The city and the grid: building beauty at large scale

Sergio Porta, Yodan Rofè, Maria Vidoli

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The enduring popularity of “A City is not a Tree” (Alexander, 1965) for scholars in different areas of knowledge does not seem to give signs of receding. Quite on the contrary, a quick search on Google Scholar reveals that its annual rate of citations in the past five years is about 3.5 times that of the overall period since its first publication in 1965. In this paper Alexander proposes a focus on the complex nature of cities that, along the same line of Jacobs’ chapter 22 of “Death and Life”, entitled “The kind of problem a city is” (Jacobs, 1961), challenges to the hart the conventional approach to urban planning and design; this challenge is all the more relevant today, when the call for a profound renovation of the foundations of the discipline comes not just by planning scholars, but also governmental and educational bodies (Bothwell, 2004; Farrell, 2014; U.N., 2015; U.N.HABITAT, 2009). The urgency of this problem is obvious in an age characterized by both unprecedented urbanization, predominantly involving the poorest parts of human population in the weakest planning systems (U.N.DESA, 2014), and the unprecedented impact of human activities on the fundamental forces of nature (Steffen, Broadgate, Deutsch, Gaffney, & Ludwig, 2015). In the light of our failure in the post-WWII urbanization of the Global North, the question is simple: can we planners help at all with that of the Global South, which occurs far faster and at higher scale? How can we become part of the solution, rather than the problem? In a rapidly urbanizing world, patronizing a niche cannot suffice; we need a new mainstream, one that works.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA City is Not a Tree, 50th Anniversary Edition
EditorsMichael Mehaffy
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2016


  • urban planning
  • building cities
  • planning cities
  • city planning


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