Tag Archives: The Outlaw Urbanist

Urban Patterns | Venice, Italy

“Enter this sublime corrosion,
Venice drowning in emotion.”
Venice Drowning, Duran, Duran

Urban Patterns | Venice, Italy
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Venice is a city in northeastern Italy and the capital of the Veneto region. It is situated in a group of 117 small islands that are separated by canals and linked by bridges. These are located in the shallow Venetian Lagoon, an enclosed bay that lies between the mouths of the Po and the Piave Rivers. Parts of Venice are renowned for the beauty of their settings, their architecture, and artwork. The lagoon and a part of the city are listed as a World Heritage Site. In 2014, 264,579 people resided in Comune di Venezia, of whom around 55,000 live in the historic city of Venice (Centro storico). Together with Padua and Treviso, the city is included in the Padua-Treviso-Venice Metropolitan Area with a total population of 2.6 million people. Venice was a major financial and maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and a staging area for the Crusades and the Battle of Lepanto, as well as a very important center of commerce (especially silk, grain, and spice) and art in the 13th century up to the end of the 17th century. The city is considered to have been the first real international financial center which gradually emerged from the 9th century to its peak in the 14th century, making it a wealthy city throughout most of its history (Source: Wikipedia).

Venice has been a source of fascination for centuries for a variety of reasons including, rightly so, its architecture and urban design. In many ways, Venice seems unique. Its island location seems to allow the city to operate as an ‘almost discrete’ urban system. At least, much more so than most cities. It incorporates a mix of transportation modes including pedestrian paths, a rail station, ports, and internal water navigation, e.g. the canals. Venice is an urban pattern ‘frozen in time’ because of historical conservation efforts during the 20th century, almost as much – if not more so – for maintaining the delicate man-made ecosystem of Venice due to subsidence (i.e. gradual lowering of the city into the sea) as for architectural and urban design aesthetics. Venice is ‘frozen’ into its deformed grid layout much in the same manner as the Pilot Plan of Brasilia is ‘frozen’ in its modernist, geometric layout.

Satellite view from 5 km of Venice, Italy (Source: Google Earth).

Nonetheless, there are many interesting things to note. The intricacy of the deformed grid layout indicates a well-defined and easily-understood neighborhood pattern in Venice, despite the lack of a readily-apparent geometry in the ‘bird’s eye view’ of the layout. Block sizes appear larger and more geometrically regular at the outer edges of the island (for example, to the north at the water’s edge) and smaller towards the center of the island (for example, at the bend in the Grand Canal). Venice’s street system also seems to have evolved over time to privilege the edge-to-edge relationship from one shoreline to another with longer, straighter streets intersecting these streets for transverse movement, especially closer to the outer edges of the island; for example, to the north and south. This leaves the patterning of the center-to-edge relationship for movement in the Venice urban network to the canal system itself, especially in the relationship between the rail station located at the water’s edge to the west and the Grand Canal itself. Collectively, this seems to represent something of an European inversion (and a very particular one at that) in formal terms compared to the suburban street network pattern of post-war American cities (such as Las Vegas or Phoenix), where very long edge-to-edge, super grid streets are geometrically determined by the cardinal directions and interstitial streets tend to be shorter by comparison. Nonetheless, the dynamic of Venice’s train station in relation to this urban pattern is somewhat replicated by the airport in the American model.

(Updated: March 28, 2017)

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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Urban Patterns | El Tikkawin, Sudan

“How far is it from, how far is it from,
Walk through the storms, go through the storms.”
Storms in Africa, Enya

Urban Patterns | El Tikkawin, Sudan
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

El Tikkawin is a settlement located on the Upper Nile River in Sudan at 18°13’12” north of the equator and 33°55’12” east of the Greenwich Prime Meridian. Demographic and population data is not readily available but it appears to be a large town. The town is located adjacent to rich agricultural lands associated with the seasonal flooding of the Nile River. A large-scale (in relative terms) regular grid characterizes the largest area of the town, probably reflective of thousands of years of Egyptian influence in the Upper Nile region. Within the interstitial areas of the regular grid are the more intricate street networks more commonly associated with Middle Eastern settlements. This is a similar model to American suburban sprawl in the 20th century with the important exception that the interstitial street networks in El Tikkawin do not eliminate almost entirely connections at the periphery of the interstitial area, which is the case in the worst examples of American suburban sprawl.

Satellite view from 5 km of El Tikkawin, Sudan (Source: Google Earth).

This suggests a more sustainable and compact spatio-functional model in El Tikkawin compared to the dysfunction associated with American suburbs (being almost entirely auto-dependent). The regular grid is mostly absent in what appears to be the oldest section of El Tikkawin (to the right, immediately adjacent to Upper Nile agricultural lands). This oldest part of town is mostly characterized by a deformed grid layout. Finally, for anyone who ever criticized space syntax by asking to be shown an axial line… well, here they are… marked in the landscape. Tracks mark the path through large (undeveloped) open spaces to-and-from the surrounding agricultural lands and other parts of El Tikkawin as people linearized their use of space during their everyday activities.

(Updated: March 24, 2017)

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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Urban Patterns | Savannah, Georgia USA

“Time to call on old Anne Hannah
While she sits there wishing for her last reward
Peaceful Sunday in Savannah
Don’t you dare go fishin’, son, Amen.”
Sunday in Savannah, Rosemary Clooney

Urban Patterns | Savannah, Georgia USA
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Savannah is the oldest city in the U.S. state of Georgia and is the county seat of Chatham County. Established in 1733 on the Savannah River, the city of Savannah became the British colonial capital of the Province of Georgia and later the first state capital of Georgia. A strategic port city in the American Revolution and during the American Civil War, Savannah is today an industrial center and an important Atlantic seaport. It is Georgia’s fifth-largest city and third-largest metropolitan area. Savannah’s architecture, history, and reputation for Southern charm and hospitality are internationally known. The city’s former promotional name was the “Hostess City of the South,” a phrase still used by the city government. An earlier nickname was “the Forest City”, in reference to the large population and species of oak trees that flourish in the Savannah area. These trees were especially valuable in shipbuilding during the 19th century. In 2014, Savannah attracted 13.5 million visitors from across the country and around the world. Savannah’s downtown area is one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the United States (Source: Wikipedia).

Satellite view from 15 km of Savannah, Georgia USA (Source: Google Earth).

The Oglethorpe ward plan of Savannah sits on the banks of the Savannah River to the north (distinguished by the squares, which are darker in this image). The street alignments of the ward plan extend southwards to define the north-south streets of a larger orthogonal grid south of the Oglethorpe plan. Interstate 516, East Derenne Street, and the Harry S. Truman Parkway (road with wandering alignment to the east) effectively form a ‘ring road’ around the urban core to the south, west and east. The large blocks and offset grid to the west of the Oglethorpe plan introduce deformation into the layout to maximize the number of buildable lots in relation to the topography of the Savannah River (i.e. the port). The large airport to the extreme south is the Hunter Army Airfield. Except for Hutchinson Island itself (in Georgia), there is very little development north of Savannah in South Carolina except further north away from the river, perhaps due to a combination of environmental and jurisdictional factors.

(Updated: March 23, 2017)

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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Urban Patterns | Brasília, Brazil

“Everybody plays a beautiful game out in Brazil
‘Cause it’s all you ever wanted and it’s all that you want still.”
Brazil, Declan McKenna

Urban Patterns | Brasília, Brazil
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Brasília is the federal capital of Brazil and seat of government for the Federal District. The city is located atop the Brazilian highlands in the country’s central western region. The city was founded on April 21, 1960, to serve as the new national capital. Brasília and its metro area are estimated to be Brazil’s 4th most populous city. It was planned and developed by Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer in 1956, moving the capital from Rio de Janeiro to a more central location. The landscape architect was Roberto Burle Marx. The city’s design divides it into numbered blocks as well as sectors for specified activities, such as the Hotel Sector, the Banking Sector, and the Embassy Sector. Brasília was chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its modernist architecture and uniquely artistic urban planning (Source: Wikipedia).

Satellite view from 30 km of Brasília, Brazil (Source: Google Earth).

Equally fascinating to the pattern of green space/greenery within AND surrounding the bounds of original city plan for Brasília by Lúcio Costa is the pattern of mostly ‘organic’ growth in the form of small-scale, offset regular grids deviating in their geometric logic in relation to the shoreline of the man-made Lago do Paranoá (Paranoá Lake) in the metropolitan environs of Brasília, Brazil.

(Updated: March 21, 2017)

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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Our Manifesto | The Outlaw Urbanist

Our Manifesto | The Outlaw Urbanist

We are radical traditional urbanists on a mission to expose the heathens who are destroying our cities. Our purpose is to radicalize anew the debate about the future of our cities. Our goal is to utterly eradicate the intellectual fallacy of the tired paradigms seizing our urban design and planning, real estate development, engineering, and architectural professionals since the early-to-mid 20th century. The catastrophic consequences of these paradigms are evident: more than a century of suburban sprawl, economic failures, social isolation, and urban dysfunction. They are failed paradigms, dinosaurs that do not recognize or will not acknowledge their own extinction.

We are outlaws. Over the last century, the entire apparatus of the ‘militant, anti-urban complex’ have conspired to make traditional urbanism a crime in the United States and other parts of the world. Federal, State and local planning and development policies, laws and regulations – aided and abetted by the self-serving dogma of professional organizations such as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the American Planning Association and advocacy groups promoting a radical environmentalism – have conspired to make us outlaws. However, we refuse to serve time in their prison of suburbs now littering the landscape. Our doctrine is suburban disobedience.

The emergence of The New Urbanism in the early 1980s  and the later founding of the Congress for New Urbanism in 1992  changed the debate about how to best design and build our cities of to-morrow. At the same time, the hard science of cities has time and time again issued findings that unquestionably prove the economic and social benefits of traditional urban models of living, working, and playing. This had led to a perceptible shift over the last three decades. However, it is not enough. We need revolution, not evolution. We need concerted action to overthrow the institutional inertia of our businesses, governments, and professions, which continue to drag our cities down a cul-de-sac, despite the best efforts – sometimes misguided – of many people. Like all cul-de-sacs, that path leads nowhere. Governments continue to enforce and tweak – rather entirely discard – zoning and environmental regulations that are the principal source for our suburban sprawl nightmare. Corporations continue to ‘build to code’ and construct suburban sprawl at an alarming rate. Multiple generations have now been born, raised, and will die trapped within a suburban nightmare from which they cannot wake. We are all guilty for these circumstances. The right-wing NIMBYs who hide behind the walls of their gated communities are guilty (“I’ve got mine, Jack, so screw you”). The left-wing radical environmentalists who protect a puddle of mud after a light shower are guilty (“It’s land and it’s wet, so it’s a wetland”). Those who drive their car around for fifteen minutes looking for a more convenient parking space are guilty (“God gave me legs but I can’t walk”). Because we are all guilty, we are also all responsible for sweeping away the mess.

We are provocateurs. We do not believe in the status quo. Reform is not enough. We are agents of change. Our entire system of city building must be torn down and rebuilt from scratch. A city built on foundations of sand cannot stand. We will challenge the flawed assumptions of our leaders. We will support positions of the political left and political right in the United States and elsewhere in the world. We will also oppose many of the sacred cows held by the political left and political right in those same places. We will challenge you to change. We ask you to challenge us.

Join us in our mission to save our cities.

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