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It’s okay for urbanism to be a bit messy

The urban-to-rural transect is a New Urbanist planning framework that prescribes a smooth continuum of settlements that go from least dense to most dense. The six zones are as follows: natural (T1), rural (T2), sub-urban (T3), general urban (T4), center (T5), and core (T6).

Part of this framework is about rejecting single-use Euclidean zoning. Instead of segregating uses, New Urbanism looks to return to a mix of uses within close proximity of each other. This is a good thing.

But the transect also advocates for a certain orderliness. There should be a smooth transition as you move outward from T6 toward T1. It is about placing things in their useful order and maintaining a certain kind of character.

Witold Rybczynski makes an interesting observation about this in a recent post called “urban discontinuities.” The point he makes is that some of the most remarkable urban moments are the result not of smoothness, but of “odd juxtapositions.”


– Mount Royal (T1) in the middle of downtown Montreal (T6).

– The North Shore Mountains (T1) that terminate views from within the building canyons of downtown Vancouver (T6)

– The walls of tall buildings (T6) that frame Central Park (T1) in Manhattan

– The wonderful ravines (T1) that cut through Toronto’s urban fabric (T6)

These are contrasting zones in the transect bumping up against each other. And it turns out that most of us really like these moments. But I think that the bigger point to be made here is that urban environments aren’t always neat and tidy, and that’s because they are a constantly evolving organism.

That’s not a bug. It’s actually a feature to be celebrated.

1 Comment so far

  1. Lisa Welch

    Urbanists recognize that the transect is oversimplified, and that juxtapositions are exciting and appealing. FYI

    Liked by 1 person

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