An examination of the Block Ordinance as a panacea for the ailments of modern cities.

Future Cities article, titled "Two simple sentences could reshape suburban America," challenges an unthinking acceptance of specific planning ordinances and zoning regulations. The article does so by revealing their origins and by critically assessing their outcomes—offering an invaluable, evolutionary perspective.

Its main argument and the proposed alternative—a Block Ordinance—however, would have been more persuasive if the historical inquiry and the search for alternatives had been expanded. This ordinance deems the block land as private property, surrounded by public land, and restricts its perimeter length to a presumed ideal maximum.

This piece traces a number of historical references and explores experimental alternatives, showing that the Block Ordinance, by itself, is inadequate to guide the laying out of subdivisions.


Martina Franca (900 s, Italy)
Martina Franca (900 s, Italy) - No discernible pattern of streets or city block regularity. Each block is unique, shaped by its location in the system and the hilly topography. As with Palma Nova, it is the path system, random as it may be, that defines Martina Franca’s whimsical blocks. The majority of streets are local.


The article illuminates the intent of the 1928 Department of Commerce publications and unveils their consequences by means of a representative specimen—a plan that obviously limits connectivity.

Here is where this analysis stumbles. It uncovers the genesis and rationale of a recent, ubiquitous planning ordinance but stops short of doing the same for its predecessors. It looks at the negative outcomes of the former but not of the latter. It also stumbles on a core conceptual difference between the existing and the proposed ordinances: the former speaks to the issue of local streets and the latter to the issue of what constitutes a city block. The first incorporates the notion of traffic circulation, the second bypasses it—altogether, apples and oranges.

The idea that a "good" block with a defined maximum perimeter can result in a "better city" excludes the intermediate steps of defining the shape of the block(s), their potential variety and the multitude of ways in which they can be arranged to form a recognizable pattern. 


... no matter how well defined and sized, is insufficient to generate a circulation system of which itself is a derivative element.  Such a system has to be conceived first. It should, among other issues, answer the question of local streets: their purpose, their definition, and the ways to integrate them into the system, if they have known positive outcomes. A synthesis (or fusion) of the two ordinances is the best way forward.