Between Physical and Non-Physical Strategies

Between Physical and Non-Physical Strategies


The long history of making a good city has been emerged since the end of 19th century and the beginning of 20th century. These discourses related to the bad city condition in European and Northern American society including mental and physical (Fainstein, 2000). It then raised planner as a visionary expert to envision future good city. They believed that notion about good city can be taken from imagining ideal city through its physical regularity, neatness, and beautify of the city. For “professionals and expertise”, it was urgent to make a new order of the city to come up with all social conflicts and miseries. Reformation of physical environment was believed to solve city and life society problems (Fishman, 1996). The earliest era of planning activity towards prospecting good city was guided by determinism of physical environment philosophy. Its subject matters designed city, parks, boulevards, and new settlements, among others.

One of the most prominent literature of a good city is The Good City Form (Lynch, 1981), that was written by the most influential thinkers in contemporary urban planning, Kevin Lynch. An urban environment is a complex system of interaction between people and surrounding objects.He mentioned that achieving good city will require five performance dimensions such as vitality, sense, fit, access, and control, and two meta-criteria including efficiency and justice. He then defined the legibility of the cityscape as the entry point with which its parts can be recognized and organized into an obvious pattern or symbolic manner. Therefore, he emphasized image ability as the feature of a physical object which can view as vivid images towards good city meant to be. His solution about making a good city was clear, by using a strong physical recognition that recognized by city inhabitants.

He pointed out five elements of legibility; path, edge, node, landmark, and district. Through visualizing urban environment, analysis of good city will be guided in the syntax process of cognitive mapping by user of urban environment. It relates to individual capacity for memorizing and retrieving information about a familiar environment (Sidadin, 2007). By understanding what revealed from the users, urban designer could create places that more satisfying, as people would be able to have clear and memorable as they might be wanted. It is true that Lynch’s theory based on general normative theory through visual spatial characteristics, and in short we can conclude that the more image-able places, the more city users get satisfied. Even what is good can be traced though his judgements, hints, hierarchies, but it still not clearly enough and trigger a further discussions.

In opposition with what Kevin Lynch proposed, more than 50 years ago Jane Jacobs, by her magnum opus The Death and Life American City (Jacobs, 1961), one of the most influencing urban notion in the twentieth century. She challenged the discipline of urbanism and led them to a paradigm shift. Even she is coming from an activist background and having a lack professional architectural or planning qualification, but she can tease out debates in this subject and started a fundamental change in looking city problems. The book elaborated a highly critics of planners ideologies idea, like Howard’s Garden City, Le Corbusier’s Radiant City, and Burnham’s Beautiful City.

She argued a beautiful way to look at the city not as a homogenous entity, but diverse conditions which make it alive. What city need most, she wrote, was a “most intricate and close-gained diversity of uses that give each other constant mutual support” (Jacobs, 1961). Jacob urged planners to eschew abstract models of ideal city which she sarcastically collapse into a single paradigm entitled “radiant garden beautiful city”. Instead she exhorts them to look at the real city that people love and which is characterized by congestion, multiple interactions among strangers, short streets, and mixed uses (Susan, 2011).

She also reinforced that even the most powerful planner in many ways cannot resolve city problems while small groups can. They will be able to overcome their own problem precisely in extraordinary and unpredictable solutions. Jacobs believes that the planner must no longer try, as Howard, Wright, and Le Corbusier once tried, to define the central goals of society and offer a unified plan for attaining them. For her, the city is already built; it can be renovated but never transformed (Fishman, 1996). She mentioned the capability of city for providing something for everybody, only because, and only when they created by everybody. Cities are formed from organised complexities that are not simple and intertwined each other. Threating bad condition, such as slums, for Jacobs was not just simply building vertical structures while horizontal structure will work better in city upgrading (Cannifee, 2012). Diversity of the city can stimulate individual and group creativity that will enhance social capital, economics, and spatial relations.

to be continued

a part of Diversity and Opportunity in Good City Making,
Essay What Makes Good City, MSc BUDD, UCL 2015


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