Category: Order

Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca, the capital and largest region of the Azuay region of Ecuador, is located in the highlands of Ecuador. Similarly to New Orleans, its location is not ideal for a city, and its placement in the Andes mountains make it difficult to get to, causing it not to be settled until decades after Ecuador’s other major cities. As seen in the two images below, its grid formation is extremely rigid, although the designers seemingly ignored the river for the most part, as shown by the lack of perpendicularity with its coast, although it is somewhat close. Due to its location in the mountains, the city’s designers also had to contend with rapid elevation changes, which they countered with rapid cutback streets just outside of the city’s gridded area, as seen on the Calle Larga in the first image.
At the center of the gridded area of Cuenca lies the Parque Calderon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which is surrounded by a number of the city’s important locations. Thanks to the grid design, one is able to look from any side of the Parque, and see far down the street they are on at the packed marketplaces, as Cuenca is seen as the cultural capital of Ecuador.

Barcelona: Three Orders, or One?

Barcelona, Spain’s second city, is composed of three distinct planning regimes, each with its own urban logic and order. Of these three, one, L’Eixample (lit. The Expansion), has been the subject of an outsized amount of popular interest and academic inquiry. The iconic octagonal grid of L’Eixample––which knitted together Barcelona’s gothic core and the villages of the Catalan countryside into a contiguous urban fabric––was commissioned in the mid 19th century, motivated by industrial era urban-inflow and the rising nationalism of the city’s elites, who hoped to build a suitable capital for the Catalan region. Ildefons Cerdà, the grid’s designer, included several innovative features which have stood the test of time. Most notable are the block’s chamfered corners, which open up sightlines and provide community space around intersections, giving L’Eixample an airiness not found in standard gridirons. Unfortunately, Cerdà’s decision to oversize the district’s blocks, in the hopes that their centers would accommodate community gardens, appears overly optimistic in hindsight.

While praising the rigid, explicit order of L’Eixample produces a pleasing narrative of progress, one should not assume that Barcelona’s older core or annexed outer reaches are themselves disordered. The fusion of incumbent, village-scale mini grids has endowed the fringe districts with level of local coherence and intimacy not found in the uniformity of L’Eixample. Similarly, the old Gothic Quarter began as a gridded Roman colonia; its Cardo and Decumanus survive as major boulevards to this day. In the 13th century, King James I of Aragon authorized the demolition of the old Roman wall, allowing the Gothic Quarter to grow its current size by filling in the space between satellite settlements, just as the 19th century demolition of the city’s medieval walls enabled the construction of L’Eixample. Ultimately, L’Eixample did not impose an order on a disordered city. Instead Cerdà’s grid harmonized two incumbent orders––that of the satellite villages and the Gothic Quarter––into the broader, city-scale urban order seen today.

1. Nico Calavita, Amador Ferrer, Behind Barcelona’s Success Story, Journal of Urban History, September 2000
2. Antònia Casellas, Barcelona’s Urban Landscape: Historical Making of a Tourist Product, Journal of Urban History, September 2009
3. Gary W. McDonogh, Barcelona: Forms, Images and Conflicts, Journal of Urban History, January 2011

Serangoon, Singapore: City on the Swamp

Serangoon is a planning area and residential town located in the North-East Region of Singapore. The Tamil Muslim traders from India developed Serangoon in the early 1800’s and built for bridles. Singapore has been consciously designed from a British Colony with its focus on a long-term vision. It was built on a patch of swampy ground so order was created to limit effect of the swamp. The city has a unique way of managing waste, sewage, and air conditioning. Serangoon demonstrates how the city plan and current policies create partly self-sufficient towns so that there is not just one central area for gathering its citizens. The city attempts to maximize land use in building vertically and reclaiming land. It is highly technological while prioritizing affordable housing with a sense of efficiency in all designs. Urban planning was very important to Singapore due to land constraints and high density.

La Plata, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina

The City of La Plata, Argentina, was founded in 1882 in the wake of the decades long Argentinian Civil War. The war, fought between the Federalist and Unitarian parties, was fought primarily over the status of the capital city, Buenos Aires, and its role in governance. After the victory of the Federalists in 1880 and the creation of a new federal district, the old province of Buenos Aires was left without a capital city. It was left to Governor Dardo Rocha to assemble a committee, headed by architect Pedro Benoit, to design this new capital. The La Plata of Pedro Benoit and his commission had two main influences. On the one hand, La Plata is one of the last examples of a city designed (loosely) according to the Law of the Indies, ordinances enacted by King Phillip II of Spain in 1573. These ordinances established a simple, orderly model for new developments in Spain’s colonial holdings that would maximize legibility over an incredibly wide domain. These cities were composed of gridded streets centered around a church and various governmental buildings, all surrounded by agricultural land (ejido). La Plata’s central plaza and grid formation show a clear desire to, at least in part, model the city after traditional planning methods. Benoit was also influenced by modern European and US urban planners, who advocated for the progressist model of the city. These cities would be designed with scientific, rationalist principles and would maximize order, health and mobility. La Plata’s abundance of parks and tree-lined boulevards are clear manifestations of this influence. Thus, La Plata was a city designed with both traditional and modern scientific influences, and is a clear example of the ordered city.

Cape Town — Urban Planning under Apartheid

Under Apartheid, the urban landscape of Cape Town was developed to facilitate social control and racial segregation. In order to do so, the nationalist party passed the Group Areas Act of 1950, which separated the city into racially homogenous localities that were self-contained and financially independent. Under this stringent law, planners were required to strictly enforce the boundaries of these neighborhoods to ensure that the zoning patterns of the city stayed intact. To inhibit black urbanization and further marginalize the black community, the homogenous localities was established such that the white residential areas were closer to the industrial center of the city. Complementing this urban plan were laws that prohibited blacks from freely entering the industrial areas and from being recognized as urban residents. Moreover, the urban center was administered by white-elected councils, which led to an unfair allocation of resources throughout the city.

Sources:
Turok, Ivan. “Urban Planning in the Transition from Apartheid, Part 1: the Legacy of Social Control.” Town Planning Review, vol. 65, no. 3, 1994, p. 243., doi:10.3828/tpr.65.3.j03p90k7870q80g4.

Seoul, South Korea

Seoul, South Korea, is an example of a city designed around order. With its strategic placement along the Han River, there is a natural defense system of mountains and rivers. While not a perfect grid, elements of the grid system do allow this extremely population-dense to maintain order. However, the most significant part of this order is Seoul’s incredible public transportation system, with bus, subway, and railcars all coordinating. There are also separate lanes for bikes on the city’s roads, and it is also a fairly walkable city for pedestrians. Another important component of this order is Seoul’s division into 25 districts, which vary in size and population, and have their own legislative bodies, with mayors and sister cities as if they were their own separate cities. Each of these districts generally caters to one of the main city functions, such as residence, commerce, and recreation. This combination of compartmentalization and coordination is what makes Seoul a city designed with order in mind.

New Orleans

New Orleans, the capital of the French territory in America, represents a commitment towards order. This commitment was not only necessitated by the unique crescent shape of the city, as defined by the meandering Mississippi River, but also as an example of French pride for the territory as a whole. Following in the legacy of the French bastides, New Orleans features a grid pattern that is able to adjust to contours in the shape of the Mississippi River, while avoiding sprawl due to the natural barriers of the Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain. As the capital and economic hub city of the French territory, New Orleans was supposed to serve as a model for the rest of the French territory, featuring a consistent logic of French urban planning, with the inclusion of public squares, wide boulevards, and French architecture. The result of France’s commitment to order is that New Orleans has retained its unique French/Creole/Cajun culture, despite the city being under Spaniard control from 1762-1800, and under American control since the Louisiana Purchase. Even today, the built environment of New Orleans resembles Paris more so than any other American city, and helps retain an element of French culture, whereas the European influence in Eastern cities (Lower Manhattan and Boston) appears to have been rewritten to conform with American culture (e.g. the Financial District/NYSE and the sites of the Boston Revolution).

Sources:
Busquets, Joan, Dingliang Yang, and Michael Keller. Urban Grids: Handbook for Regular City Design. San Francisco, CA: ORO Editions, 2019.
“The French in New Orleans.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, May 25, 2017. https://www.history.com/topics/immigration/the-french-in-new-orleans.

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