‘seeing the better city’ book project begins: a teaser


Long-time readers might enjoy the teaser post at Seeing the Better City about my new book project of the same name.  Stay tuned as the project described below unfolds in the coming months:

As ongoing urban processes visibly alter neighborhoods, downtowns and the places between, city dwellers need a practical toolkit to better see, understand and influence the evolution of their cities. In Seeing the Better City (forthcoming from Island Press), Chuck Wolfe outlines a comprehensive users’ guide to urban observation aimed at informing better, and more equitable, plans, policies and political decisions.

Seeing the Better City updates a historical, interdisciplinary tradition of urban observation, with the modern-day “urban diary”, an experiential method of documenting city life and form. Through evocative photography, use of smartphone apps, and other cutting-edge tools, Wolfe empowers readers to explore and document the urban spaces, structures and human activities around them.

For Wolfe’s earlier work, see Urbanism Without Effort (Island Press, 2013)

from village to city, we are what we throw away

We clothe our discarded items in different forms and colors, but our built environments always have small places and features devoted to what we throw away.

This observation is nothing profoundly new, or empirically established. But this fundamental element of daily life creates a legible catalog of best practices followed by residents, municipalities and private contractors.


Two photos here tell the story. I have many others from around the world, but these two—above, from Findhorn, Scotland, and below, from a Seattle alley—show variations of access, style and color.

Note, particularly, the Scottish example, punctuating the otherwise mundane with color that suggests, “this is not such a bad thing, after all”.  Note, also, how despite the vegetation of the Pacific Northwest, the Seattle receptacles still somehow control the scene.


My personal take-away is that, in the instances shown here, mandating more fencing or enclosures for garbage and recycling containers would detract from the spontaneous delight of placement and expression.

Others may disagree on aesthetic or environmental grounds.  However, any such naysayers risk denying the wonders of the photogenic in favor of an unduly imposed regularity, better saved for another day.

Images composed by the author in Findhorn, Scotland, and Seattle. © 2009-2015 myurbanist. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy.

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

places people go 13.0


In early evening, a solitary customer finds place amid the food trucks of Reykjavík, before they depart.

Image composed by the author in Reykjavík, Iceland. Click on the image for more detail. © 2009-2015 myurbanist. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy.