Emergent Urbanism

Rediscovering Urban Complexity


ORDOS? no wonder no one's settling there

Funny. Not that we didn't see that coming. It will be interesting when China has to start devaluing its money or the rest of the world has to start devaluing its money in order to compete.

sorry bad netiquette but felt angry in the moment mwah lets kiss and make up after all we have only ten years left!

I think your argument about control is irrelevant the point about the film is its meant to be a vaguely populist called to action and its meant to inspire optimism about our situation and 'what remains'. Who cares if the same though process is behind this move to act the point is that this action caused this situation and by the same token we can reverse it. If you want to watch a similar film without the moraliswing then go watch Koyanisqaatsi and shut the hell up you doosh bag.

So I don't speak French but the images tell the story quite well. I particularlly liked the comparisions with the triangle fractal. I think that was a good way to illustrate levels of complexity and variations in levels of complexity within the same project.

Also the examples you gave of old villages vs. new towns was also nice to see. The old villages generally grew in response to distance to churches and markets and the buildings you showed were developed in relationship to structure and form. What I think you are trying to convey in your writings is that some sort of unity between these thoughts and other urban thoughts is missing. And that this unity will create a much greater and more complex urban fractal that could be studied and improved upon etc. What I am getting at is that I am very excited to see a fully developed example of this greater urban fractal somewhere outside of my mind or your writings.

It seems that cities already have this inherent fractalness about them but the information is stretched so far across time and across so many different forces that the formula behind it is rather unreadable.

Hi Mathieu

PlastiCity FantastiCity is the DESIGN COMPETITION of 2010, we are searching for peculiar and playful ideas for the future city.

My name is Ben Kazacos. I am studying LA at RMIT Melbourne, Australia and this year I am part of the editing team for our annual journal, KERB18.

This year we are announcing KERB’s first ever international design competition PlastiCity FantastiCity, We would be very grateful if you could promote the competition on Emergent Urbanism

Our website will be up on the 23rd of October

We look forward to hearing from you. I can email you a copy of our comp brief along with images.

Kind Regards

Ben Kazacos (on behalf of the KERB18 editorial team)

Strictly speaking, emergent urbanism is a development process that maximally empowers individuals to generate the growth of a town. Form-based codes can be a part of such a process, but they can also be part of sprawl.

If we take a look at the Smart Code, it consists of a definition in the smallest details of what kind of development can or cannot be made. In this manner it takes the modern planning system as given. That's not going to be an answer to sprawl. In fact it doesn't even begin to ask the right question.

When I started out on this topic, what I found was that a neighborhood I was studying, La Défense in Paris, had a completely ridiculous form, but despite that was one of the most dynamic in the country. At the same time other neighborhoods with this form were being demolished because no one thought they could be salvaged. It turned out that the process made the difference, and allowed La Défense to gradually overcome its ridiculous form and become fractally complex, yet this process was only possible because the neighborhood was exceptionally outside the normal legal system. This exception was imposed in the early development, when its rigid form-based master plan failed.

My conclusion is that there isn't anything a priori right or wrong about form based codes, but I don't think they provide a benefit that justifies the trouble we go through about them.

Can you comment on form-based code and whether or not this is a step towards emergent urbanism?

The point of changing the planning system is not to shackle developers from doing things we don't like, but making it valuable for them to do things in a more natural pattern. So "the city" as a corporation doesn't really even have to get involved. It just has to loosen the planning system to allow the developers to benefit from adopting traditional urbanism. (Sustainable development has to be profitable to be sustainable.) One of the reasons why big development is prevalent is the fixed costs involved in getting planning approval, so that if you build two projects concurrently instead of one big project, it costs twice as much. But if those costs are eliminated, then suddenly every little patch of land becomes precious, and becomes even more precious if the development gradually improves on its architectural quality over time. The incentive is for the developer to keep some plots in reserve.

The obvious (short-term) solution is to reduce the size of the supergrid to manageable, blocklike levels. In most rapidly-growing "sunbelt" cities the planning power is already in place, only the maps need to be changed.

Long-term, allowing for the existence of a "pastoral" grid requires that we dissociate the act of land *subdivision* from the act of land *improvement*. In all the examples you cite, "streets" were simply rights-of-way - water, sewerage, and street improvements came later in the form of LIDs (Local Improvement Districts).

Switching from our current model of integrated subdivision-improvement back to an older system of unimproved subdivision followed by LIDs would allow for more organic growth, at the cost of some efficiency. Tying the two together was one of the great triumphs of early- to mid-century urban planning (which praised efficiency above nearly all else), and untangling them will be difficult.

Another excellent article. I'm currently thinking about how to apply traditional urbanist principles to the Boston waterfront but I worry about how ownership issues could undermine them. What you've got is a handful of large landowners sitting on a lot of parking lots and otherwise underutilized land. Now that office development is spilling over from downtown and convention center areas, they're all set to develop a set of ritzy megablocks, with condos, chi chi retail, office space, etc. The result would be yet another exclusive, inward-oriented area of the city (the funny thing is that the city's vision along the channel separating the downtown from the seaport is of a "historic European waterfront"). Now suppose the city actually adopted traditional urbanism, acquired the waterfront parcels, and auctioned them off to numerous individuals who could build under the codes you describe. What is to prevent the original land owners from repurchasing the parcels, assembling them, and proceeding with their original plans? It almost seems like the huge land values backed by large concentrations of capital would circumscribe any traditional urbanism experiment.

Hi Mathieu,
I`ve been thinking about organic cities and their structure. I have a vague idea in my mind about a way to figure out their formulation in order to be able to predict their growth and their other behaviors.
your posts gave me a a greater perspective on the possible methods i can use. I studied Chaos theory during my bachelor studies, but i never thought non-linear sciences could be applied to urbanism in this scale.
hope you keep up with your work and maybe someday we can meet in person to discuss more.

In response to the above comment, I would say that the author did cover the relation of buildings to their environment with:

"If instead of drawing the full plans, the proposals simply supplied the component patterns and a parameter space for them, then there could be an infinite variety of different instances of these patterns populating the new space, all fitting a particular need and applying a specific method of returning to equilibrium. If we wanted to release control even more, we could define some buildings from the neighborhood as models and whatever patterns they featured as automatically approved."

Thus no buyer could buy up a peice of property and throw a large parking lot in there, or a structure that does not relate to the neighbourhood: it would have to follow the approved patterns that have been pre-adopted and approved.

Very informative conversation, thanks.

Unfortunately I think you are missing a crucial piece of information explaining how one would ensure that buildings actually begin to relate to each other when they are built not at the same time and by different people.

There are many examples of this not being the case, ORDOS being a fine example. I am sure that there are also examples of individual projects being constructed in an existing urban fabric that do not improve the area at all.

I think we need to throe all the books, from all over the world, into deep sea. Bulldoze every institution that claims to give education. Overall, after 20 years of education, what are we getting from them....
who is more dangerous today... the person who has become a scientist/engineer/business manager aftergetting education... or the person who is still uneducated by chance....
Who is causing more pollution? Destroying forests? Making killer weapons?... is it educated or uneducated.....
Then? If our education institutes keep producing such devils, could the earth be saved....
The only way out is..either change the entire education system throughout the world.... or forget it...

You should come visit Detroit, community is all that remains.

I completely agree with all of this but if you "do away with zoning codes" wouldn't that mean people would simply buy up huge amounts of land and develop them anyway. Undoubtedly they would completely destroy the fabric of the city, but not without making money first.

It seems that the one provision would have to be lot size.

Like your blog .Keep up with the good posts !

A newly revised 2009 edition book of a village that represents the wonderful qualities of emergent urbanism is available here:

I'm writing a post as a follow-up to this. A friend sent me a video of a busy intersection in Cambodia with no signals. Amazing!

David Engwicht http://www.lesstraffic.com/EmpoyUs/DEstory.htm has also done a lot of work on traffic calming (when he found out about Hans Mondermans' work he visited Hans to see firsthand his shared spaces).

David has found that where traditional traffic calming (i.e. chicanes, speed bumps) generally reduces traffic speeds by 10%, the holding of a street party or similar will generally reduce speeds by up to 50% weeks after the party was held.

The reason for this is that drivers will slow down if there is any uncertainty or interest in the streets they are driving in - that is why he advocates the removal of all traffic signs (expect the unexpected).

BTW there is a train driver simulation game that can be found in the arcades of Japan - i think i would enjoy playing that over being a traffic light controller!

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.

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.

Further comment

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