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A New Way of Thinking


Draft 11.10.2013

New thinking recognises urban fabrics

The new thinking that recognises three urban fabrics differs in terms of its key tenets from the conventional paradigms, where a city is regarded as a single system. What is essential to this new thinking is that it recognises the existence of urban fabrics and the historical development of individual urban fabrics, their basic features and their dynamics.

Urban systems have developed in the wake of social developments that followed major innovations. These developments provide the rationale for the emergence and development of the urban fabrics. The steam engine and the electric motor enabled the birth of transit cities, while the automobile gave rise to the automobile city. Although the emergence of urban systems was recognised, the systems were difficult to fit into the framework of the conventional idea of a city; it appears to have been easier to adopt an entirely new notion of city, as aptly manifested in the goals set for the Modern City. This paradigm, dating from the 1940s, fails to recognise urban fabrics and is therefore inadequate; it has resulted in grave errors in ways of thinking and in the ways cities have been built. Failure to recognise and appreciate urban fabrics has resulted in a failure to monitor and analyse them.

The new paradigm identifies all urban fabrics – the walking city, the transit city and the car city – not only as historical development stages but also as dynamic and parallel systems that together form the city. The concept of urban fabrics as such is not a novelty. Peter Hall, for instance, identified various development stages: the early public-transport city and the later public-transport city (Hall 1992). Despite being recognised, urban fabrics have not been observed or monitored, therefore data available on their development is scarce and fragmented. The new way of thinking has, however, been influencing research for a few decades now, and as a result, some follow-up information is currently available. Key sources for this study include the maps and materials for the period 1960 –1990 in Peter Newman and Jeffrey Kennworthy: An International Sourcebook (Kennworthy et al 1999) and follow-up materials of the Kuopio project. Excellent materials for studying the current situation are available, such as Google maps, OpenStreetMap etc.

This project involved a basic examination of maps, which indicated that urban systems have different, clearly identifiable dimensions. These can be easily identified from traffic systems and the coverage of various service networks

What seems to explain the different dimensions of the urban fabrics is the living patterns of the people living in the city, particularly their daily travel, which seems to be governed by a general travel time budget of approximately one hour.

New thinking challenges old thinking

The new paradigm challenges the old thinking that has dominated city planning and urban research for almost a century. The conventional approach that recognises a city as one comprehensive system was born in the industrial era out of a need to replace the congested and polluted pedestrian and public transport city with a new, healthy, spacious and flexible system. The time line for these development endeavours is parallel to the emergence of the automobile city. This, to some extent, explains why the automobile city was embraced as an overall solution and other systems were underrated.

Since the objective was to create "a good city", the old urban systems were undervalued either by choice or due to ignorance. Some time later, they were no longer even recognised. Similarly, it was not understood that the pursuit of a "good city" was, to a great extent, driven primarily by the needs of the latest urban system – the automobile city.

The new way of thinking produces new models and new theory

Even though the paradigm favouring the automobile city and seeking to recognise just one comprehensive system still dominates the modelling and theoretical discussion, a new way of thinking is gradually gaining ground. It takes into account the functions and elements of the pedestrian and public transport city and, increasingly, the systems themselves and their characteristics. It also produces practices, models and partial theories that facilitate the identification of urban systems and add clarity to the new paradigm. The new way of thinking and the three urban fabrics model have paved the way for a new, comprehensive theory of cities.

The new way of thinking is recognizing the fabrics, not only as stages of history of urban development, but existing comprehensive systems, which have an important role in present cities and in their future scenarios.

The new way of thinking has led to new city models and the new theory.