Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The city as a practical machine

Egyptian workers village
This phrase, "the city as a practical machine," is taken from Kevin Lynch's important book, A Theory of Good City Form (MIT Press, 1981). Lynch talks about temporary constructions like military camps, cities built for protection, and colonial cities. These are settlements built quickly in order to address particular practical concerns.

I am working on a new analysis of this kind of settlement. So far I have a provisional classification, and in the fall a group of students will refine this and carry out analyses and comparisons of various types of practical settlements that fit Lynch's overall category. This is part of the research project, "Urban Organization Through the Ages: Neighborhoods, Open Spaces, and Urban Life."

Here are some of the types:
Pullman, IL: the original company town

  • Settlements for workers. These include modern company towns, mining camps, and ancient Egyptian workers villages. The idea was to keep workers clustered near their jobs, and isolated from the surrounding society.
Roman military camp

  • Military settlements, including temporary camps and more permanent forts.

Japanese-American internment camp

  • Prisons and internment camps. I refer here to large prison complexes, and internment camps such as the European death camps, or internment camps for Japanese-Americans, during World War II.
Civil War refugee camp

  • Refugee camps, including both planned and unplanned examples.

  • Disaster camps, from Haiti to ancient examples.
Church revival camp

  • Voluntary assemblies. These include religious revival camps, and perhaps festivals like the Burning Man festival (I discussed these previously under "temporary cities").

In addition there are some other settlements and architectural types that may fit here:
  • Colonial or imperial cities (e.g., Greek colonies, or Spanish grid towns in Latin America).
  • Urban institutional facilities (e.g., prisons, state storage facilities, inner-city public housing).

 So what do these various settlements have in common? As pointed out by Lynch, they are practical settlements, built for a specific purposes, often in haste and often as a temporary settlement. They tend to have some common spatial attributes, including highly planned layouts and physical separation from other settlements.

What can they tell us about urbanization in general? Well, this is a major question for our research project next fall. Stay tuned for more information.

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