program and Georgia Tech professors David Green, Richard Dagenhart, and Doug Allen to learn about urban design and how different professions can collaborate to improve the city of Atlanta and its region. The professors will be joined by different guests each week who are professionals and experts in their field.

Each of the six sessions will explore a different theme and set of issues that are crucial to the development of the built environment today. These themes include platting and subdivision, street design and transportation, zoning, and urban design. The course contextualizes urban issues in the history of urban design while paying special attention to the specific challenges facing Atlanta.

The courses will be presented in informal PowerPoint lectures with questions welcomed at any time.

Sessions will include handouts and time for questions and discussion. Every session will include a midway break with light snacks available. However, meals are not provided and attendees are encouraged to brown bag, given the evening time of the classes.

Who should attend?

Anyone interested in planning, designing and building a better Atlanta – neighborhood residents, government officials, engineers, non-profit advocacy and advisory groups, architects, landscape architects, planners, attorneys, financial professionals, developers, and real estate brokers.

Register Now! – Space is Limited


Richard Dagenhart is associate professor of architecture and urban design at Georgia Tech, where he teaches urban design seminars and studios in both the Architecture and City and Regional Planning programs and heads the master’s of science-Urban Design Program. He is an architect and city planner with more than 35 years’ experience in teaching, practicing and learning about urban design in the United States and across the globe.

David Green is an architect and professor of practice in the College of Architecture at Georgia Tech, teaching urban design and architecture studios while also being involved in an emerging national and international urban design practice as associate principal with Perkins+Will in Atlanta. He has been involved in all stages of urban design practice from urban design visions, neighborhood participation, zoning and subdivision processes and building design.

Doug Allen is professor and associate dean of the College of Architecture at Georgia Tech where he teaches the most popular course in the college, The History of Urban Form. His teaching focuses on the American City and American Landscape and includes undergraduate, master’s degree and Ph.D. students in architecture and city and regional planning. Prior to becoming associate dean, he maintained a landscape architecture practice, winning numerous awards in Atlanta and across the Southeast.

Continuing Education Credit:

In the past, we have been able to offer continuing education credits for some professions. We have been able to offer twelve (12) AIA Health, Safety, and Welfare and Sustainable Design Continuing Education Credits and twelve (12) AICP Certificate Maintenance Credits. For Professional Engineers and other fields that are self reporting, the Georgia Conservancy is happy to provide assistance. Our credits are still pending approval for Spring 2010, and we will update the website and inform registrants as we learn more.

Additional Information: Good Urbanism 101 is sponsored by the Georgia Conservancy in partnership with the Urban Design faculty in the College of Architecture at Georgia Tech.

ALL PROCEEDS from Good Urbanism 101 support urban design education by giving scholarships or research assistantships to Georgia Tech urban design graduate students! Registration: Register Now!- Space is Limited General registration is $200, and registration for those seeking professional education credits will be $300.

Class Scholarships: We may be able to offer a limited number of scholarships for Good Urbanism 101. To be considered for a scholarship, you must be an employee or volunteer of a non-profit organization whose work involves transportation, urban design, housing, or related issues; a citizen member of a civic association, neighborhood planning unit, or planning or zoning commission; or be otherwise clearly involved in volunteer activities that involve the built environment. To apply, please provide a 500 word statement describing your interest in the class, how you will utilize the class lessons in your professional or personal life, and how you are involved in urban design issues. Application statements should be emailed to Katherine Moore, Georgia Conservancy, kmoore@gaconservancy.orgby March 31. You will be notified one week prior to the first class regarding your application, if the scholarship positions become available.

Location: 75 5th Street NW , Atlanta 30308 (Centergy Building at Tech Square in Midtown). Classes on April 15, 27, and 29 will be held in the 10th Floor conference room. Classes on April 20, 22 and May 4 will be held in the Hodges Conference Room of Suite 380.

Katherine Moore, AICP
Growth Management/Blueprints Program Manager
The Biltmore
Georgia Conservancy
817 West Peachtree Street, Suite 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30308
404-876-2900 ext. 106