Our cognitive mapping abilities are well documented. The addition of GPS devices to this research yield new pictures of everything that moves in the urban world. By adding urban spatial knowledge of multiple sources to our individual navigations we should anticipate synchronicities that will lead to the design of higher quality urban densities.

CognitiveWe are members of communities with a unique 21st c. spatial knowledge of the earth. We are a minority in this and therefore share an enormous responsibility. Why? The development of new, high quality urban densities requires a greater understanding of our individual cognitive mapping abilities especially as they connect to larger urban systems.

Learning the patterns of our solar system, or knowing the feel of heightened winds or the sight of darkening clouds allows us to grasp ideas about a possible future. Our brains make sense of the world in many ways, but in evolutionary terms, space/time pattern recognition and the creation of new patterns combine as perceptive elements that yield unending knowledge. With prediction comes a sense of security, comfort and ultimately, the idea that not only can we design worlds where everything works together, the inclusion of unexpected, surprising events offers a promise of new and imminent insight. This is the joyful, frightening novelty of knowledge as space and it leads to the main issues.

  1. How do we acquire specific kinds of spatial knowledge as individuals in communities and use these abilities to make creative spaces?

The spatial knowledge expressed by the skills of an athlete is a good example.  If these abilities are specialized in a community of athletes a team is created. In this context, high levels of spatial control will occur in a prescribed space such as a “field of play”.

  1. What happens when urban designers, planners and architects face the task of rebuilding and restoring a place for a community?

The set of skills acquired and deployed in connecting design professionals to this ‘field of play” require many specialized abilities and a wide range of teams. Surely, something more than laying out the dimensions of the field of play is needed.

To begin a brief exploration of these two questions, an idea expressed by William Wordsworth (1770–1850) in “The Prelude — Book Seventh” is useful.  In this extended poem he reflects on the experience of his residence in London and about midway comes to the following extraordinary observation of life in the big city.

How often in the overflowing streets,
Have I gone forward with the crowd, and said
Unto myself, ‘The face of every one
That passes by me is a mystery!
Thus have I looked, nor ceased to look, oppressed
By thoughts of what and whither, when and how,
Until the shapes before my eyes became
A second-sight procession, such as glides
Over still mountains, or appears in dreams;

OrwellJust over a century after William Wordsworth wrote of London, Arthur C. Clark’s first novel described human potential and the city as inseparable in The City and the Stars (1956).  After a billion years the earth had two cities, one of Nature (Lys) and the other of technology (Diaspar). At about the same time J.G. Ballard’s Billennium (1962) saw “…ninety-five percent of the population trapped in vast urban conurbations. The countryside, and such, no longer existed. Every single square foot of ground sprouted a crop of one type or another. The one-time fields and meadows of the world were in effect, factory floors.”

In the center of the century bracketed by Wordsworth and Clark, we find Huxley’s Brave New World (1931) and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Their popularity rests on an American ideal wherein the preeminence of the individual spirit may be in need of a collective vision. Yet, in the process of trying to accomplish this, the individual is weakened, even destroyed. We are reminded by many at the end of this century to remember that the earth cannot “know” of such desolation but if it did, it could smell regeneration in the moist breath of decay.

The city is an historical and contemporary exaggeration. The historical image is a complex of high buildings surrounded by a broad white apron of single family, tree-filled towns. The smell of carelessness spills out of day-to-day business affairs and workers grow more downtrodden and ever more desperate in their daily travels. The city is defined as a vast lunatic growth, managed by torrents of congressional savagery disguised with flimsy gentility, criminal technologies and the wastefulness of a cancer budding from a few wild cells.

A more contemporary view of the urban world is that it needs to stop, take stock of itself and end its spillage of waste and poisons into land, sea and air. Once encapsulated, teams of powerful individuals will build, restore and develop the city. They will not be part of the massive social collective much feared in the past, but they will share a common goal, to create a way for the wild to be forever wild, one that glides over still mountains and appears in dreams.

The idea of creating a Lys, Diaspar or something else, cannot be accomplished by an organization or groups of them. A network is better at defining the complex layers of urban life. A network can discover and establish the framework of values essential to successful change. Developed networks are better at improving access to basic resources, essentially people with information, ideas, advice, and connections. This produces influence over decision makers on policy questions with sophisticated combinations of analysis and advocacy. Finally, a network is a lasting, self-renewing driver of its own theory of change. The network of which I am a part is focused on one issue and one word. The core of it is the catastrophe of urbanization and the word is “density”.

Being in the Network on Density

Networks have multiple scopes of work and thinking that produce new “linked-scopes” with considerable ease. The overall rapidity of these actions creates the capacity for evaluations that advance the goals of dimension leaders. The linked-scope form structures to yield a direct measure of energy level or health. Each connection represents a flow of information that had an enabling property with the exhibit of a real world example, an achievement.  This could be a desired effect or the creation of a specific component.

Standing alone these are meaningful elements, but when added to the “tags and categories” of a network they become exponential encouragements for similar levels of change. The connections made from one to many align to form pathways built on community adaptations. Whether in language or material, law or concrete, the network responds to social change agents capable of shaping effective networks. A booklet and presentation entitled Net Gains is available here:


Have a look if you want to have your team (or just you) become part of a network on the question of urbanization and Density, leave a reply to suggest a role.



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