Week 1: How Today’s City Evolved

MOOC Summaries - How Cities Evolved Designing Cities - Stockholm, heart of old town,

Week 1: How Today’s City Evolved

“Preindustrial City… Cities in the Industrial Revolution… Cities in 1950… Today’s Regional City…” 


  • 1-1: Intro to Week 1
  • 1-2: The Preindustrial City
  • 1-3: Cities in the Industrial Revolution
  • 1-4: Cities in 1950
  • 1-5: Today's Regional City

1-1: Intro to Week 1

  • Designing cities is the process of determining:
    • the form and character of a city;
    • whether you travel long or short distances  in a city;
    • determining whether you can cope with global warming in a city.
  • Link design to most important challenges cities are facing today.
  • Discuss how cities turned out, how they formed, and the ideas that shaped them.
  • Start with the history of city development and the ideas over the last 3,000 or 4,000 years.
  • Pre-industrial cities had a lot of similarities because they were constrained by the same kinds of technology (e.g. transportation was walking, horse drawn vehicles, or boats), limiting the size of cities, although there were big cultural differences.
  • Industrial Revolution created huge technological changes over a very short period of time: factory, railroad, automobiles, and the city spread with the way automobiles allowed people to move.
  • More recently, regional cities: new centers of transportation around airports and  rapid development of automobile-based cities in clusters around them.
  • While culture of people and of cities does not change so rapidly, the technological means by which cities have grown has changed radically, making it very difficult to manage the growth or pattern of cities.
  • As the world is becoming more urbanized, cities are starting to cluster in regions for many reasons; have to think about how cities connect to other cities.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://www.coursera.org/learn/designing-cities/lecture/s94i9/introductory-discussion

1-2: The Preindustrial City

  • Explore ideas that dominated design prior to the the Industrial Age.
  • Before industrialization came and everything changed, there was a long continuity of ideas.
  • Many live in cities that date back hundreds of years, and the traces of earlier settlements can be seen just by walking around.
  • In more contemporary cities, there will also be a number of ideas of that have their roots in what had happened in earlier cities.
  • First idea: the wall. Defense became essential, and design of fortifications became a critical part of planning cities (even after fortifications came down, the idea of creating city limits remained).
  • Second idea: the grid. A grid plan was the easiest way to map and subdivide for different types of ownership and uses.
  • Third idea: the axis. Some parts of the city have been more important than others throughout history e.g. central axis, axes that unite separate districts, plazas etc.
  • Fourth idea: the city square. In European cities, public squares were created to become the living room of the city; a place for all important events; could also be green spaces.
  • Final idea: the cloister. Places of worship e.g. churches, wats, shrines etc; these sacred spaces were often accompanied by schools, and meeting houses etc.
  • All five of these elements can be found in cities with long histories e.g.
    • Chang-An, Tang Dynasty capital; became prototype for Chinese cities, including Beijing.
    • Rome in the 16th century; a real revolution in city design; Sixtus the Fifth laid down a new street plan for the city connecting major monuments.
    • Philadelphia’s Four Squares
    • Savannah, Georgia, 1733 plan where virtually every house faced a square.
    • Adelaide, Australia, laid out in 1823 in a way similar to Philadelphia
    • Washington DC, combination of all of the ideas
  • Many ideas we take for granted today, actually have their origins in pre-industrial cities dating back to antiquity.
  • The form of a city is in its DNA, inherited from previous generations.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/37

1-3: Cities in the Industrial Revolution

  • Industrial Revolution (from the mid-1700s) – Industrialization supported growing populations, and population growth was accompanied by increase in trade.
  • Fast growing cities were pretty chaotic, unmanaged places. For example:
    • increase in wealth for some, and crowded living conditions for many;
    • none of the system taken for granted today, like police or fire department, running water, sewers, were yet in place;
    • rapid growth of urbane, fashionable houses, because of the great increase in wealth created by trade;
    • social unrest created by massive number of people who moved to cities to work in factories;
    • urban factories often had terrible working conditions;
    • traffic clogged the streets.
  • Surrounding rural areas were only a short walk away (a farmer could bring cows and sheep into the centre).
  • First industrial buildings were for factories making cloth; they were driven by water power – not located in the cities at all –  but situated at waterfalls, almost always upstream from major cities (which were built around ports).
  • So the power source is pre-Industrial, but it is used in a factory, a totally new development.
  • Canal and river system also formed a proto-industrial network, using traditional technology of
    sailboats and canal boats towed by horses; network of canals built to serve as long-distance transportation between factories and major cities (e.g. Erie Canal was a big reason why New York pulled ahead of Boston and Philadelphia).
  • This system worked until it was replaced by railroads.
  • The steam engine and the railroad would create a true industrial transportation system:
    • Railroad technology was adopted in the 19th century as quickly as computer technology has taken hold today;
    • Completely changed the relationship of cities along the line: trips that took days now took hours, widening the trading area of cities, and intensifying development in city centers.
    • Steam engine meant factories could move from places with water power to cities, where the customers were.
  • Creation of tall buildings was another important change created by the Industrial Revolution; they were made possible by new inventions like the elevator,  mass production of steel, and the ability to make large glass sheets.
  • This demand for the additional density – hence tall buildings – came from new accessibility, created by long distance and local trains, streetcars, and other kinds of transit.
  • Next session: next great transformation of cities, brought about by the automobile.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/17

1-4: Cities in 1950

  • Great Depression and WWII froze evolution of cities, giving illusion of a stable urban pattern; rebuilding after WWII followed the established system.
  • Cities around 1950s: people went to a single urban center to work, to shop and for an evening’s entertainment; still what many people think cities are or should be.
  • The Central Business District was the dominant commercial center: central railway station(s), government, office buildings, best retail, leading hotels, theatres and restaurants etc.
  • Expensive residential districts facing landscaped parks were near the center; middle class lived in suburbs connected to the center by streetcar links or commuter railroads; and working class lived near factories.
  • The mid-century city had been created to correct the mistakes of the Industrial City; for example, in Paris:
    • new, wide, straight streets were cut to manage the traffic in the rapidly growing city;
    • rebuilding along the new streets was accompanied by the creation of new sewer and water supply systems, and large parks.
  • The Parisian Boulevard became a model for many other European cities (and some North American cities): wide enough for traffic, ample sidewalk, space for trees, and for light fixtures, and public places enticed people to come out on the streets in their spare time.
  • In North American cities in the 1950s, the automobile was already the dominant means of transportation; cities were organized from the downtown, progressing outward through dense neighborhoods, to suburban neighborhoods/suburbia, rural villages and then to countryside.
  • But keep in mind, in 1950s, some U.S. cities had corrupt government, organized crime, industrial pollution, terrible slum conditions (from the early Industrial City), and cramped living conditions.
  • And in much of the rest of the world, people were trying to survive and reconstruct cities damaged or destroyed by war.
  • Next session: lessons from the 1950s city.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/21

1-5: Today’s Regional City

  • By 1950, three out of four households in the U.S. owned cars.
  • Cars influenced the form of cities: developments from the 1920s through the 1950s could be reached by public transit; but most of the extended development on the map, could only be reached by car.
  • By 1980s, many American cities were splitting into two parts:
    • old city, where it had been in 1950;
    • new city, suburban growth on the fashionable side of the old city center.
  • Original downtown was now at the periphery of the much more affluent new city; many of the old central neighborhoods emptied out. The suburban new city now had most of the new office buildings, best shopping, restaurants and entertainment (because they had followed the more affluent customers).
  • Examples include Overland Park, Kansas; Tyson’s Corner, near Dulles Airport; Perimeter Center, Atlanta; uptown Houston; Westwood District, Los Angeles; Bloomington near Minneapolis Airport; Clayton, Missouri.
  • In the 1990s, the new suburban city kept on spreading to the point where it began to be dysfunctional for its residents: traffic congestion, long commutes to work, too much driving between destinations (for recreation and shopping).
  • The old 1950s city with compact and walkable business centers started to look pretty good in comparison; hence, we have seen big downtown revivals and rises in real estate values for walkable neighborhoods and suburbs.
  • But the new city did not stop growing; it kept spreading e.g. San Jose, California.
  • A solution to sprawling development and total dependence on automobiles is new transit systems connecting the new city to the old city business center e.g. Tyson’s Corner.
  • As new cities areas of adjacent cities began grow towards each other, they formed mega regions (Megalopolis?):
    • in U.S., eleven such regions: e.g. Birmingham, AL to Charlotte, North Carolina and Richmond i.e. Northeast Corridor; Cascadia district, Pacific Northwest; Minneapolis towards and into Canada;
    • elsewhere: e.g. London through to the Midlands, England; Benelux countries; Germany, Northern Italy into Spain; Beijing and Tianjin, China; much of Japan as a continuous city linked by high speed rail; and South Korea.
  • Much of the world’s population is now concentrated along coastlines;with sea levels expected to rise, how cities manage climate change, and correct mistakes from the past will be an important part of the rest of the course’s discussions.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of  https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/19

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photo: depositphotos/Maugli

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