in the urban world, juxtapositions matter

First in a new series. Next installment appears here


The photograph above is an early evening rendition of an urban mixed-use project underway, next to an abandoned house.

Nearby streetlights highlight the shadows of branches against both new and old construction. This is an urban juxtaposition of the physical variety, that overlays new and old, trees and houses and natural and artificial light.

I have thought a lot about such juxtapositions on New Year’s Day, and why they are points of context, focus and catalysts for today’s urban issues and debates.

These overlays align us towards discussion of sudden and gradual change, generational differences, public and private preferences, merger of cultures and business types, and mixing of land uses, transportation modes, and housing approaches. They are more than transitions, but focal points for who decides the urban agenda and who gets versus who pays. Accordingly, they drive urban politics and professional services—and we should know how to recognize and work with them.

Consider a handbook of urban juxtaposition types and associated guidance, from case studies to typologies to regulatory reform.

But first, we need to read the city to see where the juxtapositions are. As the photograph shows, they are often in plain sight, in familiar patterns of overlap and/or interdisciplinary layers. Look at a juxtaposition—and see confronting dilemmas, flashpoints and ripples in time—all of which are recognizable in the faces, spaces and places of everyday life.

In such imagery we can predict policy debates, neighbor opposition, conflicts of parent and child in a way that can inspire dialogue, a search for consensus, or outright conflict and confusion.

In the weeks that follow, you’ll see examples and further discussion as part of an ongoing series. For now, it’s a tease, with a vernacular photograph to think about and consider. Stay tuned for more.

Image composed by the author in Seattle. Click on the image for more detail. © 2009-2014 myurbanistAll Rights Reserved. Do not copy.

For more information on the role of personal experience in understanding the changing city, see Urbanism Without Effortan e-book from Island Press.

12 thoughts on “in the urban world, juxtapositions matter

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