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The ABC s of Urbanism
by Yuri Artibise ay rbanism publication
© 2010 Yuri Artibise.
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ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Table of Contents

Introduction Paid Urbanism

Adaptive Urbanism
Big Urbanism Retrofit Urbanism
Sustainable Urbanism
Collaborative Urbanism
DIY Urbanism Temporary Urbanism
Utopian Urbanism
Everyday Urbanism
Vernacular Urbanism
Fine-Grained Urbanism
Walkable Urbanism
Generic Urbanism
Healthy Urbanism
Yuppie Urbanism
Informal Urbanism
Zip Car Urbanism
Jacobsian Urbanism
Kinetic Urbanism Conclusion: Now I Know
Landscape Urbanism my ABCs
Messy Urbanism Appendix: 101 Urbanisms
New Urbanism About the Author
Open Source Urbanism
Photo Credits

ABC s of Urbanism ¦


One of the pervasive trends in contemporary urban studies is the dramatic growth in terms ending with urbanism. It seems like
every urban thinker has come up with his or her own urbanism. Indeed,Jason King at landscape+urbanism has described this
phenomenon as [Fill in the Blank] Urbanism and come up with his own lengthy list of urbanisms gleaned from a single Google

Some of the urbanisms are fanciful and esoteric; others are basic and rudimentary. But all have been seriously considered by at least
one person. Indeed, if a term or concept is even remotely connected to a city, simply add urbanism to the end and you ll have a
new theoretical construct to explore.

In writing this series, I ve learned a lot more about some popular urbanisms (new urbanism, landscape urbanism); been able to
focus on some of my favorites (adaptive urbanism and open-source urbanism); and perhaps even coined a new urbanism or two
(yuppie urbanism and Zipcar urbanism).

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Adaptive Urbanism: A Process of
Perpetual Engagement
For many urban observers, and especially urban planners, the
design of the city as an end state̶a vision to be first created
and then fulfilled.

Adaptive urbanism takes a contrary position. It looks at urban

design as a process of perpetual engagement and reiteration. In
an adaptive approach, cities are dynamic ecologies that take
immersion and collaboration to re-shape, not from outside or
above, but from within. The concept of adaptive urbanism is
often attributed to New York urbanist Brian McGrath.

McGrath s approach is a significant shift from how we current

plan and manage cities. It is important to consider though,
especially in our current economic and social upheaval. If
cities develop the flexibility and capacity to respond to shifting
demands and external pressures, they will be better able to
deal with future economic, environmental or political crises.

For more on adaptive urbanism, see On the Origin of Cities:

Adaptive Urbanism.

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Big Urbanism: Not the Answer

Americans like to think big. Urbanism is no exception. Ever

since architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham uttered his
maxim Make no little plans, nearly every urban plan
continues to be modeled on it.

Despite a generation of planners brought up guided by Jane

Jacobs and her crusade against the big urbanism of Robert
Moses, large-scale redevelopment projects continue apace.
Indeed, they appear to be regaining prominence. From Atlantic
Yards in Brooklyn to CityCenter in Las Vegas to the various
uber-developments in Dubai, city officials and developers
continue to think big when reshaping our cities.

However, as we previous learned in the post on adaptive

urbanism, big urbanism is not necessarily a good thing.
Indeed, these mega projects leave little room for flexibility, and
as such are not responsive to shifting economic, environmental
or political trends.

As a result several big urbanism projects are viewed as relics

even before their doors are open.

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Collaborative Urbanism: The Secret is
Our urban society is undergoing a substantive shift from the Bike Sharing 2.0
hyper-consumerism and the resultant sprawl that defined the
Bike sharing systems such as B-Cycle and Bixi are great but the
second half of the 20th century. Forces such as social
start-up and maintenance costs are high. Social Bicycles
technologies, a renewed belief in community, increased
(SoBi) uses mobile technologies and a secure lock system that
environmental awareness, and cost consciousness have us
rethinking our old top-heavy and centralized forms of
consumerism. In its place, a collaborative urbanism ̶based
on sharing, aggregation, openness, and cooperation̶is

The trend towards increased collaboration is explained in-

depth in the newly published book, What s Mine Is Yours:
The Rise of Collaborative Consumption by Rachel Botsman
and Roo Rogers. Collaborative urbanism takes their concept a
step further; not only is collaborative consumption reshaping
how we consume, it is transforming how we interact with each
other and the spaces around us. In other words, it is changing
how we live in cities.

Here are three examples of collaborative consumption cited by

the authors that are at the forefront of collaborative urbanism:

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

...Collaborative Urbanism

can attach to existing bikes at a third of the cost of traditional One Block Off the Grid (1BOG) is applying the same idea to
systems. According to founder Ryan Rzepecki, SoBi could solar power. By using social media to get neighbors to group
become a new form of personalized public transportation that together they can negotiate massive discounts with trusted
changes the way people move through cities. [emphasis providers. Once a group of neighbors get together they are well
added] positioned to work towards for other home and community
improvements (such as the bike and car sharing mentioned

Peer-to-Peer Car Sharing

Zipcar brought the idea of car sharing to the mainstream.

However, it still introduces new cars when there are millions
already sitting idle on the streets, parking lots and driveways for
much of the day. Peer-to-peer car sharing enables owners and
renters to use the idling capacity of personally owned and
Collaborative urbanism is
underused cars. As RelayRides owner Shelby Clark explains, transforming how we interact
"This gives the community an affordable transportation option,
making it easier to live a car-free lifestyle. with each other and the
spaces around us.
Group Solar Power

The rapid growth of Groupon has shown the power of

consumers banding together for discounts.

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

DIY Urbanism: City Building from the
Do it Yourself (DIY) Urbanism provides a counterweight to Rather than simply seeking public input, DIY urbanism
traditional top-down urban planning processes. Even before empowers residents to make the changes they seek and are
the the great recession in 2008 many cities struggled with create their own positive urban interventions. It is the DIY
reduced public resources. This has left ethic on the community scale.
various urbanists, artists, and public space advocates to fill
The result has been innovative do-it-yourself projects ranging
many of the voids left by the cutbacks.
from activating stalled construction sites, to constructing
In addition to participating in official processes, such as writing temporary public plazas and parks at street intersections, to
letters to the city or attending public meetings, DIY urbanists designing pop-up storefronts. They can even include more
take public outreach one step further. 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

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Everyday Urbanism: Celebrating Ordinary
Life in the City
Everyday urbanism celebrates and builds on the ordinary life
and reality in a city. It doesn t envision an ideal urban
environment. Rather it explores ways to improve what already
exists in incremental ways. The term first gained prominence
with the book, Everyday Urbanism by Margaret Crawford,
John Chase and John Kaliski in 1999. The book notes that the
city (and its planners) ongoing quest to incorporate the
elements that remain elusive: ephemerality, cacophony,
multiplicity and simultaneity.

Every day urbanism builds on the concept of adaptive

urbanism and looks at urban planning as a process of
perpetual engagement and reiteration. It views cities as a regular everyday interactions.
conversation between and among its residents. This leads to a
dynamic urban form that evolves not from outside pressures or But unlike DIY urbanism, everyday urbanism isn t simply a
plans dropped from above, but from activities that occur within bottom up, grass roots approach. Rather, it is a mixture of the
a neighborhood. residents bottom-up expression of their economic, political and
social preferences and the top-down decision-making process of
If you have spent anytime in a city, you no doubt have developers and city governments. Vibrancy may no be able to
witnessed small, understated, often ratty spaces that are be planned, but it certainly can be encouraged. Developers and
teaming with life and vibrancy next door to large master city governments can help everyday urbanism survive and
planned developments that look like ghost towns. This is the thrive by ending their quest for the big urbanist mega projects
impact of everyday urbanism. Vibrancy can not be planned in and understanding that often times tiny gestures make the
a board room, it needs to evolve on the street level through biggest different a difference.

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Fine-Grained Urbanism: Opportunities for
Fine-grained urbanism promotes small blocks in close proximity, each
with numerous buildings with narrow frontages, frequent storefronts,
and minimal setbacks from the street. Also, as there are more
intersections, traffic is slower and safer. There are virtual no vacant
lots or surface parking. This fine grained approach to cities offers many
opportunities for discovery and exploration. Like high count egyptian
cotton; fine grain urbanism feels luxurious and makes people want
linger in or around it.

Fine-grained urbanism is not imposed on a community like it s coarser

cousins. Rather, it evolves over time in a piecemeal way, responding to
what came before it, and adapting to what comes next. This
evolutionary process creates places that are not frozen in the era when
they were built. Instead, they are dynamic and reflective of a
neighborhood s changing needs.

The resulting urban fabric seamlessly evolves over time from lightly
Urban fabric is the physical form of towns and cities. Like developed residential areas to mixed used retail to dense urban core̶
textiles, urban fabric comes in many different types and if that s what the community desires. In this way, fine-grained
weaves. For simplicity s sake the multitude of urban urbanism is far more resilient than mega-projects that, when they lose
fabrics are divided into two typologies: coarse grain and a single tenant, often fail. Just as the tiny gestures of everyday
fine grain. Fine-grained urban fabric produces what is can urbanism can makes a huge difference in the vibrancy of a community,
be refereed to as fine grained urbanism. so can the multitudes of options offered by fine grained urbanism.

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Generic Urbanism: Creating Cities without
Qualities OR Quality
The term generic urbanism rose to prominence with the book S another commodity, interchangeable from one another. We can
M L XL by Rem Koolhaas, Bruce Mau,Jennifer Sigler, and see the result before us as city after city converge in a pastiche
Hans Werlemann. The book contained an essay by Koolhaas, a of undifferentiated cityscapes.
Dutch architect and urbanist, titled The Generic City. This Generic urbanism appears to have started in the American
essay declares that progress, identity, architecture, the city and suburbs when developers creating interchangeable
the street are things of the past. Koolhaas writes: Relief … it s developments. Over the past half century it has crept into our
over. That is the story of the city. The city is no longer. We can urban cores, where the truest expression of civic identity were
leave the theatre now… once found. This is, in part, a result of the effort by city
Generic urbanism describes a non-specific, identity-lacking governments to attract suburbanites (and their tax dollars)
urban landscape. The generic city has no specific reference downtown̶not by offering them something unique or different
points, either to its history or its residents. Rather it responds ̶but rather the safe and familiar.
to urban stereotypes. In doing so, it turns cities into yet 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

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Healthy Urbanism: A Holistic View of Urban
Healthy urbanism advocates for a holistic view of urban Urban Sprawl and Public Health: Designing, Planning, and
design that considers health, the environment, social Building for Healthy Communities. Dr. Frumkin notes that Well-
relations, political processes and the economy as part of the designed communities can be interventions for public health. How
development process. It posits that neighborhood design we build and maintain our communities transportation systems,
elements including land use, design character, transportation infrastructure, and public spaces can either exacerbate or reduce
systems, sustainability, and density impact a neighborhood s obesity, chronic diseases, injury rates, poor mental health, and the
health, environment and quality of life. adverse effects of climate change.

The connection between health and urbanism goes back

almost as long as cities themselves. It was health concerns in
many industrial-era cities that drove people out of polluted
and unsanitary urban cores and into the first suburbs. Now
the tables have turned. Evidence is mounting that the
suburban lifestyle is causing health problems. Many chronic
diseases̶including obesity and diabetes̶ as well as
premature mortality, cardiovascular disease and poor mental
health are associated with the sedentary and isolated
populations exacerbated by our sprawling, auto dominated
urban form.

One of the leaders of the healthy urbanism movement is Dr.

Howard Frumkin, dean of the University of Washington
School of Public Health and co-author of

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

...Healthy Urbanism

An increasing body of evidence backs up this statement. The It is clear that the quality of our cities impacts the quality of our
doubling of driving nationally between 1983 and 2007 on healthy and life in general. Hopefully, this renewed interest in
auto-centric streets designed for speed has coincided with healthy urbanism will be maintained with doctors researchers
skyrocketing injury and mortality rates, exacerbated mental working with planners and architects to design places that are
health problems for isolated non-drivers, and decreased air healthy on both a personal and community level
and water quality. Additionally, suburban neighborhoods̶
dominated by low density, poorly connected street networks,
and limited access to shops and services̶have lower levels of
walking. This, in turn, is connected to increased obesity. On
the other hand, well-designed urban neighborhoods generate Community design and building
fewer vehicle miles and result in more walking and lower
obesity rates than their suburban counterparts. design have impacts both on
Another impact of urban form on health relates to social mental health and on social
capital and mental health. The WHO estimates that by 2020,
mental ill health will be the third leading cause of disability capital.
life-adjusted years globally. Some research indicates that there
are higher levels of social capital in more walkable ̶Dr. Howard Frumkin
neighborhoods suggesting that urban form is important. High
levels of social capital decrease the risk of social isolation, a
social determinant of health linked to increased risk of
premature mortality, cardiovascular disease and poor mental

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Informal Urbanism: Invention Born out of
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
flexible̶and 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.

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Jacobsean Urbanism: Building on the
Observations of Jane Jacobs
Jacobsean urbanism is named after Jane Jacobs, an urban
writer and activist who championed the interests of local
residents and pedestrians over a car-centered approach to
planning. Its foundations were first laid out in an essay
entitled Downtown is for People that ran in Fortune
magazine in April 1958. This led to a Rockefeller Foundation
grant to write what became her defining book, The Death
and Life of Great American Cities. This book is perhaps
the most influential 20th century text about the inner
workings and failings of cities and has inspired generations of
urban planners and activists.

Jacobsean urbanism is more than simply a critique of the

urban renewal policies of the second half of the 20th century.
It reaches beyond her written work and extends to her
grassroots efforts to preserve local neighborhoods. Jane
Jacobs believed strongly that local residents understood best government policies urban development are usually inconsistent with
how their neighborhood works, and how to strengthen and the real functioning of city neighborhoods. Instead, she promoted local
improve them. As such, her legacy is rooted in the idea of expertise as being better suited to guiding community development,
creating strong and resourceful community, instilling relying on her observations and common sense to illustrate why
belonging and encouraging civic leadership. certain places work, and how to improve those that do not. In this
way, Jacobsean urbanism is closely related to the DIY urbanism and
Jacobs had no professional training in the field of urban
Everyday Urbanism and the antithesis of Big Urbanism covered earlier
planning. She often contested the formal urbanism approach
in this series.
that depends on outside experts,noting that the prescribed

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Kinetic Urbanism: Activity over
Closely related to informal urbanism, kinetic urbanism views automatically seek to control it through zoning or permits. This
the urban condition as flexible; less a grand vision than a activity is often times not evidence of lack of regulation but rather
series of small adjustments occurring over time. Often times, an unmet need being fulfilled in a innovative way. Indeed it is what
the frenetic quality of city life does not allow most formal makes urban living so vibrant and exciting. Rather than seek to
planning or political systems to keep pace. Kinetic urbanism remove or regulate these activities, Urban leaders can embrace this
bridges the resulting gap by focusing on activity, not entrepreneurism by looking, not at what should work , but at what
architecture. It views events and changes in time as more is actually occurring day to day and season to season. They should
important than buildings and places in space. include these patterns of activities in their plans so they can thrive
in greater comfort and safety for all residents.
Rahul Mehrotra, Associate Professor of Architectural Design
at the MIT School of Architecture + Planning developed
the idea of the kinetic city. According to Mehrotra, 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 Mehrotra 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

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Landscape Urbanism: Recognizing
Nature in the City
Landscape Urbanism is an evolving field of study and practice Harvard s Graduate School of Design has become the
that views landscape rather than architecture as the basis of epicenter of the landscape urbanism movement, with three of
contemporary urbanism. For landscape urbanists, a city s the four founders of the concept, Charles Waldheim (who
landscape is both the lens through which the contemporary coined the term), Alex Krieger, and Mohsen Mostafavi working
city is viewed and the method through which it is created. there. The fourth, James Corner, teaches at UPenn, and
principle of Field Operations, the notable for the design
of High Line Park in Manhattan.

Instead of taking built volume as the determining characteristic

of the city, landscape urbanists looks at cities as dynamic
process characterized by fluidity, spontaneity and randomness.
By doing so, they are breaking down the traditional
disciplinary and cultural opposition between natural and city
spaces. They recognize that nature exists in densely built-up
environments and affects not only the current well being of
inhabitants, but also the long term prospects of the built form
of the city itself.

By restoring nature s restorative cycles in urban areas,

landscape urbanists hope that society will be better able to
deal with the exploding urban growth around the world. Some
also see promise for helping shrinking rustbelt cities like
Cleveland and Detroit

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Messy Urbanism: Diversity in Disorder

accept̶most 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.
Often architects, developers and city planners try to sell their
redevelopment s with glossy brochures and vibrant mock ups. In The Economy of Cities, Jane Jacobs points out that the
However, more often than not, these place turn out to either be most economically vibrant cities are usually inefficient and
dead, or sterile places. The problem isn t always a lack of uses impractical. It s this messiness that enables a community to
or diversity; rather it is that these places are often planned to adapt quickly to change. Rather than seeing messiness,
the last window awning or flower bed. They lack the disorder or clutter, urban leaders should instead see the social
messiness that make a city livable. and commercial interactions of a lively city. Indeed trying to
clean up and remove the clutter of the city is to throw away
The most vibrant cities I ve lived in or visited share one thing
the lifeblood of the city itself.
in common. They are messy. This is a difficult concept to

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

New Urbanism: The New Orthodoxy?

New Urbanism is an urban design movement, which promotes particular area. This provides greater design flexibility and
walkable neighborhoods that contain a range of housing and coordination than conventional, land use based codes.
job types. It arose in the United States in the early 1980s and
While once on the fringe of the urban planning field, new
continues to reform many aspects of real estate development
urbanism has risen in prominence in recent years, with new
and urban planning.
urbanist related initiatives like LEED and Smart Growth
While new urbanism covers issues such as historic becoming common staples in the arsenals of urban planners
preservation, safe streets, green building, and and developers alike. This has led Andrés Duany̶one of the
redeveloping brownfield land. If the movement were to be founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism̶to label it a
boiled down to a single concept, it would be creating walkable new orthodoxy and calling for a jolt to renew the movement
neighborhoods. New urbanist developments are more to face the challenges of the next century.
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

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Open Source Urbanism: Where Data
Meets Urban Form
Meaningful community input in urban development is a
common rallying cry, but is rarely achieved. Power, and more
The streets are now alive
importantly, information, remains tightly controlled by cities with data, invisible but all
and there agencies. It is usually only shared in controlled
public meetings and charrettes. Recent advances in technology pervasive.
and social networks offer an opportunity to change this.

Open source urbanism works to develop intersections where a

̶ Dan Hill
cities urban form connects with information to directly inform
and shape our urban environment. In doing so it is changing contribute
the way we think of our communities and city life in general. It Cities are a logical extension of the open source movement.
is rooted in the idea of open source, most commonly The city is both a product and a generator of immense
associated with free computer programs that can be shared, amounts of data. Much of this information̶including
adapted, and further developed by anyone with the ability to temperature, light rail delays, population density, accident
locations and stock prices̶can be mapped, recorded and
shared in real-time through the Internet.

Some early success in open source urbanism are Portland s

TriMet transit system map and the closing. Based in part on
these early successes, cities such as Portland;Vancouver, B.C.;
and San Francisco passed sweeping policies requiring
departments to use open source software and open data. In
addition, the White House has set a high standard for federal
agencies to adopt. As more cities and civic agencies see the
benefit of sharing their data, such successes will multiply.

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Paid Urbanism: Public Policy for Private
will quickly find a tangled web of relationships between
politicians, bureaucrats, developers and residents. This web
entangles everything and everybody; its existence̶and more
importantly, its influence̶is rarely visible to the public. Left
unexposed, paid urbanism can lead to public policy for private
profits; a duopoly that forgets the needs of taxpaying residents
and links the profits of developers with the power of politicians.

As a result, paid urbanism is largely responsible for much of the

big urbanism that exists today̶the oversized and over
packaged projects of a scale and nature at odds with their
surroundings and the wishes of residents. These developments
often need large government subsidies paid for with residents
taxes. Unfortunately they are often built to maximize the profits
of developers, not the benefits of residents.
Contemporary cities exist thanks to a complex system of taxes,
A necessary evil
subsidies and profit generation. The impact of money cannot be
ignored when studying our urban condition. In some cases, the Without paid urbanism, cities as we know them would not exist,
relationship is self-reinforcing: taxes pay for subsidies which roads and schools would not be built, parks would not be
generate profit, on which taxes are paid. In others, taxes are maintained, events would not be held. There is nothing
extracted from urban activities and used for less transparent inherently wrong with the taxes-subsidy-profit (repeat) cycle just
ends. its abuse. Thus, the solution lies not in completely banning
private development with public, but rather breaking the
This paid urbanism has created a Kafka-esque web of
politician-developer duopoly and allowing residents back into
bureaucracy. Look beneath the visible facade of a city and you
the decision making process.

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Quasi Urbanism: Missing the Mark

In the entry on Big Urbanism, I noted that in recent years

developers have become interested in urban centers once again.
Examples of this renewed interest are found in developments
like Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn to CityCenter in Las Vegas and
CityScape in Phoenix.

A common word used to describe each of these is urban. In

reality they are only quasi-urban. Instead of enhancing places
for residents who already embrace urbanism, these
developments are aimed at luring suburbanites to spend money.
Just as suburbs tried to entice shoppers by incentivizing mega-
mall developments complete with water parks and roller
coasters in the 1980s and 1990s, city cores are now trying to
lure people back downtown with urban styled complexes. While eyes on the street, these faux fenestrations become visual
these quasi-urbanist developments are better than their barriers that reinforce a feeling of isolation.
suburban consign (hence the use of quasi), they still fall far
short of creating a real urban experience. What these developers̶and their government boosters̶fail to
understand is that people don not seek urban experiences purely
One glaring example is in the use of windows. While many for economic reasons. They definitely do not do it to increase
quasi-urban developments have windows facing the street, they their senses of separation and isolation. Rather, people seek
are often fake windows ̶windows showing the backs of display urban areas for connection, vitality and local history. Most
shelves, covered by closed blinds or reflective film, or used to importantly they seek authenticity. Quasi-urbanism may have
display advertising (even the once popular store window co-opted the urbanist language and even some of its forms; but
displays are increasingly being replaced by generic posters). until it offers more than blocked windows and generic products,
Rather than providing porosity, light and opportunities for more it will never create truly authentic urban places.

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Retrofit Urbanism: Creating People-
Oriented Places
While sprawl remains the dominant growth pattern in the U.S., time and money). Others are looking to live in places with
many people are leaving the suburbs for more walkable areas. character or community.
Some are getting fed up with the costs of commuting (in both
As an increasing number of people want an urban lifestyle, the
question of what to do with the suburbs remains. It would be
unwise and unsustainable to simply abandon them. In addition,
even the most optimistic urbanist realizes that not everybody
can, nor wants to, live downtown. At the same time, they want
a more livable option that what current exists.

Instead of starting from scratch and creating an ideal new

urbanist development, retrofit urbanism is a hybrid form of
urbanism that acknowledges these realities. It looks to
incrementally change existing suburban forms to encourage
multi-modal transportation, including transit, walking and
cycling. in addition it includes a cultural shift towards an
increased sense of community and interconnectivity. The goal
is to transform auto-reliant neighborhoods into vibrant, people-
oriented communities.

Retrofit urbanism is not as sexy as building a new urbanist

utopia from scratch or building a mega development in the
urban core. it does, however, represent a more effective way
to meet increasing demands for the urban lifestyle and mitigate
the worst effects of auto-dominated sprawl.

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Sustainable Urbanism: Creating Resilient
By now, most people know that a majority of the world s resilient cities that are better able to withstand the economic,
population live in cities and urban areas. Yet current urban social and environmental shocks of the 21st century.
planning systems are not equipped to deal with many of the
challenges this population growth has brought. Some of these
include: climate change and resource depletion; economic
instability and poverty; and, social marginalization and

Sustainable urbanism is an emerging discipline that combines

creating multi-modal places, nurturing diverse economies and
building high-performance infrastructure and buildings. It is
more than a synonym for green or ecological urbanism. Rather,
it looks at the triple bottom line by making sure that our urban
centers are socially inclusion, economically dynamic and
environmentally conscious.

Some key tenants of sustainable urbanism include: compact

forms of residential development; mixed use centers with
homes, jobs, services and shopping in close proximity;
integration of transportation and land use; and, the reduction,
recovery, re-use and recycling of waste materials.

Many cities and urban planners are already looking at one or

more of these issues. The problem is they usually look at them
in isolation. This singular approach fails to recognize the
overlapping and interrelation between issues. By taking on these
challenges in a holistic manner, sustainable urbanism can create

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Temporary Urbanism: Incubating New
Ideas for City Living
Today s urban cores are redefining themselves in remarkable
and lasting ways. Neighborhoods are no longer defined by only
one or two activities. City dwellers are increasingly seeking a
fine-grain urban fabric, with a blend of culture, commerce
and housing. Empty lots̶whether filled with cars or covered
with trash and weeds̶acts as holes in this fabric.

Developers often talk of empty lots as short-term blanks that

will be filled as soon as the economy improves. But
temporary conditions have a way of becoming permanent, as
countless examples in cities across North America show. As a
result, many city centers are blighted with lasting scares on
their urban landscape that damper the very civic revitalization
the developers once promised. Mass bike rides or the annual Park(ing) Day events. The goal is
to inspire peoples imagination to the potential of not only these
A movement called temporary urbanism is looking to change
vacant sites, but for urban life overall.
this. It is showing how̶with a lot of ingenuity and a little
investment̶cities could transform these urban voids into Temporary urbanism goes beyond exhorting what should be
urban oases. Some lots could be turned into instant parks, done. It focuses is on what CAN be done by creating tangible̶if
landscaped with fast-growing trees and shrubs that offer temporary̶alternatives to the status-quo. The temporary nature
environmental benefits. Others could be transformed into of these transformations enable citizens to think outside the
outdoor markets, pop-up retail spaces or event locations. Still block and use the spaces as testing grounds for new ideas about
others could display art or offer casual spots for social urban living. In the process, it encourages cities to move beyond
interaction. The concept of temporary urbanism is also being developers empty lots (and promises) and engage residents
taken to the streets through events, such as monthly Critical about their city s future.

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Utopian Urbanism: The Impossibility of
environment will lead to a more ordered and efficient society.
In the 20th century, proposals as Sir Ebenezer Howard s
Garden City (1902), Le Corbusier s Ville Radieuse (Radiant
City̶1927 and Frank Lloyd Wright s Broadacre City (1952)
were all inspired by the concept of utopian urbanism.

Utopian urbanism views separating structures by function as

the most rational way of ordering space. As a result, residential
areas were completely separated from business are service
areas. Road network connected the various functional areas.

From a contemporary urbanist perspective utopian urbanism

has significant shortcomings. No single plan can anticipate the
needs of millions of people. Real cities have grown organically
and reflect the variety, diversity and interactions of society
over time. Moreover, utopian urbanism is dehumanizing as the
Throughout history, there have been many attempts to create put form and structure over the needs of residents.
the ideal environment for the ideal society; in other words̶
utopia. Utopian urbanism is based on a concept defined in Sir For these reasons (and others), few utopian communities were
Thomas More s Utopia (1518). In this book, Utopia is the ever built. Those that were attempted failed to live up the their
name of a fictional island in the Atlantic that is home to an creators expectations This is a somewhat fitting outcome as
ideal community with a perfect social, political and legal Utopia has a dual meaning. Not only was it a perfect place
system. (eutopia) as envisioned by the planners mentioned above, it
was also no place (outopia)̶a place that does not exist and
Many architects preoccupy themselves with designing the ultimately never can.
perfect city. They believe that a rationally planned

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Vernacular Urbanism: Creating
Meaningful Places
Ver·nac·u·lar: of, relating to, or characteristic Instead, vernacular urbanism integrates the old and the new. It
combines what a city has with what it needs based on local
of a period, place, or group.
factors. By thinking this was, a city can economically, socially
and environmentally sustain itself for generations to come.
Most cities̶even those with grand plans like Burnham s On a philosophical level, vernacular urbanism can help us
Chicago or Haussmann s Paris̶derive much of their character understand not only where we are, but who we are as a
from their locality. Their urban fabric is largely defined by community and why we are this way. To borrow a line from
factors such as local building materials, climate, access to water, the late historian Christopher Lasch, vernacular urbanism
history and most importantly, culture. teaches us about our basic disposition to the world around
Alas, for most of the past 60 years, cities, especially those in
North America have forgotten to look back. Instead, buoyed by
quick and easy access to a variety of building materials and the
dominance of the automobile, they have created generic places
without reference to a city s location, history or even its
residents. These places have focused on the needs of business
and commerce and ignored the necessities of people.

Vernacular urbanism is the antithesis of generic urbanism. It is

an urbanism that is local in character, meaningful for its
inhabitants, rooted to its surroundings and connected with
history. It is based on the idea that the a city needs to know
where it came from and how it relates to its past if it is to be
successful in moving forward.

While the roots of vernacular urbanism are found in the history

of a place, it isn t simply about the old fashion and traditional.

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Walkable Urbanism: Back to the Future

Walkable urbanism focuses on creating and enhancing Such places are often characterized by efficient mass transit
pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use and mixed-income places. systems and higher density, mixed use developments. These
factors enable residents to walk almost everywhere for
While many observers connect walkable urbanism with large,
everything̶ whether it be home, work, the grocery store or
high density places like Manhattan or downtown Chicago,
the movie theaters.
walkable urban places have great variability. They are found in
lower-density small downtowns like Lawrence, Kansas; Walkable urbanism is nothing new; it was the way towns and
suburban town centers such as Dublin, Ohio, and higher- cities were designed from the first urban settlements about
density neighborhoods in larger cities like LODO in Denver. 5,500 years ago to the mid 20th century. After World War II,
government policy began encouraging drivable suburbanism.
This led to the sprawling, low-density cities most North
Americans are familiar with.

In recent years, interest in suburbanism has begun to wane.

The pendulum is swinging back towards more compact
walkable neighborhoods̶the type of places that existed before
the wide-spread use of the automobile. The return to walkable
urbanism is due to several factors:

1. A car dependent lifestyle does not serve an aging

population well.

2. The need to drive everywhere has begun to take its

toll on our health and environment, with driving and
long commutes being linked to an increased rate of
obesity and higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

...Walkable Urbanism

3. Creative young professional, influenced by television

shows like Seinfeld and Friends, are seeking a more
connected lifestyle, for both economic and social

This return to pre-war urban form has led Christopher

Leinberger, author of The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a
New American Dream to coin walkable urbanism as Back To
the Future in reference to the fictional community of Hill

Walkable urbanism is nothing new; it

was the way towns and cities
were designed from the first urban
settlements until the mid 20th century.

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

X-Urbanism: Catchy but not Compelling

While an interesting premise (and a great term), it never really

caught on outside academic circles. This is, in part because
while Gandelsonas research is exhaustive, it is also somewhat
convoluted. Another shortcoming is it falls into a common
architecture trap by describing the city solely as the object of
architecture, without mentioning realities such as land
ownership, property values, or even urban design. Finally, as it
took over 15 years to research and write, by the time it was
published the book s methodology and graphic representations
were dated.

Indeed, while Gandelsonas was researching books such as Joel

Garreau s Edge City and Jonathan Barnett s books The Elusive
City and The Fractured Metropolis were published. These
books cover much of the same theoretical ground as X-
Urbanism, but in a more compelling manner. Indeed Edge City
X-Urbanism is a theoretical framework for analyzing the
has become a classic study of ex-urban sprawl, and edge city
American city and it s architecture, particularly that of the late
appears to have taken the place that x-urbanism sought in the
20th century. The term was coined in the 1999 book X-
urban lexicon.
Urbanism: Architecture and the American City by architect
and professor Mario Gandelsonas. The book provided a new Nevertheless X-urbanism remains a compelling concept; it just
way of envisioning cities by examining various configurations of needs a new, updated perspective. Perhaps it is time for Mario
urban space. The term serves as a visual representation of the Gandelsonas to revisit his framework. After all a lot has occurred
formal properties of American urbanism̶fabric, void, grid, wall in American cities in the 25 years since the book was conceived
̶that reveal the hidden structure of urban areas. and the decade since it was published.

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Yuppie Urbanism: Biting the Hands that
Serve Us
Some of the most urban neighborhoods in the country are also
the most expensive. This means that only a select cross-section
of society̶aka yuppies̶can afford to live, or even hang out,
there. This yuppie urbanism often a direct result of urban
policy planning. In the quest for a perfect city, politicians and
planners seek higher end condos, retail, restaurants and clubs
and even employers. These yuppie friendly establishments are
seen as bringing respectability (not to mention tax dollars).

A central feature of urbanism is that each neighborhood

contain a variety of attractions and services that serve diverse
niches. As I ve written before, the magic is in the mix. Too
often, in the quest for the right type of people, planner and
Mass bike rides or the annual Park(ing) Day events. The goal is
politicians forget this. In yuppie-centric urban neighborhoods,
to inspire peoples imagination to the potential of not only these
the residential units are often high-end condos and the retail is
vacant sites, but for urban life overall.
usually high-end boutiques. Moreover, little in these
neighborhoods is more than a few years old. Thus, although This isn t to say that yuppies do not have a place in cities.
the uses may seem mixed, the culture is as monolithic as a Gentrification is not necessarily a bad thing. It can reflect the
suburban gated community. transformation of neglected places into vibrant and successful
areas. The problem lies when cities and planners ONLY attract
Moreover, yuppie urbanism ignores the very people who make
yuppies (and often discourage others socioeconomic groups) or
it possible. These are the clerks who work in the boutiques; the
favors multinational chains like Starbucks over local
entertainers who perform at the jazz and comedy clubs; the
alternatives. Remember that mixed use does not only refer to
artists who create the work hanging in the galleries; and even
business types, but also the people who frequent them.
the fuppies (future yuppies) working their way through school

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Zipcar Urbanism: Bridging a Gap in the
Urban Fabric
Despite the movement back towards walkable urbanism, the 20+ hours a day can be put to more productive uses.
reality is that most North American cities favor the automobile.
• Streets once dominated by commuters can become
Indeed, there are very few cities that you can live a comfortable
multi-use boulevards. In many cases, reduced car use
car-free lifestyle. While people living in walkable neighborhoods
will lead to increased transit readership and ultimately
can walk or take transit to most of their destinations,
better frequency and more options.
occasionally we a car for such things such as getting to
meetings, carting large purchases or responding to family • Reduced expenditures on owning and maintaining a
emergencies. car (estimated at $6-7,000 a year), mean that we have
more money to offset the costs of urban amenities.
Until recently, this need meant choosing between owning a
vehicle that may only be used a few hours a week, or going Taken together these factors, among others, show how Zipcar
without and facing the costs of taxis or the inconvenience of urbanism can play an instrumental role in enhancing the urban
renting a car from a centralized location for an entire day. The fabric of our cities.
result is that many urbanites are reluctant car owners. Car
sharing helps bridge this gap. It provides access to a car when
needed, but without the obligations inherent in owning one. It
provides an affordable, convenient option for trips otherwise not
possible through other means of transportation

As car sharing companies like Zipcar becomes more prevalent

across North America it will have a profound effect on our
urban form. Hence the term Zipcar Urbanism. By reducing
unnecessary ownership and use, Zipcar urbanism leads to less
traffic congestion, fewer parking lots and higher transit ridership

• Parking lots that were once used to warehouse cars for

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Now I Know My ABCs...

Phew... it s over! I hoped you enjoyed reading these entries as much as I

did writing them.

Over the course of writing each of these 26 entries I have taken a peek at a
range of urban theories and phenomena, ranging from the fanciful to the
rudimentary. In writing this series, I've learned a lot more about some
popular urbanisms (new urbanism, landscape urbanism); been able to
focus on some of my favorites (adaptive urbanism and open-source
urbanism); and perhaps even coined a new urbanism or two (yuppie
urbanism and Zipcar urbanism).

Writing this series has also taught me that these 26 urbanisms cover but a
small fraction of the diversity of urban constructs that exist. On the next
page is a list of 101 urbanisms that will highlight the broad scope of
contemporary urban studies.

In the meantime, I would love to know which of my ABC's you found

most interesting or compelling. Please send me an email at indicating your favorite urbanism.

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Appendix: 101 Urbanism

While the previous 26 urbanisms may have seem an exhaustive list (it certain felt like one when writing it!), it is only a small sample
of the many fields of urban study. To illustrate the number and diversity of thinking on urbanism, I have created this list of 101
urbanisms. Lest you think I pulled these from thin air, I made sure that each one has at least one meaningful link on Google;
several have books or serious academic journals dedicated to them.

Accessible Urbanism Everyday Urbanism* Jacobsian Urbanism* Parametric Urbanism Stereoscopic Urbanism
Adaptive Urbanism* Exotic Urbanism Kinetic Urbanism* Participatory Urbanism Suburban Urbanism
Agrarian Urbanism Future Urbanism Landscape Urbanism* Political Urbanism Sustainable Urbanism*
Agricultural Urbanism Fractal Urbanism Layered Urbanism Post-Modern Urbanism Temporary Urbanism*
Agora Urbanism Fine-Grained Urbanism* Living Urbanism Post-Traumatic Urbanism Trace Urbanism
Anti-Urbanism Generic Urbanism* Magical Urbanism Propagative Urbanism Transnational Urbanism
Augmented Urbanism GeoUrbanism Market Urbanism Provocative Urbanism True Urbanism
Behavioral Urbanism Green Urbanism Messy Urbanism* Queer (anti)Urbanism Unitary Urbanism
Big Urbanism* Guerilla Urbanism Mobile Urbanism Quasi-Urbanism* Utopian Urbanism*
Border Urbanism Gypsy Urbanism Networked Urbanism Radical Urbanism Vertical Urbanism
Braided Urbanism Healthy Urbanism* New (Sub)Urbanism Real Urbanism Village Urbanism
Bricole Urbanism Holistic Urbanism New Urbanism* Recombinant Urbanism Vernacular Urbanism*
Bypass Urbanism Holy Urbanism Noir Urbanism Relational Urbanism Walkable Urbanism*
Clean Urbanism Indigenous Urbanism Nonconforming Urbanism Resilient Urbanism Water Urbanism
Collaborative Urbanism* Informal Urbanism* Nuclear Urbanism Retrofit Urbanism* Web Urbanism
Dialectical Urbanism Infrastructural Urbanism Occupancy Urbanism Retrofuture Urbanism Xeriscape Urbanism
Digital Urbanism Instant Urbanism Open Source Urbanism* Second Rate Urbanism X-Urbanism*
Disconnected Urbanism Integral Urbanism Opportunistic Urbanism Slum Urbanism Yuppie Urbanism*
DIY Urbanism* Introvert Urbanism P2P Urbanism Social Urbanism Zoomorphic Urbanism
Ecological Urbanism Inverted Urbanism Paid Urbanism* Zip Car Urbanism*
Emergent Urbanism

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

About the Author

About Yuri
Yuri̶aka the Incurable Urbanist̶has spent the past four
years creating community in the urban desert that is better
known as Phoenix.

Find out more at or the links below.

About Yurbanism
Yurbanism explores urbanism, placemaking and community. It
explores the Y of urbanism by sharing ways to make our cities
more livable, community-oriented places one block at a time.

Find Me Online

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Email Google Profile

ABC s of Urbanism ¦

Photo Credits

1. (and page numbers): Flickr/Leo Reynolds/Letter and 19. Flickr/bixentro/M

Number Mosaics MosaicFlickr/Leo Reynolds/ 20. Flickr/Leo Reynolds/Letter N
Alphabet 11
21. Flickr/rachel_titiriga/ne.O.n
2. A collection of letter from the respective contributors
22. Flickr/otherthings/P
listed below
23. Flickr/Eva The Weaver/Q raised and pink
3. Flickr/quantumamyrillis/a
24. Flickr/jeremy.wilburn/R
4. Flickr/designwallah/B
25. Flickr/Rafal Kiermacz/S
5. Flickr/
26. Flickr/mag3737/T
9. Flickr/bixentro/D
27. Flickr/TooFarNorth/u
10. Flickr/
28. Flickr/Eva The Weaver/V - Vip
11. Flickr/designwallah/F
29. Flickr/Eva The Weaver/W-att?
12. Flickr/Craig A Rodway/G
30. Flickr/sulamith.sallmann/Halteverbot
13. Flickr/maistora/H 200 / 3
32. Flickr/Eva The Weaver/Y - goodYear
15. Flickr/designwallah/I
33. Flickr/ximilian/Bassiano's alphabet - Z
16. Flickr/Leo Reynolds/Ben Eine Letter j
36. Flickr/curtm95/Phoenix Night Owls - Oct 28, 2010
17. Flickr/billaday/Today's photo-a-day is brought to you
by the letter K 38. A collection of letter from the respective contributors
listed below
18. Flickr/D.C. Atty/alphal
19. Flickr/bixentro/M

ABC s of Urbanism ¦