Colin Clark’s paper “Transport – Maker and Breaker of Cities” (1958) asserts that the principle need for evolution within human civilizations is reliant upon transportation. Clark supports his claim by tracing the role of transport from early urban civilization to the end of the 1950s and its intrinsic relationship to the production, manufacturing, economical, and societal successes or downfalls of a city. He argues that the most successful ancient civilizations were those who were closest to an abundance of food and a water way source for transport. These civilizations harnessed agriculture and water transportation of building materials to create density within their villages. Clark further argues that the evolution of water transportation was succeeded by railway transport, which re-arranged agriculture production inciting accessibility, urbanization, the development of the industrial cities and the devaluation of suburban areas. However, Clark mentions that the rise of motor transportation and Electrical trams in the 20th century have created a new connector to suburban communities, shifting the values of consumerism and manufacturing while also producing sprawl, dispersal of populations and form making of cities. Sprawl, Clark notes, is a serious consequence of transportation that threatens many cities worldwide. The implications of sprawl can lead to the fragmentation of cities, over-use of resources, environmental fracture and dissolution of local goods. Clark urges readers to rethink our relationship to transport and to understand it’s direct influence over the form, resilience and individuality of our cities.
Sixty years later, much of the claims and consequences brought forward in Clark’s paper can be seen today. I am shocked that the author has been able to foretell accurately the future of transport and its implications on cities form making. Sprawl, dispersed populations, marginalized communities, congestion, density and extraneous use of resources are all very real consequences of transport that are often mentioned in my studio classes, city planning conferences and the news. I am reminded of my own city – Winnipeg, which has been on a path of development recently. However, much of the developments have been spreading outside of the city center, creating emptiness and loss of urban quality within the Downtown core while increasing sprawl and suburban development. This has caused many safety and density issues, barren sidewalks, increased vehicular use and has swelled the congestion of the city by tenfold. The decentralization of Winnipeg is a glaring example of the consequences of transportation mention in Clark’s paper, because it showcases the reliance of motorized and electrical traffic on city making rather than pedestrian, cycling and other modes of transport. In contrast, my trip to New York in 2014 showcased an example of successful transportation and relational land planning. Much of New York’s city planning has paved the way towards inciting change within the transportation crisis by looking at the implementation of congestion pricing and prioritizing pedestrian friendly neighborhoods.
As the urban transportation crisis thickens, I believe that designers will hold an integral role in allocating land-use planning and adapting cities. This will determine, as Clark says, ‘the making or breaking’ of the city.