Advanced urbanism

Posted November 28, 2014 12:12 pm by Bob Ransford

Lately, I have been using the term “advanced urbansim” to describe the underlying principles of some ideas that I have been talking about around new urban development concepts, new housing typologies and new ways of engaging citizens in planning, designing and building the places where they live, work, play and learn. Someone asked me recently what my definition is of “advanced urbanism”. I had to pause and think about it.

It’s really a “catch-all” term that simply seems comfortable to me to wrap around a whole bunch of ideas that form a foundation for my outlook today on how we should be moving forward with our cities in the future. It is a term that sums up all of the things that I have learned over the better part of 35 years studying the realities of community in an urban setting.

My learning has been mostly hands-on– more informal than formal. It’s been a self-study program. It started in my mid-teens, when I first started attending city council meetings in Richmond where I grew up, soon thereafter reporting on those meetings in a bi-weekly broadcast on community television. I’ve learned mostly through doing and through experience– participating as a citizen in community action, working in local, provincial and national politics, working as a journalist, pursuing a career in the real estate development business– building mainly multi-family housing, and acting as a consultant and convener on complicated land use issues where engaging the public is vital and valuable. I have closely observed how we make decisions about our urban futures and how we act on those decisions. I have also written about those observations– regularly for more than 14 years.

I have also done some formal studying, earning a Certificate in Urban Design and studied on and off, while also reading considerably, about the history of urbanism and, more specifically about the new urbanism, smart growth and sustainable development.

I have learned a lot. But I am more of a generalist than an expert in any one area. Moreover, I have developed some clear ideas and some strong views in a number of areas that impact the way we plan design, build organize, live, work, play and learn in the habitat of humans–the city. These ideas and views are what I collectively call “advanced urbanism”.

They don’t conform to any particular school of thought. Some might criticize them for being difficult to pin down on a political or philosophical spectrum. They are probably right. The one conclusion I have reached is that there are no easy answers or black and white ways of doing things, let alone a silver bullet, when we are trying to advance the cause of urbanism. We must find the best ways to do the right thing in planning, designing and building our human habitat. Technology and human evolution have made the challenges of the future extremely complex. So, the answers and solutions must also be somewhat complex– or at least diverse– but they must not deviate from some basic underlying principles that, I believe, are based on some simple realities. This notion has shaped my concept of the advanced urbanism.

My concept of advanced urbanism is about:

  •  striving to achieve ultimate land use efficiency;
  • creating housing diversity to meet the needs of a population evolving demographically;
  •  developing and maintaining a rich urban fabric that is a tapestry of:
    • a mix of uses;
    • high quality, beautiful and durable built forms; and,
    • a public realm that enables easy physical mobility, is comfortable to humans and fosters constant social interaction.
  •  creating an environment in which the acts of community can flourish, where a diverse population can co-exist harmoniously and where there is social inclusion, cross-cultural interaction and a vibrancy that can only come from places where people of all means and diverse backgrounds can enrich each other;developing and maintaining a rich urban fabric that is a tapestry made up of:
  • recognizing the interconnectedness of nature’s ecosystem and striving to both respect that fact that mankind is of nature, and not apart from it, and that the urban environment is the habitat of humans;
  • finding and activating solutions to advance urbanism by embracing the best ideas from the private sector, the government sector and the third sector and partnering when beneficial to activate ideas that are from a combination of sources; and
  • acting thoughtfully but quickly, realizing that change is constant, and to keep pace with change, urbanism must continually adapt and evolve.

I’m always wanting to continue my learning, so I would welcome your feedback or further ideas on what advanced urbanism should mean. Together, we can create wonderful places that we call home.


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