What History Can Teach Us About Today's Urban Challenges

Historian Daniel London argues that by "excavating a 'usable past'" urbanists can find relevant, cutting edge ideas for solving the seemingly unprecedented challenges of global urbanization.

For example, London points to the rapid urbanization of the industrial North Atlantic during the 19th century, and the associated ills of inequity and despair experienced in the tenements of New York's Lower East Side and the rookeries of London's East End as analogous to the challenges facing informal settlements in the contemporary developing world.

London looks to examples from the urban reform movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the "ethos of experimentation, collaboration, and civic engagement with which reformers and activists tackled these challenges...Their vision of community empowerment stressed democratic deliberation and bottom-up cooperation, a language paralleled today by those who would upgrade slums in a non-destructive manner."

"Well before the term 'government 2.0' came into parlance reformers on both sides of the Atlantic were trying to foster active citizenship through public art and innovative local government initiatives...Tactical urbanists of today can learn from the playground movement of the early 1900s, which appropriated under-utilised spaces and lots to serve neighbourhood needs. Furthermore, all these ideas and practices were shared via national and international networks of urban reformers. Sound familiar?"

For London, the responses by reformers of another era to the challenges of their times deserve to be assessed in the same way one might question the practices transmitted to us across space. "The means and ends of turn-of-the-century urban reformers parallel our own in numerous ways, offering practices and ideas to learn from and compare with our own efforts."

 

Full Story: Past is more than prologue: how today's urban reformers should learn from history

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