Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
Great idea—but does it have to be a hexagon?
CityLab recently explored an interesting idea from Mexican architect Fernando Romero—instead of a border wall, why not build a binational city? There’s already an existing relationship, via trade and people at the U.S.-Mexico border. Just look at El Paso-Ciudad Juarez. Rather than trying to sever that relationship, why not capitalize on it? That’s the idea behind Romero’s vision of a walkable, well-connected metropolis.
Romero’s proposal inspired some vigorous commentary, with many CityLab readers quick to point out what they saw as design flaws in Romero’s urban plan. WithheldName wasn’t a fan of the location:
It's hot and dry in that area and it will only get hotter and drier, perhaps nearly unlivable by the end of the century. There are political, cultural, and lingual issues. I would imagine this venture would have trouble attracting investment. It's a great mental exercise. But I can't imagine it happening in today's world.
Many others objected to the city’s hexagonal plan. Such designs were once all the rage among urbanists around the world. New York architect Charles Lamb was one such fan. According to him, Pierre L’Enfant’s roundabouts in D.C. were far superior to New York’s plain grid—better for commerce and traffic flow and easy on the eyes. Here’s Eran Ben-Joseph and David Gordon quoting Lamb in the Journal of Urban Design:
In counter-distinction to the plan of Washington, the gridiron system of New York, also the outcome of a commission, can be shown as possibly the most unsatisfactory of all forms of street arrangement, if the convenience of the citizen be considered, while the artistic possibilities have been ignored by having the rectilinear plan driven through tons and tons of natural rock to the destruction of the natural contours, and to the great expense of the community at large as well as of individual house-builders. It is a geometric axiom that the distance of two sides of a right angle triangle is greater than the third, and that, therefore, any system of transit through streets of right-angled plan, north or south, east or west, must necessarily increase the distance to be travelled, as against the diagonal streets leading from one quarter of the city to another.
By the 1930s, the hexagonal plan had gone out of fashion in the U.S., in large part, because it was often unfeasible and inefficient to build. Any benefits it awarded, could be replicated by tweaking grids and cul-de-sacs.
With respect to Romero’s plan, here’s what commenter rustybeancake had to say:
Clearly he hasn't learned anything from a century of failed attempts to masterplan the perfectly shaped city. It's time we learned from the past, that a simple grid is adaptable, easy, and resilient. The key is to keep it simple and allow uses to mix freely, except for a few industrial uses that need to be kept separate for obvious reasons.
Commenter ararar3 had the same problem, and then some:
At this point it should be well-known that a grid is best, especially for public transportation, much better than the radial public transportation proposed which would congest the center with vehicles and passengers transferring and provide bad service in outer areas, as cities with a radial system add more lines, they eventually tend to pseudo-grids, as that's what's the most efficient (fastest for A to B anywhere in the city, less congestion in stations), it's also more readable for users.
It should also be known that smart growth is organic and happens naturally, and Egypt-like city masterplans don't work.
Leaving these issues that plague architects thinking too conceptually aside, joint transportation planning (both roads and public transportation) is what is actually useful and practical in border regions.
Hélio Ávila added a critique about transportation:
Pass the highway through the urban perimeter is not a smart solution, since the heavy traffic will share space with individual vehicles and will be at the same level of commercial areas and nodal points. Perhaps the highway has a unique level not seen anything about but it would be the only way to alleviate this problem.
And finally, Jameika, brought up some less obvious flaws:
It's missing a key component: food production. With all those people, you're going to produce a lot of, ahem, fertilizer. Plus, all the water that they're going to have to store, harvest, and save will need an outlet once it's used and integrated food production in this radial plan would provide jobs and food for lots of people. There are ways to make desert agriculture quite water efficient.
It definitely needs to be better integrated into El Paso-Juárez, where there is already infrastructure that can lead into this new planned town.
To join the conversation, go here.
And check out more CityLab coverage of related topics:
- This story about how no one wants to design Trump’s border wall.
- Then, this one about the handful of architects who’re trying to rethink the border itself.
- Here’s a case for and against cul-de-sacs.
- Someone visualized the distribution of America’s roundabouts.
- The evolution of American urban planning, through maps!