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The Theory of Urban Fabrics


Draft 11.10.2013

Theory of sustainable cities

Although the theory of three urban fabrics has not yet been written, the work has begun and first findings have been presented. Materials are, of course, available on the way of thinking underlying this theory and the models based on this approach, which contain theoretical findings, policies and reviews. The goal of this book is to put these materials together to facilitate the writing of the new theory.

The new way of thinking and the models were born in conjunction with practical work which necessitated the recognition of urban fabrics. The necessity, in turn, arises from a situation where the growth and domination of the car city is causing increasing problems and is preventing any responses to new challenges. Consequently, our work does not deal only with practices, but above all with the direction, content and effectiveness of activities.

The recognition of urban fabrics in the new theory is likewise linked to the overall urban development goals and principles. According to Peter Newman, the new theory focuses on the need to recognize and respect the urban fabrics, and subsequently to repair and regenerate them. This thought pattern is illustrated in the diagram shown here.

Theory recognises the physical essence of a city

Our theory recognises three common and parallel urban fabrics. This approach differs from the conventional paradigm, which sees the city as one complex overall system with component parts or sub-systems. According to the UF theory, the urban fabrics are both historical development stages of cities and basic systems in cities today. The theory is based on the conclusion that all cities are combinations of these three urban fabrics.

The development of these three urban fabrics – the walking city, the transit city and the car city – was based on the daily travel patterns of the citizens. The key factor shaping the city identified in our theory is the travel to and from homes, which takes place within a daily travel time budget of approximately one hour.

For any individual city, the basic examination must focus on a specific fabric, as it is difficult or impossible to identify any causes and effects if work is conducted using only average values, excessive generalisations or division into regions without recognising the urban fabrics. Operating with average values and false generalisations will make it difficult to to analyse the current situation and to set goals. This is aptly manifested in vaguely implemented and conflicting sustainable development policies.

The theory does not exclude the use of city-specific generalisations, average values or integers, as long as they do not interfere with the recognition of urban fabrics or complicate their analysis and development. City-specific integers and averages are useful mainly in summaries, comparisons between different cities, and time series.

Theory recognises lifestyles and practices

The theory of three urban fabrics recognises the city and its fabrics primarily as the living environments of its inhabitants. To recognise and discuss issues from the perspective of different lifestyles and different population groups, the theory examines cities using classifications and regional divisions that clearly indicate the lifestyles and situations of different population groups. A major factor contributing to lifestyles is whether or not the household has a car at all, and whether a household has one or multiple cars.

Automobile dependency is linked to the age, health and physical abilities of population, as well as to family relationships and wealth, which in turn is clearly manifested in number of cars owned in each population group and in the location of homes and workplaces in relation to the urban fabrics and their locations. Once all urban fabrics and their locations have been recognised, each population group can be examined from the urban fabric perspective, thereby enabling more detailed recognition of population groups, monitoring and assessment of changes, and targeting and implementing the objectives of activities and programmes. The theory attempts to account for all population groups, not just the majorities. Averages are not used unless there are specific grounds for doing so.

Theory recognises global challenges

Our theory is not limited to the recognition of various urban fabrics or to addressing issues relevant to different population groups; instead, it seeks to identify ways in which urban development could adjust and respond to global challenges. These challenges include ways of preventing climate change, adjusting to the limited oil and other natural resources, cities as healthy living environments, fair and equitable treatment in the relationships between citizens and nations etc. To address these issues, we need new urban theory, new classifications and new practices that are better than the existing ones.

Responding to global challenges offers the form and content for using the model of three urban fabrics. Together, these represent the theoretical framework for the three urban fabrics. Essential to the theory is the requirement to recognize, respect, repair and regenerate the urban fabrics. The theory is dynamic; its content evolves with the global situation, technological changes, local conditions and city transformation.

Theory respects all urban fabrics

Our theory respects existing walking city and transit city systems, and focuses on recognising them and defining their development needs. At the same time, it takes into account the car city fabric and its development needs.

The theory of urban fabrics is applicable to all towns and cities

The theory of three urban systems is applicable to all towns and cities. The same basic definitions and classifications can be applied to all towns and cities regardless of their size, type, development stage or location. The universal applicability of the definitions and classifications facilitates the recognition of similarities and differences, and the recognition of city types and city groups as well as their mutual comparison.

Extensive scope of application

The theory of three urban fabrics is a general theory. It is intended to serve as a tool for recognising past developments, the current situation, and challenges. It is used primarily for describing and analysing the history of cities and the present day.

Recognising urban fabrics

The conclusions of the analysis provide the framework for recognising development needs and challenges, for setting objectives and for using scenarios. The theory is based on practical needs and is therefore suitable for planning as well as project and maintenance programming, monitoring and assessment.

The theory is suited to all levels of examination, and the level of precision can be determined on a case-by-case basis depending on the size of the city or region being examined, the questions addressed, and the accuracy required in each case.

It does not exclude other theories, or classifications and definitions according to other theories, as long as they are coordinated with the theory of urban fabrics to ensure examination is based on a specific urban fabric, and to ensure all population groups are accounted for.

The framework for activities and urban development

Each city has its special characteristics that stem from its geographic location and its history. To recognise and understand them, the geographic and historical setting must be recognised and taken adequately into account. Similarly, economic and administrative factors affect urban development. Economic factors include the business and production structure in the city and its vicinity, as well as land ownership. Administrative factors include agricultural policy and zoning, administrative efficiency and orientation, and municipal borders and regional administration. At the national level, factors contributing to development include laws, programmes, administrative practices and culture.