URBAN EVOLUTION AND MORPHOLOGY

The durable city is ultimately self-emergent: created over time as the result of thousands of individual decisions, errors, and revisions. Studying the evolution of cities reveals how this self-emergent process evolves, and how designers and professionals can guide cities toward more durable, vital, and viable futures.


My research on the evolution of urban form has fed into my teaching of urban history. Furthermore, I present my research at international conferences, I continue research through international collaborations, and I serve on the International Seminar on Urban Form's journal editorial board.


This page shows key research on the evolution of cities and their buildings.

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THE EVOLUTION OF DOWNTOWN DETROIT

Walk around downtown Detroit today, and you will see an unprecedented vibrancy, certainly in contrast with the rest of the city. But only a few blocks away from the bright lights, the streetcars, the cocktails, and the lattes lies a pervasive landscape of highway ramps, parking, crumbling buildings, and vacancy. Why is this contrast so stark? How has it been formed?​

These questions have been at the heart of my studies of the history and morphology of downtown Detroit. These studies combined historical mapping, archival research, interviews, and urban observations into a narrative and morphological story of evolution. As it turns out, downtown's landscape of contrasts are the result of centuries of struggles between creation, destruction, and reinvention, struggles between the powerful and powerless, and struggles between the past, present and future. My findings have been published in 2018 as Dream City - Creation, Destruction, and Reinvention in Downtown Detroit with the MIT Press, and won the 2020 Koos Bosma Prize in Planning History Innovation.

STREET-LEVEL URBAN EVOLUTION

Presented and published at various international conferences, and ongoing.

The evolution of urban form is mostly documented at the level of the entire city, the neighborhood, or at the micro-scale, the building footprint. What if we go into more detail, studying how the floor plans of urban buildings have evolved in relationship to the city that surround them? Studies of the 100-year evolution of buildings in central and peripheral blocks in The Hague, Netherlands and Detroit, Michigan demonstrate that a fascinating array of dynamics underlie the consolidation of urban architecture, which ultimately decreases the resilience of urban blocks. The studies used a combination of archival material depicting building footprints, historical photography, and business directories.

Read about this research in the following publications:

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