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The American City, Part 2: The Invention of a New Scale
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The American City, Part 2: The Invention of a New Scale

The American City, Part 2: The Invention of a New Scale

51 min
Credit: AICP CM

This course is approved for 1 AICP CM credit

The course covers subjects related to land consumption, which has been a defining characteristic of American town building almost from the very beginning of colonization until the present day. William Penn's 1682 plan for Philadelphia demonstrated town building could occur on a previously unimagined scale in the abundant lands of the New World. The course also compares the characteristics of block and street length in several American and European cities to demonstrate how Americans used the regular grid to build on a massive scale in the horizontal dimension of the city, which suburban sprawl has accentuated and abused since World War II. Finally, the course also discusses implications for sustainable cities in the 21st century.

The objective of this course is to understand how the physical characteristics of block size and street length distinguish American cities from earlier models of urbanism, and its implications for sustainability in the 21st century.

In This Course

  1. Mark David Major introduces the course.
  2. The Problem of Size
    Any rigorous examination of American cities, especially in comparison to older models of urbanism, encounters the problem of physical size. Objective modeling of urban layouts can control for size as a variable while still moving the issue of scale to the forefront of the debate about American cities.
  3. The American City as Subject and Object
    This chapter explains common, prevailing ideas about the inherent accessibility of American cities as a settlement form, including urban legends about automobiles and highways. The instructor argues that accessibility is not a function of the automobile, but of the regular grid.
  4. The Effect of Block Size
    This chapter discusses striking differences in block sizes in European and American urban grids. European cities are much more compact than American cities. The chapter includes a discussion of the economic basis for elongated, rectangular blocks in 19th century American cities, relating those ideas to post-war suburbanization.
  5. The Effect of Street Length
    This chapter discusses striking differences of street length in different European and American urban grids.
  6. Moving Vehicles and Social Exclusivity
    This chapter explains government regulations of Euclidean zoning and modern transportation planning. The chapter also examines the profit motive of developers, whose cost-benefit analysis evolved a hierarchal, super block model of regular grid planning for the purpose of moving vehicles and selling social exclusivity during the 20th century.
  7. The Consumptive Suburb
    Suburban sprawl in the United States during the post-war period tends to be characterized by three different, but fundamentally related, design strategies: asymmetrical regularity, repetitive deformity, and geomorphic variations of each.
  8. The Productive Suburb
    Suburbs have always been a fundamental feature of cities. However, the design strategies in examples of the Garden City/City Beautiful Movement do play a productive role in the urban grid. This makes them objectively and remarkably different from post-war suburbs.
  9. The New Urbanism
    Despite the success of New Urbanism in gaining a foothold in the market place over the last 30 years, some New Urbanism developments promote intra-connectivity and surrender on the issue of inter-connectivity in the service of style, thus undercutting its influence in planning.
  10. Build It Right, So They Will Come
    American urban grids are an intricate design tapestry, and "compact" urban blocks are better for sustainable urban form. Models of vibrant urbanism abound all around us, for example in San Francisco, Savannah, and the city that ignited the America's seemingly ravenous appetite for land consumption, Philadelphia. "Build it and they will come" is only true for magical baseball diamonds in Iowa cornfields. Build it right, so they will come.

Published 2016