By Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman
Published: July 30, 2013
Sustainable Cities Collective
I call myself an urbanist, but what does that really mean? Being an urbanist is not something that requires a rigidly defined body of knowledge. There is no degree for urbanism, no certificate or qualifying test. Urbanists come from a myriad of disciplines: sociologists, anthropologists, geographers, economists, city planners (and other such “-ists” and “-ers” I’m sure I’ve missed). While these degrees are good for other things of course, they are by no means necessary to be an urbanist. It seems then the people who decide to call themselves urbanists are simply those that are united by a passion for urban environments and have some sort of urban-related knowledge – which therefore could technically be anyone. In a world where more than half of all people now live in cities, and with no degree for it, I wonder – where are all the urbanists?
By Patrick McDonnell
Published: July 23, 2013
Urbanism is about observation. Sociologist William “Holly” Whyte knew it and spent years recording and studying people and how they interacted with the city. Whyte’s quintessential 1980s documentary on New York’s plazas, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, is a standard of every Urban Planning Grad School experience, and its impact has yet to be replicated. Even today, whenever I come across a new plaza or public space, Holly Whyte’s nasally matter-of-fact narration and idiosyncratic phrases still ring in my ears, “People tend to sit where there are places to sit.”
By Emily Badger
July 15, 2013
Your perception of any city or neighborhood is largely determined by things you can’t quantify, like the vague feeling that a place just seems friendly, or clean, or well-lit. So much of our experience of cities is subjective like this. But if officials could figure out how to measure otherwise emotional or intuitive perceptions of, say, safety, they might be able to better intervene to make neighborhoods actually feel safer (add more park benches, turn up the lights, wash off the graffiti?).
“I had always assumed that I liked some [places] more, but I hadn’t really given much thought as to why,” says Phil Salesses, one of the authors on a new PLOS ONE paper studying the question. “For me it was always a kind of overall gut instinct, an overall feeling. But once I started this project, and I started paying attention to details, I realized that something like trash on the street can flip a bit in my brain.”
By Nate Berg
Published: July 9, 2013
The cities of the world have a communication problem, and Richard Saul Wurman wants to solve it.
“They don’t collect their information the same way. They don’t describe themselves with the same legend,” says Wurman, an architect, graphic designer and founder of the TED conferences. “One city might have five different patterns of industrial types of land use and another might have one. One city might call an airport ‘transportation’ and another might call it ‘commercial.’ They call everything by different names.”
It’s the equivalent, he says, of two people speaking two different languages and trying to have one conversation.