Urbanism is the study of how dwellers in towns and cities interact with their environment. Urbanism focuses on the geography, economy, politics and social characteristics of the urban environment, as well as the effects on, and caused by, the built environment.


Theory of Urbanism

Urbanism Theory Writers of the late 20th C.

modern urbanism writings

Through a pragmatic perspective, focused on action, this page will explain urbanism as action itself, how it changes over time, how it creates consequences, and how it is political: involving and affecting many people and/or democratic. “The pragmatic approach to urbanism promotes action above reflection.” Namkyu Chun, 2012, Pragmatism.

Currently many , architects, planners, and sociologists (like Louis Wirth) investigate the way people live in densely populated urban areas from many perspectives including a sociological perspective. In an essay[1] discussing Wirth’s Urbanism as a Way of Life, Michele Girelli states; '[Wirth] argues for the necessity to consider the city 'as a social entity'. 'Urban' is defined as the place, where a specific mode of living and behave take place in contraposition to a rural mode of living. Multiple points of view on the city, by the different disciplines have been proposed but a sociological approach [opposed to an urban planning approach, for example] might call the attention to different types of relations between them. To arrive to an adequate conception of 'urbanism as a mode of life' Wirth says it is necessary to stop 'identify[ing] urbanism with the physical entity of the city' , go 'beyond an arbitrary boundary line' and consider how 'technological developments in transportation and communication have enormously extended the urban mode of living beyond the confines of the city itself.' [2]

Witold Rybczynski, an architect, professor, author and critic supports Wirth’s ideas of the urban way of life as freed from the boundaries of city limits. Urban habits and mindsets, for example, leak out from cities, urban centers, and urbanized areas into more suburban and rural areas due in part to the ease of cultural diffusion in the twenty first century. [3]

In contemporary urbanism, also known as urban design in many parts of the world, there are as many different ways of framing the practice as there are cities in the world. According to American architect and planner Jonathan Barnett the approach of defining all the different ‘urbanisms’ in the world is an endless one. In his essay ‘A Short Guide to 60 of the Newest Urbanisms’[4] he acknowledges a list of sixty, but sees it as not particularly useful, because it is just about dividing up a field that strives for a comprehensive approach. In this page, such a division is not being made, though, in order to give a clear view, one has to look with a certain perspective.


Mainstream vs. Alternative Urbanism

In the book "Cities and Design," Paul Knox refers to one of many trends in contemporary urbanism as the ‘aestheticization of everyday life’. [5]Another author, Alex Krieger, studies urbanism theory in order to provide insight into how urban practitioners work. He identifies ten spheres in which urbanism takes place in practice. The ten are: the bridge connecting planning and architecture, a form-based category of public policy, the architecture of the city, urban design as restorative urbanism, urban design as an art of place- making, urban design as smart growth, the infrastructure of the city, urban design as landscape urbanism, urban design as visionary urbanism, and urban design as community advocacy or doing no harm. Krieger concludes by stating that urban design is less a technical discipline than a mind-set based on a commitment to cities. [6]

In Three Urbanisms and the Public Realm by Douglas Kelbaugh of the University of Michigan, writes about three urbanisms on the cutting edge of theoretical and professional activity in Western cities. These three paradigms include New Urbanism, Everyday Urbanism, and Post- Urbanism. He examines their overlaps and oppositions, methodologies and modalities, strengths and weaknesses, in the hope of sketching the outline of a more integrated position.[7]

Examples of alternative urbanism have recently been collected in two New York exhibitions: The Museum of Modern Art’s Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement and the Cooper Hewitt-produced Design with the Other 90%: CITIES at the United Nations which 'highlighted an array of projects, practices, designers, and organizations that are seemingly appearing and operating outside the usual mainstream avenues of delivery.' states the University College London’s Development Planning Blog. The exhibits displayed a variety of design interventions in cities, urban planning, infrastructure and many aspects of life in rapidly growing urban areas all over the world. The book or catalogue of the exhibition at the UN cited many examples of participatory design in urban areas, designing inclusive cities, specific resource systems and transportation initiatives. For example, Cynthia E. Smith, curator of Socially Responsible Design, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, conducted an interview with Gabriela Sorda, Co-coordinator, Secretariat of Community Action, Faculty of Architecture, Design, and Urbanism at the University of Buenos Aries. They discussed how to create an Urbanism Manual that addressed the real issues with urban planning and the growth of cities, particularly informal settlements. This was needed because they found there was no literature written about a strategic urban plan for informal settlements, as opposed to the formal training on constructing in a planned context.


^ Michele Girelli, “Urbanism as a way of life” (paper written for course Designing Urban Transformation, New York, New York, January 31, 2012).

^ Wirth, Louis. 1938. Urbanism as a Way of Life. The American Journal of Sociology, volume 44, number 1: pages 1-24. July.

^ [1]

^ Jonathan Barnett, “A Short Guide to 60 of the Newest Urbanisms,” Planning volume 77 (2011-4) 19-21

^ Knox, Paul, 2010, Cities and Design, page 10.

^ Krieger, Alex, 2009, Urban Design, page 113.

^ Kelbaugh, Douglas, 2009, Three Urbanisms and the Public Realm

Authorbridget sheerin