Urban planning has been around for as long as cities have existed, but the 20th century saw a number of bold ideas that radically changed the make-up of our urban centers.
From garden cities to psychogeography, today’s infographic by Konstantin von der Schulenburg is an informative overview of the modern movements and ideas that shaped urban planning.
The Evolution of Urban Planning
Urban planning has changed a lot over the centuries. Early city layouts revolved around key elements such as prominent buildings (e.g. cathedrals, monuments) and fortification (e.g. city walls, castles).
As cities grew larger, they also became more unpleasant. Here are some key ideas from architects and planners who sought tame the unruly urban beast.
At the dawn of the 20th century, cities were experiencing big population growth.
The Garden City concept – devised by the English planner Ebenezer Howard – sought to solve urban overcrowding and poor quality of life by creating smaller, master-planned communities on the outskirts of the larger city. The city would be structured around concentric circles of land use and include a sizeable park and greenbelt. Greenbelts were a revolutionary idea at the time and are still widely appreciated to this day.
Early 1900s Manhattan had a population density of nearly 600 people per hectare and the skyscraper boom was in full swing. As buildings grew taller, the already crowded city was becoming a dark and claustrophobic place. To combat this, New York enacted the first citywide zoning code ever in the U.S. to help preserve some daylight on city streets. Setbacks had an immediate and lasting impact on Manhattan’s skyline, as seen today in landmarks such as the Empire State and Chrysler buildings.
If there is a true antithesis for today’s urbanism, then the suburban brainchild of Frank Lloyd Wright is surely it. Broadacre City was a thought experiment that envisioned decentralized communities that would sprawl across a lush, bucolic landscape. That vision stood in stark contrast to frenetic, exhaust-choked cities of the 1940s, which resembled “fibrous tumor(s)” according to Wright.
Though Broadacre City was never built verbatim, Wright’s rejection of the American city came to life in the form of suburbs and strip malls from sea to shining sea.
La Cité Radieuse
In the wake of World War II, France was searching for solutions to house its population – nearly 20% of all French buildings were either destroyed or seriously damaged – and world renowned architect, Le Corbusier, was one of the architects selected by the French government to construct new, high-density housing.
When La Cité Radieuse (Radiant City) was completed in 1952, it kicked off a media frenzy. Indeed, Le Corbusier is credited with pioneering the Modernist style of architecture that became wildly popular around the world during that time.
While Le Corbusier’s thoughtful residential buildings have stood the test of time, not all projects inspired by the style shared the same fate. For example, when governments in Europe and the United States looked to provide cheap, high-density housing to low income families, the stark tower blocks they built often had the unintentional effect of ghettoizing their inhabitants.
As cities within close proximity grow and merge together, finding a way to make them work as a connected economic and social unit is a key strategy for becoming more competitive on the global stage.
Jean Gottman, a French geographer, recognized this megaregion trend early on in the Northeast region of the United States. His seminal 1961 study, Megalopolis: The Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard of the United States, outlined the extraordinary dynamics that shaped America’s largest urban corridor.
In North America, many cities have a stark divide between urban and suburban areas – a gap known as “the missing middle”. New urbanists seek to create more dense residential development, particularly in walkable, transit-accessible areas.
This new form of city planning isn’t just cosmetic, it may help save cities from bloated infrastructure costs. Recent research into the tax efficiency (property tax revenues vs. infrastructure maintenance costs) of a variety of American cities and found that walkable urban districts tended to be revenue-positive – in effect, subsidizing surrounding low-density areas.
Next Stop: Smart Cities
In the era of big data, the future of our physical spaces may be defined more by bytes than bricks.
City governments have been collecting big picture data for planning in transportation and zoning for some time, but new technology allows for the capture of even more granular data. Cities can now measure everything from noise pollution to wastewater volume, and this can have a big impact on spending efficiency and overall quality of urban spaces.
It’s almost like a FitBit for the city.
– Stuart Cowan, chief scientist, Smart Cities Council
A prominent section of waterfront in Toronto, Canada, is about to become a testing ground for this concept. The partnership between a government agency and Sidewalk Labs, a division of Alphabet, will produce an urban district that fully integrates technology and data collection into its design.
If the project is successful, it may influence the way future “smart” neighborhoods are constructed.
Form and Function: Visualizing the Shape of Cities and Economies
Economies create distinct spatial patterns. This week’s chart visualizes the relationships businesses and industry imprint on the urban environment.
Visualizing the Shape of Cities and Economies
The Industrial Revolution changed the form and function of cities. New patterns of work resulted in massive wealth and distinct advantages for certain regions. Urbanization emerged as a defining characteristic of this age.
During the latter part of the Industrial Revolution, Cambridge School economist Alfred Marshall looked at a particular question: why did certain industries concentrate in specific places?
Marshall argued that the local concentration of industry created powerful economies promoting technical dynamism and innovation.
This Chart of the Week highlights the spatial patterns and business relationships created at the urban scale. Marshall’s insights from the past help us understand present-day tech and media economies and the massive growth of urban regions.
The Logic of Concentration
Marshall observed that industrial concentration led to long-term tendencies such as increasing returns on capital and compounding regional advantages.
The heart of this observation is that knowledge resides within the companies that make up a particular industry. Over time, these companies can accumulate even more information and direct the flow of new and innovative ideas. This creates local specialization and increasing profits, while also concentrating success, knowledge, and wealth into one key locale.
He defined this pattern as a Marshallian Industrial District.
An Evolving Landscape: Four Patterns
Marshall’s work would later influence the work of Ann Markusen, who created a typology of three additional industrial patterns. The patterns identify what makes a city attractive or repellent to income-generating activities.
|Marshallian Industrial District||This is a clustering of firms in a similar industry, operating within a certain geographic area.||Social media marketing companies in San Francisco|
|Satellite Platform District||A set of unconnected branches with links beyond regional boundaries, each part of its own globally oriented supply chain.||Suburban neighborhoods|
|Hub and Spoke District||An industrial sector with suppliers clustering around one, or several, dominant firms.||Airplane manufacturer Boeing and the region of Seattle.|
|State-anchored District||Industrial activities are anchored to a region by a public or non-profit entity, such as a military base, a university, or a concentration of public laboratories or government offices.||Madison, WI and Columbus, OH are examples of university towns, as are many cities with large defense installations such as Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.|
There are both benefits and problems—called “externalities”—associated with the spatial agglomeration of physical capital, companies, consumers, and workers:
Clusters for a Digital Age
In the past, the physical constraints of an area defined the structure of cities. Now that so many companies are free from the shackles of producing physical goods, does geography still matter?
Researcher Marlen Komorowski re-examined the concept of clustering with this question in mind. Here are five types of media clusters identified in her research.
|The Creative Region||A metropolitan region that provides advantages due to readily available infrastructures and institutions, and encourages the development of face-to-face interaction and collaboration networks.||Berlin, Singapore, Amsterdam|
|The Giant Anchor||A location defined by the activities of one or several large media institutions, which attract complementary firms to agglomerate. Similar to the hub-and-spoke cluster model.||Seattle, (Microsoft, Amazon), and Cambridge (Harvard, MIT)|
|The Specialized Area||A media cluster that is located either in a neighborhood within a big metropolitan area or in a small urbanized area. The Specialized Area is marked by a readily available, large pool of employees from a specialized field.||Soho (London), Silicon Valley|
|The Attracting Enabler||Determined by the location of certain facilities or resources that can be shared that enable media activities. Movie studios are a prime example.||Los Angeles, Vancouver|
|The Real Estate||This type of cluster is centered around office space, sometimes purpose-built for media and creative companies. This space can also include incubators / accelerators.||Dubai Media City, Dublin’s Digital Hub|
Four rationales drive these patterns: agglomeration, urbanization, localization economies. and artificial formation.
The Shadow of the Industrial Revolution
Alfred Marshall made the argument that local concentration of industry can offer powerful economies and technical dynamism and innovation.
We now see this pattern with the emergence of megacities that accrue the majority of the financial and knowledge returns. These megaregions set the perfect stage for dynamic economic exchanges between skilled labor, technology, and networks.
What does your city look like?
Ranked: The Megaregions Driving the Global Economy
Today’s stunning map ranks the world’s most powerful megaregions — together, they contribute a whopping $28 trillion to the global economy.
Ranked: The Megaregions Driving the Global Economy
If you’ve ever flown cross-country in a window seat, chances are, the bright lights at night have caught your eye. From above, the world tells its own story—as concentrated pockets of bright light keep the world’s economy thriving.
Today’s visualization relies on data compiled by CityLab researchers to identify the world’s largest megaregions. The team defines megaregions as:
- Areas of continuous light, based on the latest night satellite imagery
- Capturing metro areas or networks of metro areas, with a combined population of 5 million or higher
- Generating economic output (GDP) of over $300 billion, on a PPP basis
It’s worth pointing out that each megaregion may not be connected by specific trade relationships. Rather, satellite data highlights the proximity between these rough but useful regional estimates contributing to the global economy—and supercities are at the heart of it.
From Megalopolis to Megaregion
Throughout history, academics have described vast, interlinked urban regions as a ‘megalopolis’, or ‘megapolis’. Economic geographer Jean Gottman popularized the Greek term, referring to the booming and unprecedented urbanization in Bos-Wash—the northeast stretch from Boston and New York down to Washington, D.C.:
This region has indeed a “personality” of its own […] Every city in this region spreads out far and wide around its original nucleus.
By looking at adjacent metropolitan areas rather than country-level data, it can help provide an entirely new perspective on the global distribution of economic activity.
Where in the world are the most powerful urban economic clusters today?
The Largest Megaregions Today
The world’s economy is a sum of its parts. Each megaregion contributes significantly to the global growth engine, but arguably, certain areas pull more weight than others.
|Megaregion||Cities||Region||Population||Economic Output (EO)||EO per Capita|
|1. Bos-Wash||New York, Washington, D.C., Boston||North America||47.6M||$3,650B||$76,681|
|2. Par-Am-Mun||Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Munich||Europe||43.5M||$2,505B||$57,586|
|3. Chi-Pitts||Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh||North America||32.9M||$2,130B||$64,742|
|4. Greater Tokyo||Tokyo||Asia||39.1M||$1,800B||$46,036|
|5. SoCal||Los Angeles, San Diego||North America||22M||$1,424B||$64,727|
|6. Seoul-San||Seoul, Busan||Asia||35.5M||$1,325B||$37,324|
|7. Texas Triangle||Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin||North America||18.4M||$1,227B||$66,685|
|8. Beijing||Beijing, Tianjin||Asia||37.4M||$1,226B||$32,781|
|9. Lon-Leed-Chester||London, Leeds, Manchester||Europe||22.6M||$1,177B||$52,080|
|10. Hong-Shen||Hong Kong, Shenzhen||Asia||19.5M||$1,043B||$53,487|
|11. NorCal||San Francisco, San Jose||North America||10.8M||$925B||$85,648|
|12. Shanghai||Shanghai, Hangzhou||Asia||24.2M||$892B||$36,860|
|14. São Paolo||São Paolo||South America||33.5M||$780B||$23,284|
|15. Char-Lanta||Charlotte, Atlanta||North America||10.5M||$656B||$62,476|
|16. Cascadia||Seattle, Portland||North America||8.8M||$627B||$71,250|
|17. Ista-Burs||Istanbul, Bursa||MENA||14.8M||$626B||$42,297|
|18. Vienna-Budapest||Vienna, Budapest||Europe||12.8M||$555B||$43,359|
|19. Mexico City||Mexico City||North America||24.5M||$524B||$21,388|
|20. Rome-Mil-Tur||Rome, Milan, Turin||Europe||13.8M||$513B||$37,174|
|21. Singa-Lumpur||Singapore, Kuala Lumpur||Asia||12.7M||$493B||$38,819|
|22. Cairo-Aviv||Cairo, Tel Aviv||MENA||19.8M||$472B||$23,838|
|23. So-Flo||Miami, Tampa||North America||9.1M||$470B||$51,648|
|24. Abu-Dubai||Abu Dhabi, Dubai||MENA||5M||$431B||$86,200|
|25. Osaka-Nagoya (tied)||Osaka, Nagoya||Asia||9.1M||$424B||$46,593|
|25. Tor-Buff-Chester (tied)||Toronto, Buffalo, Rochester||North America||8.5M||$424B||$49,882|
|27. Delhi-Lahore||New Delhi, Lahore||Asia||27.9M||$417B||$14,946|
|28. Barcelona-Lyon||Barcelona, Lyon||Europe||7M||$323B||$46,143|
|29. Shandong||Jinan, Zibo, Dongying||Asia||14.2M||$249B||$17,535|
Altogether, these powerhouses bring in over $28 trillion in economic output.
Unsurprisingly, Bos-Wash reigns supreme even today, with $3.6 trillion in economic output, over 13% of the total. The corridor hosts some of the highest-paying sectors: information technology, finance, and professional services.
The largest city in Brazil, São Paulo, is the only city in the Southern Hemisphere to make the list. The city was once heavily reliant on manufacturing and trade, but the $780 billion city economy is now embracing its role as a nascent financial hub.
On the other side of the world, the cluster of Asian megaregions combines for $8.7 trillion in total economic output. Of these, Greater Tokyo in Japan is the largest, while Shandong might be a name that fewer people are familiar with. Sandwiched between Beijing and Shanghai, the coastal province houses multiple high-tech industrial and export processing zones.
The data is even more interesting when broken down into economic output per capita—Abu-Dubai churns out an impressive $86,200 per person. Meanwhile, Delhi-Lahore is lowest on the per-capita list, at $14,946 per person across nearly 28 million people.
Where To Next?
This trend shows no sign of slowing down, as megacities are on the rise in the coming decade. Eventually, more Indian and African megaregions will make its way onto this list, led by cities like Lagos and Chennai.
Stay tuned to Visual Capitalist for a North America-specific outlook coming soon, and a deep dive into the biggest factors contributing to the growth of these megaregions.
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