Picking up this little black-and-white volume and spying its table of contents, I couldn’t help but intone her name—Jane Jacobs. Since The Death and Life of Great American Cities was published in 1961, the term “city planning” has been replaced, over time, by “urban.” Today we have “urban design,” “urban planning” and now “urban code,” all of which legitimize making sense of cities based on observation.
Urban Code is a tribute to the paradigm shift that began 50 years ago, when observation of the environment replaced abstract theoretical constructs. Inspired by this method, Urban Code by Mikolet and Pürckhauer focuses on New York’s SoHo in 2011 to produce a small accessible handbook of place-based rules. From Jacobs’ four plainly stated conditions for sustaining a diverse and lively neighborhood (a mix of uses, small blocks, aged buildings, and concentration), these authors propose 100 illustrated rules, apparently based simply on looking at a popular neighborhood for what seems to be a couple of weeks. Jacobs’ emphasis reverberates through many of the authors’ concerns from No. 32 (“Each building houses a business”) to No.70 (“Groups attract people”). But most maxims need to be read in pairs so it makes sense to read No. 70 with No. 69: “When people stand still, groups develop.”