Monday, February 16, 2015

Integral Urbanism, by Nan Ellin (Book)

Nan Ellin says that "Urban design success should be measured by its capacity to support humanity", and "an Integral Urbanism offers guideposts along that path toward a more sustainable human habitat." To accomplish this, Integral Urbanism must embody five qualities: Hybridity, Connectivity, Porosity, Authenticity, and Vulnerability. The author briefly summarizes the definition of these terms (condensed by this reviewer) as follows: Hybridity and Connectivity bring activities and people together, rather than isolate objects and separate functions. Porosity preserves the integrity of that which is brought together while allowing mutual access through permeable membranes. Authenticity involves actively engaging and drawing inspiration from actual social and physical conditions with an ethic of care, respect, and honesty. And Vulnerability means to relinquish control, listen deeply, value process as well as product, and re-integrate space with time. This is what the essence of the book is about. The brief chapter following the Introduction for the book is titled: What is Integral Urbanism? Followed by a chapter on the five qualities of an Integral Urbanism, then the bulk of the book is devoted to detailed chapters on the five qualities of Integral Urbanism that the author has devised to achieve her goals. In the Conclusion Ellin discusses her findings and summarizes her arguments under the umbrella of the following terms: Convergence, Clearing Blockages, Alignment, and Across the Fissures.

The book is embedded in the architectural/urban design disciplines and thus should be most welcome by practitioners and academics in those fields. Although the concepts are universal and are relevant across disciplinary boundaries, it remains to be seen if outsiders in other fields can take the author's argument and integrate it within the ideological/technical milieu of their disciplines and professions. If that occurs then Ellin's contribution would truly be significant to society and its built environment. The author clearly recognizes this when she says (p. 142): "Although Integral Urbanism pertains specifically to urban design, its five qualities might effectively apply to governance, homeland security, management, business, education, mediation, technology, the healing arts and sciences, and the other expressive forms of culture." Let us hope these qualities will spread via Ellin's book. - Besim S. Hakim
It can be frustrating at times reading Integral Urbanism, because the ideas seem at the same time so obvious and yet so far from the minds of the policymakers, developers and other economic interests who form our modern cities. This is a clearly-written, concise and important document for a country in the midst of an urban/suburban crisis. It lays out an extremely clear framework to apply to urban planning without ignoring economic, human or even scientific realities. It is a contemporary companion to Jane Jacobs' seminal works but folds into that critical strategies about sustainable urbanism. To say it should be read by every architecture, landscape architecture and urban planning student or professional would be short-sighted (though make no mistake - it should be). This is a book that I could only hope to find on the shelves of our policymakers and political leaders. - M. Wagner

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