Somewhere, between character and caricature, there exists an authentic—a truly unique—urban place, that blends global and local, old and new. Yet, in a dramatically changing world dominated by crises of climate change, maintaining public health, and social justice, finding such places—and explaining their relevance—may be easier said than done.
Sustaining a City’s Culture and Character accepts that challenge, and provides a comprehensive method for assessing how and why successful places come to be, with an explicit emphasis on context: Authenticity, culture, character, and uniqueness are words with meanings that depend on who is using them and in what contexts.
Through text interwoven with 160 full-color photographs by the author, and select illustrations by others, this book addresses how to enact blended and contextualized urban change, using the past and the status quo as catalysts rather than castaways. It provides resources and examples for the context-vetting process and for understanding how one era, object, or generation informs the next.
This beautiful full-color book illustrates how we can understand—or unlock— a public place, neighborhood, or city. Based on comparative experiences around the world, the book proposes a new tool—called LEARN (Look, Engage, Assess, Review, and Negotiate) —as a way of sustaining urban culture and character in transformative times.
Inspired by recent efforts and outcomes, the book is full of relevant examples. They include moving a small Swedish city, reviving Irish market towns, and revitalization efforts adjacent to London’s Waterloo Station.
Sustaining a City’s Culture and Character provides a catalog of techniques that emphasize “bottom up,” resident-based input about local history, building forms, natural and open spaces, cultural assets and tradition, and related policy, planning, and regulatory examples.
For those who seek an urbanism of distinctiveness to enhance city livability, rather than a bland, generic uniformity, the book examines on a global basis how the many interrelated facets of an urban area’s unique, yet dynamic context—built, social, cultural and intangible—can be championed and advanced, rather than simply borrowed from another place.
Charles R. Wolfe is a London-based, multinational urbanism consultant, author, visiting scholar in Sweden, recent Fulbright specialist in Australia for an award-winning project, and long-time American environmental/land use lawyer. He holds a graduate degree in regional planning and has 34 years of experience in environmental, land use, and real estate law. He has held leadership positions in both the legal and planning professions. He has represented public and private clients in property redevelopment, regulatory entitlements, drafting and brownfield remediation issues in Washington State and other venues. He is founder and principal advisor of Seeing Better Cities Group, has practiced at several law firms, and has served as a long-time affiliate associate professor in the College of the Built Environments at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he has taught land use law and contributed to major research efforts addressing urban center and brownfield redevelopment. He has written regularly for many publications, including The Atlantic, The Atlantic Cities/CityLab, Governing, CityMetric, Planetizen, The Huffington Post, Grist, and Crosscut. He blogs at myurbanist.com. He is the author of Seeing the Better City and Urbanism Without Effort .Tigran Haas is associate professor of urban planning and urban design, former director of Civitas Athenaeum Laboratory (CAL), current director of the Centre for the Future of Places (CFP), and the director of the Graduate Program in Urbanism at the School of Architecture and the Built Environment at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. He has studied in the United States, former Yugoslavia (BiH and Croatia), and Sweden and has also completed postdoctoral fellowships at MIT, Boston, UC Berkeley, and the University of Michigan. Haas holds advanced degrees in architecture, urban planning and design, environmental science and regional planning. He has written more than fifty scholarly articles, thirty-five conference papers, five books, four research anthologies, and has been involved in teaching in international educational programs.
Table of Content
Chapter 1— LEARNing Context
Chapter 2—Applying Context
Chapter 3—What is Your Context and Character?
Chapter 4—The Role of Scale
Chapter 5— How Context Keys Filter Culture and Character
Chapter 7—Adapting What We Have
Sensitive to the global forces precipitating urban change, Wolfe and Haas use the tools of observation, photography, and interviews to examine urban sustainability, particularly the unique character, history, and essential nature of urban places. The authors are broadly experienced in their subject.... [S]ubstantive, illuminating, and richly illustrated...this volume is a primer on how to redesign urban space while remaining sensitive to its modern, global niche and vigilant in preserving its culture, history, and authenticity. Almost methodically, using rich photographic evidence, the authors prescriptively detail the importance of urban context and historical character, chapter by chapter. The book might be effective in certain upper-level urban studies or urban design programs. Recommended.
[The] book proposes an interdisciplinary approach called LEARN (Look, Engage, Assess, Review, and Negotiate) to discerning an area, or a city’s, distinct identity. In essence, this book could not be more timely, partly also because during the many zooms and online conferences of the past year and a half, many of us were called upon to propose visions for how we could make better cities after Covid-19. Some of us have argued for the importance of grasping the context as a tactic for bringing local communities to the table of place making, but each of us did it from the perspective of our discipline, or practice, and what we lacked was a thoughtful, cohesive, overarching, and balanced method for understand the everlasting urban culture and character of places in order to cope better with environmental and social uncertainty. Now, thanks to Wolfe, we have it in LEARN.
Wolfe's vision into the means by which cities sustain cultural attributes is grounded in plural methods --from ethnographies to artistic production or mapping--multi-scholar and multi-sited examination of explicit or implicit place-making strategies, and the recognition of the hybridity of place, all of which have long been familiar engagements in humanistic geography.
Charles Wolfe and Tigran Haas are passionate about the culture and character of cities, and their book Sustaining a City’s Culture and Character is a relevant contribution to the knowledge how to maintain the identity of our urban places. The principles of public space identified in the book are free of nostalgia and go beyond mere concepts of heritage conservation. The book gives guidance how to avoid the trap of urban renewal that is out-of-scale, context, and character the kind of development that has destroyed so much of the distinctive place attributes and ignored or diminished the differences of our urban places
Nothing is more important in planning and urban design than understanding what makes successful places work. Charles R Wolfe is a master of the art of observation and interpretation, and his new book generously shares his insights.
Charles Wolfe and Tigran Haas’s wonderful book Sustaining a City's Culture and Character: Principles and Best Practices invites us to see place intimately, expansively, physically, culturally, and through time, and in so doing to better understand our communities and their place in the unfolding of civilization.
This thoughtful book offers us a timely reminder of the vital importance of urban context. Context not in a simple hankering for the past, but instead in a recognition that by choosing to carry traces of the past into the future we can ground ourselves today in a more fulfilling present.
In Sustaining a City’s Culture and Character: Principles and Best Practices, Chuck Wolfe with Tigran Haas deliver an in-depth, knowledgeable and impassioned plea for embracing a co-created approach to urban change in a careful and inclusive way.
They introduce an exciting new framework for understanding the culture and character of a particular context through a holistic and blended approach to the advocacy of multivalent viewpoints, with particular and careful attention to citizen dialogue and the day-to-day lived experiences of its local community.
The book advocates for a multiplicity of views and constituents, and draws in a wide range of expert voices that give chorus to the books main themes. The content is cleverly staged into concise sequential sections that is fluently written and has relevance and accessibility to a wide readership of those interested in the continual evolution of their local environments.
Sustaining a City’s Culture and Character urges those of us who work with cities to re-embrace respect, learning and listening as fundamental starting points for our work. It calls us to engage in a practice built on better relationships with our cities—relationships anchored on understanding instead of superficial projection or copy-and-paste urbanism. It then tantalizes us with compelling examples of what we might gain in doing so. A nice reminder for the professional seeking fresh inspiration, and compelling introduction for students involved in urban studies, planning, and other city-building disciplines.
In Sustaining a City’s Culture and Character: Principles and Best Practices, Charles Wolfe and Tigran Haas share forward-looking techniques for identifying and nurturing the complex culture of a city. Eminently readable, the book deepens our understanding of authenticity and heritage, but perhaps most importantly, highlights the possibilities unleashed by listening to citizen expertise.
In this third book, Chuck Wolfe is at his best as raconteur of city life, places, and people. Drawing from a large swath of urban history and crisscrossing the 'pond' (and beyond) with gusto, Wolfe entices the reader with numerous lively examples of places that have kept culture and character over long periods of time. He and Tigran Haas offer useful ways for the reader to test and practice the book's central idea of sustaining a city's culture and character. Coming out during the Covid-19 pandemic, the book will bring hope and joy, reminding us how vibrant our cities have been and surely will be again. The text is further enriched with remarkable photos by the author and selected artist depictions of urban places.
Wolfe and Haas ask one of the biggest questions of our time: What is place? What is culture? In a post-covid world, places will be driven by local experience, authenticity and, importantly, identity. This book is an important guide for anyone designing human-centered places.
Just in time, Charles Wolfe, with the assistance of Tigran Haas, propels us forward in our work sustaining and improving quality of life, character, and engagement in communities large and small. Wolfe applies his LEARN principles to how we plan and invest in cities, eschewing simplistic and quick placemaking and planning strategies to lay out a system that focuses on prolonged and deep engagement and negotiation, among other tools. The LEARN approach avoids indiscriminate replications, embraces human experience, stories, and complexity, and acknowledges new tools to embrace social justice and political advocacy. Planners and public officials take note…Wolfe understands that HOW we plan has deep consequences and a careful read of this book can change up your toolbox to great and positive benefit for our communities and spaces.
People often get trapped between the need for transformational change and the desire to preserve what makes a place special. Battle lines are drawn and dialogue gets lost. As Mayor of Seattle, and as a lifelong advocate for walkable communities, I’ve been in the middle of such conversations and know how hard they are. Chuck Wolfe and Tigran Haas invite us to fully understand a place as a predicate to help sustain its character through change.
"[T]he book posits an interesting set of questions: change, growth and development will happen, but how can these transformations occur while nurturing daily life and community culture? How do we define cities and understand urban context?"
A variety of professionals have been involved with the evolution of urban design and streetscape vocabulary since the pioneering work of Jane Jacobs, Kevin Lynch, and William Whyte. An emerging contribution to this legacy is Charles R. Wolfe. When I reviewed his book Urbanism Without Effort, I said it might be one of the best-kept secrets of current planning literature. He has now co-authored a larger volume with Tigran Haas that has extensive colorful images that I highly recommend. They offer a new tool called LEARN and provide important, seminal thoughts that may lead to a closer relationship between urban design and equity planning for practitioners and academicians.
The book is a call to look at our cities, towns and neighbourhood from a less established and more contemplative perspective; it does not offer solutions, rather an approach to place which celebrates curiosity. In this sense it is not ground-breaking but acts as a good reminder to, once in a while, shake off our set ways when approaching our environments. The fact that it has a European and North American focus, with the majority of examples from both is in fact interesting, as it focuses its attention exactly where planning and design, as professions, are more established and confident.
12/22/2020, Planetizen: Author Chuck Wolfe penned a blog post titled, "A Farewell to One-Size-Fits-All Urbanism."
5/4/21, UW News (University of Washington): The author and his books were featured in this article.”