Tag Archives: The Urban Pattern

NEW KINDLE Version of Poor Richard Volume 1

A new version of Poor Richard, An Almanac for Architects and Planners (Volume 1) specifically tailored for Kindle devices is available for purchase from the Kindle Store. Be sure to check the online store in your country/currency (USA store available below).

Poor Richard, An Almanac for Architects and Planners (Volume 1) collects together commentary, proverbs, and witticisms that originally appeared via The Outlaw Urbanist. Drawing inspiration from American Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, as well as many others, author Mark David Major crafts anew a series of astute observations, common sense proverbs, and general rules of thumb for anyone interested in the architecture, urban design and planning of our cities. Often eloquent, occasionally biting, and always insightful, these witticisms offer a valuable resource for the entire year, daily reminders for everyone involved in the building of our cities of their better angels and warning them against the worse demons of human nature.

Poor Richard, An Almanac for Architects and Planners (Volume 1)
by Mark David Major
Foreword by Julia Starr Sanford
Forum Books
April 13, 2013

BISAC: Architecture/Planning

Purchase from Kindle Store here.

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The Human Scale | via Sustainable Cities Collective

Urbanism and the Most Influential Architect You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
by Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman via Sustainable Cities Collective
June 18, 2013

Interesting article about Jan Gehl and William Whyte at the Sustainable Cities Collective.


“Anthropologically this is brilliantly simple. We are social animals (animals, I say!) and we also have limits based on our physical senses. Think about your vision for a moment – how far can you see into the distance and recognize a person as someone you know? Or determine their emotional state? How about hearing? What is your most comfortable but also audible distance from another human being? Travel is affected by this as well. Think about how quickly you walk when next to a blank wall with nothing to look at. Now compare that to walking by a vibrant street scene with frequent storefronts, open doors, and street vendors! Even stairs can be scaled in such a way that they are easier for people to climb. All of this is so amazingly simple to do when you just put the emphasis on making cities for people…”

Read the full article here: Architecture and Urbanism Documentary | Sustainable Cities Collective.

You can follow Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman on Twitter @think_katrina.

Watch the trailer for The Human Scale documentary here.

You can watch some short clips from The Human Scale on YouTube here.

You can purchase or rent The Human Scale on iTunes here.

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Quantifying the Cost of Sprawl | Emily Badger | CityLab

Quantifying the Cost of Sprawl: In infrastructure, service delivery and tax receipts
by Emily Badger, CityLab, May 21, 2013


Sprawl is expensive. It costs more money to pave a road and connect a sewer line to five families each living a block apart on wooded lots than to build public infrastructure for those same five families living in a condo. It costs more money (and takes more time and gas) to serve those families with garbage trucks, fire engines, and ambulances. And in return… those five sprawling single-family homes likely yield less in tax revenue per acre than the apartment building that could house our fictitious residents downtown.

Sprawl aerialA report… from Smart Growth America, which surveyed 17 studies of compact and sprawling development scenarios across the country, sizes up the scale of the impact this way: Compact development costs, on average, 38 percent less in up-front infrastructure than “conventional suburban development” for things like roads, sewers and water lines. It costs 10 percent less in ongoing service delivery by reducing the distances law enforcement or garbage trucks must travel to serve residents (well-connected street grids cut down on this travel time, too). And compact development produces on average about 10 times more tax revenue per acre.

Read the full article here: Quantifying the Cost of Sprawl | CityLab.

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The City’s Essential DNA | Mark David Major

BS_figure_03Form and process in the urban pattern: (left to right) grid expansion, block size manipulation, deformation, street extension, and discrete separation.

The City’s Essential DNA
by Mark David Major, AICP, BA, BA, MSc
Founder, The Outlaw Urbanist

Email:               mark@outlaw-urbanist.com
Web:                 www.outlaw-urbanist.com
Twitter:           @OutlawUrbanist

NOTE: This is a shorter, punchier, reference-free version of “The City’s Essential DNA: Formal design and spatial processes in the urban patterns”, which appears in Volume 4, Issue 1 of The Journal of Space Syntax, 2013, pp 160-164, ISSN: 2044-7507. It was prepared at the request of a Planning Department for their academic publication but they decided to pass on the article because it was “too technical”.

Our descriptions of cities are often based on their physical form. In urban theory, the description of ‘organic’ and ‘regular’ cities is one of the most persistent and useful. The first stresses process over time in terms of unplanned growth whereas the second on conscious design. This ‘shorthand’ provides a basic understanding of cities across different times, cultures, and geographical regions, which is useful precisely because they are theory-loaded terms. They seemingly convey a lot of information in an easy-to-grasp manner. Regular explicitly describes physical form and the design process that gave rise to it. Organic explicitly describes process over time in terms of urban growth, tacitly understood such cities tend to be characterized by deformed grids. The explicit and implicit description of urban form and process is the basis of their descriptive value since most cities are easily classified as having common or different attributes when characterized as organic or regular. There have been frequent attempts to develop better terminology. Utilitarian, deformed, surface order, neutral, offset, gridiron, radial, uniform, homogeneous, undifferentiated matrix, sprawl, geomorphic… the amount of jargon is enough to give anyone a headache. However, describing urban form as deformed or regular is also theory-loaded since cities are characterized in geometrical terms. The key is the incidence or deficiency of a readily apparent geometry in the physical composition of streets and blocks in plan. American cities tend to possess such geometries so they are regular grids. European or Middle Eastern ‘organic’ cities appear to lack such geometries so they are deformed grids. Others have defined this as the difference between composition and configuration to better distinguish between how we view the city (static form) and how it works (dynamic process). Composition is an easy-to-grasp, understand-all-at-once description and configuration is a more complex view of relations amongst elements that potentially affect urban functions. This distinction is often confused or misunderstood, inevitably leading us to a theoretical dead-end.

At a detailed scale, the Urban Transect specifies this distinction between form and process in the design of the street itself for those transitioning from Euclidean zoning to form-based codes. Several formal elements (street width, road sections, building footprints, landscaping) are tied to functional uses (density and intensity). If cities are interfaces between scales of movement, as suggested by John Peponis at Georgia Tech, then the Urban Transect creates an idealized model of this essential urban dynamic of form and process for the design of streets to better classify it for application in form-based zoning regulations and streetscape design. Duany and Talen’s explanatory diagram of transect planning specifies a geometric logic (all urban streets connect at right angles) but the applicability of transect planning for types of cities seems readily apparent. What varies from one city to another is geometry and scale as realized in the layout. The true brilliance of transect planning is, the more it is applied in real world conditions, then the less tenable becomes the roadway classifications of modern transportation planning. Those beholden to the dominant 20th century planning paradigm should beware of New Urbanists bearing gifts.

BS_figure_02Andres Duany and Emily Talen’s The Urban Transect

Transect planning is largely silent about generating an urban pattern above the level of the street, leaving this to the design sensibilities of the professionals. This appears to leave a gulf of understanding between the urban whole and the street itself. However, this is precisely where the essential dynamics of form and process as it impacts on urban functions are realized in cities. Hiller and Hanson argue in The Social Logic of Space the physical arrangement of space “has a direct relation – rather than a merely symbolic one – to social life, since it provides the material preconditions for patterns of movement, encounter and avoidance which are the material realization – sometimes the generator – of social relations.” New Urbanists have been basically arguing the same for thirty years. In everyday practice, this becomes complicated because we tend to view and design space in discrete terms, independent of a larger geographical, topographical, and/or urban context. In doing so, the importance of design in establishing the material preconditions for our everyday use of urban space is often minimized, misunderstood, or even ignored.

Our design decisions in generating the urban pattern are important. For example, it is in this realm that an important (and little discussed) distinction arises between intra-connectivity (street connections within the bounds of a site) and inter-connectivity (street connections between bounds of different sites). Historically, intra-connectivity has been strongly realized in New Urbanism developments but inter-connectivity weakly so. We cannot simply leave design of the urban pattern to the (varied) abilities of professionals and hope for the best. We must identify and understand it so we can intervene better and smarter. If we focus on the static and dynamic relationship between form and process, composition and configuration, in the design of the urban grid, a basic set of design decisions having formal and process implications for urban space can be identified.

We could describe this as the essential DNA for all types of cities. There is grid expansion and deformation, whereby the urban pattern expands in a consistent manner or else deforms in relation to some external factor, usually topography or land ownership patterns. In regular cities, deformation usually occurs whilst still adhering in some manner to the basic conceptual order of the existing urban pattern but in different cardinal directions. In organic cities, deformation tends to occur during up-scaling of the urban pattern to relation to its ever-growing edges by introducing more geometrical order in the layout. There is street extension, whereby an existing street is extended in one of both directions. In regular cities, this tends to occur as a straight-on continuation in adherence to the conceptual order of the regular grid. In organic cities, this tends to occur as an open-angled continuation, which generates its distinctive deformed grid pattern. Street extension is also the primary tool for strip development in the growth of linear and crossroad settlements, especially during the early stages of community growth, of which Las Vegas is probably the most famous example. The most easily recognizable form of the essential urban dynamic is block size manipulation.

PrintPhiladelphia, Yesterday and Today: Philadelphia urban pattern in 1682 (left) and today (right) within bounds of William Penn’s original 1682 plan.

The dynamic nature of block size manipulation in our cities can be easily seen in a side-by-side figure ground representation (blocks in white, space in black) of Philadelphia yesterday and today. There are two remarkable yet seemingly contradictory things about this comparison. First, is the degree to which the original block scheme of Penn’s plan has changed, principally through a process of block subdivision and, second, is the degree to which the integrity of Penn’s original plan concept has endured despite hundreds, perhaps thousands, of small- and large-scale interventions over 330 years. Finally, there is discrete separation by linear segregation of streets. Street connections are either broken (as in American suburban sprawl through interruptus in extremis) or complicated (as in Middle Eastern cities by narrowing street widths to generate labyrinthine-like but still well-connected layouts) to isolate (usually residential) areas in the urban pattern.

These design methods can be found in the urban pattern of all cities. The spatial processes associated with formal design tend to converge on the ortho-radial grid model. This is a prime example of what Carvalho and Penn mean, saying “the impact of local controls on growth… is, at most, spatially localized… at a macro level, cities display a surprising degree of universality.” In fact, the essential variation across different types of cities appears the scale of street lengths and connections tied to their degree of geometrical articulation; longer, more connected and expansive in regular cities primarily using right angles whereas shorter, less connected, and more compact in organic cities using open and right angles. In the end, cities are not so complicated; rather, it is our theories that tend to complicate our understanding of them.

figure_7.8The Urban Pattern: Istanbul, Turkey (left), Paris, France (center), and New York in the United States (right) (Note: not to scale)

Based on excerpts from forthcoming Relentless Magnificence: The American Regular Grid by Mark David Major.

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Urban Patterns | Havana, Cuba

Havana is the capital city, major port, and leading commercial center of Cuba. The city proper has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants and it spans a total of 728 square kilometers (281 square miles), making it the largest city by area, most populous city, and third largest metropolitan area in the Caribbean region. Havana lies on the northern coast of Cuba, south of the Florida Keys, where the Gulf of Mexico joins the Caribbean. The city extends mostly westward and southward from the bay, which is entered through a narrow inlet and divides into three main harbours: Marimelena, Guanabacoa, and Atarés. Havana was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century and, due to its strategic location, served as a springboard for the Spanish conquest of South America, becoming a stopping point for  treasure-laden Spanish Galleons on the crossing between the New World and Old World. King Philip II of Spain granted Havana the title of City in 1592. Walls as well as forts were built to protect the old city. Contemporary Havana can essentially be described as three cities in one: Old Havana, Vedado, and the newer suburban districts. Old Havana, with its narrow streets and overhanging balconies, is the traditional center of Havana’s commerce, industry, and entertainment as well as being a residential area. To the north and west a newer section – centered on the uptown area known as Vedado – has become the rival of Old Havana for commercial activity and nightlife. Centro Habana, sometimes described as part of Vedado, is mainly a shopping district that lies between Vedado and Old Havana. Chinatown and the Real Fabrica de Tabacos Partagás, one of Cuba’s oldest cigar factories, is located in the area. A third Havana is that of the more affluent residential and industrial districts that spread out mostly to the west. Among these is Marianao, one of the newer parts of the city, dating mainly from the 1920s (Source: Wikipedia).

The urban pattern of Havana, Cuba can be best described as a patchwork of regular and regular-like grids that vary in scale in terms of the length and width of streets and block sizes. Most streets in Havana can be fairly described as straight. Their lengths tend to vary based on the local grid pattern and whether any particular street is carried through and embedded within another adjacent grid or terminates at the edges of its own grid. In this sense, the urban pattern of Havana appears remarkably similar to that of Athens, Greece, which is also composed of a patchwork of small-scale (mostly) regular grids. There appears to be the pattern of scale in the urban grid related to the age of a local area, forming a somewhat radial pattern from the harbor to the southerly and (more so) westerly direction. For example, Old Havana has the smallest scale regular-like grid in the city (smaller blocks, shorter streets) though the overall geometric order of the urban grid in this area is less consistent than in younger areas of the city. For example, contrast this with the increase in scale of the regular grid in the Vedado area to the west of Old Havana or the generous scale of block sizes, street lengths and widths in the highly geometrical grid of Marianao area along a different cardinal alignment in relation to the shoreline of the coast to the extreme west (partially visible at the left edge of the above satellite image).

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

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