Posts Tagged ‘urban planning’

The New Orthodoxy?

New Urbanism is an urban design movement, which promotes walkable neighborhoods that contain a range of housing and job types. It arose in the United States in the early 1980s and continues to reform many aspects of real estate development and urban planning.

While new urbanism covers issues such as historic preservation, safe streets, green building, and redeveloping brownfield land.  If the movement were to be boiled down to a single concept, it would be creating walkable neighborhoods. New urbanist developments are more walkable, offer a more diverse range of housing options, encourage a richer mix of uses and provide more welcoming public spaces than traditional suburban developments.

Although many well-known new urbanist projects are “master planned communities” its ideas are also incorporated into existing city cores and even in suburban and exurban neighborhoods. These neighborhoods can include measures such as traffic calming, pedestrian improvements, parking management, and commercial and residential infill.

New urbanism has also inspired a new approach to building codes, called form-based codes. These codes are an important tool for implementing urban enhancements. Rather than dictating  the uses of land parcels, form based codes provide guidelines that define the types of development desired in a particular area. This provides greater design flexibility and coordination than conventional, land use based codes.

While once on the fringe of the urban planning field, new urbanism has risen in prominence in recent years, with new urbanist related initiatives like LEED and Smart Growth becoming common staples in the arsenals of urban planners and developers alike. This has led Andres Duany—one of the founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism—to label it a ‘new orthodoxy’ and calling for a ‘jolt’ to renew the movement to face the challenges of the next century.

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


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!

Activity over Architecture

Closely related to informal urbanism, kinetic urbanism views the urban condition as flexible; less a grand vision than a series of small adjustments occurring over time. Often times, the frenetic quality of city life does not allow most formal planning or political systems to keep pace. Kinetic urbanism bridges the resulting gap by focusing on activity, not architecture. It views events and changes in time as more important than buildings and places in space.

Rahul Mehrotra, Associate Professor of Architectural Design at the MIT School of Architecture + Planningdeveloped the idea of the kinetic city. According to Mehrtra, the static city is “the buildings and structures that architecture deals with.” On the other hand, the kinetic city is the part that is “making and remaking” urban spaces and is “in opposition to the static city.” He also states that in a kinetic city, “events and changes in time are more important than monuments and places in space.” While Mehotra was specially focusing on the informal urbanism taking shape in Mumbai, the concept are applicable to almost an urban area.

When urban leaders look at activities such as busking or street vendors on their city streets, they should not automatically seek to control it through zoning or permits. This activity is often times not evidence of lack of regulation but rather an unmet need being fulfilled in a innovative way. Indeed it is what makes urban living so vibrant and exciting. Rather than seek to remove or regulate these activities, Urban leaders can embrace this entrepreneurism by looking, not at what ‘should work’, but at what is actually occurring day to day and season to season. They should include these patterns of activities in their plans so they can thrive in greater comfort and safety for all residents.

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

Informal Urbanism: Invention Born out of Frustration

Informal urbanism focuses on communities’ ability to absorb, recycle, offer services, set up networks, celebrate, work and play outside the structures imposed by formalized rules. It stems from the need or want to correct or compensate for the shortcomings in existing (or formal) urban plans, whether it be expressed as a worn shortcut through a park that is off the paved path, food trucks, or shanty towns in Caracas.

Whereas traditional urban planning tends to follow a formal, top-down approach, informal urbanism is about invention born out of frustration with the status quo. It views the city not as a grand vision to be imposed but as gradual adjustments to be revealed based on need. As a result, informal urbanism creates environments that are versatile and flexible—and usually more robust that their formal counterparts.

Instead of viewing informal urban interventions as conditions that needs fixing, they should be viewed as learning opportunities. Urban leaders can embrace their robustness by looking, not at what ‘should work’, but at what is actually occurring from day-to-day and season to season around their city. The informal patterns that emerge from such observations will often lead to more sustainable urban interventions.


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

Generic Urbanism: Creating Cities without Qualities OR Quality

The term generic urbanism rose to prominence with the book S M L XL by Rem Koolhaus, Bruce Mau, Jennifer Sigler, and Hans Werlemann. The book contained an essay by Koolhaas, a Dutch architect and urbanist, titled “The Generic City.” This essay declares that progress, identity, architecture, the city and the street are things of the past. Koolhaas writes: “Relief … it’s over. That is the story of the city. The city is no longer. We can leave the theatre now…”

Generic urbanism describes a non-specific, identity-lacking urban landscape. The generic city has no specific reference points, either to its history or its residents. Rather it responds to urban stereotypes. In doing so, it turns cities into yet another commodity, interchangeable from one another. We can see the result before us as city after city converge in a pastiche of undifferentiated cityscapes.

Generic urbanism appears to have started in the American suburbs when developers creating interchangeable developments. Over the past half century it has crept into our urban cores, where the truest expression of civic identity were once found. This is, in part, a result of the effort by city governments to attract suburbanites (and their tax dollars) downtown—not by offering then something unique or different—but rather safe and familiar.

The concept is an oxymoron. A generic city resists urbanism and its inherent qualities of diversity and culture. All the qualities normally associated with a great city: iconic architecture, vibrant but messy streetscapes, unique neighborhoods, etc. become subsumed by global trends. Public space becomes formulaic; there’s nothing to notice to except stoplights. According to Richard Pouly, in the generic city “the paradigmatic urbanite will no longer be a latte-sipping hipster but the weary sales rep who never completely unpacks his suitcase” forgetting if he is in New York or New Dehli.

Koolhaas declared the generic city to be “a city without qualities,” I would add “A city without quality”



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

DIY Urbansim: City Building from the Bottom-Up

‘Do it Yourself’ (DIY) Urbanism provides a counterweight to traditional top-down urban planning processes. Even before the the “great recession” in 2008 many cities struggled with reduced public resources. This has left various urbanists, artists, and public space advocates to fill many of the voids left by the cutbacks.

In addition to participating in official processes, such as writing letters to the city or attending public meetings, DIY urbanists take public outreach one step further. Rather than simply seeking public input, DIY urbanism empowers residents to make the changes they seek and are create their own positive urban interventions. It is the DIY ethic on the community scale.
The result has been innovative do-it-yourself projects ranging from activating stalled construction sites, to constructing temporary public plazas and parks at street intersections, to designing pop-up storefronts. They can even include more bizarre ideas including guerilla painting, urban campgrounds and street pianos.

The possibilities are limitless. Although many DIY initiatives may often be temporary, the impact is often substantial. In some cases DIY interventions have acted as pilot projects that improve the chances of city government officials eventually buying in and supporting the changes in an official way.

Regardless of the type initiative, or their permanence, DIY efforts should not be viewed as disruptive violations, or frivolous novelties, but as signs of true urban vitality. With a can-do attitude and a bit of playful mischievousness, these urban pioneers are illustrating that another type of city is possible.

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