Sunday, December 08, 2013
What chess can show us about building the metropolis of the future
Chess holds the secret to saving our cities
Saturday, Dec 7, 2013 05:00 PM CST
What this game of strategy can show us about building the metropolis of the future
Pedro Ortiz is on a metropolitan planning mission. Like many urban theorists, he uses metaphors to illustrate his points, and his preferred comparison is to games.
Too often, Ortiz says, we think of the metropolis like a dartboard, one whose concentric circles of development decline in value and importance with distance from the center. This is the radial or orbital model of metropolitan planning, one that prizes centrality above all. It is, for Ortiz, a design whose failures have rendered it obsolete.
Instead, he suggests we imagine the metropolis as a chessboard, where every square plays a role and control of the center can be complemented by clever play along the edges. Ortiz calls this system of evenly spaced nodes and gridded traffic corridors the “reticular,” and it is his trademark method of planning. In a metropolitan scheme for Bogotá, Colombia, Ortiz actually placed chess pieces on a map, each corresponding to a particular sub-regional function: an airport, town center or commercial business district.
“Metropolises are not at all like cities,” Ortiz told me over the phone last week. Developing the regional plan for Madrid in the mid-’90s, Ortiz learned that metropolitan planning, in addition to foresight, requires coordination and sacrifice. “Every mayor wanted to be a queen. But their role was not to be a queen or a king but to be a knight, a bishop or a pawn.”
To make regions function as a whole, Ortiz designed the Metro-Matrix, a system marked by linearity – intersecting transportation lines organized around natural features – and numerous centers. It’s an idea that Ortiz, a senior urban planner at the World Bank, has since exported to cities as distinct as Cairo, Mexico City, Istanbul and Manila, and whose principles he expounds in a new manual, “The Art of Shaping the Metropolis.” Given the pace of global urbanization, time is short. Looking onto unplanned slums spreading like oil stains around Accra, Ghana, and Monrovia, Liberia, or doubling year over year at the margins of N’Djamena, Chad, and Amman, Jordan, Ortiz sees a time bomb.
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At the urban scale, the grid is the oldest and most popular design we have. It brings obvious advantages to movement, organization, architecture and real estate in the city. But rarely has it been successfully deployed as a regional strategy.