Category Archives: Professional

Coming Soon | Poor Richard | Volume 2


<Updated cover, 11/18/14

Poor Richard, AN Almanac for Architects and Planners offered anew commentary, proverbs, and witticisms about the architecture, urban design and planning of our cities, which was hailed as a “worthwhile”, “hilariously righteous epitome” for its “genius, extraordinary wit, passion for good design, and mastery of the history of planning” in “following both Benjamin Franklin and Ambrose Bierce.”

In a similar vein, Poor Richard, ANOTHER Almanac for Architects and Planners brings together more common sense proverbs, astute observations, and general rules of thumb for anyone interested in the future of our cities. In doing so, author MARK DAVID MAJOR again draws from a dizzyingly array of sources for inspiration, including artistic movements of Modernism, obscure African, European and Oriental proverbs, and even the Torah and New Testament. These witticisms are often eloquent, sometimes biting, always insightful, and occasionally bizarre in the absence of deeper thought. They offer a valuable resource for the entire year, daily reminders for everyone involved in the building of our cities about their better angels and warning against the worse demons of human nature. The clear message of Poor Richard, ANOTHER Almanac for Architects and Planners, with foreword by STEVE MOUZON (author of The Original Green), is we can do better for our cities and we must do better for our cities.

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Poor Richard, ANOTHER Almanac for Architects and Planners will also be available for iBooks and Kindle.

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My ‘Secret’ Life as an Anonymous Source | Mark David Major

My ‘Secret’ Life as an Anonymous Source
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Sorry, this post is quirky and not nearly as salacious as the title might otherwise suggest. However, enough time has passed (15 years) that I can now reveal one of the more interesting episodes in my professional career. This is my ‘secret’ life as an anonymous source for the free-wheeling British press involving a story about London Transport, the Metropolitan Police and, ultimately, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his still-young-at-the-time Labour government.

On November 23, 1998, London’s Evening Standard printed a front-page article by Martin Delgado with the screaming headline “SHUT THE TUBE FOR MILLENNIUM.” The story was about London Transport’s public claims that they would operate between 70% and 80% of the London Underground services for the Millennium New Year’s Eve celebration on December 31, 1999. However, as part of the crowds study group, London Transport was privately reporting they would be lucky to run services at 50% capacity on the night. At the time, there was a three-year crowds study group tasked with preparing Central London for the large number of people expected to attend the celebrations consisting of the Metropolitan Police, London Transport, Department of Culture, Media and Sport, City of Westminster, and their consultants Risk Management Consultants and Space Syntax Ltd.


The London Metropolitan Police was extremely concerned about London Transport’s plans to operate at only 50% capacity on the night and leaked the story to the Evening Standard. Delgado’s story quoted an anonymous source in Space Syntax Ltd. to support the position of the Metropolitan Police.

I was the anonymous source.

As I recall, a crowds study group member of the Metropolitan Police referred Mr. Delgado to me to support their position by providing some background information about the study. It was only years later that learned my mistake was asking for an “off the record” conversation ; not realizing this meant I could still be quoted as an anonymous source. In hindsight, I should have asked for a conversation “on background.” Oh well, live and learn. Initially, I took some grief inside Space Syntax for my role in this story but less than you might think because what I said was accurate and correct. The reaction inside Space Syntax about my role later evolved into bewildered amusement because of what next happened.

The story briefly caused a firestorm, which required Tony Blair to respond to Ministers of Parliament during Prime Minister’s Question Time. The story eventually led to the Labour government making wholesale changes to government preparations by refocusing the Millennium celebrations on the River Thames. This was not our idea but it was a darn good one in hindsight because it helped to spread the expected crowds over a much larger area of central London. A change that also required London Underground to operate nearer to full capacity on the night since people would be arriving and leaving via more underground stations. At the time, the concern of crowds study group about this change was our crowd observations were focused around Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, and Piccadilly Circus on New Year’s Eve in 1996, 1997 and 1998.

sc001943211:00 am, January 1, 1999 outside Canada House in Trafalgar Square after (very cold) New Year’s Eve crowd observations (from left to right): Beatriz Campos, François Dufaux, Mark David Major, and Tim Stonor.

We worried about missing something since we could not observe crowd movement and space use under the same circumstances before the actual night. However, the Millennium celebrations were a great success, going off without a hitch other than some minor incidents involving stupidity and chance, with no serious injuries due to overcrowding on the streets of central London. I like to think Space Syntax’s role as a consultant on the crowds study – and mine, in particular, as the Space Syntax project manager and anonymous source to this Evening Standard story – helped to ensure public safety on December 31, 1999.london1999

London New Year’s Eve, 1999 (Photograph by Patrick Baranowski).

If you are interested in more details about our crowds study, you can read about it here:

Major MD, A. Penn , G. Spiliopoulou, N. Spende, M. Doxa, and P. Fong, 2000, ‘Following the Crowd: Spatial Layout and Crowd Behaviour’, arq Architectural Research Quarterly, Volume 4, Number 3, Cambridge University Press, pp. 257-264, ISBN 0-521-79412-9.

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Urbanists branded as outlaws for bluntly speaking truth | Urbanism Speakeasy

“We are outlaws. So says a passionate group of bloggers who have been challenging status quo infrastructure planners and designers. Mark David Major joins the Urbanism Speakeasy this week. He is the principal blogger and co-founder of The Outlaw Urbanist.”

Download the Podcast for FREE in the iTunes Store or listen online here:  Urbanists branded as outlaws for bluntly speaking truth | Urbanism Speakeasy.

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REVIEW | Paradigm lost, Industrial and post-industrial Detroit | Urban Design International

Featured Image: Choice network analysis at radius 10,000 meters of Detroit in 1952 with industry superimposed from Paradigm lost, Industrial and post-industrial Detroit (Psarra et al, 2013).

REVIEW: Paradigm lost, Industrial and post-industrial Detroit by Sophia Psarra, Conrad Kickert, and Amanda Pluviano, Urban Design International, Advanced Online Publication, March 27, 2013
by Mark David Major, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

There is a simple question at the heart of the Psarra et al paper, “Paradigm lost: Industrial and post-industrial Detroit – An analysis of the street network and its social and economic dimensions from 1796 to the present,” available as an advanced online publication from Urban Design International. This question is: can spatial pattern be implicated in the remarkable urban decline of Detroit over the last half-century? It is an important question precisely because so many architecture, urban design and planning professionals – as well as politicians and policy makers  – never bother to ask it, especially in the United States. The answer provided by Psarra et al is an academically careful and qualified ‘yes’.

Their basic argument is the locating of large-scale industrial uses at the northern periphery of the urban grid (along and near to Davison St./Grand Ave.) beginning around 1900-1910 – in combination with interstate highway system construction and decline of the streetcar system a few decades later – served to disrupt the integrated functioning of the urban street network, commercial, industrial and residential land uses, and the transportation infrastructure serving them (railroads, streetcars) in the city. This facilitated radical decentralization of Detroit to the suburbs, where developers and industry could find ever larger and cheaper land parcels. Their argument is a little more nuanced than this but that is the gist. In doing so, they conclude (though don’t say so bluntly) the automobile both made and destroyed Detroit.

They acknowledge more complex factors were, no doubt, at work in the decline of Detroit but argue understanding the pattern of urban space and how it relates to land uses and transportation infrastructure is crucial for diagnosing the problem. In its diagnosis, the paper excels though it is very light on offering solutions (beyond a vague call for “radical solutions”). For example, they generally discuss what they describe as “Landscape Urbanism” without much detail. They are far too kind to reveal what, I suspect, is probably an outright disdain for this approach to serious urban problems. Landscape Urbanism only exists because it is politically expedient and offers policy makers/politicians the appearance of doing something (and feeds the financial coffers of consultants) when, in fact, it is usually a useless solution that avoids the real problem all together. What is really interesting about their historical analysis is where industrial land uses were not located; namely, along the riverfront at the edge of the Woodward plan. This suggests the seeds of Detroit’s urban decline might be traced back to the early 19th century. Large-scale industrial land uses may not have been allowed to develop along the riverfront of the Woodward plan. If the industrial land uses along Davison/Grand had come to be located along the riverfront instead of the northern periphery, Detroit may have been better positioned to manage its transition from an industrial to a post-industrial city, as other cities have accomplished to varying degrees of success.

By necessity, academic articles cannot cover all of the bases. For example, I would have liked to have seen spatial analysis of contemporary Detroit with its interstate highway system ‘peeled off’ to better reveal its disruptive effect on the underlying street grid pattern. I’m not even sure if current space syntax software allows for this kind of ‘alternative’ analysis. I would have also liked to have seen a spatial model of Detroit embedded within its larger urban context to the south in Canada (Windsor/LaSalle), where the railroad lines do terminate along the riverfront of the Detroit River. There is also the political factor. Detroit has been subject to one-party rule (Democratic) for the last half-century and it’s hard to believe this is only coincidental with its decline as an urban center. To excuse the Democratic Party from Detroit’s decline, one almost has to concede that all government policies are essentially useless (a very Libertarian position). However, there is only so much anyone can cover in an article. “Paradigm lost, Industrial and post-industrial Detroit” is well worth the read. At the very least, it will get you questioning the “conventional wisdom” in the field about Detroit and other cities experiencing similar problems.

You read the full article online or download a PDF via the link below:

URBAN DESIGN International – Paradigm lost: Industrial and post-industrial Detroit – An analysis of the street network and its social and economic dimensions from 1796 to the present.

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A unanimous Declaration of Planning Independence


A unanimous Declaration of Planning Independence

When in the Course of urban events, it becomes necessary for a people to overthrow the tired paradigm which has guided city building for too long, and to assume a new model of urban growth and renewal for our cities on this earth, the distinct and equal status to which the Laws of Common Sense and of Common Sense’s Spirit entitles them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to revolution.

We hold these truths to be proven fact, that all cities are created of space, that space is a living thing, which is endowed by human Design with certain indeniable attributes, that among these are Movement, Transaction, and the pursuit of Interaction. That to secure these attributes, Urban Designers and Planners are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the Beingness of the City, that whenever any paradigm becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new Paradigm, laying its foundation on such common sense and organizing its principles in such form, as to them shall to most likely perpetuate the vitality and sustainability of the City.

Scientific method, indeed, will dictate that a Paradigm long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience has shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Its evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by overthrowing a Paradigm to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and corruptions, pursuing invariably the same Object manifests a Design to reduce them under absolute Lunacy, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Paradigm, and to provide a new model for the future of the city.

Such has been the patient sufferance of our cities; and such is now the necessity that constrains us to overthrow our current System of City Building. The history of the current Paradigm is a history of repeated injuries and corruptions, all having in direct object the establishment of absolute Lunacy over our cities. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world:

It has refused to Assent to the wisdom of good Design, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good, found common over 10,000 years of city building.

It has passed Laws and Regulations contrary to the common wisdom of good Design over 10,000 years of city building, refused to reform or suspend such Laws and Regulations when proven fallacious, or lest utterly neglected to attend to them for the public good.

It has refused to pass other Laws and Regulations for the accommodation of good Design, unless the People relinquish the right of sound Planning, a relation inestimable to City Building and formidable to Lunacy only.

It has conspired to call together Professionals at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from Public view, for the sole purposes of corrupting and fatiguing the City into compliance with Its measures.

It has dissolved Common Sense repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness Its invasions on the vital humanism of the City.

It has conspired for a long time, after such dissolutions, to promote mediocre Professionals; whereby the Paradigm, incapable of Annihilation, have been applied to Cities at large without recourse nor correction; the City remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers from without, and convulsions within.

It has endeavored to prevent the good Design of these cities; for that purpose of obstructing the Common Sense building of the City; refusing to pass Laws and Regulations to encourage good Design, and raising the conditions for the Misappropriation of Lands and Social Isolation of Populations.

It has obstructed the Administration of Space for pedestrians, by promoting its Assent to Laws for accommodating the Automobile.

It has made the People dependent on the Automobile alone, for the movement, transaction and interaction of their everyday activities, and increased the time and cost of their livelihood in Urban conditions.

It has erected a multitude of New Laws and Regulations, and sent hither swarms of Attorneys to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

It has kept among us Allocations for Parking designed solely for a handful days of Christmas shopping without regard for times or amount of use in the rest of the Year.

It has affected to render the desires of Professionals independent of and superior to the Civic good.

It has combined with other Paradigms to subject cities to a jurisdiction foreign to their humanistic constitution, and unacknowledged by Common Sense; giving its Assent to their Acts of pretended logic.

For Quartering large bodies of automobiles on our roads: For protecting them, by idiotic regulations, from retardation for any Murders which they have commit on Pedestrians and Bicyclists in our Cities:

For isolating our urban centers from all parts of their Periphery:

For imposing Fees and Taxes on us without benefit to the Civic good:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Choice in our housing types:

For placing the transportation of Automobiles above the Humanity of living:

For abolishing diversity in Our Cities for the sake of suburban conformity, establishing therein an Arbitrary lifestyle, and enlarging its Model so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute Lunacy in our Cities:

For destroying our Street Life, abolishing its most valuable Character, and altering fundamentally the spatial Function of Our Cities:

For suspending Common Sense urbanism, and declaring itself invested with the power to Build Suburbs for us in all cases whatsoever:

It has abdicated Common Sense here, by declaring us inconsequential to City Building and waging War against traditional urbanism:

It has plundered our lands, destroyed the Social Contract between the City and its Citizens, promoted social isolation, and destroyed the fabric of our neighborhoods.

It is at this time renewing efforts to sprawl large suburban communities of suspect Value to complete the works of isolation, desolation and lunacy, already begun with circumstances of Euclidean zoning and deceits of transportation engineering and planning scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy as a model of City Building lest the Death of the City is its aim.

It has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive in a web of bureaucratic incompetence in all agencies against their Cities, to become the executioners of Urban Vitality and Sustainability, or to fail by their Hands.

It has excited domestic special interests against the City, and has endeavored to bring on the Death of our Cities at the hands of faceless suburban sprawl, whose known rule of assimilation is an undistinguished conformity of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms:

Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.

A Paradigm whose character is thus marked by every act which may define Lunacy, is unfit to be a model for Great Cities.

Nor have Urban Designers and Planners been wanting in attentions to our plight. They have been warned from time to time of attempts by their Paradigm to extend its unwarrantable reign over our Cities. Urban Designers and Planners have been reminded of the flaws of their Paradigm, and they have been conjured by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these corruptions, which, would inevitably spurn revolution. Urban Designers and Planners too have been deaf to the voice of Common Sense and Accepted Wisdom. Urban Designers and Planners must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces their Guilt, and hold them, Responsible as Accomplices in this paradigmatic injustice against Our Cities.

We, therefore, The Outlaw Urbanist, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the our Ancestral history and the wisdom of Master Builders for the righteousness of our cause, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of our Cities, solemnly publish and declare, that Our Cities are, and of Right ought to be Free of the Prevailing Paradigm; that we are Absolved from All Allegiance to the Prevailing Paradigm; and that all political and moral connection between It and City Building is and ought to be totally overthrown; and that as Free and Independent Thinkers, we have full Power to build traditional cities, foster movement, transaction and social interaction in Cities made of Space, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent Thinkers may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of Common Sense in the Human Spirit, we pledge each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.



This article appears in Major, M.D. (2012) Poor Richard, An Almanac for Architects and Planners (Volume 1 with Foreword by Julia Starr Sanford). Jacksonville, Florida: Forum Books, ISBN-10: 1482659379, ISBN-13: 978-1482659375, ASIN: B00Q1V5VLK. Available for purchase on this page.

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