Classic city design is a lost art, but is now being recovered.

Despite the fact that there are more urban planners than ever, the built environment only seems to grow steadily worse. So architect Nir Haim Buras takes early aim at this core paradox of the 20th century in his new book, The Art of Classic Planning. His voluminous study draws upon a wonderful range of real locations for taking lessons. Buras’ argument, in large part, is that the prior canon of planning literature had access to almost all of these things, and yet persistently drew either the wrong or incomplete conclusions. 

There is a hubris to city planning, which often leads to the conceit that the planner’s invention will improve on others that have come before. New technologies often provide the most disastrous launching pads for these concepts, none more so than the automobile. “To structure urban fabric for high-performance roads before choreographing the urban experience is to put the cart before the horse.” In any case, a pattern of novelty fixes can soon lead to persistent cyclical problems. 

“Independent of history and context, architects and planners are forced to reinvent the wheel. Solving problems that their predecessor created, they are often left holding the bag. At the heart of those failures lies the belief that ultimately, technological innovation will single-handedly save the world.”

Part of the problem—even for modest planners or authors with no ambitions to radically disrupt patterns of life—is that prioritizing one or a few factors in plotting out the urban environment can end up wrecking or diminishing the complex interplay of the larger.