The particular, complex nature of the city continues to challenge our desire to construct a universal, idealised understanding of it. Consequently, the range of urban studies inevitably becomes more diverse. Our understanding is increased, but it becomes more difficult to grasp the notion of the city.
Emergent Urbanism contains a range of themes across ‘urban planning, urban theory, human geography, sociology, urban design and architecture’, treating the city as an integrated entity undergoing structural change. It is structured as a series of 17 short essays with authors from UK, US, Australia and Sweden, and with some black and white photos and diagrams.
The sheer diversity of academic pursuits is well-represented, providing much food for thought. Part I, New urban context includes: world economic structure, and urban space and form; living with nature and biophilic cities; consideration of human and settlement evolution through time scale shift; alternative development models based on innovation and creativity using social resources; emergent incremental systems of informal settlements highlighting the need for multi-scalar process design and planning based on ‘assemblage’ and resilience; and, how our idea of the city and how we see it is affected by its shifting representation.
Part II, Processes of planning and urban change: social capital, megacities and the knowledge economy; use of culture in city branding; evolving practice of urban design as urban composition; defining the notion of place, beyond the subjective and objective; defining good urbanism by acknowledging what already works rather than focus solely on problems; and, the challenge of defining and measuring social sustainability.
Part III, Urban product: effects on city development of shifting trends in transport, and power production and use; the city's ability to ‘speak’, and civic erosion through loss of capabilities; the problems of city planning and the need for flexible regulations to engage with a generative process; the technological city, the emergence of bottom-up innovations; and, Landscape Urbanism vs New Urbanism, the environmental advantages of dense, traditional form cities over large block and suburban forms, density here being defined by per capita rather than per area.
While Kelbaugh's last essay serves well as a general conclusion from an environmental perspective, it would have been useful if the editors had also drawn conclusions for each of the three sections. What emerges is a reiteration of the need for academics and practitioners to work more closely towards integrated and practical approaches to address emerging challenges. By strengthening links between higher level thinking about the city, and the design and implementation of urban interventions, there is an opportunity to achieve greater understanding and coherent improvement of urban environments.