Friday, April 1, 2011

Welcome to URBlog!

Welcome to the URBAN blog. It's designed for researchers, teachers and other professionals, from all backgrounds, who are interested in any aspect of cities in any part of the world. That's obviously a broad remit but that's the purpose of this effort—namely to start to provide usable information across the urban spectrum.

It’s a cliché that this is the “urban century”, as rural out-migration accelerates in China, India and Africa. But as more and more people become city residents, we actually know less and less about the complexity of their experiences.  There are some basic commonalities, for sure: the challenges of shelter, of employment, of mobility. But the ways these get resolved from place is place is infinitely complex. The alien visitor, carelessly crash-landing in Phoenix, Amsterdam, Singapore or Mumbai would see some basic similarities but many stark contrasts.

This blog is dedicated to the messiness of our urban world and to the basic proposition that there is no such thing as a model city. Of course, there are plenty of commentators who believe strongly that they know best—how dense a city should be, what kinds of transportation infrastructure it should possess, even how close its homes should be and to what design elements they should conform. But there is no evidence that such normative ideas make much sense. Not only are there always competing norms, but of course strongly-held right answers are constantly circling out of fashion; anyone looking for an excellent account of this in the US context should turn to Witold Rybczynski’s recent volume Makeshift Metropolis, whose title is of course a reproach to all those with rigid notions.

A single blog cannot do much to capture the complexities of the urban world and fortunately this does not exist in isolation. I am also working on a new journal titled Current Research on Cities which will go into production in 2012. Look for more on that in the next post.