six trending urbanist themes for 2012

The urbanist calendar published on Monday was, admittedly, a visual provocation, setting a stage for thought  about important urban issues for 2012. I see great merit in such urban exploration with a descriptive, rather than prescriptive approach.

But there is another provocation—from 2011 professional experiences and featured articles—that offer several themes that I expect will also endure.

Here is a synthesis of themes to watch, and why, based on my own encounters, and those of clients and friends.

As illustration, I offer citation to several of my articles as they reappeared in the trend-capturing Planetizen (after original appearance in one or more of myurbanist, The Atlantic, The Atlantic Cities, The Huffington Post, Grist, Sustainable Cities Collective and Crosscut) .

The themes span six subject areas, below.

More Roles for Social Media

Evolving communication technology has forever changed how we analyze and discuss the city.  Social media demands straightforward and sometimes trite efficiency.  Yet it provides for mainstream discussion of topics which were once the arcane domain of the legal, design and public policy professions.   “Even more so” is a safe bet for 2012.

Renewed Attention to the Romantic City

If we walk between the towns of the Cinque Terre in Italy, then why not capture this “essence of urbanism” at home?  Can an architect and a lawyer from politically diverse countries (and who have never met) together envision a collaborative professional approach which captures universal ways to read the evolution of urban places?

Compelling, illustrated ideas will always have a place in the urbanist agenda, including next year.

Additional Counterintuitive Solutions for Infrastructure and Economic Development

Even “the humble pothole” is eligible for rethinking and reshuffling in the city of 2012.  My tongue-in-cheek story rode the guerrilla urbanism theme. Never-ending possibilities for innovation abound:  Consider the zip line between hill towns, taking the romantic setting to a new perception of the possibilities of place.

With governmental shortfalls still in the picture, creativity, analysis of privatization and related discussions will continue.

New Types of Regulation and Urban Places

In Seattle, a diverse group convened to consider and recommend land use regulatory reform focused on market flexibility and job creation, both needed foci for 2012.  The Seattle City Council will consider the associated ordinances shortly.

In the mean time, with the closures of Borders’ bookstores nationwide, I urged cities to think about ways to assure “no net loss” for places where people can congregate and spend time together, a.k.a. “third places”.  I also illustrated the potential of the “pop-up”  ice cream laundromat, as an example of the “fusion business” that are increasingly a symbol of the evolving shareable-space city.

Similarly, my recent summary of the Urban Land Institute’s cutting edge “What’s Next?” report showed several ways cities will reshape and evolve over the next decade, based on converging, multiple socioeconomic forces.

Ongoing Importance of Urbanism Without Effort

There will be no shortage of continuing discussion of placemaking in 2012.  Yet “alley movie night” showed that sometimes, we already have what we seek, and urbanism without effort is the best urbanism of all.

Additional Ways to Conceive of Urban Opportunity

Finally, here is a dialogue that may never end.

2011 was a year of protest in public places, which reinvigorated what will be a continued interest in urban gathering places, such as classic squares and city centers.  Other ways to conceive of the city also show potential.

As examples, I focused on the historic role of street corners around the world, and asked whether city vitality is best measured—by five qualities—at night.

One lingering and important consideration:  Not everyone lives in cities, nor is urban life a foregone conclusion.  In that context, I told the story of Lumana, a Seattle-based micro-lending and economic development organization focused on Ghana’s countryside—with a question—should we be more focused on rural than urban areas in the developing world?

All images composed by the author. Click on each image for more detail.

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