Urban Scrawl

We launched Urban Scrawl to explore some of the ideas and issues we come across in this everyday practice as urbanists: not things that we are being paid to look at, but things that we think are worth questioning and exploring further. In Urban Scrawl we will resist the temptation to talk about our work or promote our services – we do that on our website, which is an on-line archive of our work. However, as Urban Scrawl is owned and controlled by URBED it is driven by our world-view and the principles that guide us. We hope that these articles that interest us will also interest you.

The urban environment is something that affects all of us. The environments in which we live, where we go to work, meet friends and spend time with family affect who we are. Do we really want to live in some far-flung suburban cul-de-sac where we will meet no one except people like ourselves? Do we want to drive two hours in traffic to a soulless business park on a motorway junction? Do we want to shop in some fantasy of a shopping mall or a vast hypermarket where our every need can be met in a sanitised safe environment? We must want this stuff because until recently it was pretty much all we built.

Well not everyone wants to live like this! Some of us want to live and work in lively mixed-use, multi-cultural cities, bustling with life, full of independent businesses and creative people. Somewhere that has an authenticity that comes from its history rather than from the brush of a set designer. Somewhere that isn’t always spotlessly clean and locked outside shopping hours. Somewhere where you can meet people from every corner of the world and walk of life but where you can be anonymous if you wish. This is called urbanism. It is something that was assumed for much of the 20th century to be alien to the English. The last decade has shown this not to be the case. Of course not everyone wants to live in cities and we must never make the mistake of forcing our personal utopia on others as the planners did for much of the last century. However, the revival of the UK’s cities means that there is now an alternative to the cul-de-sac, business park and mall. The revival of Britain’s cities means that urbanism can now be found outside London, something that was last true in the 1930s.

This is an urban renaissance born out of often heated argument and debate. The concept is simple but its realisation is complicated and involves jettisoning many of the principles that we have come to accept as given. Urban Scrawl is devoted to continuing this discussion and debate.

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URBED blogs //

Both Nicholas Falk and David Rudlin write blogs about the city. You can view them via the links below:

Climax City - David Rudlin

A few years ago we (we being URBED a urban design cooperative based in Manchester in the UK) were working on a masterplan for part of a large city. In the optimistic way that urbanists have, we had drawn a plan to show what the quarter would look like in twenty years time, when everything had been built – something of course, that never happens. We decided to call this idealised vision a ‘Climax plan’ and that in turn triggered a set of ideas that I have been developing ever since.

It seems to me that all cities are the product of three forces:

Organic growth: The process by which we build the human termite mound. This draws on complexity theory and the emergence of complex patterns from seemingly random variables

Planned growth: Our attempts to control and shape this natural growth through planning design and regulation.

The process of decline: The effects of the process when it goes into reverse and there is no growth. The impact on cities of economic decline and population loss.

These are some of the issues I want to explore in the blog and hope eventually to develop into a book. I would be really interested in honing these ideas through debate and would welcome comments, criticisms and suggestions in response to the posts.

postcards from the future - Nicholas Falk

"I have seen the future and it works", Lincoln Steffens, 1919. Our views are shaped by what we see (and hear). In setting up URBED in 1976, I wanted to spread good practice in urban regeneration and local economic development. But despite advances in digital media, are cities getting any better at learning from each other? I am going to experiment with a blog on what I have learned from different cities. So let’s start with a study tour to Paris last September, an initiative to transfer lessons on cycling from Copenhagen to London, a short trip to learn how Leipzig has revived its economy, and an event to consider Oxford Futures.


Issue 8
Urban Scrawl Update / Garden Cities

Grow your own Garden City. David Rudlin outlines the economic case for developing a city like Uxcester

Issue 7
Urban Scrawl Update / SUN

For decades, Britain has lagged behind the Continent in the building of new homes. In this article we suggest some ways in which UK could learn from Europe.

Issue 6
Urban Scrawl Update / Masterplanning

Why do so many professionals find it so difficult to produce good masterplans? and... Why do so few masterplans, even the good ones, ever get built? 

Issue 5
Urban Scrawl Update / Localism

Localism - a new dawn for the Empire of the SUN (Sustainable Urban Neighbourhood)?

Issue 4
Urban Scrawl Update / Retrofit

With increasing recognition of the need to retrofit our towns and cities to meet the challenge of climate change we explores the challenges and opportunities.

Issue 3
Urban Scrawl / Reasons to be cheerful

The world financial system, the economy, the coalition government, the budget (or lack of it), the public sector cutbacks...

Issue 2
Urban Scrawl / Hulme: What Happened Next

In the second edition of Urban Scrawl we revisit Hulme ten years on.

Issue 1
Urban Scrawl

Welcome to the first edition of urban scrawl, an occasional journal of urbanism