The term “city” is a broad one at best to describe our heavily populated urban centers. What defines a city? Who puts the boundaries in place – often political and arbitrary – and our main issue: what is the essence of our cities?
Patrizia Gabellini, Deputy Mayor for Urban Planning of Bologna, introduced in 2007 the Piano Strutturale Comunale (PSC, or Structural Municipal Plan). Although context-relevant to its origins, it serves as a practical model to inspire new ways of thinking about city form. The Structural Plan identifies seven “cities” that compose the urban area of Bologna: the Railway, Bypass Road, Hills, Reno River, Savena River, Western Via Emilia, and Eastern Via Emilia. These areas are determined based on multiple attributes including urban patterns, materials, and development projects. “Each is inextricably linked with the other, but each distinguishable through their history, characteristics and future strategies.”
This model provides us with a strong urban and strategic plan that identifies areas based upon meaningful human and tangible factors, such as architecture and geography, rather than political boundaries.
The idea of relating the city to human perception reminds us of Kevin Lynch’s Image of the City, in which he describes the different ways in which people interpret their ambient urban environment: paths, edges, districts, nodes, and landmarks. Although the concepts themselves are not explicitly stated in the PSC, by looking deeper we can find Lynch’s ideas embedded here. In both Lynch’s book and Bologna’s plan, cities are a hybrid physical-emotional relationship between individual city users, diverse spatial areas, memorable city elements, and urban design.
Because cities are complex organisms, their urban plans are not permanent and their vision does not always coincide with the needs of the community at hand. What the “city of cities” plan does offer the international community is a unique and alternative approach to spatial form.
Is it possible to organize your hometown as a “city of cities?”
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.