Community Character: city of villages

Paraphrasing Albert Einstein, urban-planner Howard Blackson says that “We continue to use the same suburban planning tools over and over again expecting different urban results.”

His research team looked at the patterns of modern North American city planning to discover sixteen “community character” types. The 16 ‘typologies’ helped his group answer the question of “How did this place end up like this?” and “What’s missing?” (where do we go from here to make this place better?).

But Blackson immediately proceeds to throw his methodology out the window. We don’t need a theoretical framework, he says, when the question of what we’re doing wrong is right in front of us:

“[O]verly-wide streets, large formal thoroughfares that go on and on in perspective, so that you don’t even see the architecture. The architecture then becomes monotonous… it says ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ because you’re going 49 miles an hour… or it says ‘Don’t look at me! I’m trying to hide from you’, because this juxtaposition is very boring — it’s one of this, one of that.”

Cities that were instead full of organic, village-like developments were seen as more successful, more livable, than cities where the “architecture is unseen and unimportant.” The last 5 minutes of Blackson’s talk has all the answers, which is, in a nutshell:

“Build for economic value by going through cultural and social value.”

I touched on the idea of how a city speaks to us (its body language) in this CBC interview.