Twenty-five of the Best Urbanism Quotes


We’ve been sharing our favourite urbanism quotes over on Tumblr for almost two years. Here’s 25 of the best, starting off with our very first post. Deliberate or not, it ended up setting the tone for all future content on This Big City:

1. “A great city tends to spread out and lay bare to the public view in a massive manner all the characters and traits which are ordinarily obscured and suppressed in smaller communities. The city, in short, shows the good and evil in human nature in excess. It is this fact, more than any other which justifies the view that would make of the city a laboratory or clinic in which human nature and social processes may be most conveniently and profitably studied.” Robert E. Park

2. “Trapped in a box of tremendous size, it distorts my vision, it closes my eyes, attracts filthy flies and pollutes in the skies, it sucks up our lives and proliferates lies, trapped in a box.” ‘Trapped in a Box’ by No Doubt

3. “One thing is sure. The earth is now more cultivated and developed than ever before. There is more farming with pure force, swamps are drying up, and cities are springing up on unprecedented scale. We’ve become a burden to our planet. Resources are becoming scarce, and soon nature will no longer be able to satisfy our needs.” Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullianus, Roman theologian, 200 AD

4. “We need to draw lines in the ground and say, ‘The concrete stops here.’ That forces people to build in and up, rather than out – and there’s nothing wrong with high, dense urban environments as long as they’re planned correctly. They can be extremely livable. They tend to require less transportation, fewer sewer lines, fewer power lines, fewer roads, and more tightly packed structures, which in and of themselves are more energy efficient.” Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace

5. “If you can tell a man by his shoes, you can tell a city by its pavements, and London’s indicate a fractured, shambolic, careless body politic.” Rowan Moore, journalist

6. “Architecture is, and always will be concerned, roughly speaking, with carefully balancing horizontal things on top of vertical things.” Reyner Banham, architect

7. “To be young and aware is to know you’re being lied to; to know that a bright green future is possible; to know that we can reimagine the world, rebuild our cities, redesign our lives, retool our factories, distribute innovation and creativity and all live in a world that is not only better than the alternative, but much better than the world we have now.” Alex Steffen, former executive director of Worldchanging

8. “For the majority of individuals the necessities of life are the same. It is therefore logical and consistent with an economic approach to satisfy these homogenous needs uniformly and consistently. Hence it is not justifiable for each house to have a different floor plan, a different shape, different building materials, and a different ‘style.’ To do this is to practice waste and to put a false emphasis on individuality.” Walter Gropius, director of the Bauhaus

9. “An increasing number of middle and high-income groups have looked to security measures, such as cameras, fences, walls and gates, to separate themselves from other people in the city. These physical measures, in combination with hired guards, replace the ‘older’ social control mechanisms, which are based on social cohesion within the community.” Peer Smets, University of Amsterdam

10. “Urbanization, one of humankind’s most successful and ambitious programs, is the triumph of the unnatural over the natural, the grid over the organic… Underway on a scale never before witnessed, one side effect of urbanization is the liberation of vast depopulated territories for the efficient production of ‘nature’.” Bruce Mau, designer

11. “I would sum up my fear about the future in one word: boring. And that’s my one fear: that everything has happened; nothing exciting or new is ever going to happen again… The future is just going to be a vast, conforming suburb of the soul.” J. G. Ballard, sci-fi writer

12. “One of the principal justifications for adoption of more prescriptive land use regulation has been the belief that the resulting higher population densities would reduce future infrastructure costs. However, higher densities require more intense infrastructure and the necessary upgrades are expensive. In fact, the higher housing costs typical of more prescriptively-regulated markets far exceed any conceivable increase in infrastructure costs from allowing demand-driven housing expansion. The loss of housing affordability in Sydney and Melbourne can be traced to their more prescriptive land use regulation, which has virtually eliminated affordable land for building.” Wendell Cox and Hug Pavletich, authors of the Demographia International Housing Affordability Study 

13. “The last great technological advancement that reshaped cities was the automobile (some might argue it was the elevator). In both cases, these technologies reshaped the physical aspects of living in cities – how far a person could travel or how high a building could climb. But the fundamentals of how cities worked remained the same. What’s different about the information age that has been ushered in by personal computers, mobile phones and the Internet is its ability to reshape the social organization of cities and empower everyday citizens with the knowledge and tools to actively participate in the policy, planning and management of cities.” Christian Madera, from his article The Future of Cities in the Internet Era

14. “Are we actually becoming ‘good at cities’ in a way we weren’t hundreds of years ago?” Ben Hammersley, editor-at-large of Wired UK, speaking at London’s Data City event

15. “My friends have asked me why I don’t patent my low-cost houses, but they’ve completely missed the point. I actually want my designs to be copied. I want Indonesian society to rethink its attitudes towards urban architecture.” Ahmad Djuhara, architect

16. “The combination of an effective little map and my unlimited monthly pass allowed me to use the Underground daily to explore London. I went anywhere and everywhere with ease and got the most that I could out of that great city. The Tube map imparted information so quickly and clearly that it became an indispensable tool and an integral part of my experience. It made me feel that London was “mine” after only a couple of weeks of living there. What a fantastic and empowering feeling!” Eddie Jabour, designer of the NYC Kick Map

17. “Urbanization has lured more people to bustling metropolises, but precious little thought has been given to what happens when these cities fail. Over time, the underlying systems and processes of civilization – from lead mining to offshore drilling to car commuting – slowly poison us. Power grids brown out, the climate heats up, and industrial accidents ravage ecosystems and cities alike. For all the famed cities with thousands of years of continuity – Paris, London, Cairo, Athens, Rome, Istanbul – most cities just stop.” Ben Paynter, journalist

18. “Unless you have high priority for housing, it is unlikely that we will ever be able to offer you social housing.” The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

19. “City growth has caused climate change, but that growth is also what’s going to get us out of it.” Matthew Kahn, UCLA economist

20. “The physical characteristics of walls are not decisive as to their meaning. Rather, the key question is: Who is on which side of the wall? Does the wall perpetuate power, or defend against it? Does it reinforce domination, or shield vulnerability? Does it strengthen hierarchical relationships among people, or does it pave the way towards greater equality?” Peter Marcuse, author of The Architecture of Fear

21. “If you’re willing to work with me and fight with me and stand with me then I promise you this – we will not only rebuild and renew our American cities, north and south, east and west, but you and I, together, will rebuild and renew the promise of America.” Barack Obama, President of the United States of America

22. “Men living in the most densely populated areas of Sweden, for instance, are at a 68 percent higher risk of being admitted for psychosis – often the first sign of schizophrenia – than those who live in the countryside. For women the risk is 77 percent higher. Something about city living seems to spark the harrowing delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized thinking characteristic of a schizophrenic break.” Ethan Watters, author of Crazy Like Us

23. “Stop texting me saying you’re having a city planning emergency. There’s no such thing as a city planning emergency.” Mark Brendanawicz, Parks and Recreation

24. “We Japanese do not perceive our small, one-room spaces as something that’s been forced upon us.” Makoto Yokomizo

25. “Cycling starts to become as much a way of life and a philosophy as it does a form of transport. It spreads from work to weekends to holidays. They nominate themselves for sponsored rides and charity marathons. They stop thinking in miles and start thinking in kilometres. Almost by mistake, they find themselves in possession of a whole fleet of bikes: one for work, one for speed, one for the wet, one for annoying other people who know about bikes. They realise that one of the major advantages to cycling is the ability – more than that, the need – to consume their own bodyweight in spag bol and chocolate cake every day. They arrive at work early every day now, radiant with sweat and self-satisfaction. At home, they talk about getting rid of the car. In the evenings, they admire their newly altered profile in the mirror; the helmet hair, the buns of steel, the bloody knees.” Bella Bathurst, author of The Bicycle Book

We’ll keep sharing our favourite quotes on Tumblr. Click here to follow us.

  • http://www.lucentimagery.com Lucent Imagery

    Numbers 16 and 24 really resonate with me. I love that living small can be a choice too and have no desire to buy a mansion just for show and tell to “the Joneses”.