Rocket Bomber - urban studies

How to Build a Better Block

filed under , 27 February 2014, 11:34 by

It is with some sadness that I relate the ‘death’ of an online video: previously hosted on Vimeo by The Municipal Art Society of New York (where there is still some great video), I regret to inform you that The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces – The Street Corner from William H. Whyte (author and pioneering urbanist) was taken down following a copyright claim.

Ordinarily, it wouldn’t matter (even to a ‘fan’ like me) but I had embedded the video in a past blog post and used it to illustrate several arguments on how people actually use public space.

Fortunately, I was able to track down a pair of YouTube videos that, while lacking the charm of Whyte’s 1980 film, managed to communicate the same points. I very rarely edit six-month-old posts—heck, I’m hard-pressed to do more than fix typos—but the “Lifestyle Destination” post is one of my longer essays (and one that still gets incoming traffic off of Google) so I felt it needed the addition-slash-correction.

Since you’re not necessarily going back and reading my archives, though, I thought the new videos might be worthwhile to pull into a post of their own:

George C. Stoney’s How to Live in a City (1964), “architectural critic Eugene Ruskin guides us through unique locales which illustrate the fine line between organic and sterile urban spaces. It all depends on a place’s ability to attract and sustain, even if only momentarily, a sense of community.” (18.3min)

George Morris, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, Market Square (12.2min)

I only used those two to plug the gap — but why stop there? This may come as a shock for those who think YouTube is only a resource for skit comedy, cat videos, and music*, but at this point everything is on YouTube — well, everything except 1980’s The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces – The Street Corner by William H. Whyte. And Game of Thrones.

While I was on the urban-studies-kick, here are some other short films, presentations, and documentaries I found:

Urban Design for Successful Cities: Alexandros Washburn, September 2012 TEDx talk (25.4min)

How To Build a Better Block: TEDxOU – Jason Roberts, January 2012 TEDxOU talk (18.2min)

- great title. you might have noticed, I stole it.

A City Is (Not) A Tree: New Models of Urban Space, Gino Zucchi, April 2013 (1hr57min)

Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature – Douglas Farr, 2009 (1hr20min)

* Isn’t it amazing that the most popular and widespread ‘digital music service’ is actually YouTube, and it’s free? I know because I spend *hours* on YouTube looking for music – it’s like a research tool — strike that, it *is* a research tool, as this post and others of mine capably prove.

A return to the Great Good Place.

filed under , 29 January 2014, 16:40 by


“As long as there have been cities, these are the kind of places people have met in,” said Don Mitchell, a professor of urban geography at Syracuse University and the author of “The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space.” “Whether they have been private property, public property or something in between,” he said, “taking up space is a way to claim a right to be, a right to be visible, to say, ‘We’re part of the city too.’ ”

Customers Seeking “Third Places” Give McDonald’s a Second Thought : Jonathan Nettler, 28 January 2014, Planetizen

from the same:
“Climate controlled public places where the elderly, cost-conscious and indigent are welcome to spend a few hours are hard to find.”
(In the absence of big box bookstores, our homeless have to flee to McDonald’s like refugees from some conflict?)


The need for a “Third Place” predates the term, but it was first (and best) articulated by Prof. Ray Oldenburg in his 1989 book The Great Good Place, which I first encountered in a 1997 reprint edition back when my professional focus was on bars, pubs and hospitality — not my later (starting ~2001) career as a bookseller. What do really great pubs and bookstores have in common? (besides me?) These business often engender a Sense of Community, of belonging—and often, a sense of ownership—in their customers, a feeling that has nothing to do with the storefront or the economic activity. A stage where the props matter more than the script, and the cast constantly changes, but while on that stage everyone does in fact feel like they are part of an ensemble, a company. [sorry, that was perhaps a shade too poetic]

In the context of bookselling, I blogged about Third Places back in 2009. The internet has changed so much of our daily lives, and revolutionized social interaction (or at least, has claimed to change everything) but when it comes down to it: not a whole hell of a lot has really changed since 1989, when Prof. Oldenburg wrote his book. If anything, we still desperately need social space (now more than ever?) — a need so pressing that we will co-opt a fast food burger joint to serve the cause if necessary.

— but they have to have free wifi. Social is fine and all but the internet trumps everything.

Don Mitchell’s book, The Right to the City, is isbn 9781572308473; the isbn y’all should be popping into Google for Oldenburg is 9781569246818 — from there you can select your merchant-of-choice;

for the lazy you can avail yourselves of these Amazon links from which I will receive a remuneration.

[At the moment there isn’t an ebook version of The Great Good Place; I note a small, smug satisfaction in that fact given the subject matter but I decline further comment]

"We must be able to show progress even where we are unable to show perfection."

filed under , 9 December 2013, 12:02 by

“Emphases of the Hometown Plan included transit-oriented development (South Miami has a rail rapid transit station by its downtown), protection for historic structures, pedestrian improvements, and adding residential uses to accommodate a diverse range of incomes. South Miami’s downtown now has revitalized commercial activity, several new and renovated buildings, wider sidewalks, traffic calming features, and a new municipal parking garage lined with restaurants.

“But the imperfections are part of what makes this example so important. We must be able to show progress even where we are unable to show perfection. Like it or not, rapid and comprehensive change isn’t available in much of America. In the case of South Miami’s Hometown District, the city has a great master plan that will continue to guide further investment and progress toward walkability as more opportunities come up. Meanwhile, what the suburb has achieved so far is really impressive.”

Revitalizing the Suburb Without Giving Up the Car : Kaid Benfield, 9 December 2013, The Atlantic Cities

Sending the message without posting a sign.

filed under , 9 December 2013, 10:39 by

“When Selena Savic walks down a city street, she sees it differently to most people. Whereas other designers might admire the architecture, Savic sees a host of hidden tricks intended to manipulate our behaviour and choices without us realising – from benches that are deliberately uncomfortable to sculptures that keep certain citizens away.

“Modern cities are rife with these ‘unpleasant designs’, says Savic, a PhD student at the Ecole Polytechnique Federerale de Lausanne in Switzerland, who co-authored a book on the subject this year. Once you know these secret tricks are there, it will transform how you see your surroundings. ‘We call this a silent agent,’ says Savic. ‘These designs are hidden, or not apparent to people they don’t target.’ Are you aware of how your city is manipulating you?”

Secret city design tricks manipulate your behaviour : Frank Swain, 2 December 2013, BBC Future

Pics at link; if you have the time I’d also re-recommend the following video:

William H. Whyte: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces – The Street Corner from MASNYC [The Municipal Art Society of New York] on Vimeo.
The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces was also (or perhaps I should say, was primarily) a book in 1980, ISBN 9780970632418, available used these days; though now also available in a new edition from PPS, The Project for Public Spaces.


The BBC article references Selena Savic’s book as well, Unpleasant Design, which she also currently expands upon with a blog of the same name.

Universities are good for Cities.

filed under , 4 December 2013, 11:02 by

“This is where universities can help. Universities can work in their local area to develop high-potential entrepreneurs; make them world-class; help them take advantage of emerging trends; help them add value globally, and help them export. This includes helping with technology, products, productivity, trends, marketing and sales, and focusing on the entrepreneurs’ ability to export.

“The level of assistance to implement this mission requires a higher level of focus and sophistication than that currently practiced by most universities and cities. But this type of partnership can bring more benefits to cities than just working with small, local businesses. Universities can offer the missing link to help high-potential entrepreneurs. They can help the transition from local entrepreneur to global CEO, and keep the benefits local. This means changing the focus from ‘all’ entrepreneurs and small business to high-potential entrepreneurs who export from your area to other areas, states and countries”

How Universities Can Help Cities Create Good Jobs : Dileep Rao, 2 December 2013, Forbes


The author of the above piece from Forbes lies in his article title: The main thrust of the article (after listing old chesnuts like “good jobs are good” and “gov’t debt is bad”) is that Universities Can Help Cities Create Good Jobs without describing HOW. Also, past an emphasis on “exports” (really? which kind, what industries, products or services, software or hardware? ANY hints at all, Mr. Rao?) the author also neglects to tell us what ‘good’ jobs are.

Still I agree with the sentiment, Universities Can Help Cities Create Good Jobs, mostly by existing and education people in all fields (not just entrepreneurs and techies) because you never know what skill is going to be important later. And that was enough reason to link.


Yes, all the links are broken.

On June 1, 2015 (after 6 years and 11 months) I needed to relaunch/restart this blog, or at least rekindle my interest in maintaining and updating it.

Rather than delete and discard the whole thing, I instead moved the blog -- database, cms, files, archives, and all -- to this subdomain. When you encounter broken links (and you will encounter broken links) just change the URL in the address bar from to

I know this is inconvenient, and for that I apologise. In addition to breaking tens of thousands of links, this also adversely affects the blog visibility on search engines -- but that, I'm willing to live with. Between the Wayback Machine at and my own half-hearted preservation efforts (which you are currently reading) I feel nothing has been lost, though you may have to dig a bit harder for it.

As always, thank you for reading. Writing version 1.0 of Rocket Bomber was a blast. For those that would like to follow me on the 2.0 - I'll see you back on the main site.



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