Preview this course
The American City, Part 4: Complexity and Pattern in the City
Already a subscriber?
The American City, Part 4: Complexity and Pattern in the City

The American City, Part 4: Complexity and Pattern in the City

54 min

The course discusses the design of the urban pattern in several American cities (Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas, Seattle, St. Louis, Orlando, and Phoenix). The courses examines: 1) the synergy between different scales of movement patterned into the urban grid, which contributes to the "urban buzz" of distinctive neighborhoods and places; 2) the large role that local topography plays in allowing, limiting, or denying certain possibilities for urban growth, due to the massive horizontal scale of American cities and the practical necessity of overcoming topographical conditions; and 3) the consequences of government regulations, Euclidean zoning, modern transportation planning, and suburbanization during the post-war period in generating a hierarchal grid logic to the American regular grid planning tradition. The implications of development patterns and land consumption unseen during history of city building over the previous 10,000 years are discussed.

In This Course

  1. Mark David Major introduces the course.
  2. Static vs. Dynamic
    This chapter discusses the underlying assumptions that represent a static view of the city. Euclidean zoning and "origin and destination" modeling are regulatory tools, not scientific models because they are particular to each, not universal to all. As a consequence, we tend to design so our models will work better instead of developing models so we can design better.
  3. Movement and Visibility
    This chapter discusses movement and visibility as key to adopting a more dynamic view of the city. Everywhere the horizontal dimension of the city plan and the vertical dimension of building tend to work together to reinforce the generic experience of the built environments at the street level.
  4. Where We Are and Where We Can Go
    This chapter uses simple representations to demonstrate the potential of where you are and where you can go, using the example of the urban grid that differentiates the intensity and density of building in neighborhoods along Wiltshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Land use and value, building intensity and density, etc. tend to naturally differentiate based on these potentials of the urban grid.
  5. The Strip Effect
    This chapter explains the distinctiveness that emerges linearly along the length of a street, based on where you are and where you can go. That distinctiveness gives rise to the well-defined "strip effect" found in many cities around the world.
  6. Distinctive Neighborhoods
    This chapter explains that distinctive neighborhoods and areas in American cities (and cities, in general) are not simply a matter of happenstance or land uses, street design, etc. particular to a neighborhood ("the locality trap"). Distinctive neighborhoods are dependent on the areal relationship of local streets within the larger urban network—movement through, around, and within a neighborhood.
  7. City Center and Edge City
    Cities have to mediate between the city center and its ever-expanding edges to conserve the strategic importance of the center. Highways are a crude method to achieve that goal, which can have disastrous results in urban neighborhoods, if done insensitively. However, the street network is the first, most powerful way to achieve this mediation. The street network come first, then other functions (such limited access) feed off of it—not the other way around.
  8. Rudimentary Hierarchies
    Using Las Vegas as a case study, this chapter describes how modern transportation planning, Euclidean zoning, and widespread suburbanization in the post-war period has crudely transformed the regular grid planning tradition of the United States into a rudimentary, hierarchal grid logic.
  9. 'One Size Fits All'
    This chapter examines the role of government policy and regulations in combination with the business models of developers and home builders in crafting a hierarch grid logic during the 20th century and perpetuating and even accentuating the American culture of land consumption.
  10. The Ticking Time Bomb of Cities
    This chapter concludes the course by discussing the need for a radical change in American lifestyle (i.e., more compact cities, inter-connected street networks, smaller houses, less land and space consumption, and more sensitive design interventions) and what it means for building a sustainable future for cities.

Published 2016