Read an Excerpt
From: Everyday Urban Design: Toward Default Urbanism and/or Urbanism by Design
By John Kaliski
Everyday urban design begins with respecting and honoring the daily rituals and cycles that shape communities. The forms and places of communities are, therefore, most justly formed through incremental design processes implemented through time. In everyday contexts, designers are asked to facilitate the portraits that communities desire to draw for themselves. In this regard a framework of democracy becomes the most cogent means to shape citizen as well as designer's ideas regarding the space of the city. The ideas contained in these discourses are most often formalized through building codes. The incremental legal changes that shape everyday environments, like an organic urbanism, are far superior to either acts of book burning or wholesale clearance. Designers, working with communities, also benefit from public debate. While some good designs are constrained, on balance, with a public light shining, weak ideas are strengthened.
With regard to design, awareness of the everyday as a motive cycling force encourages each individual to learn equally from the traditional as well as the new, the present, and the presence of the present in the past and the future. Precedence can thus meld with innovation. Consequently the North American everyday urban designer is simultaneously accepting and critical of automobility, suburbia, single-family houses, shopping malls, sprawl and all the other accretions of contemporary urbanisms, believing that each addresses a human need and that all remain a subject for improvement rather than elimination. Reform is built into or anticipated by each act of urban design. Under these conditions, urban design becomes a specific and singular opportunity to nurture daily life—hardly an “urban design by default.”
While one might question the value of openness to all urban experiences in a harsh world that demands ready and predictable solutions to pressing needs, I prefer the initial everyday stance because I believe that it supports the possibility of specific design subtlety and complexity. I am confident that this concept leads to urban design where each project is necessarily different, shaped by individual circumstance, not connected by common design tropes, themes, or practices, but stitched together through careful observation and evolution of highly specific situations and conditions. Each everyday urban design realized is unique unto itself. . .
Communities necessarily start with the present. Even within extraordinary situations where there is no pre-existing pattern of human inhabitation, environmental factors establish an infinite network of present clues to guide any prospective urbanism. The consequent urban program based upon the here and now emphasizes an ideal of betterment, reform, and retrofit of an existing situation. The urban designer influenced by the everyday imagines the present, as opposed to precedent, as the first source for inspiring a better future.
Communities are also made up of competing interests that have varying visions for urban life. Democracy is the increasingly accepted tool to debate and shape neighborhood, community, city, and regional form issues. Democratic urban form-making demands urban design nimbleness. The individual urban designer is asked by publics to contribute a broad palette of ideas and approaches. The process is more akin to the decorating of individual domestic environments for highly particular clients, each with a different opinion, than many designers steeped in universal approaches would care to admit. In short, people want their downtowns, their suburbs, their transit, their freeways, their cars, and their Main Streets, and they expect urban designers to use collaborative talents to illustrate, educate, and frame unique approaches to each new situation. Urban design in these circumstances is an opportunity on the part of communities to utilize designers, as opposed to design ideologues or ideologies, and through the medium of design allow for the illustration of alternative points of urban departure. In essence what the everyday demands is designers who deploy design intelligence and the visualization of urban options for the citizenry at-large in order to facilitate decisions that reflect the consensus of an open and democratic community.