Darryl Chen, 21 07 08


The Academy of Urbanism, the UK’s (affirmative) answer to the Congress of the New Urbanism, can only be the most visible hi-jacking of the field of urbanism by various groups of professionals purporting to represent urbanists, but actually limiting the field of opportunity.

View the Academy of Urbanism manifesto here

1. The objectification of urbanism as a tangible ideal (principle 1)

Urbanism is by nature non-linear and not governed by simplistic cause-and-effect equations. An urban place, including a successful one, can have risen as an unintended consequence of a designed intervention, and may well have arisen from a total lack of design or intent. The realm of speculation is more readily problematised by accepting ever-expanding complexity, conflict and emergent social forms. 

2. Expression of the human scale (principle 2)

Urbanism demands multi-scalar thought. Urbanism concerns itself with shifting and often undefined collectives of people. This necessitates consideration beyond the ‘individual’, the family and the community.

Human scale itself is an ambiguous concept – is it the space that is comfortable for the individual human, a small group of humans or a large mob of humans? Is it confined to the criteria of comfort, or is there room for the monumental, the uplifting or the sublime?

The ‘human scale’ directive represents a prejudice against a range of urbanistic endeavours from the pyramids, terraforming, various kinds of infrastructural prowess and not least the mega-structural schemes of the post-war era.

3. Interconnected walkable spaces, with active mixed-use frontages (principle 6)

The elevation of the hub with a walkable catchment represents a strain of urbanism that ignores so many other kinds of places most of which have developed as a result of dynamic economy, namely but not exhaustively: the commuter suburb, the home counties, the rural countryside, the periphery, the superblock, the regional mall…. There is no fail-safe recipe because there is no one ideal.

Why should pedestrians be prioritized? Or rather, why should an urban place be defined by the extent of its walkability when our current urban environments already are attempting to deal with the potentials of diverse work/lifestyles, super-efficient goods distribution, international personal mobility, and global telecommunication networks? How have we lost faith in human progress?

4. The needs of all users must be met (principle 8)

If this could be achieved, there would be no politics. The governance of populations and the distribution of power is fundamental to understanding society. How can we say it is possible in the realm of urbanism? Any attempt at inclusion has its corollary, whether this be in the demographically biased marketing of urban housing, sheltered housing that excludes by means of government policy, a community of a single dominant ethnicity, or a retail environment whose raison d’etre is consumerism. It would be better to move away from feelgood platitudes and admit to conflicts as a fundamental urban condition. 

5. Village/town/city (principle 14, by implication)

The urban is not exclusively characterized by divisions of village, town and city. This reflects a centre-periphery model and neglects the effects of speed, technology and inherent spatial diversity in our evolving patterns of human settlement.

And so….
Such a manifesto presents a deadening of the very idea of what a place could be. It elevates a romantic if not retrograde idea of place to a singular ideal and presents an 18-point design manual as a job description for all UK urbanists. It fails to live up to the authorship of something so prestigous sounding as an academy of urbanism. It belies complexities (and unknowabilities) of the urban process and excludes the pursuit of new methods, tools and products with which to enact upon the realm of the urban. Any urbanist worth their scale rule would do well to distance themselves from them.


Add your own

  • 1. chinaman  |  September 17th, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    You shoud be the journalist with your great talent

  • 2. bp  |  December 9th, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Is the nolli from Eric Jenkin’s “100 Urban Plans” or something like that? Looks very familiar. I did a lot of cad work for the book. Just found your site, looks good.

  • 3. Darryl Chen  |  December 11th, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Yes, it’s an excerpt from the pages on Barcelona. We thought we’d get into less trouble if we used an anonymous (sic) Nolli plan rather than a CNY product. Hope you find the site useful. Check back again or RSS us. Cheers.

  • 4. samuel bravo  |  December 21st, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    Hi. I have used your barcelona’s nolli to test my visual exposure evaluation software. have a look in http://terreno.wordpress.com

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