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Urban Jumble

Mark Matthews

Jane Jacobs, whose 1961 Death and Life of Great American Cities influenced a generation of planners, was no fan of the urban re-engineering popular at the time: large-scale demolition in the name of slum clearance, broad open spaces, and freeways. Her prescription, as the New York Times’s 2006 obituary of Jacobs tells it, “was ever more diversity, density and dynamism — in effect, to crowd people and activities together in a jumping, joyous urban jumble.” Such street life may be responsible for the revival of U.S. downtowns as “walkable and bikeable” places to live and work. Cities, it turns out, also offer efficiencies of scale, with lower infrastructure costs per dwelling. But all this crowding compounds the urban ills of traffic, pollution, and garbage. These problems are particularly acute in the 10-million-plus-population “megacities” attracting growing numbers of the world’s poor.

With half of humanity dwelling in cities, engineers have accepted the challenge of making urban centers both livable and sustainable. They’re coming up with creative ways to speed traffic, preserve aging infrastructure, and purify water that often don’t require huge public investment. As the University of Texas, Arlington’s engineering dean, Jean-Pierre Bardet, tells Tom Grose in our cover story, “For engineers, the 21st century will be the century of the cities.”

South Korea’s “ubiquitous cities,” described by Lucy Craft in our second feature, provide a glimpse of our hyperwired and superconvenient urban future, with remote monitoring of everything from air quality to sewage disposal.

For an example of how instructors are doing more with less, be sure to read Mary Lord’s “Lab on a Shoestring” and its account of how the University of Southern Maine’s John Marshall collaborates with local industry to give his students the equipment they need and the skills that companies demand.

Flip the magazine over and let Robin Tatu tell you all about Atlanta, a fascinating cultural and commercial center and the site of ASEE’s annual conference in June. This year’s conference is particularly special, coming on the Society’s 120th anniversary.

We hope you enjoy the February Prism, and would welcome your comments.

Mark Matthews


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