Introductory Discussion

During the opening week we have given you a very quick sketch of the evolution of cities from pre-industrial times to today’s multi-centered urban regions. Of course you understand that charting the development of cities encapsulates almost everything that has happened in the last 200 years. We can’t possibly tell the whole story, but we hope we have a provided a useful framework. In this second week we will be introducing you to some of the ideas that have shaped the design of cities. We start with Modernist City Design, which is not so modern any more as it began in the 1920s, but is still a major force. Then we discuss Traditional City Design which builds on ideas about public space that go back before the industrial revolution. Green City Design, our next topic, is increasingly important today because of the need to preserve natural resources and adapt to climate change – but some of the ideas about Green City Design go back thousands of years, particularly in China, Korea and Japan. Systems City Design also has deep historical roots, but big advances in systems thinking about cities have been made possible by computers. We present these ideas as being of equal importance in their different ways, and remind you that the distinctions we make are to some extent artificial: city designers may need to draw on all four, depending on the situation. But there are people who take sides. Modernists attack traditional design as unsuitable today; traditionalists say that modernism makes cities unlivable. Green urbanists say that landscape should be primary, not buildings; and systems designers can assert that other kinds of design are inefficient and not based on objective standards. You are free to take sides, yourselves, if you wish, and most people will have preferences for one kind of design over another. But we think that treating city design ideas as exclusive ideologies is a mistake; improving cities is difficult enough already. It is important, however, to understand where city design ideas come from, to be able to recognize them in your own communities, and to know how to draw on these ideas when you make your own designs.

University of Pennsylvania
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