Growing cities: Are there patterns at all?

It’s a question urbanists obsess about all the time. Is there a pattern in how cities grow? If we can find one, we would be in a much better position to plan, manage and grow our urban areas, we argue. But cities are shifty, complex creatures. My own take has always been that we can shape cities in small ways, but mostly our role as city planners, managers or designers is to manage change. I tend to be very skeptical of large, sweeping gestures and strongly feel that community-led neighbourhood level changes, incremental design is the right way to view cities.

This study by Prof Beveridge at Queens College, therefore, was very interesting to me. It compares three schools of urbanist theory in the US and finds that while the conventional patterns remained true in the first half of the 20th century and even up until the post-war era, recent decades see no real patterns coming forth. Cities are behaving in more complex, random ways.

A study of cities elsewhere, in India specifically, would be needed to understand the global significance of these findings, but to me it only confirms my belief that we urban practitioners need to drastically change the way we are looking at cities. What do you think?

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About ramblinginthecity

I am an architect and urban planner, a writer and an aspiring artist. I love expressing myself and feel strongly that cities should have spaces for everyone--rich, poor, young, old, healthy and sick, happy or depressed--we all need to work towards making our cities liveable and lovable communities.

Posted on August 11, 2013, in Urban Planning & Policy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Interesting perspective. As a lay man, I feel we need to make a study how Indian cities are well-equipped to deal with the growing trend of swift urbanization and whether our infrastructure are strong enough.
    Cheerz

  2. Mukta, I believe, the western theories of city planning just do not apply in India. In India every thing is determined by the politicians, the technical and trained people like the city-planners, architects and so on have very little say. We are very strong in establishing systems and organisations or establishments but those are never allowed to function without political interference. The Town & Country Planning organisation headed, curiously, by an IAS officer, has hardly any say in the planning process. It plays along with the political masters who are driven by the builders and construction lobby.

    I entire agree with Sunita Narain when she says that the builders have a “vice-like grip” over city planning. In our country every thing gets distorted because of political influence and hence, much though the city planners plan to give a direction for growth of city their plans seldom get executed. At least that is what i have seen in MP

    • I agree as well. For those of us poor creatures who are delusional enough to think their degrees and experiences will ever be of use in India, the research is interesting, that’s all. However, my proposal is that a reversal of the trend from top down master planning to a situation is which we build up the city plan from local area or neighborhood plans where there is more community participation, we could be looking at an alternative scenario. Of course, the politics will play out here too, but at a scale where the citizen in less overwhelmed and in a better position to engage, influence and even take on the builder maybe? idealistic, yes. impossible, no!

  3. City patterns have been based on the intersection of geography and economy (rivers, trade routes, defensable natural features, access to resources). That changed with industrial revolution and with the administrative structure of nation states. in today’s world, cities are being shaped by the presences or absences of strong city governance. Where you have strong mayors, the city patterns take more formative shapes based upon their thinking (penalosa, bloomberg). Where it is absent or weak you get Dubai, Delhi, Mumbai, DC etc) So in today’s world the shaping for the cities is governance. Strong governance you see a distinct pattern. Poor governance, you see more chaotic patterns.

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