Wednesday, 9 September 2020

What are cities for?


Le Corbusier - the wrong vision of cities

Karl Sharro is an architect who I follow on Twitter mostly for his jokes and interesting comments about the middle east. Today he put up a brilliant Twitter thread about the future of cities that is worth your reading. Hopefully this link to it will work.

Karl talks about how the debate around cities has swung round from "cities are great, cities are the future" to "cities are the problem, we need less city". He observes:
It was a fantasy sold on appealing images of healthy people sipping coffee in city squares, but its obsession with a narrow definition of urban life within historic centres with elegantly designed new apartment blocks ignored what real urban life was like to the majority.
The city is not its tight dense core but a much bigger suburban and exurban entity - not simply Metro Paris but the whole of the Ile de France. Karl looks at examples of polycentric urban areas - the Ruhr and the M11 corridor from London to Cambridge - and suggests that cities are better seen in this context rather than just their historic core.

At the heart of all this is answering the question Karl poses - "what are cities for?" We thought we had an answer, at least an economic one, in agglomeration theory but the validity of this is undermined by technology and we need instead to look at an answer built around consumption - cities provide great amenity to residents than non-cities. Reaching this conclusion may lead some towards that London or Paris monocentric model but it could equally reflect polycentric places like Los Angeles, The Ruhr or even dear old West Yorkshire.

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