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Urban Ugliness Is a Call to Action

Mary Jander, Managing Editor, Future Cities
Thursday, November 21, 2013 10:50 EST

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Terry Sweeney
Terry Sweeney  
11/29/2013 10:47:33 AM
User Rank Blogger
Re: Urban hellscapes
As an infrequent visitor to Manhattan, the greening up of the island -- from the planters in the pedestrian zone triangles to the landscaping of the Highline -- has been the single largest improvement to the borough in the last 20 years. There's something civilizing about flowers, shrubs, trees, and greenspace. Yes, it comes with a price tag -- so does streetcleaning, and we find a way to make that happen.

Susan Leach
Susan Leach  
11/29/2013 7:29:46 AM
User Rank Blogger
Re: Urban hellscapes
Good question, Terry. I've seen lots of studies in the last few years that confirm the benefits of nature and seeing trees or something green out the window. That's seem to be accepted now as an essential ingredient for well-being.

Here's one article from a while back: Green is good for you. 

But on the larger issue of how to de-uglify cities, I think planting trees goes a long way. It doesn't solve everything, but it brings colour, softens the hard lines of city architecture, cleans the air, reduces the heat-island effect, and provides shade for pedestrians. Maybe it even encourages pedestrians by offering shelter. It humanizes the cityscape really.

Mary Jander
Mary Jander  
11/25/2013 12:53:38 PM
User Rank Staff
Re: Ugliness
Actually, a new article I saw online today describes how bad the air pollution is in smaller industrial cities in China -- worse than the widely publicized problems in Beijing. Very frightening stuff, really.

Mary Jander
Mary Jander  
11/25/2013 10:12:27 AM
User Rank Staff
Re: ugly cities
I think I get your point here, CitySolver. When cities are made up too much of those boxlike tall buildings and lots of branded chain stores, it's actually depressing. I don't think mess is the thing I look for as much as character -- evidence of the preserved past, unique shops and eating places, landmarks. Those things make a big difference in a landscape.

Mary Jander
Mary Jander  
11/25/2013 10:10:14 AM
User Rank Staff
Re: Ugliness
Interesting, @Moomin-mashka. I have seen lots of photos of horribly polluted places in Eastern Europe and China, etc., which look like little hells on earth.

Any suggested candidates for "uglification" here? Do you have any particular cities in those areas you  mentioned that might be called out for particular "disgrace"?

Mary Jander
Mary Jander  
11/25/2013 10:08:30 AM
User Rank Staff
Re: Urban hellscapes
Your comment, Terry, reminds me of some statistics I saw somewhere that in places where winter is very long and limiting and where the environment is stark and the lifestyle impoverished, there is a lot of depression, alcoholism, suicide, etc. I've heard the risk of falling into the slough of despond is far greater, for example, in the Northwest Territories of Canada than elsewhere in N. America.

CitySolver
CitySolver  
11/25/2013 9:13:48 AM
User Rank Blogger
ugly cities
Interesting videeo gdstark, I like the idea of rail cars giving more space to cyclists and pedestrians. In relation to the article Mary I agree that Houston seems quite pleasant and not too ugly. I also think its worth bearing in mind that some cities like Rome are quite ugly but because of their history are still considered beautiful. Also diversity is key to beauty, I personally dont like superclean cities as they are boring. I prefer more variety even if its deemed by some as ugly. There is a great quote about architecture that warns this- 'We have banished the slums and created sterile cities, behold the slums of the mind' In other words we cannot have a fulfilling life without the ugliness of the environment, sterility is worse than a mess!!

moomin-mashka
moomin-mashka  
11/25/2013 12:23:18 AM
User Rank City Slicker
Re: Ugliness
Well, I think if someone  who makes this 10 ugly cities  list gets deep into Russia, China or lets say Indonesia, the list would be absolutely different

kq4ym
kq4ym  
11/24/2013 12:14:58 PM
User Rank Urban Legend
Re: Ugliness
I've always maintained city uglyness is a factor of two main factors: Lack of natrual landscapes and poor taste in business and directionsal signage.

Put trees and landscaping on streets and around business and residential landscaping, placement will provide a sense of beauty to the most modest of neighbor hoods. 

Regulate signage to make it minimal, functiional, uniform, and with a sense of good taste, and driver and pedestrial distractions will be minimized and contribute to a sense of place. 

Terry Sweeney
Terry Sweeney  
11/22/2013 11:52:48 PM
User Rank Blogger
Urban hellscapes
Thanks for a good blog, Mary... all seven points of your problem checklist apply to my hometown, Los Angeles, which will never win any awards for charm or beauty (unless it's layered on with a trowel and it's Oscar season). I wonder if any sociologists or urban planners have studied or assessed the psychological impact of those who live in these areas for long periods of time. It would be fascinating to know how it impacts mental health, employment history, crime rates, etc.

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