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

Large blank mall building with only two cars in large parking lot.

Pennsylvania Mall Conversion Bill Passes House

If passed, the bill would promote the adaptive reuse of defunct commercial buildings.

April 18, 2024 - Central Penn Business Journal

Aerial view of Oakland, California with bay in background

California Exodus: Population Drops Below 39 Million

Never mind the 40 million that demographers predicted the Golden State would reach by 2018. The state's population dipped below 39 million to 38.965 million last July, according to Census data released in March, the lowest since 2015.

April 11, 2024 - Los Angeles Times

A view straight down LaSalle Street, lined by high-rise buildings with an El line running horizontally over the street.

Chicago to Turn High-Rise Offices into Housing

Four commercial buildings in the Chicago Loop have been approved for redevelopment into housing in a bid to revitalize the city’s downtown post-pandemic.

April 10, 2024 - Chicago Construction News

Purple jacaranda trees in bloom in Los Angeles with tall white Art Deco buildings in background.

LA County Releases Draft Community Forest Management Plan

LA County's Chief Sustainability Office just released the discussion draft of Room to Grow, the first Community Forest Management Plan for the county.

April 21 - Los Angeles County Chief Sustainability Office

Aerial view of downtown Seattle, Washington at dusk.

Seattle Downtown Plan Expands Permitted Uses

The Downtown Activation Plan shifts from Euclidean to form-based zoning to encourage more commercial development.

April 21 - Governing

Large water pipe with brown water pouring out into dirt ditch.

Southern Water Infrastructure at Risk From Climate Impacts

A water main breaks somewhere in the United States every two minutes, according to an estimate from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

April 21 - The Conversation

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

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.