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

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

Washington D.C. Protest

IPCC Report: The World Is Running Out of Time on Climate Change

The planet is not doing enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recent report published by the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

March 20 - International Panel on Climate Change

A view of the Boise skyline, across tress int he foreground. The state capitol is visible amongst other office buildings.

Skyline-Defining High-Rise Potentially Coming to Boise

A rendering making the rounds in Boise depicts a 40-story apartment building that would be taller than all other buildings in one of the fastest growing cities in the United States.

March 20 - Boise Dev

Interior of Tesla car with driver holding hands off wheel in 'full self-driving' mode

Buttigieg: Tesla ‘Autopilot’ Marketing ‘A Concern’

The USDOT secretary says marketing doesn’t fall under his department’s investigative authority, but expressed disapproval of language that implies autonomous operation.

March 20 - Bloomberg

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.