Interview with Patrick Phillips of the Urban Land Institute

Photo by by Victoria Belanger

Ten years ago the world was jarred at seeing a financial institution of a high urban city destroyed. Maybe at that moment we found ourselves second-guessing the security of our society and our government, of the stability of our ever-expanding cities, of the soundness of our buildings. But a decade later cities are still thriving: growing and rebuilding. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicted that our attitudes toward the value of urban development would remain unchanged, and he may have been right. So have we, as law-makers, designers and inhabitants of the urban environment learned from what ten years ago was considered a failure in our cities and government agencies? ArchDaily had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Patrick Phillips, CEO of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), an international organization devoted to the responsible use of land and in creating sustainable thriving communities worldwide.

Read on for the interview after the break.

AD: People are continuing to steadily migrate to cities and large urban centers for their opportunities, their vast cultural institutions and the street life inherent in their density.  Some may argue that these very same factors are what make our cities targets for disasters and terrorism.  In today’s climate, what changes are you seeing in policy and design that attempt to insulate or defend our urban institutions?  Do you find that builders and developers are more prudent about the risks involved with building in urban centers that we have seen become targets?

“My position is that they’re not particularly in the aggregate,” Mr. Phillips began. Cities are actually moving in the direction of being more open and less security conscious. In his 9/11 column (which can be found here) he mentions brief examples of building that since 2001 have become more fortress-like and unwelcoming to the public. Most of these buildings, he mentions, are government buildings. But these “anti-urban buildings are on the margin”, he says. “Cities are the safest places to be.” More secure for their concentrations and density. Collectively they propel the economy. Cities may be managed and designed differently with security in mind, but on the whole, “the real lesson is that we haven’t changed.”

AD: Do you find that builders and developers are more prudent about the risks involved with building in urban centers that we have seen become targets?

“Builders and developers are more prudent, with safety and security at the top of the list but this doesn’t translate to a change in the fabric .”

AD: We generally see cities as compact and relatively centralized developments filled with niches and details of city life that develop naturally over the years. Those of us who lives there are rooted in the city, despite its constantly revolving structures. Most of us can clearly remember our precise location when we found out about the attacks on 9-11. Do you see a trend with cities, a decade later, continue to develop in this way? Or are cities expanding like Austin, constantly regenerating like New York, or have we reached a point where the idea of a suburb has developed into that of a satellite city?

“There is definitely a trend of metropolitan areas with multiple urban centers.  Part of this has to do with transportation economies”, Mr. Phillips says.  These long-term trends are propelling cities to develop various programmatic nodes for different functions.  These satellite centers are more strongly connected than suburbs by way of public transportation systems which keep people within the fabric of the city.

AD: Now that communication and information is becoming increasingly digitized and remote, can you predict what the city may look like in the information-age?  Raymond Kurzweil predicts that by 2045 computers will surpass our intelligence, allowing our memories to be downloaded into software.  What does that say about the future of our built cities?  Does it undermine the emphasis we place on the street life that make our cities viable?  How does it color our view of what a building or city needs to be if our need for face to face interaction is increasingly minimized?

“We’ll still want to interact.  Durable cities work because we want that.  Technology gives us flexibility and options for those concerned about mobility.  Many have the flexibility to work remotely which increases the opportunity for work.  Sure there may be some people willing to download their personalities into a computer…  but the bulk of the population will want to interact.”  The universal principles that make a city durable and successful relies upon the people.

AD:  What kind of project is the ULI working on today?

“The focus of our projects is an attention to high quality transportation making more complete streets for pedestrians and bicycles.  The trend to mixed use development for urban street related programs.  We have also been working on many alterations to existing buildings, retrofitting, energy conservation  and now energy technology.  These types of projects favor the South and West because of long-term migrations.  We have also been involved with reinvestment in waterfronts and high quality cultural institutions.”

About this author
Cite: Irina Vinnitskaya. "Interview with Patrick Phillips of the Urban Land Institute" 09 Sep 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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