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85 Quotes About Cities, Planning, Transport and People

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A good quote can provide an insight into another person’s way of thinking, inspire your own work, support research, or – perhaps most likely – add some depth to a presentation or essay. For those times when someone else’s words are what you need, this post pulls together 85 quotes grouped into 12 different themes.

Urban planning

“If you want your subordinates to do or not do certain things, build a city.” Niccolò Machiavelli

“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

“I’ve often though that if our zoning boards could be put in charge of botanists, of zoologists and geologists, and people who know about the earth, we would have much more wisdom in such planning than when we leave it to the engineers.” William O. Douglas

“Don’t focus so much on single buildings as fabric. If fabric is lost, we have a few heroic buildings in parking lots.” Steve Mouzon

“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

“It is difficult to design a place that will not attract people. What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished.” William H. Whyte

“The mark of a great city isn’t how it treats its special places – everybody does that right – but how it treats its ordinary ones.” Aaron M. Renn

“Urbanism works when it creates a journey as desirable as the destination.” Paul Goldberger

“We need more insurgency in the city in order to break unsustainable and privatizing patterns of urban development.” Jeffrey Hou

“Neither cities nor places in them are unordered, unplanned; the question is only whose order, whose planning, for what purpose?” Peter Marcuse

“We don’t want a plan based on land uses. We want a plan based on experiences. Who visits downtown to see land uses?” Mitchell Silver

“Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how.” Edward T. McMahon

Suburbia and sprawl

“The modern city is probably the most unlovely and artificial site this planet affords. The ultimate solution is to abandon it. We shall solve the City Problem by leaving the city.” Henry Ford

“The two elements of the suburban pattern that cause the greatest problems are the extreme separation of uses and the vast distances between things.” James Howard Kunstler

“What’s bad about sprawl is not its uniformity but that it is uniformly bad.” James Kunstler

“Defining sprawl is a little bit like defining pornography. You know it when you see it.” Ellen Dunham-Jones

“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

“People here can’t realize there are poor people in the world. They can’t think about the needs of other people.” Suburbia by Bill Owens

Architecture

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

“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

“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

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

“We’re moving from a generation who gave little thought as to the built environment and accepted housing that was neither pleasant to look at, nor to live in or around, to a new century where there’s a real desire for housing that’s affordable, flexible, and places community at the heart of its thinking. For architects and the public it’s an enticing prospect.” Will Gompertz

“I am of the opinion that architecture should exist quietly with nature, never opposing it. I am positive that a choice between these alternatives no longer applies. Architecture and nature should be integrated. Both should be part of our daily life.” Yasuhiro Yamashita

Sustainability

“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

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

“If the earth was an apartment, we wouldn’t be getting our security deposit back.” Jim Shubert

“Anyone who believes in indefinite growth on a finite planet is either mad, or an economist.” David Attenborough

“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

“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

“In a future that portends stronger and more-frequent hurricanes striking North America’s Atlantic coast, ferocious winds will pummel tall, unsteady structures. Some will topple, knocking down others. Like a gap in the forest when a giant tree falls, new growth will rush in. Gradually, the asphalt jungle will give way to a real one.” Alan Weisman

Nature and green space

“The smallest patch of green to arrest the monotony of asphalt is as important to the value of real estate as streets, sewers and convenient shopping.” James Felt

“Cities and human settlements are part of the environment and have been for a long time now. Wilderness is a cultural artifact of the environmental movement – an artifact worth defending – but the idea that our landscape has not been used by humans is old thinking.” Hank Dittmar

“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

“Living around trees is less green than living around concrete. The next time you want to fight for nature, leave Walden Pond alone and start pushing for denser development in downtown.” Edward Glaeser

“Bringing nature back into the city is a way to deal with urban sprawl. If cities feel a little more natural, people like to live there rather than moving out and dividing up another piece of land that shouldn’t be touched.” Stone Gossard

“If you love nature, stay the heck away from it. Live in a city, the denser the better.” Jeff Speck

Art and creativity

“The city is a fact in nature, like a cave, a run of mackerel or an ant-heap. But it is also a conscious work of art, and it holds within its communal framework many simpler and more personal forms of art. Mind takes form in the city; and in turn urban forms condition mind.” Lewis Mumford

“When creative people gather together, it attracts other young creative people. If you look at demographics, the downtown area is much younger than it was a few years ago. There’s this competition that’s good. It isn’t about making art anymore. It’s about making good art.” Courtney Hammond

“Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head. You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.” Banksy

“The chief function of the city is to convert power into form, energy into culture, dead matter into the living symbols of art, biological reproduction into social creativity.” Lewis Mumford

“As an artificial world, the city should be so in the best sense: made by art, shaped for human purposes.” Kevin Lynch

“In the end, or society will be defined not only by what we create, but what we refuse to destroy.” John Sawhill

Technology

“I thought digital technology would eventually reverse urbanisation, and so far that hasn’t happened. But people always overestimate how much will change in the next three years, and underestimate how much will change over the next ten years.” Bill Gates

“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

 

Transport

“What if we chose to live close enough to work and the grocery store that we didn’t need gas at all? What if we chose to reject gas as a necessity, therefore placing the power back in our own hands? The only real freedom is freedom from want. Let’s stop wanting gasoline.” Sierra Elizabeth

“The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle is actually the right to destroy the city.” Lewis Mumford

“The second mode [to deal with unsafe cities] is to take refuge in vehicles. This is the technique practiced in the big wild-animal reservations of Africa, where tourists are warned to leave their cars under no circumstances until they reach a lodge. It is also the technique practiced in Los Angeles.” Jane Jacobs

“If you demolish the whole city for the flow of traffic, what destination for that traffic would be left?” Marc van Woudenberg

“Parking is a narcotic and ought to be a controlled substance. It is addictive and one can never have enough.” Victor Dover

“Adding lanes to solve traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to solve obesity.” Glen Hemistra

“Planning of the automobile city focuses on saving time. Planning for the accessible city, on the other hand, focuses on time well spent.” Robert Cevero

Bicycles

“We are realising that if you have people walk and bicycle more, you have a more lively, more liveable, more attractive, more safe, more sustainable and more healthy city. And what are you waiting for?” Jan Gehl

“I’m not a big fan of capitalism or business, but it’s pretty obvious that if we build a beautiful system of bike boulevards, bicyclists will come to ride them by the tens of thousands. When they do, they spend a lot of money and keep a lot of our local economy going.” Chris Carlsson

“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 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

“It’s amazing how I’m able to ride around on a bike. People kind of see it’s me but since I’m on a bike, they think, ‘No, it’s not her.’ And by the time they realize it’s me, I’m already gone.” Beyoncé

“A protected bicycle lane in a city in a developing country is a powerful symbol, showing that a citizen on a $30 bicycle is as important as one in a $30,000 car.” Enrique Peñalosa

Society

“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” George Burns

“When you look at a city, it’s like reading the hopes, aspirations and pride of everyone who built it.” Hugh Newell Jacobson

“How do we slow down what matters the most and speed up what benefits change and progress? We don’t want to impede progress, but we are seeking reconnection to ourselves, to each other, and with the world.” John Maeda

“We need – more urgently than architectural utopias, ingenious traffic disposal systems, or ecological programmes – to comprehend the nature of citizenship, to make serious imaginative assessment of that special relationship between the self and the city; its unique plasticity, its privacy and freedom.” Jonathan Raban

“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

“They can print statistics and count the population in hundreds of thousands, but to each man a city consists of no more than a few streets, a few houses, a few people.” Graham Green

“Everyone claims to want a city, but no one here wants city living. City living by its definition is crowded. It is tolerant of other people. It is dependant on a sophisticated population that makes a hundreds compromises daily so that they can benefit from the collective energy that a city generates.” Robert N. Davis

“A city’s environment is shaped not only by people who have an important influence, but by everyone who lives or works there.” Robert Cowan

“There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.” Jane Jacobs

“The city 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

“Being human is itself difficult, and therefore all kinds of settlements (except dream cities) have problems. Big cities have difficulties in abundance, because they have people in abundance.” Jane Jacobs

“A city is simply a passel of people, packed in a pot like pickles.” David Detzert

Inequality

“Cities are gentrified by the following types of people in sequence: first the risk-oblivious (artists), then the risk-aware (developers), finally the risk adverse (dentists from New Jersey).” Bill Kraus

“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

“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

“Any city, however small, is in fact divided into two. One the city of the poor, the other of the rich. These are at war with one another.” Plato

 

City character

“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

“Every city has a sex and an age which has nothing to do with demography. Rome is feminine, So is Odessa. London is a teenager, an urchin, and this hasn’t changed since the time of Dickens. Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties, in love with an older woman.” John Berger

“Cities, like cats, will reveal themselves at night.” Rupert Brooke

“The one thing that all great cities have in common is that they are all different.” Cate Blanchett

“I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York’s skyline. Particularly when one can’t see the details. Just the shapes. The shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man made visible. What other religion do we need?” Ayn Rand

“Typically we don’t think of cities as being particularly extreme environments, but few places on earth get as hot as a rooftop or as dry as the corner of a heated living room.” Adam Rogers

“Cities were always like people, showing their varying personalities to the traveler. Depending on the city and on the traveler, there might begin a mutual love, or dislike, friendship or enmity. Where one city will rise a certain individual to glory, it will destroy another who is not suited to its personality.” Roman Payne

“For those who are lost, there will always be cities that feel like home.” Simon Van Booy

“Not to find one’s way in a city may well be uninteresting and banal. It requires ignorance – nothing more. But to lose oneself in a city – as one loses oneself in a forest – that calls for quite different schooling. Then, signboard and street names, passers-by, roofs, kiosks, or bars must speak to the wanderer like a cracking twig under his feet in the forest.” Walter Benjamin

“All cities are mad but the madness is gallant. All cities are beautiful but the beauty is grim.” Christopher Morley