Category Archives: Urban Patterns

Urban Patterns | Chicago, Illinois USA

Urban Patterns | Chicago, Illinois USA
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Chicago is the third-most populous city in the United States with over 2.7 million residents. It is also the most populous city in both the state of Illinois and the Midwestern United States. The Chicago metropolitan area – commonly referred to as “Chicagoland” – has nearly 10 million people and is the third-largest metro area in the United States after New York and Los Angeles. In terms of wealth and economy, Chicago is considered one of the most important business centers in the world. The town of Chicago was organized in 1833 with a population of about 200 near a portage between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed. Within seven years it grew to more than 4,000 people. In mid-1835, the first public land sales began and the City of Chicago was incorporated in 1837. For several decades, Chicago was the fastest growing city in the world, making it was one of the five largest cities in the world by end of the 19th century. Before the growth of new Chinese cities during the 21st century, the urban growth of Chicago in the 19th century was largely unprecedented in human history (Source: Wikipedia).

Satellite view from 90km of Metropolitan Chicago, Illinois in the USA (Source: Google Earth).

Chicago has the most pervasively-realized, regular grid street network in the world. In fact, the scale of the regular grid in Chicago is so large that it is almost impossible to truly appreciate its scale. From one extreme to the other, it is about the size of southeast England or the European country of Luxembourg. However, it is only by examining the Chicago urban pattern at the very large scale (for example, satellite view from 90 km above) that we can appreciate there is a distinctive center-to-edge logic to the metropolitan region; most notably along the alignment of the Chicago River/Stevenson Expressway from the Loop in a southwesterly direction. This diagonal logic is replicated at the large-scale in the northern metro area as well along the alignment of old Indian trails, which were incorporated as roads into the urban fabric over time; most notably a series of diagonal streets associated with the Northwest Highway in north Chicago.

Satellite view from 25 km of Chicago, Illinois in the USA (Source: Google Earth).

When we zoom in on the Chicago urban pattern (for example, satellite view from 25 km above), the crucial role of the Chicago River as a water-based transportation artery in the city becomes much more apparent. So does the multitude of skyscrapers in the central business district of “The Loop” (north and west of Grant Park on shores of Lake Michigan). We can also see the large building footprints of many Industrial land uses gathered around the entire length of the Chicago River from the southeast into the center of the city and then northward. All of these topographical, geographical, and infrastructural components are woven together with the ‘relentless’ regular gridiron logic, which serves to privilege downtown Chicago (and The Loop, in particular) within the metropolitan urban pattern in the city. This begins to barely scratch the surface of why the Chicago urban pattern plays such a significant role in its magnificence as one of the greatest cities in the world.

Urban Patterns is a series of posts from The Outlaw Urbanist presenting interesting examples of terrestrial patterns shaped by human intervention in the urban landscape over time.

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PAPER | A Failure of Modernism: ‘Excavating’ Pruitt-Igoe

“The present contribution is a nice and proper scientific excursion through the fits and misfits of an emblematic “failure” of modern urbanism – Pruitt-Igoe, overcoming superficial critiques and less interesting commentaries on the case. I recommend it to be accepted for presentation at the conference and published (in) its proceedings.” (Referee Comment about M.D. Major research on Pruitt-Igoe for SSS11)

Click to download a PDF of the paper “A Failure of Modernism: ‘Excavating’ Pruitt-Igoe” here.

During the closing reception of Space Syntax 10 at University College London in 2015, Dr. Mário Krüger asked me to “promise” to attend Space Syntax 11 in Lisbon, Portugal in 2017 after attending my first Space Syntax Symposium since 1999. I politely promised to “try” to attend. Two years is a long time and I hate to make promises without knowing beforehand whether it will be possible to fulfill them. Mário noticed my equivocation, so he again asked me to promise to attend. He asked again… and again… and again… and again. Upon Mário’s fifth request, I finally offered the unequivocal promise to attend SSS11 that he was seeking from me. This created two problems for me: one short-term and the other long-term. I could delay answering the long-term problem until the last minute; namely, would I have the personal and/or professional resources (i.e. time, money, etc.) to visit Lisbon, Portugal in two years time? The short-term problem required an answer much sooner since the SSS11 call for abstracts was only five months away; namely, what suitable research could I possibly write about for the blind referee process of Space Syntax Symposia? I did not know.

However, finding an answer was one of many issues I was dealing with in the latter part of 2015, including the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) hiring me as a part-time, adjunct Professor of Urban Design in November, my subsequent relocation to that city in December, and preparing the syllabus/materials for the URBA 739: Economics of Urban and Regional Planning course at SCAD, which I would begin teaching in January 2016. I decided one of the lectures for URBA 739 had to be about social housing. I had conducted some social housing research in Europe during the 90s and I had also read a great deal about the most infamous public housing project of them all, Pruitt-Igoe, because I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. That was when the ‘lightbulb went off over my head’ (always an Edison bulb in my imagination). Space syntax is famous for its research into European social housing and crime patterns (see the “Back to the Street” article in The Economist). However, as far as I knew, no one had ever researched Pruitt-Igoe using space syntax. It was easy to understand why. Pruitt-Igoe was demolished in 1972-76 and, as I state in the paper, “any researcher is willingly wading into a distinctive American cesspool of racism and ideology sufficient to scare most people away” (Major, 2017; pp. 5).

Figure-ground (space in black, blocks in white) of north St. Louis showing the Pruitt-Igoe site (highlighted in gray) in 1933 (left) and circa 1958 (right).

The paper you can now download for free (see above and below) represents about a year of research and only 5,000 words about this particular subject. My first full, unedited draft of the paper was about 15,000 words. Quite frankly, this was also insufficient for the scope and multitude of issues raised by the design, management, and history of Pruitt-Igoe. For example, there is some delicate nuance preferable for many of the issues crudely summarized in the paper as well as additional material by other researchers, which deserve to be more fully described than I have time for even in the 2.5-hour course about Pruitt-Igoe, now available on The Outlaw Urbanist course website. I fully intend to expand this research into a book at some point in the future. This because Pruitt-Igoe remains an important lesson for us; one that many people still misconstrue or fail to understand altogether, where the consequences of future mistakes can be just as costly as our past ones if we are not careful. We consign Pruitt-Igoe as something solely belonging to the past at our peril. As Albert Einstein pointed out, “only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”

In the end, researching Pruitt-Igoe was an often frustrating but hugely rewarding experience for me as an architect, urban planner, and native St. Louisian. However, as fate would have it, I could not answer the long-term problem to keep my promise to Dr. Krüger about attending SSS11 in Lisbon, Portugal. I simply do not have the resources at my disposal that so many other people casually take for granted to attend conferences worldwide. For failing to keep my promise, I feel bad and I apologize to Dr. Krüger. Nonetheless, the end-product of this journey is far more important for our profession than a broken promise so I am making my paper “A Failure of Modernism: ‘Excavating’ Prutt-Igoe” freely available online for anyone to read. I welcome any comments or suggestions about the ideas discussed in the paper and, once again, I strongly recommend you watch the 2012 documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, especially after reading my paper if you have not before seen the documentary.

Click to download a PDF of the paper “A Failure of Modernism: ‘Excavating’ Pruitt-Igoe” here.

NOTE: This research was paid for and supported by me. There was no grant to pay for this research. I have not had any classes assigned to me to teach for over a year (due to “declining enrollment”) so the Savannah College of Art & Design did not financially support this research, either directly or indirectly, in any way. This research was not born of any privilege except the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Enjoy!

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NOW AVAILABLE | A Failure of Modernism: ‘Excavating’ Pruitt-Igoe

A Failure of Modernism: ‘Excavating’ Pruitt-Igoe investigates the Pruitt-Igoe Public Housing Complex in St. Louis, Missouri USA. A large literature implicates several factors in Pruitt-Igoe’s decline, which public authorities famously demolished in 1972. Often, this literature cites design and planning as contributory factors without specifying how or why in precise terms. Building on archival records and previous research, we analyze the ‘spatial archaeology’ of Pruitt-Igoe using space syntax. Our purpose is to better understand how design and planning contributed to its social malaise. It concludes: 1) provision of space (i.e. quantity) became a liability as declining occupancy generated a ‘broken interface’ between adults and children; and, 2) the pilotis of the residential towers mediated formal access and spatial distribution in a layout characterized by ‘intelligible dysfunction,’ which facilitated opportunity and escape for criminal activities. Both fed the perception and reality of social malaise at Pruitt-Igoe (2.5 hour course). Click here to purchase this course ($17.49).

Key concepts:  design, Modernism, planning, public policy, and social housing.

Includes an two-hour video presentation and PDFs of the course supplementary material and slide handout.

Please note there may be a delay for a couple of hours before you are able to access the course because we have to confirm receipt of payment for each order before completing the purchase.

About the Instructor

mark_v3Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A is an architect and planner with extensive experience in urban planning and design, business management and real estate development, and academia. He is a Professor of Urban Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Mark has been a visiting lecturer at the University of Florida, Georgia Tech, Architectural Association in London, University of São Paulo in Brazil, and Politecnico di Milano in Italy.

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NOW AVAILABLE | “The American City” Track | Planetizen Courses

“The American City” Track (3.25 credits)
Many people see American cities as a radical departure in the history of town planning because of their planned nature based on geometrical division of the land. However, other cities of the world also began as planned towns with geometric layouts so American cities are not completely unique. Why did the regular grid come to pervasively characterize American urbanism? Are American cities really different? “The American City” answers these questions and many more by exploring their urban morphology. In some ways, American cities are unique including a strong historical preference for geometric regularity in town planning, which endures to this day. However, in more important ways, American cities are still subject to the same processes linking street networks and human use found in all cities of the world.

Part 1: A Brief History of the Regular Grid
Part 2: The Invention of a New Scale
Part 3: Learning from the Grid
Part 4: Complexity and Pattern in the City

Featuring Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A. Click here to purchase this Planetizen Courses track.

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NOW AVAILABLE | Architecture and Film Course Series (6.0 hour)

The Architecture and Film Course Series reviews the seductive correspondence between cinema and architecture. Of all the fine arts, cinema and architecture seem to uniquely correspond due to their natures as both an art and a science. In no small part, this is because both deploy many of the same concepts in a superficial and/or substantive way, i.e. representation, presentation, functionality and materiality. Over the last four decades, startling technological advances, mostly deriving from computer science, have further blurred the distinction between cinema and architecture. Collectively, this tends to obscure the most important aspect, which is architecture’s impact on the dual aims of cinema, e.g. narrative and technology. Part I, “Do Architects Dream of Celluloid Buildings” reviews the conceptual, historical and technological correspondence between cinema and architecture. Part II, “The Architectural Competence in Cinema” and Part III, “The Best of Both Worlds”, reviews cinematic use of architectural precedents and typologies in crafting distinctive film-grammars in support of narrative and characterization. The “Architecture and Film” course series more closely examines the frequent role of the built environment in creatively reinforcing or subverting expectations of the audience about cinematic narratives (6.0 course). Click here to purchase this full course series ($39.99).

Key concepts:  abnormal scale, analogy, architectural typologies, cinema, cultural appropriation, extended narratives, fantasy, historical juxtaposition, historical intensification, historical precedent, hyperreality, language, narrative, representation, scale, science fiction, and technology.

Includes a three(3) two-hour video presentations and PDFs of the  supplementary materials and slide handouts for each course.

Part 1 Film and Television Topics
The Wizard of Oz, A Trip to the Moon, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, The Hunger Games, Friends, New Girl, Planet of the Apes, Alice in Wonderland, Star Trek, To Kill a Mockingbird, Back to the Future, Westworld, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, Jurassic Park, The Wedding Singer, The Terminator, Babylon 5, Captain America, Avatar, Battlestar Galactica, It’s a Wonderful Life, Zelig, Forrest Gump, Jupiter Rising, Toy Story, Tron, Resident Evil, Total Recall, The Matrix, A Scanner Darkly, Contagion, American Psycho, Metropolis, Blade Runner

Part 2 Film and Television Topics
Alien, War of the Worlds, V for Vendetta, Blade Runner, Jaws, Watchmen, Batman, The Rape of Doctor Willis, Superman, The Lady in the Water, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Wars, The Godfather, Game of Thrones, The Lord of the Rings, Baywatch, The Shawshank Redemption, Thor, From Hell, The Lodger, James Bond, Chinatown, Logan’s Run, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, Cube, 1984, Divergent, The Truman Show, Pleasantville, Metropolis, V, Independence Day, Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Part 3 Film and Television Topics
Star Trek, Harry Potter, Blade Runner, The Lord of the Rings, Citizen Kane, Batman, Doctor Who, Inception, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Spellbound, Doctor Strange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Interstellar, Star Wars, Logan’s Run, Alien, Dune, Battlestar Galactica, Zoolander, The Martian Chronicles, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, District 9

Please note there may be a delay for a couple of hours before you are able to access the course because we have to confirm receipt of payment for each order before completing the purchase.

About the Instructor

mark_v3Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A is an architect and planner with extensive experience in urban planning and design, business management and real estate development, and academia. He is a Professor of Urban Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Mark has been a visiting lecturer at the University of Florida, Georgia Tech, Architectural Association in London, University of São Paulo in Brazil, and Politecnico di Milano in Italy.

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