Emergent Urbanism

Rediscovering Urban Complexity

Lake country

In the outskirts of Miami, ill-thought subdivision development codes require developers to build on-site water reservoirs. The result is a patchwork of unconnected pools.


When the Dutch ran into similar problems they built canals and then built their cities around them. Shirking their responsibilities, the planners in Florida only build the standard road grid as the integrator, and transfer all other burdens upon land subdividers, who build at a scale unsuited to the required structure.

Also noticeable is the housing density of Miami increasing outwards, where the newest subdivisions are much denser than the older ones, inverting the natural and historic fabric of cities, and wiping away all established stereotypes about suburban sprawl.


The bugs (mosquitos, flies, whatever else is particular to south Florida) must be atrocious...

It is a pity that none of those water features are really on a big enough scale to be of real (natural, recreational) interest to anyone.

In suburban Calgary (where water isn't nearly as plentiful) there are plenty of artificial lakes as well, but because of the ranching background the land was sold off in sufficiently large chunks that coherent projects with fairly big lakes and attached neighbourhoods could be built. Definitely still sprawling, but somewhat better (I suppose) than the outskirts of Miami.

Regarding the increasing density on the periphery trend, I think that a cursory Google Earth examination of most North American cities would reveal that this is true, as developers have been trying to recoup rising costs by selling an ever-increasing number of units and planners have been pushing for more sustainable/efficient densities. Without thought towards design or 'integrators' (other than arterial roads), it doesn't seem to add up to much though, does it...

You can hardly even call them lakes at all. Lakes are connected by rivers into a larger ecosystem. These are really just pools.

Inelegant, suboptimal, but it's still emergence. It's on a different scale, the result of lots of individual decisions based on simple rules. Canals require central planning. Bangkok's canals, under central control, got filled in and converted to roads.

A positive density gradient? Lots of cities with new urban boundaries and intensification policies are working toward that. It seems like a good thing; it reduces the growth of infrastructure cost and preserves the older central part of cities as well as rural areas around. Growth at transit-supporting densities - I like the idea.

Saying that it's emergence does not say much. Every city has its emergent dimension by necessity. If the system in place does not understand what its emergent consequences are going to be, the outcome can be a dismal failure.

There are lessons to be learned from such case studies.

There is no reason to believe that such a place will work with mass transit, as there does not appear to be any destination, within or without, for this mass transit, other than houses.

I did some work down in those parts after Hurricane Wilma. It is surprising to find such density on the outer 'burbs. But, upon examination, development west of Miami has pretty much reached the everglades, making available land scarce. It's nature's urban growth boundary.

Nonetheless, while dense, condo developments end up being completely unconnected to each other, introducing the worst of all worlds: over-paved, yet unwalkable; open space that's unusable and uncrossable; and high density with no urban fabric.

Further comment

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