New Series: In the Urban World, Juxtapositions Matter

In an ongoing series, Urbanism Without Effort author Chuck Wolfe argues the importance of the overlaps, overlays and convergence points that define city life, and emphasizes the importance of reading and interpreting their everyday expression.

2 minute read

January 16, 2014, 10:00 AM PST

By Charles R. Wolfe @crwolfelaw

In the first five short articles in a ten-part series, Wolfe uses photographs of his native Seattle to illustrate points of context, focus and catalysts for today’s urban issues and debates, all summarized in the working term, "juxtapositions".  They are often in plain sight, he notes, in familiar patterns of overlap and/or interdisciplinary layers:

Look at a juxtaposition—and see confronting dilemmas, flashpoints and ripples in time—all of which are recognizable in the faces, spaces and places of everyday life.

Rather than a static view, he stresses, for example, the interactivity of adjacent new and old construction, contrasting forms of light and blended land, water and natural environments. He shows visible reflections of regulatory process in human behavior.  He repeats the path-crossing aspects of street corners and sit-able places.

He summarizes the importance of such urban juxtapositions in the introductory article:

These overlays align us towards discussion of sudden and gradual change, generational differences, public and private preferences, merger of cultures and business types, and mixing of land uses, transportation modes, and housing approaches. They are more than transitions, but focal points for who decides the urban agenda and who gets versus who pays. Accordingly, they drive urban politics and professional services—and we should know how to recognize and work with them...

Wolfe's pragmatic tone combines with the importance of observing human behavior in the spirit of William H. Whyte, Jan Gehl and others.  In the fifth article he illustrates how a corner street performer inherently knows the stages and windows and observation points of urban life—the entry points to everything from transportation modes to safety at night—and that knowledge is captured in accompanying photographs.

Why observe in the ways Wolfe suggests?

In such imagery we can predict policy debates, neighbor opposition, conflicts of parent and child in a way that can inspire dialogue, a search for consensus, or outright conflict and confusion.

For all articles in the series, click here.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in myurbanist

View down New York City alleyway at nighttime

Red Cities, Blue Cities, and Crime

Homicides rose across the nation in 2020 and 2021. But did they rise equally in all cities, or was the situation worse in some than in others?

March 12, 2023 - Michael Lewyn

babyt Boomer Homeowners

The Shifting Boomer Bulge: More Bad News for America’s Housing Crisis?

In the first of a two-part series, PlaceMakers’ Ben Brown interviews housing guru Arthur C. Nelson on the sweeping demographic changes complicating the housing market.

March 12, 2023 - PlaceShakers and NewsMakers

Yellow on black "Expect Delays" traffic sign

A Serious Critique of Congestion Costs and Induced Vehicle Travel Impacts

Some highway advocates continue to claim that roadway expansions are justified to reduce traffic congestion. That's not what the research shows. It's time to stop obsessing over congestion and instead strive for efficient accessibility.

March 14, 2023 - Todd Litman

A toll payment facility in Florida.

Tolling All Lanes

Bay Area transportation planners are studying a radical idea to reduce traffic congestion and fund driving alternatives: tolling all lanes on a freeway. Even more radical, the plan considers tolling parallel roads.

4 hours ago - San Francisco Chronicle

Close-up of person holding up smartphone next to contactless fare reading device on bus

Federal SMART Grants Awarded for Transportation Safety, Equity Projects

The grant program focuses on the use of technology to improve safety, accessibility, and efficiency in transportation.

5 hours ago - U.S. Department Of Transportation

Seattle Transit

Fare Enforcement Upheld by Washington Supreme Court

But using armed police to enforce fare payment is less than ideal in the eyes of the top court in the state of Washington.

6 hours ago - Crosscut

Planner II

City of Greenville

Planner I

City of Greenville

Rural Projects Coordinator (RARE AmeriCorps Member)

Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) AmeriCorps Program

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.