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This article is about the character of urban life. For other uses, see Urbanism (disambiguation).

Urbanism is the characteristic way of interaction of inhabitants of towns and cities (urban areas) with the built environment or – in other words – the character of urban life, organization, problems, etc., as well as the study of that character (way), or of the physical needs of urban societies, or city planning. Urbanism is also movement of the population to the urban areas (urbanization) or its concentration in them (degree of urbanization).


Urbanism theory writers of the late 20th century

Currently many architects, planners, and sociologists (like Louis Wirth) investigate the way people live in densely populated urban areas from many perspectives including a sociological perspective. To arrive to an adequate conception of 'urbanism as a way of life' Wirth says it is necessary to stop 'identify[ing] urbanism with the physical entity of the city', go 'beyond an arbitrary boundary line' and consider how 'technological developments in transportation and communication have enormously extended the urban mode of living beyond the confines of the city itself.' [1]

In contemporary urbanism, also known as urban planning in many parts of the world, there are as many different ways of framing the practice as there are cities in the world. According to American architect and planner Jonathan Barnett the approach of defining all the different ‘urbanisms’ in the world is an endless one.[2]

Mainstream vs. alternative urbanism[edit]

In the book Cities and Design, Paul Knox refers to one of many trends in contemporary urbanism as the "aestheticization of everyday life". [3] Alex Krieger studies urbanism theory in order to provide insight into how urban practitioners work. He identifies ten spheres in which urbanism takes place in practice. The ten are: the bridge connecting planning and architecture, a form-based category of public policy, the architecture of the city, urban design as restorative urbanism, urban design as an art of place- making, urban design as smart growth, the infrastructure of the city, urban design as landscape urbanism, urban design as visionary urbanism, and urban design as community advocacy or doing no harm. Krieger concludes by stating that urban design is less a technical discipline than a mind-set based on a commitment to cities.[4]

In Three Urbanisms and the Public Realm, Douglas Kelbaugh of the University of Michigan writes about three urbanisms on the cutting edge of theoretical and professional activity in Western cities. These three paradigms include New Urbanism, Everyday Urbanism, and Post- Urbanism. He examines their overlaps and oppositions, methodologies and modalities, strengths and weaknesses, in the hope of sketching the outline of a more integrated position.[5]

Concepts of urbanism[edit]

The pragmatic approach to urbanism promotes action above reflection. Pragmatism emphasizes a culture of inclusion within cities where contradiction and disagreement work to build stronger truths. The essence of pragmatism remains in contemporary daily life in urban area as main philosophical ingredient. Although the expression has been used for over a century, it is not a fixed concept. While the world that the movement is rooted in has had many changes, as a frame to perceive the world, pragmatism also has experienced different levels of modifications. Those changes are very relevant to the development of cities and basic themes of pragmatism can be applied to the urbanism even more strongly.

Anti-foundationalism and fallibilism closely connect to each other. In the same context of these two, the concept of cities is provisional and never absolute or certain, and pragmatists argue that the idea of space needs to be pliable and adaptable and able to cope with unpredictability and change. The notion of a community as inquirers is a continuing process of self-correction and spatial legitimacy is determined from the larger community in which they are presented, in this sense the idea of place will be sustained only as long as there is a community to support it. William James’s engaged pluralism encourages people to actively reach out to the points of intersection where people can critically engage with others. Under pragmatism there cannot be a platonic ideal of placeless or an essential definition of place because the place is defined throughout continuous interactions with its dwellers.

John Dewey believed that the personification of knowledge in everyday practices was essential and the proactive question about the relationship between theory and practice connects to the idea of social responsibility. The theme of democracy was central to Dewey's version of pragmatism. He believed that in a democratic society, every sovereign citizen is capable of achieving personality. He argued that the concept of place should be open to experimentation for the hope of realizing a better world.[6]

According to Bernstein, "these themes are also basic applications of urbanism." As pragmatism shares a history of development with modern cities, both pragmatists and urban practitioners have influenced each other. Dewey said that the interaction is human experience: "For life is no uniform uninterrupted march or flow. It is a thing of histories, each with its own plot, its own inception and movement toward its close, each having its own particular rhythmic movement; each with its own unrepeated quality pervading it throughout." [7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wirth, Louis. 1938. Urbanism as a Way of Life. The American Journal of Sociology, volume 44, number 1: pages 1-24. July.
  2. ^ Jonathan Barnett, “A Short Guide to 60 of the Newest Urbanisms,” Planning volume 77 (2011-4) 19-21
  3. ^ Knox, Paul, 2010, Cities and Design, page 10.
  4. ^ Krieger, Alex, 2009, Urban Design, page 113.
  5. ^ Kelbaugh, Douglas, 2009, Three Urbanisms and the Public Realm
  6. ^ Bernstein, Richard J. The pragmatic turn. Cambridge: Polity, 2010. ISBN 978-0745649085
  7. ^ Dewey, John, and John J. McDermott. The philosophy of John Dewey. New York: Putnam Sons, 1973. ISBN 978-0226144016

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