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Living Patterns | DesignNotes by Michael Surtees

Living Patterns

Image from Urban fabric/form comparison: Spacing Toronto

I have no experience in theory like Urban morphology and as the post from Spacing Toronto and newspaper Toronto Star suggest, a Canadian city called Mississauga is “trying to create a more vibrant and pedestrian-friendly downtown”. The above image compares a really small slice of major cities around the world. I like the patterns and they no doubt speak to the heart of the city, but they’re also very misleading too. It’s a mistake to read too much into planning like this. My only living experience within the context of the above cities is New York. Most of Manhattan is fairly navigable once you get the hang of the streets and avenues. Sure it was planned to some degree but it doesn’t speak to the people that actually live there. There’s a certain “drive” for lack of a better cliché that really makes people who they are in New York. I don’t have a ton of friends, but the people that I like to call them that make the city much more interesting once the awe of the buildings slowly fades away. Urban planning can’t make those relationships. I suppose that speaks to things being over designed in general too. Urban density vs urban sprawl also suggest different living patterns too. Both have their issues but I don’t think one can replicate the other with much success.

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  • Niki Brown

    Rome is one of those cites that is almost impossible to navigate – the roads do not follow any logical sequence, but the joy of Rome is getting lost and discovering that small little gelato bar/cafe/pizza place. :)

    I also agree with you that the people make the city. They add just as much character as the streets and historical monuments do.

  • Giorgia

    Niki – the fact that Rome’s plan is such a messy, intricate web of both tiny and large streets maybe depends on the city being the result of the layering of some 2700+ years of history, don’t you think? 😉
    Urban planning as we know it is a rather young discipline in comparison to some cities’ age, if you consider it’s been labelled as such (as a discipline, I mean) only in mid-XIX century, ie when Ildefonso Cerdá wrote a book, Teoría General de la Urbanización, as a support for his own plan of the extension of Barcelona.

  • Ibraheem Youssef

    Interesting points. I’m an avid believer though that the landscape we live in to a certain extent affects the way we think and process information.

  • michael

    Ibraheem – it would be hard to argue against that, but there’s one element that keeps me from entirely agreeing with that. If you were to replicate the exact same landscape/environment from ideal location A. and transplant it in location B. it’s unlikely that you will get the same desired results. The reason being that people have to be willing to engage in the first place.

  • zondron

    bucharest’s (capital of romania) pattern it’s messier than rome’s

  • chrisfizik

    I was pleasantly surprised to see Toronto clumped in with some of these great global cities. And then astounded that Mississauga was central to the couple of linked stories. Wow. Mississauga is terrible. The sprawl and combination of soulless industry and suburban craziness leaves much to be desired. Even if Square One is it’s ‘heart’. Toronto’s saving grace, like many of the truly ancient global cities mentioned, is that it’s diversity will undoubtedly aid in the filling in of all the gaps and regions until its downtown design balances with the randomness of its outer edges.

  • Rahab Said

    I have no experience in theories as well. As far as I recall theory is a guessing and mostly a mistaken one, but a good gathering of information though.
    Transplanting maybe is the problem then. The city speaks to the people the day they live in it and the people become a product of its entity.
    The main idea, I think, is not a landscape alone that would contribute, it’s Geology, weather, etc and then the people at the very end are only a product of the land.
    I almost can’t explain the difference I observed between living in the city of Chicago versus the city of San Francisco. The different almost believed to be as a result of an extreme weather the city of Chicago has in all seasons. This would almost implement and orchestrate most the extreme attitude, mentality of business and the edgy urban design there. You would then find the city of San Francisco falling on the other side of that spectrum and the weather is partially a factor as well.
    What I meant to say to lets not value an urban design from a behaviorist’s point of view that is totally lacking the actual value of an urban design. Then a value of a design become only from a perspective of navigation accessibility and pediestrian-frienly point of view.

  • kelly

    Having lived in San Francisco, Copenhagen, and Los Angeles

    I would say their layouts and planning greatly affect the way I inhabit them. I should also say I love all three cities, just differently.

    I found in Los Angeles I had to try much harder to stay in touch w/friends not so much b/c of physical distance for I would argue it would be similar to the other more urban two… But that there seemed to be a mental distance that would force you to make plans to see these individuals.

    I guess there was less opportunity for the spontaneous meet-up and never really any opportunity for running into someone on the street.

    Although in Los Angeles you are privy to a sort of anonymity not possible in the other smaller two.

    All are beautiful images by the way.

  • Greg J. Smith

    Viva the Nolli Map!

  • Fred

    Hi guys, gr8 job here!!
    I am myself an architect and i’ve always been interested by the looks of a plan. These city plans arereally cool, in fact, the same sort of comparism staged at the entrance of the “Biennale d’archittetura” in Venice, Italy , it was the first element of a study of density.
    By the way, I see you got Barcelona, but try and zoom out because the new part of the town called the ensanche, designed by Cerdà in 1859, is hyper-regular, made of little octogones, so the two together looks incredible!!! Another one to check out is Amsterdam, (Holland) because of its urban structure made of circular canals that form rings round the city…
    Have fun!

  • Simon

    I think there’s definitely a negative stigma associated with over-planned cities/towns in the UK, with Milton Keynes being the main one i can think of. People criticise it for being boring as it is based on the grid system like New York, but maybe it’s boringness is more in line with the sort of people it attracts?

    I’d also like to see what sort of positive effect the eixample of Barcelona have had on the people living there. These blocks which were planned to have big hidden communal parks/gardens for the residents on the block are a super idea imho.

  • Sam Clifford

    I went to see the former Mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Peñalosa, talk last night. He said that what make a city great is that it draws people outside in to the community. New York has heaps of streetfront shopping, Paris has boulevards, Copenhagen has bikeways next to public green space, etc.

    It takes more than streets and the services that are on those streets. If you replaced New York’s shopfronts with indoor shopping malls, you would remove the desire to be out in the street and kill off the culture.

    If Mississauga want to create a vibrant downtown they’ll need windowed shopfronts, access via public transport, wide footpaths, pedestrianisation of the streets (no cars!) and public space which makes one want to hang around outside. Downtown areas aren’t invigorated by accommodating car access and putting up giant shopping centres. They should probably just send an invitation to Jan Gehl 😉

  • Mar

    You can say the same about Mississauga. It looks well…”spaciously gridded” though it does not speak to the people that actually live there.