“I argue that planned and unplanned horizontal conditions around vertical urban centers are intrinsically neither bad nor good, but instead natural results of industrial growth, results that require new conceptualizations and considered attention, and that these must be in hand before potential solutions to any problem discovered can be effectively addressed or devised” -Alan Berger from Drosscape
Two urban transects compared:
The image above and the two below are from Alan Berger’s Drosscape. The top image shows the horizontal spread of Atlanta, GA from 1990 (dark grey) to 2000 (light grey). The image below (what Berger calls a dispersal graph) is a study of four radial transects of the city (the magenta, blue, yellow and orange lines) from the center to the edge of Atlanta. The four transects are measures of density (persons per square mile) for a radius of 70 miles (!) from the city center. The spikes reveal the lack of a consistent decreasing density gradient in correlation with distance from the city center, thus demonstrating extensive sprawl.
Th image below is a spindle chart showing the change (orange) growth (red) and decline (yellow) of manufacturing relative to distance from Atlanta’s center.
Compare these transect studies to the idealized transects as proposed by the new urbanist Center for Applied Transect Studies:
“To systemize the analysis and coding of traditional patterns, a prototypical American rural-to-urban transect has been divided into six Transect Zones, or T-zones, for application on zoning maps…As a shorthand, New Urbanist practitioners refer to the framework of the rural-to-urban transect used in this way simply as “the Transect.””
Berger’s and the new urbanist (NU) transects are about as different as they can be, and serve oppositional agendas. Berger’s transect attempts to diagram the data of what exists, albeit for one of the most sprawling/ least dense cities in the US (1,370 people/sq. mile). The NU version is a nostalgic and proactive ideal; a prescription for what may be achieved in opposition to what Berger has observed. Personally I can’t say I agree with the presumptions behind either example. As revelatory as Berger’s graphics are of contemporary cities, his claim that Drosscape is a “natural” component of every evolving city is problematic for me, both in terms of how vague a descriptor “natural” is when invoked in this context, and the subtler implications that American cities built by 50+ years of exploitive world empire and late capitalism is “natural” (again only my personal take here).
For the NU transect, I find the premise stuck in notions of old world centralized cities, somehow forgetting that we now live in polycentric metropolises. It’s an ideal we will never achieve for a variety of reasons. Additionally even cities based on new urbanism such as Portland OR have multiple centers that contradict the idealized gradient of the transect. I also find it interesting that the NU version has become “the transect“, both from the NU perspective, as well as in popular thought.
Comparative city shapes image from MetaCity Datatown
What is the value of the urban transect for the contemporary ink scatter-splot metropolis? Density, in built structures and/or numbers of people, is the predominant factor for both of the transects described above. I’m interested in what other design phenomena can and have been mapped in urban transects, such as….
– the spatial experience of moving from center to periphery (the examples above sort of get at this, but from a distant aerial point of view) What’s it like on the ground?
– Infrastructure (above and below ground)
– Grid erosion (a la Albert Pope’s Ladders)
What other urban transects are out there? What other methods of representation?