Last updated
A modern large-scale urban development in Kazan, Russia Territoriia "SMART Siti Kazan'".jpg
A modern large-scale urban development in Kazan, Russia

Urbanism is the study of how inhabitants of urban areas, such as towns and cities, interact with the built environment. It is a direct component of disciplines such as urban planning, which is the profession focusing on the physical design and management of urban structures and urban sociology which is the academic field the study of urban life and culture.[ citation needed ]


Many architects, planners, geographers, and sociologists investigate the way people live in densely populated urban areas. There is a wide variety of different theories and approaches to the study of urbanism. [1] However, in some contexts internationally, urbanism is synonymous with urban planning, and urbanist refers to an urban planner.

The term urbanism originated in the late nineteenth century with the Spanish engineer-architect Ildefons Cerda, whose intent was to create an autonomous activity focused on the spatial organization of the city. [2] Urbanism's emergence in the early 20th century was associated with the rise of centralized manufacturing, mixed-use neighborhoods, social organizations and networks, and what has been described as "the convergence between political, social and economic citizenship". [3]

Urbanism can be understood as placemaking and the creation of place identity at a citywide level, however as early as 1938 Louis Wirth wrote that it is necessary to stop 'identify[ing] urbanism with the physical entity of the city', go 'beyond an arbitrary boundary line' and consider how 'technological developments in transportation and communication have enormously extended the urban mode of living beyond the confines of the city itself.' [4]


Urbanism theory writers of the late 20th century Urbanism Theory Writers of the late 20th C..jpg
Urbanism theory writers of the late 20th century

Network-based theories

Gabriel Dupuy [ who? ] applied network theory to the field of urbanism and suggests that the single dominant characteristic of modern urbanism is its networked character, as opposed to segregated conceptions of space (i.e. zones, boundaries and edges). [5]

Stephen Graham and Simon Marvin [ who? ] argue that we are witnessing a post-urban environment where decentralized, loosely connected neighborhoods and zones of activity assume the former organizing role played by urban spaces. Their theory of splintering urbanism involves the "fragmentation of the social and material fabric of cities" into "cellular clusters of globally connected high-service enclaves and network ghettos" driven by electronic networks that segregate as much as they connect. Dominique Lorrain argues that the process of splintering urbanism began towards the end of the 20th century with the emergence of the gigacity, a new form of a networked city characterised by three-dimensional size, network density and the blurring of city boundaries. [6]

Manuel Castells suggested that within a network society, "premium" infrastructure networks (high-speed telecommunications, ‘smart’ highways, global airline networks) selectively connect together the most favored users and places and bypass the less favored. [6] Graham and Marvin argue that attention to infrastructure networks is reactive to crises or collapse, rather than sustained and systematic, because of a failure to understand the links between urban life and urban infrastructure networks.

Other modern theorists

Douglas Kelbaugh identifies three paradigms within urbanism: New Urbanism, Everyday Urbanism, and Post-Urbanism. [7]

Paul L. Knox refers to one of many trends in contemporary urbanism as the "aestheticization of everyday life". [8]

Alex Krieger states that urban design is less a technical discipline than a mind-set based on a commitment to cities. [9]

See also


  1. Jonathan Barnett, “A Short Guide to 60 of the Newest Urbanisms,” Planning, volume 77 (2011-4), pp. 19–21
  2. Caves, R. W. (2004). Encyclopedia of the City. Routledge. p. 734. ISBN   978-0415862875.
  3. Blokland-Potters, Talja, and Savage, Mike (2008). Networked Urbanism: Social Capital in the City. Ashgate Publishing.
  4. Wirth, Louis (1938). Urbanism as a Way of Life. The American Journal of Sociology, volume 44, number 1: pp. 1–24. July.
  5. Dupuy, Gabriel (2008). Urban Networks – Network Urbanism. Amsterdam: Techne Press.[ ISBN missing ]
  6. 1 2 Graham, Stephen, and Marvin, Simon (2001). Splintering Urbanism: Networked Infrastructures, Technological Mobilities and the Urban Condition. London: Routledge.[ ISBN missing ]
  7. Kelbaugh, Douglas (2009), Three Urbanisms and the Public Realm[ ISBN missing ]
  8. Knox, Paul (2010). Cities and Design, p. 10.
  9. Krieger, Alex (2009). Urban Design, p. 113.

Related Research Articles

Theories of urban planning

Planning theory is the body of scientific concepts, definitions, behavioral relationships, and assumptions that define the body of knowledge of urban planning. There are nine procedural theories of planning that remain the principal theories of planning procedure today: the Rational-Comprehensive approach, the Incremental approach, the Transformative Incremental (TI) approach, the Transactive approach, the Communicative approach, the Advocacy approach, the Equity approach, the Radical approach, and the Humanist or Phenomenological approach.

Urban design process of designing and shaping cities, towns and villages

Urban design is the process of designing and shaping the physical features of cities, towns, and villages and planning for the provision of municipal services to residents and visitors. Although it deals with issues of a larger scale than architecture, it cannot be understood as a wholly separated field of research and design, since the quality of one depends on the quality of the other. In fact, it is this very interdependency, which has been termed ‘’relational design’’ by Barcelona-based architect Enric Massip-Bosch, which makes urban design and architecture inextricably linked in many university education programs, especially in Europe. This tendency towards reintegration in architectural studies is also taking momentum in the USA.

Urban studies is the diverse range of disciplines and approaches to the study of all aspects of cities, their suburbs, and other urban areas. This includes among others: urban economics, urban planning, urban ecology, urban transportation systems, urban politics, sociology and urban social relations. This can be contrasted with the study of rural areas and rural lifestyles.

Urban sociology sociological study of life and human interaction in metropolitan areas

Urban sociology is the sociological study of life and human interaction in metropolitan areas. It is a normative discipline of sociology seeking to study the structures, environmental processes, changes and problems of an urban area and by doing so provide inputs for urban planning and policy making. In other words, it is the sociological study of cities and their role in the development of society. Like most areas of sociology, urban sociologists use statistical analysis, observation, social theory, interviews, and other methods to study a range of topics, including migration and demographic trends, economics, poverty, race relations and economic trends. Urban sociology is one of the oldest sub-disciplines of sociology dating back to the mid-nineteenth century.

In sociology and criminology, the Chicago school refers to an iconoclastic group of sociologists from the University of Chicago whose work would influence the development of a new science to the discipline of sociology in the early 20th century.

Spatial planning technique for physical organisation of space

Spatial planning systems refer to the methods and approaches used by the public and private sector to influence the distribution of people and activities in spaces of various scales. Spatial planning can be defined as the coordination of practices and policies affecting spatial organization. Spatial planning is synonymous with the practices of urban planning in the United States but at larger scales and the term is often used in reference to planning efforts in European countries. Discrete professional disciplines which involve spatial planning include land use, urban, regional, transport and environmental planning. Other related areas are also important, including economic and community planning. Spatial planning takes place on local, regional, national and inter-national levels and often results in the creation of a spatial plan.

Kevin A. Lynch American urban planner and author (1918-1984)

Kevin Andrew Lynch was an American urban planner and author. He is known for his work on the perceptual form of urban environments and was an early proponent of mental mapping. His most influential books include The Image of the City (1960), a seminal work on the perceptual form of urban environments, and What Time is This Place? (1972), which theorizes how the physical environment captures and refigures temporal processes.

Louis Wirth American sociologist (1897-1952)

Louis Wirth was an American sociologist and member of the Chicago school of sociology. His interests included city life, minority group behavior, and mass media, and he is recognised as one of the leading urban sociologists.

Urban studies is based on the study of the urban development of cities. This includes studying the history of city development from an architectural point of view, to the impact of urban design on community development efforts. The core theoretical and methodological concerns of the urban studies field come from the social science disciplines of history, economics, sociology, geography, political science, anthropology, and the professional fields of urban planning, architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design. Urban studies helps with the understanding of human values, development, and the interactions they have with their physical environment. The field originated primarily from the United Kingdom and the United States, and has spread to research how international cities apply this research.

Placemaking approach to public space design

Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community's assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people's health, happiness, and well-being. It is political due to the nature of place identity. Placemaking is both a process and a philosophy that makes use of urban design principles. It can be either official and government led, or community driven grass roots tactical urbanism, such as extending sidewalks with chalk, paint, and planters, or open streets events such as Bogotá, Colombia's Ciclovía. Good placemaking makes use of underutilized space to enhance the urban experience at the pedestrian scale to build habits of locals.

Nikos Angelos Salingaros is a mathematician and polymath known for his work on urban theory, architectural theory, complexity theory, and design philosophy. He has been a close collaborator of the architect Christopher Alexander, with whom Salingaros shares a harsh critical analysis of conventional modern architecture. Like Alexander, Salingaros has proposed an alternative theoretical approach to architecture and urbanism that is more adaptive to human needs and aspirations, and that combines rigorous scientific analysis with deep intuitive experience.

An urban planner or an urban planning engineer is a professional who practices in the field of urban planning.

Urban theory describes the city formation phenomenon where economic priorities prevail to facilitate the city's propensity to generate and accumulate wealth. Such city formation involves some irreversible spatial investments, massive resource allocations and financial investments recoverable only if anticipated future income transpires. Consequently, it is a pertinent concept in urban planning. Though related, this is not to be confused with urban economics where economic principles and tools are applied at macro and micro levels. Urbanomics is to be understood as a paradigm to understand impact of the globalization process on urban development.

This article delineates the history of urban planning, a technical and political process concerned with the use of land and design of the urban environment, including air, water, and the infrastructure passing into and out of urban areas such as transportation and distribution networks.

Technical aspects of urban planning involve the technical processes, considerations and features that are involved in planning for land use, urban design, natural resources, transportation, and infrastructure.

Urban planning Technical and political process concerned with the use of land and design of the urban environment

Urban planning is a technical and political process concerned with the development and design of land use and the built environment, including air, water, and the infrastructure passing into and out of urban areas, such as transportation, communications, and distribution networks. Urban planning deals with physical layout of human settlements. The primary concern is the public welfare, which includes considerations of efficiency, sanitation, protection and use of the environment, as well as effects on social and economic activities. Urban planning is considered an interdisciplinary field that includes social science, architecture, human geography, politics, engineering and design sciences. It is closely related to the field of urban design and some urban planners provide designs for streets, parks, buildings and other urban areas. Urban planning is also referred to as urban and regional planning, regional planning, town planning, city planning, rural planning, urban development, physical planning, urban management or some combination in various areas worldwide.

Urban informatics refers to the study of people creating, applying and using information and communication technology and data in the context of cities and urban environments. Various definitions are available, some provided in the Definitions section. Urban informatics is a trans-disciplinary field of research and practice that draws on three broad domains: people, place and technology.

Communicative planning is an approach to urban planning that gathers stakeholders and engages them in a process to make decisions together in a manner that respects the positions of all involved. It is also sometimes called collaborative planning among planning practitioners or collaborative planning model.

Feminist urbanism is a theory and social movement concerning the impact of the built environment on women. Proponents of feminist urbanism advance a perspective that is critical of partriachal political and social structures that they believe have negatively impacted women's lives and have limited female engagement in urban planning. Some feminist urbanism theorists view the urban built environment as fundamentally inhospitable to women. Consequently, the feminist urbanism movement supports strategies for empowering women to plan and develop the future urban environment according to the specific needs of women.

Thérèse Frances Tierney is an American urbanist, network theorist, and educator. She is the director of the Urban Research Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.