What’s your brand [of urbanism]?

Mine is probably only found on the shelves of the library but these theoretical meanderings are one of my muses. One of my favorites is the online journal Urban Reinventors. In the latest issue, Celebrations of Urbanity, the introduction by Alessandro Busà “deconstructs the rhetoric of urbanity”.

Busà suggest that “In a new, after-modern era wherein the notion of urbanity is widely celebrated, bill boarded and squeezed into an often narrow iconic vision by realtors, private enterprises as well as by entrepreneurial administrations, our first aim must be to question, challenge and re-discuss urbanity.”

Busà then describes some of the existing models

We have the archetypal Jane Jacobs’ urban model of Manhattan’s West Village, with its narrow lively streets, its short blocks, its mix of old and new architectural styles, its density of smallscale retail and its pedestrian friendliness.


We have the “dirty” urban model of places such as Jackson Heights in New York’s borough of Queens, where urbanity results from the crowding of people of all races mingling together in a multicultural, chaotic, untidy and extremely lively environment.

We have the selective urbanity of the gentrified city, home to Florida’s “creative class”, such as the new downtowns in Berlin Mitte, in Paris’ Le Marais or in London’s East End, with their array of Starbucks cafés, lounge bars and trendy commercial streets.

We have the “urban renaissance” model, such as the new Covent Garden in London, where a brand new urbanity made of polished architectures, fine stores and coffee tables in the streets are mostly catering to gentrifiers and tourists, and where a strong surveillance through cameras and police guards is constantly needed.

We have the “festival marketplace” model of a nostalgic, inauthentic urbanity, invented or reinvented as a commodity for mass tourism.

We finally have the New Urbanist model, with its brand new, if often historicist, architectures, its pedestrian oriented environments, its dense urban fabric, its promises of an urban quality of life unknown to most US dwellers.”

What is important here is to investigate whether urbanity may be the answer to our concerns of social inclusion, tolerance, quality of life, individual and collective fulfillment. And if so, what kind of urbanity do we stand for?



Filed under Imaging

17 responses to “What’s your brand [of urbanism]?

  1. Isn’t that last picture of Celebration?

  2. justforview

    It is.

  3. I wouldn’t mind living in a city that had some of each of those models in different neighborhoods. In fact, you could possibly relate each of those models to different areas in Cincy. The festival Marketplace might be Newport on the Levy. The New Urbanist version might be Mariemont. The dirty urban model might be Northside or OTR, and the Urban Renaisance model might be the Fountain Square, Backstage area.

  4. Celebration is probably the largest New Urbanist development; it’s certainly the most famous.

    I’ll take the “dirty” model, a.k.a. Gotham City, any day.

  5. Yeah, I’ve been to Celebration several times and http://www.seasidefl.com/ as well…

    Both spectacularly modeled, clean environments, which sometimes can seem a little creepy. And Celebration, though Disney through and through, was not at all what Walt envisioned (for EPCOT) – kinda sad, really.

    I’ve been a fan of Jane for years, so that’s at the top of my list, but also fond of the ‘Dirty’. Love the narrow street, pedestrian, blended atmosphere. A couple of failed initiatives for Cincy that I think would’ve been great: Broadway Commons and a Main Street pedestrian plaza. My 2 cents.

    Great article!

  6. Related…

    Just ran across this article:

    Doesn’t it seem like the media (from film to reports like this) always portray an idyllic happiness as being set on a stone-lined European street, with low-tight historic buildings, flowers, and conducive to biking?

    Kind of sounds an OTR that Tarbell envisions.

  7. Having always been an ‘Urban Pioneer”, I know some people don’t like that term, But I dont know of any other term that describes going into a neighborhod no one wants and turning it in to a place that people call home, my brand of urbanisn is one that is constantly changing. “Hopefully”, for the better.

  8. Matt, I would venture to say that happy countries are that way due more to social issues than to design. I wish design would make that much of a difference, but I don’t actually think it does. Denmark seems like a great country for many reasons beyond architecture and bicycle-friendliness, though I envy that as well.

    Paul, I’m not sure what pioneering, urban or not, necessarily has to do with going into a place no one wants. It seems to me that pioneers often go into and assert control over inhabited areas. You’re right, though — that is a type of change.

  9. justforview

    CityKin, that is a great point. These aren’t mutually exclusive even at the neighborhood level, but especially at the level of the city, and there are benefits to each. The “gotham city” link from VL is great and “Dirty” would be my first choice also. I like living in a city that isn’t homogenous, but it doesn’t have to be “dirty”. Matt also makes a good point that happiness is often portrayed in a single context. Fifty years ago it was the single family home in the burbs, but it is increasingly the renewed urban neighborhood. Our conception of “urban” is changing, mostly under our noses, or what is assumed to be for the better.

    It probably seems like this site promotes a narrow minded view on what a city should be like. But really I just don’t buy that the change that is happening is inevitable and all positive. I like most of these “brands” for different reasons and appreciate contrast between them. Living a single brand would get boring. For me it isn’t so much about trumping other values as it is about injecting alternatives in the mix.

    This, IMO, is why people dislike the urban pioneer label. Its association with the wild frontier days suggest that there are savages that need to be assimilated and if we could just tame the urban wilderness then all would be better. My view is that this is an invitation for increased conflict and disparity.

  10. Well of course ‘happy countries are that way due more to social issues than to design’, visualingual, I was just making an observation of how we (Americans) sometimes seem to associate happiness with that same kind of generic ‘snapshot’ seen in the link I provided. I wasn’t making a statement assuming I knew why these places were actually considered ‘happy’.

    This led me to reference Tarbell’s ‘Miracle Mile’ window box initiative, which, in my opinion, changes (albeit very minor) the once negative perception of the space to slightly more positive one. It doesn’t keep guns off the street, but its symbolic start of trying to change attitudes in the area.

    And speaking of perceptions, I disagree with you, I think design plays a huge part in the psychology of an area’s inhabitants and its visitors. I think most urban planners, architects, and artists/designers would agree. After all, isn’t that really what this article is discussing?

  11. justforview

    There has been some (not enough) discussion about the power of design on this site before. The training of planners and designers , IMO, puts too much emphasis on designers ability to influence behavior and not enough on the ability of the individual to reinterpret it.

    Form certainly limits or expands choice to some degree, but it boils down to choice, which is largely based on economics, politics and culture at the level of the individual, group and society as a whole.

    For me this post is about normative theories of urbanism, which extends beyond the practice of designers and architects and includes the the forces mentioned above and their influence on what cities are becoming/ should be.

  12. Matt, I do agree about perception, and design definitely plays a role in that. It’s humbling to me to have to remind myself that design alone does not make the world a better place, but it can be one factor. If you’re not familiar, I recommend reading up on the Broken Windows theory, as it touches on some of the issues you’ve mentioned.

    In fact, one reason why I take issue with the utopian urbanity of a place like Celebration is because everything needed to fulfill and maintain that ideal really scares me — the regulations, the surveillance, etc. There’s a definite perception of order, but the amount of control exerted makes me uncomfortable. It’s not that I arbitrarily prefer “dirty” cities, but their looseness and disorder allows for some of the things that I find most interesting.

  13. (^) Thanks for link – I’m so far out of touch with architectural/urban theory than I was in my younger years, so I appreciate the references/reminders.

    Also, as I stated in an earlier response, I completely agree with you about [towns like] Celebration. Not being able to put up whatever color curtain in your windows seems a bit of stretch for me. When I was first there in ’98(?), one of the residents told me a story about how some other homeowner rebelled against the ‘rules’ there by placing one of those kitschy plastic pink flamingos in their lawn. Upon reprimand (which includes fees + possible expulsion), some of their neighbors did the same as a statement of protest, and it caught on like wildfire. I think I remember her saying that the ‘ordinance’ passed and the community was allowed to put the flamingos out without retribution. Nevertheless, scary. I have other related stories, for example with where I’m hibernating right now, or any condo complex for that matter, but again, I lean toward the ‘dirty’ too.

    Mike, your comment that:
    “The training of planners and designers , IMO, puts too much emphasis on designers ability to influence behavior and not enough on the ability of the individual to reinterpret it” is spot on. I heard this so many times when studying the Deconstructionists in the late-90s (i.e. Eisenman’s Aronoff Ctr @ UC). Actually, UC’s whole campus could be a model for just that, yet I also think it’s a great example of the contemporary form of ‘dirty’ planning (as it relates to architectural design, even though it’s a somewhat-planned school campus). But ‘natural’ societal movements/growth have no real influence here, and as you said, the design is an aspect to be discussed at another time.

    Anyway, as an aside, just let me reiterate how nice it is to have you and Mike in the thick of the Cincy blogosphere. Always interesting and informative discussion and debate.

  14. Group hug, y’all! I enjoy this opportunity to talk to some neighbors I might not otherwise meet.

  15. I definitely lean towards Matt’s view about design influencing happiness more than we sometimes admit. It is less the colors of the walls, and more the configuration of our daily movements, and how frustrating or easy they are. For me it also has a lot to do with access to fresh air and natural light.

    Following on the Happiest People theme, last year I posted a report that said the Dutch had the happiest children. The researchers believed it was resultant of two-parent households, and labor laws that allow parents to be home with kids while continuing to work. Part of making this possible is being able to live close to work and school.

  16. Tee-hee, check out The Americana at Brand; it seems like a New Urbanist festival marketplace.

  17. Griff

    I can see Just for Views having a beautiful friendship with urbanologies.com.

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