The Look and Feel of 'Inherently Urban'

Greek orators, current solution-based efforts, and 25 photographs remind us of the central role of human opportunity in the urban environment.

2 minute read

October 1, 2014, 7:00 AM PDT

By Charles R. Wolfe @crwolfelaw


"These times seem so inevitably urban", writes Chuck Wolfe, referencing a Seattle development boom, contemporary efforts at scalable solutions (such as CityLab 2014, the Placemaking Leadership Council, and the Future of Places) and a continuing focus on human opportunities in the city.  

But, he notes:

[I]t's worth remembering that inquiry about the how to fulfill human opportunities is longstanding. There is undeniable precedent in storied [Greek] oratory, arguably the internet of ancient times.

Not houses finely roofed or the stones of walls well builded, nay nor canals and dockyards make the city, but men [sic] able to use their opportunity [emphasis added].

Wolfe uses this citation and later literature, as well as observations of 20th century planners (including his father, a planning professor), as a reminder of the need to marshal interdisciplinary forces to make an accessible urban form through attention to long commutes and related life choices, issues of density v. intensity, as well as urban character across both urban and suburban patterns. 

He intersperses 25 black and white photographs of the human opportunity noted above, to illustrate fundamental traits of city dwellers across cultures, distance and time, and to challenge the reader to think about how best to maximize the opportunities for those pictured and to realistically assess city life.

He concludes:

As explained here, this story of "urban inevitability" has traveled through sophism -- a once-revered (albeit privileged) form of teaching, across the ages. But the very point of such sophism -- defining the city on human terms -- should not morph to "sophistry", a more modern term reflective of deceit and specious debate.

...

I would venture that to be "able to use the opportunity" of the city is a perpetual challenge best observed in the conduct of the users themselves.

Monday, September 29, 2014 in The Huffington Post

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