How Should We Urbanize?

December 16, 2014

Yesterday we talked about the numerous benefits of developing dense, walkable urbanism. In addition to the walkability of urban design, another topic that is widely debated is the very character of urban design.

Some feel that successful urbanism is actually created with experimentation and adjustment, and that having a single developer designing a neighborhood is “mock urbanism” that is both unattractive and inappropriate. Instead, allowing urban areas to develop organically would result in the rehabilitation and regeneration that is necessary for successful urbanism. Even if a developer attempts to design a space that is pedestrian friendly, it’s not actually possible to do so without allowing a neighborhood to develop organically according to its real-life needs.

Not only do advocates debate about the organic vs. inorganic nature of urban design and which is better, they also debate about whether or not the “cutesification” of urban design is suitable. While “fun” architects like Bjarke Ingels have become widely lauded, it seems like the issue of fun design is actually highly divisive. Some feel that playful and whimsical solutions to urban issues, such as garbage cans with sound effects and dancing traffic lights, fail to address urban problems in a way that is meaningful and effective. Not only that, it infantilizes the people who actually experience the design–it’s residents.

On the other hand, some urbanists actually appreciate cuteness and whimsy in urban design. After all, the cost of painting a crosswalk in a funky color is both cheap and makes walking a far more enjoyable experience. In addition, creating a fun urban experience may encourage tourism that brings in money and stimulates economic growth. And some architects seem to agree–affordable housing design doesn’t have to be drab and practical, it can be exciting and innovative.

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