A Young Urbanists Handbook is your essential guide to making sense of the city you live in. We’ve selected a range of informative and illuminating materials to deepen your understanding of the functions and ideas that make our cities and solutions to the challenges they face.

The Handbook will help you understand both your own city and cities across the globe. It is divided into four chapters, each focusing on a different way of thinking about cities. In essence, the handbook is a curated set of resources – tools; websites, apps and games; short films and documentaries; articles and books; podcasts and talks – which will get you thinking and talking about cities, and help you understand your city in new ways. It is intended as a permanent kind of social media feed, taking the best of the web about urbanism and cities, and keeping these great materials front and centre for you to explore on your own time.


What Makes a City 

What Makes a City deals with the physical, social and economic functions of a city.

ryoji-iwata-485375-unsplashIn Topography & Climate we consider the pre-existing geography of cities and its effect on their development.

History, Culture & Identity and Community considers some important aspects of social capital in the life of a city. Their role and legacy, as well as their influence on the way we perceive ourselves as citizens.

In Governance we explore models of city administration, as well as challenges and solutions for city executives.

Economy looks at the way cities provide opportunities for increased transfer of knowledge and accelerate innovation, creating wealth for their inhabitants.

Planning & Design focuses on the roles of both planners and designers. Planners are engaged with converting long term plans into functional codes and guidelines for the city’s future development. Designers are involved with both buildings (to group them simply, these are the architects and developers) and the public realm (in this case, the landscape architects and urban designers).

Housing examines this vital, and often highly political, function of cities to provide shelter for its citizens.

Infrastructure, of which transport is a major component, considers all the physical networks and facilities that enable a city to function. This grouping includes airports and (sea)ports, water and sanitation, waste and recycling, and power generation and distribution.

Transport is the final function we study and includes all modes which provide access to and throughout the city, including paths for walking and cycling, roads for cars, trucks and buses, tracks for trains and trams, elevators for vertical transportation and waterways for ferries and ships.


How to Read a City

How to Read a City, explores different ideas about cities. These ideas are expressed physically through what is often called urban form.

peter-nguyen-128476-unsplashUrban form is the pattern of development in a city. It includes density, street pattern, scale, size and design of buildings, the mix of uses and economic integration, and, very importantly, transportation systems (urban form and transportation go hand-in-hand).

This all may sound a little abstract at first, but these ideas, and the urban form they take are important to understanding how your city has evolved, as well helping us consider what options we have for the future.

Cities for People looks at the most powerful idea in urbanism in the 20th Century – the idea, almost forgotten in the rush for modernism (see below), that cities should function for the people who live in them, not as machines for living or as tools for developer’s wealth creation. The genesis of this movement was the book The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, which ever since has spurred generations of urbanists to search for ways to make cities more liveable for their inhabitants and less car orientated.

Historic Cities studies the development of cities before the 20thCentury. We look at famous cities in history, and also consider the historic centres of our own, contemporary cities. We look at European cities – Greek and Roman cities, medieval, renaissance and 19th century cities. Of course we’ll look at American and Australian cities, as well as Asian cities, such as Singapore and Tokyo, and some historic cities from this region such as Angkor.

Modernist Cities explores the 20th Century’s city form – that of cars, highways, tower blocks and urban renewal. As with many ideas the original concept was utopian – Le Corbusier’s Radiant City – but the reality is more difficult to gauge. For many cities it has provided a model for quality housing in a time of rapid urbanisation, but for the people themselves it has meant the loss of many aspects of social equity that cities provide. From Jane Jacobs battles in New York City to the nostalgia of the ‘Kampong Spirit’ in Singapore, modernist cities have taken as well as provided in equal measure. This urban form is more commonly seen in cities where access to land is restricted and so the solution is up (or reclaim land) and not out.

Suburban Cities are the mirror to Modernist Cities; still reliant on cars and highways for transport, they are commonly seen in countries where land is more freely available, for example in America or Australia. Here residential areas spread into surrounding countryside and the quarter-acre-block is the dream. They have their own issues around social equity, often developing as bedroom communities and drive-’till-you-qualify opportunities for affordable housing.

(New) Traditional Cities are a response to Modernist and Suburban Cities, They look to historic, pedestrian, pre-industralised cities for inspiration, but apply these forms to contemporary contexts.

Mega Cities are the huge urban agglomerations (don’t you love the onomatopoeia of that word) of 10 million people or more. Today cities such as Tokyo (38 million), Jakarta (32 million), New York City (23 million), Mexico City (21 million) and London (14 million) are all Mega Cities.

Ranked Cities considers the competitive nature of cities to attract investment, talent and tourism. Cities are often measured according to such facors as liveability, sustainability or economic power. These rankings are an example of the globalisation of cities.

And finally, Imagined Cities explores the role of cities as a story telling device to help us understand something about the nature of ourselves. Here the city represents an idea that is being explored.


The Great Urbanisation

The Great Urbanisation looks at some of the really pressing issues of our times and how they relate to cities.

photo-1468309218808-b673d545d957I have grouped them into three main themes – urbanisation, globalisation and climate change, each with differing and overlapping challenges and solutions.

The world is urbanising at an unprecedented rate. This process poses an incredible challenge for humanity, but also a great opportunity, if we can get it right, to improve people’s social and economic equity, living standards and address another great challenge – climate change.

You will see these statistics everywhere, but I want to repeat them here for emphasis:

  • 2% of the earth’s surface is occupied by cities.
  • In 1900, 10% of the world’s population lived in cities.
  • Today, 53% of the world’s population lives in cities, 66% of with world economy comes from cities, and 75% of the world’s COemissions are produced in cities, as well as 33% of city dwellers living in slums.
  • By 2050 it is expected that, 70% of the world’s population will live in cities and they will produce at least 75% of the world’s economy. 

Data from Living in The Endless City by Ricky Burdett and Philipp Rode, Phaidon Press, 2011 and UN SDG Academy |Sustainable Cities: Module 1, Chapter 1, 2018 

Globalisation is the process by which the world is becoming increasingly interconnected through the exchange of goods and ideas. It is fuelled by many factors, including economic migration, multinational corporations and the internet. This process poses challenges such as increasing social and economic inequalities, populism and digital disruption.

Anthropogenic Climate Change is the contemporary process whereby human activity is causing a rise in global temperatures, leading to further effects such as warming oceans, rising sea levels, melting of the polar ice caps as well as unpredictable and more extreme weather events. As you can see from the data above, cities are the overwhelming producers of CO2 gas (a major contributor to the processes driving these rising temperatures). Cities are the problem, but they are also the solution and how cities respond to this challenge will determine our success for generations to come.


In My Backyard

And finally, In My Backyard, looks at how you can become more engaged with your city.

cropped-photo-1444212568492-d2799d30943b.jpgLiving in the City examines how you can become more connected with the city you live in, how it becomes part of you and you of it. It will suggest not only ways to explore your city, but also new ways to think about being a citizen.

Urban Activism explores civic engagement, public participation, placemaking and more. Here you will find ideas and tools to jump start your involvement with civic life, making your city a better place and having your say.