Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thursday Old Urbanism

Istanbul, near the bazaar.  Although few houses from the medieval Byzantine period are thought to have survived to the present day, the apartment buildings in the photo with their alternating courses of brick and stone appear to owe much to Byzantine architecture.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Highway Hypocrisy?

Author Tom Vanderbilt has penned a reflection on the curious fact that Washington, D.C., the point of origin for the 1956 Highway Act, which spurred the construction of an interstate highway network that was to dissect so many urban areas, has the fewest highway miles within its urban core of any major city on the East Coast. 

Interestingly, it appears that Congress itself may have been the most significant, though certainly not the only, opponent of major highway building in Washington.  Perhaps it should not come as a complete surprise that the governing body which approved the concept of high-speed automobile arteries built through dense urban settings opposed the implementation of that concept when it came to the city in which many of its members lived and worked.  Instead, Washington was to receive a new metro system designed to serve suburban commuters to the city's business district with far less destructive impact to the urban fabric.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursday Old Urbanism


Old Town, Porto, Portugal

Seen above, the old town of the Portuguese city of Porto (or Oporto), known by its ancient Celtic inhabitants as Cale, and called Portus Cale by the Romans.  In the medieval period this name became by turns Portucale and finally Portugale, at last lending its name to the country in which it lies, as well as to the fortified wine produced in the nearby Douro Valley.  (Thanks to sunmaya for use of the photo.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Renaissance of city centers continues

Discovering Urbanism has linked to the newly-released American Community Survey data. The data provide our first clear look at the changes that have taken place in urban areas since the 2000 census. An outstanding mapping tool created by the New York Times provides the extremely useful option of viewing changes in median income and median home value, by census tract, since 2000 (but be warned: it may prove highly addictive).

Turning the lens on major metropolitan areas reveals that the trend toward reinvestment in urban cores, which was first visible in the 1980 census, has continued if not accelerated. Just as stark is the pattern of slow decline in the surrounding second and third-ring suburbs, representing neighborhoods laid out the post-1945 era. With new buyers either lured to larger new homes on the urban periphery or to bungalows in revitalizing streetcar suburbs, these neighborhoods have attracted little attention. The "slummification" of the suburbs has not escaped the attention of urban commentators, but these maps are a fascinating way to visualize the process as it takes place.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Welcome to the Old Urbanist! I've started this blog to set down and share my thoughts on urbanism and urban planning. My perspective is not that of a professional urban planner, but of a former graduate student and now attorney whose awareness of the urban environment and its contribution to the quality of one's everyday life steadily sharpened over the past several years.

The title of course is a play on New Urbanism. It reflects a belief on my part that the best urbanism is often the spontaneous or minimally planned type, which operates under names such as free market or emergent urbanism. It is not a nostalgic position, but due to 20th century planning developments many of the best examples of it are to be found in older cities and neighborhoods. As the authors of The Smart Growth Manual put it in their preface:

"[W]e believe that new places should be designed in the manner of existing places that work.  Humans have been building settlements for a long time, and there is much to be known about their success and failure.  The most spectacular failures of the recent past were attempts to replace time-tested models with unprecedented inventions.  While we sometimes wish it were otherwise, planning is a technique more than an art.  As in medicine or the law, its evolution should be constant but must occur atop a foundation of knowledge collected through the centuries."
Exploring this angle on urbanism -- particularly the issue of whether a complete and successful city or neighborhood can really be "designed" at all -- will be a particular point of interest for this blog. A second point of interest is the great story of the revival of American cities that has taken place slowly but surely over the past 40 years. Any and all other topics relating to urbanism are fair game as well.

Thanks for visiting the blog and please feel free to comment!