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.
By Kaid Benfield
Published: April 29, 2013
It’s ridiculously easy to think about the benefits of historic preservation in immensely walkable Providence, Rhode Island. I’m not sure I’ve seen a better collection of downtown historic architecture this side of New Orleans. Elsewhere there are fine smaller historic downtowns, of course, such as in Annapolis, and wonderful urban historic districts (frequently close to downtowns) such as Old Salem in North Carolina and Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati. But in Providence, it’s the downtown itself that practically oozes with dignified charm.
I have a feeling that, as was the case with many fine older buildings in my hometown, Providence’s splendid architectural legacy remains intact because, when people were tearing down historic properties a few decades ago and putting up newer but mediocre buildings in their places, Providence’s economy simply couldn’t support the new stuff. So the splendid older buildings remain today, available to be given new life by creative-class businesses.
Published: March 7, 2013
Residents of new housing developments increased their exercise and their wellbeing when they had more access to shops and parks, a new University of Melbourne study reveals.
The ten year study found that the overall health of residents of new housing developments in Western Australia, improved when their daily walking increased as a result of more access to parks, public transport, shops and services.
Lead researcher Professor Billie Giles-Corti, Director of the McCaughey VicHealth Centre for Community Wellbeing at the University of Melbourne said the study provided long-term evidence that residents’ walking increased with greater availability and diversity of local transport and recreational destinations.
By Steve Mouzon
Published: March 3, 2013
Better! Cities & Towns
Building neighborhoods patiently requires far less debt for infrastructure and results in places that are more interesting than those that are built all at once. This was once the way we built everywhere, but it is now illegal all over. Why? Because cities insist on “seeing the end from the beginning,” meaning that they want the developer to begin by building the final condition of the neighborhood. In human terms, it would be like deciding that we can no longer tolerate giving birth to a child that grows into an adult; we will only allow giving birth to an adult… an incredibly painful proposition that simply doesn’t work.
Published: March 5, 2013
Sustainable Cities Collective
In Guy Montag’s city, it is illegal to be a pedestrian. The main character in Ray Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian American classic, Fahrenheit 451, commutes by subway. He thinks little of the circumstances and of the culture which gave rise to such laws forbidding walking, until he is nearly hit by a speeding automobile and realizes the teenagers behind the wheel are ambivalent to, and even more disconcertingly, desensitized from the possibility of causing a fatal traffic accident.