Urban Code

Urban Code

100 Lessons for Understanding the City

Book - 2011
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A primer in urban literacy that teaches us in words and pictures what to notice if we want to understand the city.

Cities speak, and this little book helps us understand their language. Considering the urban landscape not from the abstract perspective of an urban planner but from the viewpoint of an attentive observer, Urban Code offers 100 "lessons"--maxims, observations, and bite-size truths, followed by short essays--that teach us how to read the city. This is a user's guide to the city, a primer of urban literacy, at the pedestrian level. The reader (like the observant city stroller) can move from "People walk in the sunshine" (lesson 1) to "Street vendors are positioned according to the path of the sun" (lesson 2); consider possible connections between the fact that "Locals and tourists use the streets at different times" (lesson 41) and "Tourists stand still when they're looking at something" (lesson 68); and weigh the apparent contradiction of lesson 73, "Nightlife hotspots increase pedestrian traffic" and lesson 74, "People are afraid of the dark."

A lesson may seem self-evident ("Grocery stores are important local destinations"--of course they are!) but considered in the context of other lessons, it becomes part of a natural logic. With Urban Code, we learn what to notice if we want to understand the city. We learn to detect patterns in the relationships between people and the urban environment. Each lesson is accompanied by an icon-like image; in addition to these 100 drawings, thirty photographs of street scenes illustrate the text. The photographs are stills from films shot in the Manhattan neighborhood of SoHo; the lessons are inspired by the authors' observations of SoHo, but hold true for any cityscape.

Publisher: Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, c2011.
ISBN: 9780262016414
Branch Call Number: 307.76/MIKOLEIT
Characteristics: 111 p. : ill. ; 21 cm.
Additional Contributors: Pürckhauer, Moritz


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ksoles Jul 18, 2014

A slim, elegantly constructed coffee table book, "Urban Code: 100 Lessons for Understanding the City" attempts to construct "lessons" or principles that guide urban life. Drawing on the work of Jane Jacobs, Kevin Lynch, Rem Koolhaas, and others, authors Anne Mikoleit and Moritz Pürckhauer provide a ground-level analysis of the city based on observations of New York's SoHo neighbourhood. While said observations focus too heavily on consumerism and don't always apply to international cities, the book ultimately proves insightful and compelling.

The pithy statements range from the obvious to the illuminating: Food carts smell like food. Old people sit on benches. Tourists carry shopping bags. Small squares attract more people than large ones. Groups walk more slowly than individuals. Each statement appears numbered in large print along the right side of the page; a longer discussion of the lesson appears on the left. Simple illustrations provide a neat visual representation of each concept and numerous full-page black and white photographs of SoHo accompany the text. This text flows nicely and, while some of the observations border on the banal, there are enough gems to make the book worth exploring.

At times, the references to SoHo itself (as opposed to the city in general) get tiring but the authors do challenge readers to validate the “code” by observing and analyzing other cities. In the end, the book poses a thought-provoking question: can one codify something as complex as the city?


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