Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Why Study Cities?

Before entering urban planning I completed a Masters degree entitled Urban Economy and Culture (see here).  The course was being run for the first time by the University of Southampton as a sign of the growing popularity of urban geography and cities.  I thoroughly enjoyed the course, in particular the wide range of reading it exposed me to.  This included texts on the creative economy, global cities and urban economic development.  It also introduced me to Jane Jacobs, Richard Florida and Ed Glaeser among others.

In the six years since this course interest in urbanism and cities has, if anything, excelled.  Richard Florida is invited to Downing Street, Andrew Marr is making documentaries on Mega Cities, and Ed Glaeser is invited onto the Daily Show with Jon Stewart (cultural kudos indeed!).

It was therefore interesting to see Rowan Moore's review of two new books grappling with contemporary cities (here).  I have yet to read either book but Moore makes an excellent point I agree with.  The study of cities is becoming so all-encompassing that it covers all aspects of humanity.  As Moore discusses, if half the population live in cities then what can we exclude from urban studies?  Potentially nothing.  While this gives the academic field plenty of scope to undertake research it does weaken the concept of urban studies.  I gained a great deal from my urban studies course but it did lack specialisms that were directly relevant to the workplace, in particular urban planning.  The breadth of urban studies is excellent for providing context but can be portrayed as too generalist.  A greater engagement with the field of urban and land-use planning could refine urban studies and move it away from trying to achieve too much.  

1 comment:

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