M is for Messy Urbanism

Posted: February 23, 2011 in ABC's
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Diversity in Disorder

Often architects, developers and city planners try to sell their redevelopment’s with glossy brochures and vibrant mock ups. However, more often than not, these place turn out to either be dead, or sterile places. The problem isn’t always a lack of uses or diversity; rather it is that these places are often planned to the last window awning or flower bed. They lack the ‘messiness’ that make a city livable.

The most vibrant cities I’ve lived in or visited share one thing in common. They are messy. This is a difficult concept to accept—most people’s idea of a beautiful city that looks something like Paris or some other city with a continuous urban form. But these types of cities are rare. Most memorable places have a less-than-manicured quality to them.

Part of the appeal of messy urbanism is that it leaves room for future improvements in other words, it leave creates space for people to contribute to their neighborhood. In great urban cities, you’ll find deteriorating buildings sitting next to sleek modern 20-story condos. small businesses at home next door to luxury boutiques. Tree-lined streets of stately houses (some restored, many not) running into bustling commercial boulevards. Streets packed with busses, bicyclists, cars and food trucks. Coupled with a diverse population such messy cities ends up feeling kinetic and exciting, but in a practical and walkable way.

In The Economy of Cities, Jane Jacobs points out that the most economically vibrant cities are usually inefficient and impractical. It’s this messiness that enables a community to adapt quickly to change. Rather than seeing messiness, disorder or clutter, urban leaders should instead see the social and commercial interactions of a lively city. Indeed trying to clean up and remove the ‘clutter’ of the city is to throw away the lifeblood of the city itself.

Check out the full ABC’s of Urbanism in this handy e-book!


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