Washburn

New Author Charles R. Wolfe on the Challenges and Potential of Urbanism

Charles R. Wolfe's new E-ssential tackles the idea that to create vibrant, sustainable urban areas for the long term, we must first understand “what happens naturally when people congregate in cities—-innate, unprompted interactions of urban dwellers with each other and their surrounding urban and physical environment.” In this piece in the Atlantic Cities, he expands on that premise: Urban stakeholders like to discuss and debate how cities should change to meet new challenges. But when we talk about urbanism, I think we often forget the underlying dynamics that are as old as cities themselves. As a result, we favor fads over the indigenous underpinnings of urban settlement and personal observation of urban change. We focus too literally on plans, model codes, transportation modes, building appearance, economic and population specifics, and summary indicators of how land is currently used. While we might champion the programmed successes of certain iconic examples, we risk ignoring the back story of urban forms and functions, and failing to truly understand the traditional relationships between people and place. I believe it is critical to first isolate spontaneous and latent examples of successful urban land use, before applying any prescription of typologies, desired ends, or governmental initiative. "Urbanism without effort" is the the basis for a clean, multidisciplinary slate for reinvigorating the way we think about urban development today. This premise needs a definition and reference point, for all that follows here and in future inquiry. "Urbanism without effort" is what happens naturally when people congregate in cities—based on the innate interactions of urban dwellers that occur with one other and the surrounding urban and physical environment. Such innate interactions are often the product of cultural tradition and organic urban development, independent of government intervention, policy, or plan. More at the Atlantic Cities