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What is an urbanist?

Cities are in vogue. And that has brought about buzzwords like urbanism, tactical urbanism, urbanist, and the list goes. But what exactly does it mean to be an urbanist?

If you look it up in the dictionary, you’ll likely get something along the lines of: someone who is a specialist in city planning. But I bet that there are many people out there who would self-identity as being an urbanist, but who would also not consider themselves specialists in the field.

The term has evolved to imply other things.

To this end, Scott Bonjukian (over at The Urbanist) recently wrote a good piece called, Why I call myself an urbanist. And in it he offered up this definition from the former mayor of Seattle, Michael McGinn:

“At the core, urbanists want more people living in cities, so they support more urban housing of all types. They prioritize walking, biking and transit, and support a high quality shared public realm. Parks, nightlife, theaters, transit and taxis can replace backyards, TV rooms and private cars. That way we can live well with less stuff, sprawl and pollution.

I’ll go a little further, and say urbanists prefer bottom up, granular, and seemingly chaotic innovation to top-down planning and mega-projects. Think the “Main Street” of neighborhoods with food trucks and lots of little stores, as opposed to tax-subsidized big box stores with legally required massive parking lots. Bike lanes, crosswalks and plazas instead of public garages and new highways.

Urbanists believe that mixing people and ideas creates wealth in a city. Why else would people choose to live so close to each other? Cities, therefore, should be open to people of every background, ethnicity, race and class to maximize the potential from our human capital.”

Scott added that most urbanists are probably also environmentalists on some level, and I can certainly see where he’s coming from with that. Regardless, I think the above definition is pretty apt.

But if you unpack some of the points, this definition raises some interesting questions. For instance, take the first line around supporting housing of all types. 

This could mean that even if you lived in an inner city transit-served single family neighborhood, but you didn’t support alternate housing types such as duplexes, triplexes, accessory dwelling units and/or laneway houses, then you might not be a true urbanist. You would rather homogeneity over a “chaotic” mix of housing types. And I can certainly think of inner city neighborhoods in Toronto that have fought against “monstrous” duplexes. 

So I would be curious to hear your thoughts on the above definition of urbanist. Do you agree or disagree? Is there anything you would add or take away? Are you an urbanist? Let us know in the comment section below.

1 Comment so far

  1. Pingback: Menjadi Urbanis lewat Sekolah Urbanis

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