As an aspiring Urbanist, I have read, seen and experienced many views on and philosophies and theories regarding cities, their nature, and their planning and design. Over the history of urbanism as a conscious practice of human knowledge and effort, there have been many competing prescriptive approaches to urban planning, design and social theory that reflect the priorities and capabilities of humanity within their historical and geographic contexts.
As your Urban Geographer, I have found it constructive to synthesize the principles that I value, and believe any Urbanist — whether they are a planner, designer, architect, politician, academic, bureaucrat, or just plain interested — should consider in their contemplation of the city.
// the urban geographer Manifesto //
Urban design should first and foremost denote the spatial, physical, semi-permanent or temporary effects, intentional or inadvertent, of people’s activities within their city. Despite globalization infinite local cultures and knowledges persist. Urban design is functioning best where the local logic is expressed by citizens through their urban form.
It is impossible to plan a city. Through design, one can facilitate the positive interaction of strangers in a space that is surrounded by the city, hoping that the unpredictable messiness of human culture will accept it into its surrounding greater urban-flows. Urban design should as much-as-possible be up to the citizens that use the space most; often this is a complicated group to determine, therefore in the cases that urban design be top-down, social costs must be zero. If otherwise, the urban design or plan should be considered unsuccessful and defunct.
Urban Design as a profession with a body of knowledge, terminology, and institutional mechanisms of legitimization is largely made up. Therefore, our goal as Urbanists should not be to not impose designed city spaces onto others, but rather, understand cities so that when something inevitably does have to be built, renovated, or changed or demolished it can be done thoughtfully, minimizing harm to people and their environment.
It follows that our role as urbanists should, again, not be to impose designed city-spaces onto others, but be the story-tellers of the city, sharing with others urban-literacy and the appreciation and respect for city spaces and their effect on human culture.
Cities are natural things: we must embrace urban-natures, whether that means a protected forest at the edge of a city, a heavily landscaped urban park, an enclave of tall buildings or the polluted or clean rivers, lakes and ports that surround cities. Establishing that cities are natural pushes environmentalism away from exclusively conservation, toward the interrogation of who benefits from urban nature and who bears the brunt.
The car as a the standard unit of planning should be left in urban planning’s wayward past. Dependency on oil and cities that support infrastructure that is good for cars and hostile to pedestrians creates urban spaces that are exclusively for the wealthy, perpetuating that wealth while maintaing the social (not just monetary) marginalization of those who do not have access to automobiles.