What you Need to Know about Ukraine!

The Russian Invasion…How Did We Get Here?

I need to tell you some things about the Ukraine in light of the ongoing invasion of their country by troops of the Russian Federation.  The Ukraine has been pushed to the brink of destruction and dis-membership.  The largest European country other than of course Mother Russia has remained at the cross roads of East and West, stretching all the way back to before the beginning of the 2nd millennium.   This blog and the one from my travels in the Ukraine in 2011 http://fredandreas.wordpress.com are full of stories of the Ukraine and Eastern Europe.  These include personal stories and observations, first hand interviews, discussions, professional assessments and lots of incredible photography of the Ukrainian and Eastern European “fabric”, an architectural term meaning built “stuff”.  Read below in this blog from 2013 and check out the blog from 2011 for a full view of life in the Ukraine.   Over the next week, I’ll focus on specific aspects of
“What you Need to Know about Ukraine”!
Photos from Kiev

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A Brief History in Time
A resilient people, the Ukrainians have been overrun by invading armies and subjugated throughout the last 1000 years,  since the inception of the entire Ukrainian cultural, ethnic and political system around the year 1000 AD.  Kievan Rus’, a loose confederation starting around the year 900, united most current Eastern European countries into a political power that dominated that part of the world and partnered with the Holy Roman Empire at its peak, ending with the Mongol invasions of 1240.  It formed the foundations of that what would eventually become Russian and the Russian Empire.  Since that time Ukraine has been the crossroads between Europe, Asia, Northern Europe, the Black Sea access, the Ural Mountains, Constantinople, Polish Empire, Prussian Empire, Norwegian Empire, Russian Empire…you get the picture.  As a result of the wars and conflicts between surrounding empires, Ukraine aligned itself with the Russian Empire at the time of Peter and Catherine the Great in the latter half of the 17th century, beginning Ukraine’s long alliance throughout Russia’s Czarist era.

After a protracted internal civil war, the Ukrainian People’s Republic declared its independence from the Russian Empire at the last minutes of Czarist Russia in 1917, lasting only as long as it took the Bolsheviks to rescind that action two years later with the Soviet Army establishing control over their country.  Stalin made an example out of the Ukraine in 1933, during the collectivization of the farms by starving the countryside around Kharkov the previous southern Soviet capital, leaving literally millions of Ukrainians dying in the streets of starvation.  Such conflagrations within living memory have repeatedly beset the Ukraine, such that among many living generations today there are almost twice as many woman as men!  This remains true for today’s 30 something generation.    Check out this article in my personal favorite…Wikipedia…on the Ukrainian Holocaust dubbed Holodomor.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holodomor .   In WWII, the Nazis used the Ukraine as a door mat to gain access to Russia; the Soviets used it to push the Nazis out of their territory over and over again.  Cities such as Kharkov now so in the news were the sites of such intense battles that they are still studied today in the military academies.  Battle_of_Kharkov .  The Ukraine finally established independence from the Soviet Union with the birth of Perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet economy in 1991.

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Perestroika 1991
Magnificent by our book, a pariah in Ukraine’s, Perestroika suddenly cut the cord to life support for all of Ukraine and all other satellites of the Soviet Union.  One day there was a safety net, then next it was gone.

In Soviet Ukraine everyone had jobs, careers, retirement, health care of sorts, education, just about everything a family could need!  They went to colleges and universities to study science and technology.  Graduating in droves with degrees in physics, engineering, economics they were not only given jobs within the Soviet machine, but required to work no matter what.  It was a comrade’s social responsibility!  You could never be unemployed, you had to work.  You were assigned housing for which you paid a very modest sum to rent.  If you didn’t work you lost your “flat” or apartment in the only housing available in those famous Soviet style high-rises.  Watch: The Irony Of Fate, Or Enjoy Your Bath (1975).  The Irony of Fate or Enjoy Your Bath .  If you didn’t work, you and your family were on the streets.  So you worked no matter what, if your children were sick, or you were sick, or if it snowed 5 feet, you worked.  As a result, the Ukraine maintains a level of higher education rivaling any Western country, today producing the fourth largest number of college and university graduates in Europe!  As a result of the Soviet system, even with the very small take home pay of often less than $200/month, mom and dad, grandpa and grandma, the kids and grand kids all went to college, went to work, lived together in one flat and saved and saved and saved their money.

Perestroika facilitated today’s Ukrainian Republic to receive its independence in 1991 from the collapsing Soviet Union.  That’s the good news.  The really bad news is that suddenly the safety net disappeared.  Chaos ensued.  Factories closed, stores closed, government buildings and services closed, jobs disappeared, banks defaulted, schools and universities stopped teaching, food became scarce, the entire system collapsed.  No one any longer had jobs, income, institutions, retirement, pensions, even food, though they remained in those high-rise flats.  The newly established free market economy of the new Ukrainian Republic went into a deep recession for most of the 1990′s with a huge drop in their GDP as well as hyperinflation of their currency, which everyone had saved and saved and saved.  Their old Soviet era currency, the karbovanets, was secretly and suddenly replaced September 2nd, 1996 with today’s hryvnia at a rate of 1 hryvnia = 100,000 karbovantsiv as that currency collapsed with its own hyperinflation.  Shockingly, people who had 1 million karbovantsiv in the bank in August 1996, suddenly had 10 hryvnia in the bank on September 2nd.  Lifetime savings were whipped out overnight.  Then through the rest of the 1990′s, the hryvnia devalued to 1/4 its original value.   No jobs, no industry, no production, no shops, no food, no education, no pensions, the entire system collapsed.  People were thrown into immediate dire straits.  I’ve met former a Soviet National Soccer Team coach, engineers, PhD scientists, architects, building contractors, accountants, bankers, factory workers who all lost almost everything in a short 5 year period.

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Today’s Ukraine
Today most Ukrainians earn about $300/month, no matter their work or profession.  Yes, some a bit more, like bankers up to $500/month and some less, laborers $200/month and pensioners as low as $75/month.  Imagine!  On the average, they work 50 -60 hours per week including Saturdays for that pay.  The underground economy is what makes the place tick.  Everyone does something on the side.  They work at night cutting hair, manicuring, selling, making pies, cakes, selling things on the street, hawking drinks on the square. rent rooms and give tours for extra cash.  Oh, and their housing, cars, cloths, meals in restaurants cost the same as here.  Yes, some more, some less but that’s the snapshot!  Imagine!  No one I’ve ever met owns a car.  Everyone crams like sardines into 1950′s era buses and trains rolling over busted up infrastructure with broken streets and tracks.  Few own computers though everyone has access to the internet through cafes.  They know the score and can see it every day on the web or TV shows from the US dubbed with horrible Russian over the top.  Everyone speaks Russian despite today’s news as it was the official language of the Soviet Union.  It was taught in every school up to 1992 and frankly remains the actual language of business and the streets.  Everyone is well-educated, well read, is on the internet, speaks several languages, is politically active, while they take the crowded buses back to their dilapidated high-rise flats, with their $300/month pay checks.  All the while as the government officials and members of Parliament drive the most expensive cars I’ve ever seen and live in multi million dollar mansions and estates.   After his ouster, President Viktor Yanukovych was found to be living in a $55 million dollar estate complete with helicopter pad and lavish opulence everywhere.   Yanukovych Palace Photos

That’s where the Ukraine is today and how it got here.  A sordid tale.  Meanwhile I’ve found the people so very friendly, intelligent, worldly, up beat, and forward thinking.  Of course some yearn for the old days, of Soviet patronship, mostly the older folks.  Most know that an alliance with the EU would open economic doors that have never been opened before.   Most believe their paychecks would rival at least Poland’s at about 1/4 ours, if not Western Europe eventually.  Most want to maintain open relations with Russia as they share trade, heritage and history.  Some fear the future with the propaganda coming in over the Russian border claiming that the IMF will demand the dramatic inflation of all prices or that suddenly goods and services will cost many times what they do today.  But most just want to be free.  Free to choose, to determine, to live, to work, to have a normal life, to not have your X presidents jailed or poisoned.  Free from dictators and despots and corruption and graft in their government.  Free to have the ability to travel and earn and live.  They mostly want to be free…just like you and me.

Check out these links on the most recent situation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPwmcz1cnKM .

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Odessa’s Sustainable Design, Speaking a Different Language

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The point of this trip is to set the stage for a Study Abroad course in Eastern Europe focusing on a new and broadened concept of universal sustainability.  I tell my students they are recipients of the pioneering tenets of a New Renaissance, a new awakening, the beginning of a new era.  Some call it the New Millennium, some think we’ve finally, finally landed on Shangri La and have found the answers.  I like to remember a fishing pole hat I had as a kid, with a toy fish on the end just out of reach.  The faster you chased the target the more it eluded.  We are the first generation to consider sustainability with an eye towards the future, in the present, tempered by the past.  Green Building, Zero Net Energy, Environmentalism, Sustainable Urbanism, Sustainable Economic Planning, Social Equity, Eco City Development, Eco Urban Design, all in caps, are 3rd Millennial concepts.  We are at the very beginning.   I believe future generations will look back on this period and call us the pioneers of a new beginning a Renaissance. 

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The lessons learned in Eastern Europe with their past, present and future, point the way to a new beginning, a new understanding of “What’s next?”  These are societies steeped in history and traditions, architectural precedents and cultural morays, social structures and political upheaval.  The cities, towns and villages of the X Soviet Union have had time pass them by.  The political storms of the 20th Century, and there were plenty, came and went like the wind.  The remaining built environment’s resiliency creates a new sense of sustainability into the 21st Century that’s missing in the developed world.  We must expand our concepts as part of the mantra of “globalization” or become obsolete.

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Odessa as a show piece to the brave new world of the Soviet State, surprisingly elucidates concepts to be applied in today’s cities all over the world.  Everybody walks and takes the transit.  Everyone meets face to face all day and night long.  Every evening, all evening the entire downtown is packed with pedestrians, walking, talking, eating, along promenades, in parks and cafes, around fountains and gazebos.  The innumerable squares and alcoves, not as pretty as those in Prague and Krakow, remain full of people eating, drinking, talking and yes smoking until the middle of the night.  These all serve to create a sustainable city within a new definition amongst the contradictions and non sequiturs and rubble…“putting butts in the seats”.

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Churches and cathedrals abound on every corner, with open doors and an ethereal respite from the din of the city.  Old architectural styles in original condition, yes you could call “busted up”, create a mish mash of separate and well developed styles one on top of the other.  Time and culture remain the main form givers to the place.  Squares, facades, entries, walls, windows, steps, fountains, walkways work with proportions, light, views and eddies, to create private and public spaces with opportunities for sustainable architectural and urban design.  Everything lasting through the centuries, creating an eclectic urban festival for people with the old embracing the new, creating the rough edges of opportunity.  It is this “Resiliency” that we must understand and emulate in the Developed World. 

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In Odessa you’ll see crumbling facades, broken pediments, smashed buildings in ruins, broken and busted sidewalks, streets, walks, stairs, abandoned buildings, broken windows, fallen in roofs, unkempt parks, weeds, crumbling fountains, rubble for sidewalks and promenades, all a function of the political and economic upheaval of the tough, tough, tough 20th Century.  There’s been no money to gussy it up and make it pretty like Prague or Krakow.  On one hand you see it as “busted up” and dirty and broken.

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You’ll also see vibrant markets that go on block after block after block, outdoor shopping malls stuffed with open cafes filled with umbrellas, tables and people.  You’ll see parks full of people every hour of every day and jammed to overflowing at 10 pm every night.  You’ll find opera house parks and fountains and plazas and rose gardens and church cloisters filled with kids playing, teens skateboarding, families strolling, oomph bands oomphing, dancers swirling, people selling and watching and talking and laughing.  You’d think it was a carnival, but it’s every day and every night!  It’s a scene out of the play book of what’s best in sustainable city design and what we designers hope to design.

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All the while, there are no Zero Energy Buildings, no recycling or water restrictions, no car pooling and not a single Prius in sight!  There are no electric cars, solar panels, high efficiency envelopes, solar hot water heaters, super efficient building envelopes.  No low e windows, green materials, building integrated photovoltaics or LEED buildings anywhere!  There are no empty brand spankin’ new plazas or umbrella tables or benches.   Their sustainable society speaks an entirely different language than ours.  We are speaking English and they are speaking Russian with mutually un-understandable alphabets!   They don’t have the slightest concept of our sense of sustainability and we have no concept of theirs.  Both models fulfill different niches in architectural and city development.  We must learn to speak a more universal language for sustainability to be sustainable.  

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Odessa, Learning from the Past to Find a New Future

Odessa, this southern seaport was the beach playground for the Soviet mucky mucks throughout the 20th Century.  You know, the ones with ribbons on their jackets!  Yes, yes…and the huge Soviet hats with the red ribbon.  They built huge 1950’s and 1960’s style compounds right down to the Black Sea with no public access for anyone but themselves.

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Odessa was founded in the late 17th Century by Catherine the Great.  You know, the one with all sorts of rumors attached to her legacy!  Yes and a lust for…noooo…a lust for territory.  The access to the sea was of great value in the late 1600’s.  The Ottoman Empire dominated the place right up to the 1st quarter of the 16th Century when it was defeated in the Russo-Turkish War of 1792 perpetrated by…you guessed it…Catherine the Great!

She founded the City with all her power, allies and generals in tow right before her death at the stroke of the 19th Century.  Odessa thrived under the rule of Catherine’s Generals well into the 19th century and became the fourth largest city of Imperial Russia, after Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Warsaw.  Those benefactors included the now famous General Potemkin as in the Stairs.  You know, the Potemkin Stairs where as you look down you see only landings and when you look up you see only stairs, exactly 200 of them.  Wow, who knew learning history could be so much fun!  Just imagine how popular you’ll be at parties?

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During Soviet times, Odessa was the most important port of trade in the Soviet Union and sported the Soviet Navy.  The architecture maintains a decidedly Mediterranean rather than a Russian style, influenced by a 19th Century Russian aristocratic taste for all things French and Italian. Everything from caviar to coffee to arranged marriages to architecture was brought in from the stylish west.  As a result many of the original and untouched buildings remain a showcase of adjacent yet pure Baroque, Renaissance, Neo Classical and Art Nouveau all on the same street!  How do I know all this stuff?  HA, the secret of once again…no not the oracle but “Free Walking Tours of Odessa”!  Such a deal!

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The place remains the playground of the Russian speaking areas of Europe, with many tourists from Moscow, Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Poland and Denver!  Well, exactly one non Russian speaking tourist from Denver!  You learn to point and grunt when ordering food and drinks.  There are almost no westerners here in these parts.  Certainly only a very little amount of English.  I’ve become an instant celebrity, with English speaking Ukrainians and Russians being shoved to the front of a surrounding horde to squawk out the usual questions.  “Where from you?”  “Why you come Odessa?”  “Colorado!  Oh! The Avalanche!” Then a translation to the crowd, a pause and then 20 thumbs up.  You quickly realize the “A” is a capital letter remembering hockey and Russia, and the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics and USA’s Miracle Team!  They love all things hockey and so I feel at home for a nano-second.

Beaches stuffed with bodies of all shapes and conditions surround the Black Sea coast with most of the heavy shipping is confined to one area near the city center.  Again a strange mix of heavy hulking industry intermixed with recreation, beaches, parks, statues, swing sets, promenades and ancient forts.  Most of the beaches remain in the outlying areas though the HUGE soccer stadium park I walked through had an inner city beach right next to the stevedore docks and that same green algae choked water.  Much like Kherson adaptability and aesthetics clash throughout old Russia and today’s Ukraine.

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The Soviet system imprinted the theme of industry first over this historic city’s architecture, with their “comrades” supporting the machine.  It eventually became an aesthetic more accurately dubbed “military grade industrialism”, with both the ideal and theme defining everything. It reminds me of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis from the 1930’s.  This went on all the way up until the USSR died a terrible death in 1991, falling victim to not a military coup de tat, but to a grinding process of universal disintegration accelerated by economic and social woes.  Yes sustainability in any form was not in the USSR’s business plan.  The worker’s revolution from 1917 almost immediately derailed in 1922 when the Communist Party consolidated power with Stalin at the helm.  As they say…”the rest is history”.   Stalin strummed on the heart strings of the worker comrades from the Bolshevik Revolution with diatribes like “Our fields are devastated, factories are shut down, economic resources are depleted…” as reported by Time Magazine in that same year.  The Soviet Union slowly turned the bright new ship of the worker’s revolution into the hulking authoritarian scow we know today.  Again, the same question as always, what’s this got to do with architecture? 

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Everything!  The city fabric remaining at every corner today shows the legacy of the hard lessons of this social and political experiment.  The concepts of resilient sustainability must be included to support a broad base of social, economic, environmental, cultural, historical, humanistic development through time.  At its inception, sustainability fit a broad set of concepts into some nice neat silos.  It represented baby steps into a broadening of economic, environmental and social challenges in all walks of life.  My favorite question…”are these both necessary and sufficient” to define what is sustainable.

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We always exist within some new movement which remains unnamed until later.  We only get to learn the lessons and name the movement after it’s over.  So it is today.  We’ve labeled the previous 10 years with the generic term “sustainability”.  We increasingly are learning lessons of successes and failures of that movement.  So what’s next?  Can resiliency capture a broader set of approaches to be more universally applied?  What lessons does the architecture of Odessa or Kherson or Lviv or Krakow or Dresden or Prague teach us for the future of the planet?  That’s what we’re talking about, right?  Answering the questions… “What have we learned from the past?” and… ”Where do we go from here?”

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Kherson the Black Seaport…An Allegory for the Soviet State

Kherson, the ancient feudal capital along the Black Sea coast is another UN World Heritage Site.  The city, one of the smallest I’ve visited remains all Ukrainian.  The sea offers the only and best outside contact, with many large ships docking and unloading here supplying the rest of the Ukraine.  The mariners are required to speak multiple languages so the only English speakers come from the sea.  Indeed, this is one place I get lots of stares despite my trying to fit with the locals.  Maybe I can’t always hide my fairly large camera!  They don’t get many visitors here.  The black Sea coast remains one of the best ocean accesses for not only shipping but of course the Russian Navy, still permanently docked in the Crimea just to the south.  This may be the most original and untouched place I will see on this trip.  With only mariners as the outside influence, the place has existed for some 800 years in an isolated part of the central Ukrainian coastline.

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So again, the oracle for folks like me, Wikipedia on “Kherson for Dummies”!  Can’t get much more succinct than that!
“Until 1774, the region belonged to the Crimean Khanate. Kherson was founded in 1778 by Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin, on the orders of Catherine the Great. The city was built under the supervision of General Ivan Gannibal on the site of a small fortress called Aleksanderschanz. The name Kherson is a contraction of Chersonesos, an ancient Greek colony founded approximately 2500 years ago in the southwestern part of Crimea. One of the first buildings in the Kherson Fort was the Church of St. Catherine where Potemkin was eventually buried. The last tarpan was caught near Kherson in 1866.”

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To say the place is “busted up” is to maybe miss the point of coming here.  There is plenty of that, with post Soviet fall out from years of military style construction overlaid on the ancient town of course combined with years of neglect.  Here you see original structures, unadorned with Soviet or 20th century appointments.  Here you see pure stylistic architecture from any of the dozen or so artistic eras that moved through this part of the world.  It’s where you see the unadulterated Soviet style superimposed over the ancient town’s layout of the Baroque and Renaissance.

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Moreover, the history of the place includes the cradling of 4 different ethnicities, with contiguous and adjacent Jewish, Polish, Russian and Greek neighborhoods.  There are renovated synagogues, Catholic churches, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox houses of worship, all surrounded by the busted up urban fabric so prevalent in this part of the world.  My personal favorite was the Kherson Grand Hotel certainly from Soviet times, dating from the 1960’s.  It had porthole windows, aluminum panels, concrete, porches, an elaborate patio “system” made of intersecting water pools, little water falls, a Sputnik Satellite ball in the middle of the pools, bridges, canopies, decks, alcoves made of concrete, and concrete patio surfaces.  A pure example of the 1960’s style that I grew up with except everything, I mean everything was busted up, broken, green with mold and falling apart.  The water was choked with bright green algae and Sputnik was defiled with colonies of pigeons permanently perched on top!  Needless to say ol’ Sputnik was white as the ghost!

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I spent an entire day walking around the port, which included a river walk, statues, fisherman, bridal parties, boat rides, receptions, kids with balloons, boys diving off the piers, vendors selling brats, a tiny Russian Orthodox chapel, park benches, small curio shops, sidewalk cafes with umbrella seating areas.  Only 200 yard away loomed huge dock cranes 20 stories high, concrete and timber stevedore docks, international ships and dark brown water stripped with bright green algae.  Walk up apartments sat in the shadows of the seaport’s mechanized monsters performing a constant surreal Tai Chi dance.  Soviet military style trucks lined up alongside neighborhoods next to the piers with dirt roads, hulking metal buildings and neighborhood kids playing in among the rubble with wagons and soccer balls.  It was a surreal sight.

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I was befriended by a very nice guy Max, or Maximi in Ukrainian.  I had my map plastered against a glass wall in the shopping district trying to read the thing.  He walked up and immediately spoke English, “Do you need any help?”…I guess I don’t blend in as much as I thought!  A shock, the first real English I’d heard since I arrived in the town.  He was a professor at the university, specializing in history, ethnicity and cultural developments in the Ukraine, traveling extensively throughout Europe.  He also taught a course on Jewish ethnicity and the Holocaust, so we had a very good chat about social responsibility and collective consciousness.  He spent over an hour and a half with me, showing me the old central part of Kherson, the old historic center on the hillside above the sea, where the 4 contiguous neighborhoods were located.  At the end, we said our goodbyes knowing we’d never see each other again.  He was a real breath of fresh air in an otherwise rather inhospitable place.  He’s reading this blog so thank you Max!

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People work with what they’ve got, they are resilient.  Over their history, this has remained a seaport.  As time went on, and especially under the USSR, industry thrived.  That’s one of the main messages here.  The Iron Curtain prevented the rest of the world from seeing the actual workings inside the Soviet State.  They “industrialized” everything.  Industry, manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, agriculture, town planning, urban design, housing, economy, were all built in a post war industrial scale.  Over the top!  So swimming and getting married under the shadows of those hulking Transformer looking monsters is just the way it is.  In our psyches and our living environment we adapt.  Our cities and towns transform with time and use to become more resilient.

Architecture is here to bridge that gap between functionality, aesthetics and our social lives.  In this sense history has taught us that architects are social scientists, artists, planners, engineers, historians, all in one.  We not only illustrate the power of a time in the icons of politics and religious, but also create the functional structures, buildings, and places in which to live.  Art, form, style, aesthetics come into the picture in the form of enhancing the experience, our human desire to enjoy things of beauty.  Art for art’s sake?  Ah yes, I remember that!  How does that balance with the necessities of working, living, shopping, resting, enjoying a meal, a park or a vista?  No where that I’ve ever seen is this dichotomy more fully illustrated than in the X-Soviet Union.  Nowhere!  Nowhere else was there such a clearly defined agenda in design aesthetics.  Nowhere else was there an equaled nationalistic drive to produce and manufacture and compete on the world stage.  Two opposing “prime directives” of urban design of function and beauty clashed together within the cities of the USSR in old Russia, Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus.  So back to my original question…is this sustainable design?

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The build environment here is certainly not sustainable by our metrics…nor is it always beautiful.  Is sustainable design beautiful design?  Is beauty one of the markers of sustainability?  Our narrow view of sustainability may be what ultimately makes it an outdated construct.  One that in itself is unsustainable, or certainly not universal.  It would seem that a concept such as sustainability would be sufficiently inclusive so as to not narrowly define an American view of what works to support the environment, economy and social fabric.

Our view of architectural sustainability through the filter of the Triple Bottom Line focuses mostly on energy.  Saving energy therefore justifies saving money.  I was shocked when I polled my classes several years ago, asking if sustainability is a social responsibility or simply about money.  95% said it was all about money, both on the investment side and the savings side.  We speak of “cost payback” and “net present value” of expensive strategies to save energy.  LEED is our main metric.  Most of you not in the building business have never heard of the Leaders in Energy and Environmental Design or the LEED Rating System according to specific benchmarks of Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum LEED ratings.  The “points” do include some issues of the site, urban design, water, materials, but almost half of the points relate to energy and connected issues.  Our rapidly anachronistic view of what is sustainable design will soon render it useless in a broader globalized view.

A resilient model of developing cities and places for people certainly rests on the ideas of the integration of industry, commerce, agriculture and living.  It supports the longevity of development into a continuum that stands the tests of time.  That it promotes and supports the needs and aesthetics of any people no matter the culture.  This is part of the new genera of city planning called Eco-City design.  We in the USA scoff at Le Corbuseae’s high rise stuff so readily adopted by the Soviets, where high rises surrounded by grassy fields are supposedly filled with playing children, surrounded by transportation systems, surrounded by industry.  Corbu’s High Rise Housing  It’s all very orderly, maybe in a Rube Goldberg sort of way, where the city is a machine.  In Eastern Europe, people swim, get married and stay in grand hotels right next to the industrial working piers because that’s where they live and work and recreate.

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Untouched places like Kherson along the Black Sea coast teach us these lessons.  Is this resilient city a working and vibrant labyrinth of culture, living, activities, working and recreating?  Does the city support the ideals of good urban design of “putting butts in the seats” with people on the streets, sidewalks and cafes all day every day?  Is it an interesting place to live and shop and recreate and visit?  Is it a beautiful city such as Prague or Krakow and so does that make it less sustainable?  I predict we are closing the book on the “sustainable” chapter of city, urban design and architectural development.  We must look for new concepts that work on a global and broader scale, supporting a more universal view of what sustains cities, people and lives over the long haul.  Resiliency, that which stands the tests of time may be the next new frontier in cities, and one most easily seen in places such as Lviv and Kherson in the old Soviet Union.

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Traveling in Eastern Europe, I’ve Been Waiting for This Chance to Tell You!

Once you’re on the road, you know its coming.  Every landing in a new place is a HARD landing. Soft landings…not possible without throwing a bunch of cash at it.  It’s all a matter of degree though. No matter how user friendly a place, the landing amounts to a hard landing.  You are unfamiliar with how, where, when, what of just about everything and at the mercy of the taxi drivers who’s life quest is to gouge you for everything you’ve got.  Getting from the train or bus station to the hotel is the key.   Once there you will get what information you need to get started around town.  Taxi’s are generally the way, but you must negotiate the price before you get in and always divide by their number by half and begin to haggle.  The problem is that some of these stations are miles I mean miles out of town!  One station in Lviv was at least 45 minutes from the city center and that taxi ride, crazy money.  So I bused it.

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In Prague or Krakow where English and EU civilization abound it’s a more civilized experience!  Yes, both Czech Republic and Poland are not only members of the EU but several of its stars with Poland leading the way!  They both kept their own currency and so the prices are cheap, cheap, cheap as you’ve already heard…almost earning you money as you travel.  Their transit systems look just like Western Europe with beautiful color maps of the train routes everywhere, calm announcements in overly enunciated local language, stops with huge signs that match the LCD screens overhead and the slowly spoken words over the PA.  The stations and stops are kiosks with a roof and nice benches, with automated machines that take cash or cards and allow you to buy a 1 or 3 day ticket that gets you everywhere on everything.  The trains are modern and usually AC’d with nice seats and clean floors.  Hell you could probably enjoy a cappuccino on there for the full experience!   Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

All intercity and international trains unfortunately for the tourists are overnight trains. You can’t see the countryside!  Each trek takes at least 9 or 10 hours, which is what it was from Prague to Krakow and Krakow to Lviv.  The Czech and Polish trains were comfortable. Traveling 1st class is like having a 5 star hotel room in an Airstream.  Little sink, make-up mirror with lights, side cabinets with water and snacks, reading lights, linen on the bed, soft cushy pillows, nice carpet, curtains, music, power chords, closets, you name it.  A treat!  Traveling 2nd class in Czech, I was in a sleeper “room” 8 feet cubed with a bunch of wild and crazy Hungarians from Budapest that were on a weekend junket where they left home on Thursday and went from town to town using the train as a hotel room.  One day stays in each of 4 cities.  They started the trip with singing, shouting, laughing, loud Hungarian music, dancing, patting me on the back, trying to grunt out a few English words, offering me huge cans of beer, yes, a rolling CU Boulder frat party!  It was ok, they quieted down by 1 am and we rolled into Krakow at 6 am, my time of day and poured out on the streets.  They all had hangovers as they shuffled off the train at 6 am Sunday morning.  The sun low in the sky, the birds chirping, no one on the streets, the place is deserted, quiet, the morning air cool and crisp…no taxis and I have absolutely no idea where the hotel is or how to get there.

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BTW, it’s been the hottest summer to date on record here.  Of course the summer’s not over just yet!  So we’ll see about some kind of world record and expanding Climate Change discussion by summer’s end.  I’ll tell you this, it’s been hot and I know hot.  I’ve sailed in Jamaica and Mexico in early summer.  I lived in Boston for 6 years.  Yeah, I know hot!  But here?  Every day, blazing sun, bright sky, and humidity like in Boston’s summer HHH.  You don’t know this phrase unless you’re from that part of the world…hazy, hot and humid, but mostly without the haze.  I get exactly one day out of a set of clothes; everyone’s soaked the entire day.  I wondered what on earth those rags were that everyone carried around with them.  I’ve now got one, a sweat rag, mine’s my reconstituted wash cloth!  Never leave home without it!

I arrived on the 1st Class overnight train from Krakow into Lviv, again at my favorite time of day, 6 am.  Feeling pretty special after my Airstream train experience rolling across hundreds of miles of ancient countryside, none of which I could see!  Another hard landing in a strange place, except this time it’s into the real Eastern Europe.  No one speaks English or is interested in the slightest in helping, the ticket booth folks wave you away when you say “Do you speak English?”  After that treatment at 3 windows, trying to find my way out of a cacophony of seething activity everywhere I hear English behind me, “real helpful aren’t they?”.  Ah, a friend!  So Liz and I made it to the bus, fumbled around to find the bus stop, the right bus, the right stop, how to pay, how much to pay, where was the city center and waited and waited and waited in the hot summer morning sun.

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The transit system in places like Lviv and other back water towns is sketchy at best.  At absolute best!  The buses and trams date from well into the Soviet era if not post WWII!  The buses are hot, dirty and packed, blowing blue smoke out their tailpipes.  There are no maps or signs or kiosks or bus/tram stops or indicators of any kind.  Oh yes, remember?  No one speaks English!  There are no signs as to the direction its going, no indication of where to pay or how much.  The buses are packed like sardines.  5 buses packed solid to the edges of the sardine tin went by before I finally found a taxi to get me to the hostel.

Travel in Eastern Europe amounts to “Industrial Grade Traveling”.  It’s not for those wanting a relaxing vacation.  It’s always a crap shoot what’s coming next.  What will happen around the next bend?  No matter how well you plan and try, there’s always the zinger.  It’s coming!  You just don’t know when or how hard it will zing you when it hits.  I’m 2/3 through my trip.  I had several minor zingers when I landed.  My flip phone that takes the SIM card was missing from my luggage on arrival.  I left my itinerary for my plane flights on my dining room table after putting it out where I wouldn’t forget it.  Minor…easy stuff.

The key is to have redundancy in place.  As many redundancies as you can carry along.  Whatever that is, gear or logistics.  My one zinger, I’ll call it that expecting the obvious…my access to my cash at home, my ATM card, was gone.  Gone.  Damn!  Gone!  Not in my money belt.  Gone!  I’d extracted a bunch of cash to pay the hotel in Kherson, the next day the card was gone!  HA!  Redundancy!  Well almost the Easy Button.  I have Skype, so closed the access with that card and had a second card to another account. Of course there are things that will take you out, so that’s intense incentive to keep your shit wired tight and triple check everything.

From Lviv to Kherson on the Black Sea coast, is about 400 miles through rugged and old countryside.  Just to the east of Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova this part of old Russia/USSR has been forgotten by time and investment.  As soon as I got to Lviv, I went back to the train station to book a train to Kherson.  No seats are available.  Nothing, all weekend and into next week.  Crazy as it sounds, you can only book a train for one leg of the trip.  No Euro Pass here!  In Czech only to Krakow no further.  In Krakow, to Lviv, no further.  So you must book on the spot for one leg of the trip to the next.  So the bus is the next option…400 miles of rugged terrain through the summer heat.  Hum.

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I get to the bus station which is miles out of town again, on a local city bus.  No one speaks English; the place was certainly built by the Soviets as a bus depot with a huge concrete structure not painted for decades, black concrete floors inside from all the foot traffic.  When people talk to you in Russian and realize you don’t speak the language, they talk louder and louder and louder with an edge to their voice as if the volume was the issue.  So this teller is yelling at me through this dirty glass window, veins popping along her temple, its 100 degrees in there, sweat pouring down my face.  Finally I get a ticket to Kherson, 400 miles $70!  I ask for a window seat.  Yes, a window seat.  I go back a little later on, to double check, a window seat.  “Is this a window seat?”  Da, DA in very loud Russian, a window seat.  I exit back to my hostel in Lviv.

The early morning before I’m to leave for Kherson on this 400 mile bus ride through back water Eastern European countryside, my stomach starts acting like it’s got that alien from the movie “The Alien” inside me.  In Jamaica they call it the “Jamaican Jump” for obvious reasons.  Whatever you call it, I got it and I got it good!  I’ve got the chills even though it’s 90 degrees in my room.  I’ve got the shivers, quakes, shakes, headache, and can barely get out of bed.  So my day is suddenly laser focused on getting to the bus station for the 3 pm bus that arrives in Kherson clear across the lower 1/3 of the country at 7 the next morning in hot, cramped, buses whose windows are sealed.  Um hum…you got it, you did the math right, 16 hour bus ride over sometimes dirt roads!  And me with the Jamaican Jump!

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After a taxi ride to the local bus stop I catch the city bus to the station getting there without any surprises.  At the station, its 100 degrees, I’m delirious, dizzy, my sweat rag soaked, chills, flushed, keeping a keen eye on the WC, the water closet, which requires me and all my stuff go along through the narrow doors and steps.  I’m trying to sleep sitting on the outside bench my head on my luggage, cigarette smoke everywhere (everyone, I mean everyone smokes), people pushing onto the bench, blaring music, the place spinning.  I’m in and out of sleep as I don’t want to miss this bus. I move to a column right next to the platform where the bus will arrive so as to not miss it, sitting on the ground, my legs on my luggage, delirious.

I’m hoping its food poisoning, please let it be food poisoning and not some trip ending plague I’ve ingested.  Please!  Have you ever wished for the short term joy of food poisoning?  Well here I am on the ground of this concrete USSR bus bunker, cigarette smoke wafting over me, as I start singing to myself Bruce Springsteen’s “Livin’ on the Baaaaaaaack Streets” with the words, “Yes food poiiiiiiii-soning, oh food poiiiiiiiiiii-soning”  Yes, food poiiiiiiiii-soning, please food poiiiiii-soning” Then Clarence blasts that sax in his inimitable wail…Blahhhhhhhhhhhh, ba ba ba ba ba ba Blahhhhhhhhhhhh.  Baaaaaaaa ba ba ba ba baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!  “Yes food poisoning, please food poisoning” Oh food poisoning, food poisoning”  I was early for once so after 2 hours of this, the bus finally shows up.  I’m a delirious mess.  The Greyhound looking bus has the sealed windows you’d expect, but of course no AC, so its 120 degrees inside this completely full tin can.  My seat…an aisle seat of course, no window.  It’s time to board.  I begin to get up from my spot on the ground next to the open door of the bus and pause, still hearing Clarence’s sax blaring, steadying myself on the column I’ve been leaning against.  I see this vision of me staring straight into the gaping maws of the deepest reaches of Dante’s fiery Hell.

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Lviv, the Ancient Polish City in The Ukraine!

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When I mentioned this title as a concept to Vera, one of my new hostel-mate friends from OZ, she scoffed at the oversimplification!  The region Kievan Rus  in the 10th Century was all things in these parts and eventually the power ended up in Kiev!  See any similarities with the names?  Yeah, I did too.  I can’t beat “my personal favorite” Wikipedia on ancient Eastern European history, so here it is straight from the oracle itself…

“Kievan Rus’ begins with the rule (882–912) of Prince Oleg, who extended his control from Novgorod south along the Dnieper river valley in order to protect trade from Khazar incursions from the east and moved his capital to the more strategic KievSviatoslav I (died 972) achieved the first major expansion of Kievan Rus’ territorial control. Vladimir the Great (980–1015) introduced Christianity with his own baptism and, by decree, that of all the inhabitants of Kiev and beyond. Kievan Rus’ reached its greatest extent under Yaroslav I (1019–1054); his sons assembled and issued its first written legal code, the Rus’ Justice, shortly after his death.  Of course, all this predates the end of the Holy Roman Empire in Constantinople just to the south by several centuries.”

Lviv or Lvov in Russian was itself founded in 1256 by King Danylo of Galicia.  The city’s been controlled by many rulers including Sweden, Poland, the Austrian Hungarian Empire, the Nazis and then the Soviet Union due to a nasty little secret pact between Hitler and Stalin just before things completely fell apart in the War.  The Hitler-Stalin Pact of Aug 23, 1939 gave Lviv to the Soviets even after the Nazis were completely defeated.  Of course those Nazis never really owned Poland to give away in the first place.  But that’s a moot point.  The USSR enforced that pact with complete impunity after the war as well as through a number of Polish Ukrainian uprisings that left the city in the hands of the Soviets and then the Ukrainians after Independence in 1991.  Phew and that’s just the last 75 years or so!

Now I’ll tell you that Poland and Russia/the Soviet Union had been at each other for centuries.  Most famously in recent history in 1968.  During the time of the Renaissance and the Baroque periods, the Polish Empire stretched from the “Baltic to the Black Sea” during the time of Kings in Poland.  Lviv was built as a Polish City State and power center full of opera houses, theaters, churches, synagogues, palaces, boulevards, parks, fountains…and so it was all the way up through WWII.  Then of course everything changed.  Lviv is a wonderful combination of international influences.  Polish and Russian and Ukrainian cultures all mix together to form an interesting labyrinth of buildings, art, monuments, styles, tastes and customs.

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The further east you go, the less English is spoken, the harder the travel, the more “busted up” the cities and towns become.  Lviv is beautiful and raw architecture.  Some in untouched condition, the plazas are all essentially original from before the 2nd World War era.  The buildings, sidewalks, streets, trolley cars, alleys all in “original” condition are mainly not in that wonderful Polish “pristine” condition.  The Soviets and in turn the Ukrainians had no money to spend on such aesthetics.  The streets and city plan abound with the boulevards and plazas of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, the statues perfectly placed, the fountains in strategic locations through out the city center.  Small alleyways create alcoves for cafes and shops.  People are walking, sitting, drinking, shopping, eating everywhere!  The same things you’d see in the Polish cities and towns, albeit in rougher settings.  The same mainly Christian churches and cathedrals, the same plazas and cafes.

But it’s still a Ukrainian town with largely Ukrainian people, customs, language, food and of course attitude!  Yes, it might be like traveling to New York City and not speaking any English.  I’ve of course been instantly transformed into a complete blithering illiterate once I crossed into Russian speaking Ukraine.  Oh yes, and that alphabet!  Oh yeah!  This comes from a website called the Face of Russia…”The Cyrillic Alphabet was named for St. Cyril. Cyril was a Greek monk who, with Methodius, brought written language to Christian converts in the mid-9th century (c.860) in what is now Russia. The Cyrillic alphabet is closely based on the Greek alphabet, with about a dozen additional letters invented to represent Slavic sounds not found in Greek.”

IMGP7662I can neither speak nor read Russian or it’s sister language Ukrainian.  So doing everything from getting a bus to ordering a coffee is a real challenge.  Better hope you don’t get lost or make a mistake as you’re on your own, unlike the cities of Prague and Krakow where people love to help you in English of course!

Hell, I can’t even make out the alphabet!  a C is an S,  a 3 is a Z, and this thing that looks like an X and a K mating Ж is the sound your Mother would make to tell you to be quiet “ZH”!  Yeah, you’ve seen this stuff on the walls of Dos Bog Coffee!  It’s nice art but when it’s thrown into long long words with multiple parts, it’s a crap shoot! “ZH”!

But beyond the few “sour pusses” my friend Sharon likes to call the waning number of ol’ farts still left over from the communist days, the place is a wonderful and beautiful trip into original architecture, town planning and culture!  Starting with the 13th century, this early frontier village of Eastern Europe with it’s feudal systems and buildings, transformed into a powerful 19th Century city state with wonderful medieval walls and fortresses, Renaissance courts, palaces and town halls, Baroque churches and cathedrals!

IMGP7578Lviv is the heart of what the rest of the Ukraine calls “Western Ukraine”, meaning all things independent and autonomous.  They are not coddling to Russia, not to Poland, not to the rest of the Ukraine.  They are truly on their own.  And of course across the boarder a short distance to the west, the Poles say…”just wait, it’ll be ours again some day very soon”.  The rifts and influences continue to drive deep between the politics, the culture, the architecture and the people.  “We’ll see!” Another favorite Ukrainian saying.

Onto Kherson, the ancient feudal capital along the Black Sea!

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Krakow, the City of Kings!

Krakow the great capital of Poland during the years of florescent architecture, the years of the Renaissance and Baroque, the time of kings and nobles and bishops and cathedrals and rabbis and synagogues!  And today…the place is one big party!  There are people everywhere.  The streets are packed until after midnight, there’s dancing in the streets, calypso music, Cuban music festivals, water flying into the hot summer night air to cool the sizzling hot stone plazas, kids running in the water, horse drawn buggies filled with tourists.  It’s a festival for the senses!  A back water jewel, a fraction of the size of Prague but with all the pizzazz and excitement!

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Situated on the Vistula River, Krakow dates back to the 7th century and has been one of Poland’s chief centers for all things artistic, rich and powerful.  Things like academics, art, music, architecture, literature, the church, the synagogues all   flourished as a  result of an economic powerhouse unrivaled from 1038 to the middle of the 16th Century.  It was the capital of Poland from 1038 to 1569 and the regional capital until 1999.  It is now the capital of the Lesser Poland Voivodeship.  And how do I know all this?  HA, again “Free Tours Krakow.com”!  The best find so far!

Krakow has been a busy trading center of Central Europe since before the end of the 1st millennium.  With the establishment of new universities and cultural venues and the emergence of the Second Polish Republic in 1918, Kraków firmly established its role as a major national academic and artistic center.  Some big deal King named Sigismund III of the Swedish House of Vasa…and that info comes directly from my personal favorite Wikipedia…decided to move the capital from Krakow to Warsaw at the very end of the 16th Century.  The move was to appease some pissy Polish Dukes that didn’t like traveling so far, so the more central location of Warsaw was chosen.  Since that time it shares the same crazy history as the rest of Central Europe. You know, everyone took over everything all the time, as in constantly.  But the most important fact is that the capital and the power and money flowed to Warsaw and away from Krakow after the 16th Century.  Another important fact is that happened after the fluorescence of the golden age of Renaissance and the Baroque eras, when the place was on fire with building.  Krakow’s beauty remains unsurpassed in most of the rest of Poland as the “City of Churches and Synagogues”!

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Krakow was on the Third Reich’s No Hit List” as the Nazi’s believed it was their own heritage.  Warsaw on the other hand was leveled in the War along with its architectural record, which flourished since the 14th Century.  Krakow suffered literally no damage during the War and so survives as one of several pristine examples of the pre 20th Century Europe.  One of my hopes for this epic trip is to visit some of the most preserved city centers of Central and Eastern Europe.  Krakow fits that bill.  There are Romanesque and Gothic churches, Renaissance palaces, Baroque facades and interiors with most of the structures welcoming you to enter and photograph!  No sneaking around!

When Germany invaded Poland at the start of World War II, the Germans, in particular Hans Frank, took Kraków as the capital of Germany’s General Government of Central Europe.

Hans FrankSuch a nice guy.  That sour puss is the “sustainability is very serious business” look.  Very serious.  Imagine this guy with a Craig Fergusson’s German impression?  “I vont do donce wit eu”

All this background is to set the stage for a discussion about Eclecticism prevalent in Central and Eastern Europe.  When I was studying architecture in one of those east coast universities that specializes in such stuff, we looked at architectural styles in London, Rome, Paris, Berlin and France, Germany, England and Spain to understand the details of the religious and power based architectural styles.  They were all contiguous styles and periods often driven by inspirational architects and projects in a particular country.  The Romanesque with its heavy walls starting in Italy in 313 with San Apollanari in Classe (I know that because I visited it!), the Gothic cathedrals of France, the Renaissance palaces of Italy, the Baroque facades of first Italy and then Prussia, the Neo-Classical motifs of Berlin, the Art Nouveau and Rococo of France.  These were the religious and political bases of Western Europe at the time of a building boom, fueled by money and power from these powerful places.  The power politics of those times supported these clear and distinct architectural styles.  It showed the stability of church and state.

By contrast, Central and Eastern Europe have remained a crossroads of culture and power and religion for at least the past millennium if not longer.  The politics and the religions reflected in the styles are all mixed, all mashed together into a melting pot, with everything in constant flux.  So the cities I’ve visited to date in Czech and Poland show a more Eclectic Style!  Let’s call it a “Resilient Eclectic” style.  Consider this as a new phrase to expand the worn concept of sustainability.  Not only are whole buildings of completely different styles rammed right up next to each other, but even single facades include motifs of multiple styles and periods.

It creates such unique cities and spaces!  Universally there are cafes, alcoves, shops, beer gardens, brat stands, and kiosks in every niche!  You walk and find such places everywhere.  Much like Prague, squares abound in every direction.  The social life of the city is first in the order of importance, and so there in lies the sustainability.  Sustainability from the construct of the Triple Bottom Line the 3 X BL I’ll call it, creates individual silos that seemingly encapsulate and separate economics, environment and social fabric.  These evolving cities of Central and Eastern Europe show infinitely greater complexity in their development from ancient times, as a result of the constantly changing winds of politics and religion represented in their urban fabric .  There were no freedoms, no choice of religion, or politics.  Whomever was in power built and rebuilt the cities.  Today our appreciation of all things called “sustainable urbansim” allows us to enjoy livable, walkable, activity generating city centers that are alive with multiple uses and visuals.  We’ve returned to the concepts that people prefer people within our city centers.   We’ve returned to some of the resilient concepts developed in the architecture and city planning ,of the “days of yore”.

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In Krakow no where is this more evident than in the “eclectic” nature of the castle reflected in a potpourri of styles, built more like a wedding cake made of cupcakes of different flavors, colors and sprinkles.  It started with a Romanesque chapel then a 14th Century Gothic cathedral “addition”, then all sorts of pieces were stuck onto it, until it reads like a beautifully preserved museum of every major style of the last 700 years.  The latest addition: the Nazi’s took one of the old palace renaissance facades and added the National Socialism spin to the works, mainly  characterized by over simplified Neo Classical motifs.  Albert Speer the architect of the Nazis really liked Frederick Schinkel, another German Schinkel Images.  Speer tried to expand his influence through emulation with varying degrees of success.  The end result for the castle integrates another layer on this eclectic architectural spanning from the Romanesque to the 20th Century!

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Sustainability in both Prague and Krakow are similar yet different.  The concepts of resiliency remain universal between them both. Resilient neighborhoods, street-scapes, plazas used for varying functions over time and need remain present in both places.  Prague is a much larger city and power center, having been the seat of power for kings, dukes, cardinals and bishops for the entire time, Prague showcases a continuum of development based on sound economy and trade.  That political base supported a lavish built environment focused on providing public spaces for royals, clergy and the public to admire the powerful.

So the 3 X BL model is just too simple to be effective in analyzing current sustainability within these cities. Let me suggest that the successes of these cities today lies within these concepts of resiliency and sustainable design transposed into today’s places.  These places do not wax and wane as our projects do in the US.  These cities do not disintegrate and become Detroit or Buffalo or any of the Rust Belt hollowed out shells.  The neighborhoods do not fall onto hard times and become the slums.  They are maintained in their viability over time.  The city becomes itself resilient in order to stand the test of time.  Sustainability is expanded it to include the built environment’s history and use use over time and expanding that to today’s culture.  These old eclectic centers then become the pristine model for sustainable city living in today’s world.  The concepts of sustainability remain in constant flux when combining these eclectic city centers with the concepts of today’s “sustainable urbanism” and city living within their architecture and city plans.

One of the areas of pride of Krakow beyond the beautiful buildings, is the Jewish culture, synagogues, squares, shops, houses that abounded within the city. Prior to the War, 68,000 Jews, after the War and into today, less than 2,000 Jews.  Why do I know this?  Yes, yes, again “Free Walking Tours” http://www.cracowfreewalkingtour.com. The Jewish Quarter is the oldest and most densely populated part of the city, with twisty truny streets, narrow sidewalks and narrow walk-up houses.  The locals in previous times just kept building and building into the street until some were mere twisted alleys.  The resultant alleys form all sorts of alcoves for cafes and sidewalk seating.  The houses fell into disrepair in the later 20th Century, but have now become the Greenwich Village of the Krakow with lofts and shops springing up within the old buildings.  Of the 12 synagogues there before the War, only one is currently in operation.  The other 11 are now all museums of everything from Jewish art to the city’s history.

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The trams and trains are a work of art.  Clear, precise maps spell out the labyrinth of trams, trains and busses that cris-cross the city in every direction.  You buy a 3 day ticket once and ride any tram, bus, or train in the entire city.  LCD screens display the stops and a very slow speaking voice in calm tone almost chants the stops in beautiful Polish.  Polish sausage is simply the best, the Polish beer even better and only $.80/ half liter bottle; AND the perogies are to die for…duhhhhhhhh!  Best of all? It’s all far cheaper than staying in the States. You can earn money by not staying home and traveling to Krakow!  You can pay for your plane ticket by coming to Krakow!  And if you’ve never heard an accordion orchestra play Beethoven or Tchaikovsky well, just walk around the square and follow the music.  I watched these 4 guys do 3 symphonies in 15 minutes!  Kind of like “5 Minutes of Shakespeare” plays.  Krakow, another place not to miss on your itinerary!  It’s a real jewel of Central Europe!

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