My own view is…Urbanism opens many doors and closes none


Words by Dick Gleeson AoU

Implicit within an urbanist perspective is the sense of invitation that all citizens and stakeholders can be part of the making of a better city. As city planner for Dublin I have taken a great deal of comfort from the emergence of a philosophy of urbanism. The starting point for urbanism is to accept and welcome the complexity of the City, and the sacred anarchy that provides a continuous well of innovation and change. This recognition and respect for complexity, within a framework which embraces continuity and the inspiration provided by a European city tradition, is a welcome change from the damaging sectoral and professional views prevailing for much of the 20th century.

As urbanists of course we still try to make sense of the city and through an urban sensibility to devise a systems understanding that draws in the multiple strands of the rich urban context. The objective is to generate a culture of relational thinking right across the economic, social, environmental and cultural spectrum. This value system is demanding and despite the beauty of the game, not everyone is on board. The default position of most professional sectors operating in the urban sphere is to pursue a core expertise which is somehow damaging to the potential of the bigger urban project. One can also sense a chasm between the thrust of formal local government planning, and the energy and action coming from the street.

Collaboration must therefore be at the heart of urbanism. Healthy collaboration requires an institutional capacity and an agile governance to draw in the energy of the city and to foster a spirit of co-production. In city contexts where urbanism is embedded, you tend to find a great deal of fluency. Fluency here means legibility, ease of navigation and a user-friendly interface between city dimensions, its geography and spatial configuration, its sectoral land-uses, its governance, and its social and cultural landscape. The spirit of open-source urbanism can engender this fluency, fire bottom-up citizen capacity and affirm the multiple groups who are active on the floor of the city.

Dick Gleeson AoU is city planner for Dublin