What are the ‘parameters’ set up by our urban environment?

Lecture Outline

City as Philosophy; Class and Urban Design

Readings: James Conlon, Charles Montgomery, Robert Fulford

James Conlon, “Cities and the Place of Philosophy” “Through its art and architecture, the city infuses the complexity of culture into the bones of those who daily walk its streets”

What are the ‘parameters’ set up by our urban environment?

Differences in the Framework of Daily Life: URBAN (the metropolis) RURAL (the village)

Heterogeneous Homogenous

Tied by role / moment Tied by kinship / time

Purposive connections Personal connectedness

High mobility Low mobility

“During my boyhood, my parents never referred to ‘the milkman’, ‘the insurance agent’, ‘the trash collector’. These people were, respectively, Paul Weaver, Joe Villanova and Roxy Borazano. All of our family’s market transactions took place within a web of wider and more inclusive friendship and kinship ties with the same people. They were never anonymous. In fact, the occasional salesman or repairman whom we did not know was always viewed with dark suspicion until we could make sure where he came from, who his parents were, and whether his family was ‘any good’.

Now, as an urbanite, my contacts are of a different sort. If I need to have the transmission on my car checked, buy a television, or cash a cheque, I find myself in functional relationships with mechanics, salesmen, and bank clerks whom I see in no other capacity. … I meet these people in no other context. To me they remain essentially as anonymous as I to them.”

Harvey Cox, The Secular City (1965)

Differences in ‘Parameters of Thinking”:

The village / rural environment:

· daily life ‘affirms one’s values’

· differences can be expelled / made deviant

The city (metropolis):

· “continual and inevitable encounter with the foreign”

· challenges offer opportunity to theorize / to come to terms with the variation

The City as Philosophy

Cities “force radical differences to share the same space”

— offers a chance for “thoughtful questioning of conventional beliefs”

Louis Wirth: The Metropolis

Size: large numbers of persons

Density: each in close proximity

Heterogeneity: with diverse strangers

THE METROPOLIS: 4-5 floor mixed use buildings

(URBAN DENSITY DESIGN) small scale streets

e.g. Berlin 1920s varied forms of transportation

smaller living quarters with courtyard

THE MEGALOPOLIS : single family dwelling dominates

(diffuse design) split use / mono-cultural areas

e.g. Mississauga automobile-centric

large-scale land use

The Megalopolis:

· Dis-aggregated space

· Time consumed by commuting between and then being within mono-cultural environments

· What happens to: public plazas, street life (multi-dimensionality)?

· It becomes something we ‘choose’ (consumer relation)

The Mall as a Simulation of the Metropolitan Public Sphere

— Sanitized

— Encourages thinking as consumers (monoculture) rather than as citizens (diverse)

Consider: The mall vs. the subway as ‘public’ forms

In the Metropolitan Public Sphere:

In truly public space, despite efforts to “value segregate”, “the Park Avenue Diva and the Bowery bag-lady face each other across the same space on the subway”

· differences are present

· differences are equalized

· is not the same in privatized spaces (the mall, the suburban residential dwelling)

Street Design in the Megalopolis vs. the Metropolis: Consider the difference in terms of what a street asks us to think about or ‘confront’

Consider our language:

City and ‘citizen’

“Urbanitas” was a term synonymous with good behavior

— “cosmopolitan”: one who was comfortable with the foreign

Urban Life:

— “a continual and inevitable encounter with the foreign” (Conlon)

— the city “enlarges the potential of the human personality” (Mumford)

The Greek Agora / The Roman Forum

Public Space: space ‘between’ us

Not just about function

Conlon: We need “genuinely magnetic space, space which daily attracts the city’s variety into it, not just for functional purposes, but to celebrate and savor the communality of city life.”

“The [street, park, plaza] becomes a stage on which the life of the city dramatizes itself and people are drawn to the park as both actors in, and audience for, this drama….

The last thing the occupants want is to get to know everybody there. They relish their anonymity and the freedom…that anonymity provides. At the same time, they relish ‘being together’, seeing and being seen by other anonymous selves.”

The Sociological Import of the Design of Cities

Emphasizing the ‘Social’:

— does the design of the city facilitate human variation?

— does it ‘force difference to share same space’?

— what / who does it make normal? How is our ‘status quo’ challenged (or is it)?


The Ancient Greek City: fostered “mutual recognition”

Jane Jacobs: fostering ‘human scale’ design / forms oriented to a variety of people and needs (in a way that makes them present to each other)

“We don’t stop to ask of ourselves, what is a city for? The oldest answer we know is also the best: a city is an opportunity for justice… It does demand, over and over, that all development be, at some level, in the service of everyone…” — Mark Kingwell, “Justice Denied”, The Walrus

Charles Montgomery, Happy City

“And what are our needs for happiness? We need to walk, just as birds need to fly. We need to be around other people. We need beauty. We need contact with nature. And most of all, we need not to be excluded. We need to feel some sort of equality.” Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota

“Penalosa insisted that like most cities, Bogota had been gradually reoriented around private automobiles. Second, public spaces and resources had largely been privatized… In an age where even most of the poor had televisions, common civic space was disregarded and degraded.”

— Montgomery, p. 7.

Film Clip: Urbanized (Gary Hustwit)

Mumbai: Urban planning that ignores the poor (creation of makeshift housing)

The Example of Bogota

· Diverted funds from highway expansion to hundreds of miles of bike paths, parks, and pedestrian plazas

· Created network of libraries, schools and day-care centers

· Built city’s first rapid transit bus system

· Hiked gas taxes and banned cars from commuting more than 3x/week

· “it was the opposite of the city that North American laws, habits, the real estate industry, financing arrangements and development ideologies have favoured.”

· “We’re living an experiment… We might not be able to make everyone as rich as Americans. But we can design the city of given people dignity, to make them feel rich.” — Montgomery, p. 11

· Bike paths created to tie to the bus rapid transit system

· Free storage systems placed nearby

Q: How are Class Differences Made Visible?

Film Clip: 7Up (Michael Apted)

· Class differences not just about economics but ‘frames of reference’

· Design can open up our ‘frames of reference’ or solidify the singular frame of reference (expose us to differences, as the film does, or re-assert the position we are born into)

Robert Fulford, Accidental City

Examining Public Housing Projects and the Reification of Social Inequality:

· New York

· ‘Urban renewal’ schemes

· Cabrini Green, Chicago

· Pruitt-Igoe, St. Louis

The Example of Regent Park, Toronto

Regent Park:

Canada’s oldest housing project

Built 1947-1957

Prior to Regent Park was South Cabbagetown

Film: “Farewell Oak Street” (National Film Board of Canada, 1953)

The public housing project: Taking the suburban framework and applying it to the inner city

“UNDER THE PROUD STARES of city officials and the Toronto media, Alf and Teresa Bluett and their four children walked up freshly-laid concrete steps into their new row house in Regent Park housing project.

The Bluetts were the first family to move into the pioneering Canadian public housing development in 1949. Alf, a car man’s helper with the Canadian National Railroad, had served five years overseas in the army. He was the ideal candidate for the new project as housing reform advocates promised that it was a permanent, low-rental housing option for workers unable to manage in Toronto’s despairingly tight housing market.

As one admiring member of city government said of the project in its first year: “a sign might well be erected somewhere on that 42-acre site — Good Citizens Dwell Here.“ The urban reform movement, government officials, key sections of the business community, and the media sang the praises of Regent Park as an outstanding initiative to tackle the low-income housing crisis for the city’s burgeoning working class. Citing prospective tenants and displaying flattering photos of the new dwellings, the Toronto Daily Star described the project as “Heaven.”

Source: History Cooperative

”Barely twenty years later, politicians, reformers, and the media were singing a decidedly different tune. Public housing projects were now regarded as new slums, housing only the rough and rowdy, many of them unruly children and teens, the unemployed, or those on social assistance. Descriptions of Regent Park in the Toronto Star shifted radically from “Heaven” to “colossal flop”…”

The report of the 1968 Federal Task Force on Housing blamed housing projects for “breeding disincentive” and a “what’s the use” attitude to work and self-improvement. This negative image intensified considerably in the following two decades. By the 1990s, Canada’s largest housing project became virtually synonymous with socio-economic marginalization and behavioral depravity. In June 2002, a Toronto Star reporter characteristically referred to the housing development as a “poster child for poverty.“

Source: History Cooperative

Mid 1930’s (100 years after the incorporation of the City of Toronto): : South Cabbagetown razed for redevelopment as “Regent Park”

Regent Park: 1947- 57

· Built on the ‘suburbs superblock model’ (the framework of the ‘exclusive’ suburbs)

· “Regent Park was laid out on the principle that people living in it could be protected from social infection if they were physically separated … [but] by setting themselves apart, they loudly announced that their residents were second class citizens.”

· Media exacerbates the sense of class differences (as negative) — Robert Fulford, Accidental City

Current Redevelopment of Regent Park: 2006-2018

Redesign: New Urbanism ideals:

mixed-income, mixed-use neighbourhood

(mid-rise buildings + taller ones)

same # of affordable housing units (rent-geared-to-income)

revised street layout

“A schematic site plan indicates the consolidation of density near a central park and existing arterial intersections as well as the introduction of ground-oriented townhouses along rehabilitated streets.” Source: City Noise

Over a 12-year period:

Residential: townhouses + apartments, condominiums and co-ops

Commercial: retail / employment spaces

community facilities nearby

green design

Regent Park 1957: The Form of Isolation

A Contrast: St. Lawrence, Toronto: Designed to Integrate

· high density, socially mixed

· 4,310 units on 56 acres for approx 10,000 people

· private and public investment

“One of the most remarkable things about the St. Lawrence neighborhood … is that hardly anyone finds it remarkable. It is the largest downtown housing development built in North America in this century… And, while it exists right beside the Gardiner Expressway, it embodies a philosophy that is opposed to everything the Gardiner represents.” (Fulford)


· Fostering “the evanescent but intense and complex face-to-face communication and communion”

St. Lawrence:

· “infill” development: “fits new housing into established streets without destroying the old environment”

· “its edges are blurred” (Fulford)

Different models / approaches to urban design

· The Economic

· The Social

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