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catalyst

The Magazine of The College of Sciences

P2P Urbanism: Changing the Geometry of Living


Imagine. You wake up to a peaceful sunny day. Your neighbor is walking his dog down the street to a nearby park where children are laughing on a playground. You stroll past the grocery store and your favorite café on your five-minute commute to work.

Now, imagine you helped build it all. This tranquil urban scene is a dream of Professor of Mathematics Nikos Salingaros and a goal of his new publication, Peer to Peer Urbanism. The free, online paper combines strategies from New Urbanism with open-source idea sharing to effect real change in communities worldwide. The publication provides a fundamental new approach to building cities from the ground up by providing tools and information so that people can create and enhance their own communities.

New Urbanism is an architectural and social movement that aims to create diverse, walkable communities. Ideally, these neighborhoods should have a variety of buildings, including housing, shops, entertainment venues, schools, parks and more. According to NewUrbanism.org, they should contain “the same components as conventional development, but assembled in a more integrated fashion.” Often, they reflect an atmosphere of an old-world European village. One of the most successful New Urbanist communities is Seaside, Fla.

Salingaros has been involved in the New Urbanist movement since 1993 and holds architecture appointments with universities throughout the world. His focus in the movement has been to address social issues by changing the geometry of spaces in which people live and work. In his book Principles of Urban Structure, Salingaros writes that “[g]eometric coherence is an identifiable quality that ties the city together through form and is an essential prerequisite for the vitality of the urban fabric.”

In Peer to Peer Urbanism, Salingaros provides access to the architectural rules that are grounded in science and mathematics that he and other New Urbanists use to create cities. “New Urbanists are always going around with books full of rules on what makes a city good,” he said. These rules explain to the architect and builder how to adapt to human needs, and how to transform what exists into something that works for the people who will live there./p>

Nikos Salingaros earned his doctoral degree in physics from the SUNY Stony Brook. He joined the UTSA Department of Mathematics in 1983. In 2009 he was ranked as ranked 11th on an international list of the Top 100 Urban Thinkers, according to urban planning Web site Planetizen.

According to the publication, it’s the small ideas that can make the biggest impact — ideas that can easily be implemented, like creating a garden out of a vacant lot or repairing a bus stop. “We’re giving people the tools and autonomy to build cities better,” said Salingaros. “At the same time, we’d like to convince the governments to help with infrastructure and materials to make the product much better.”

Salingaros admits that philosophies must change if governments are to buy into the ideas in Peer to Peer Urbanism. He is hopeful that the benefits are incentive enough. New Urbanist projects have multifaceted value—economic value for the builders and sellers and social value for the residents and society at large. In addition to vibrant community life, New Urbanist neighborhoods foster environmental responsibility because residents use cars less frequently and purchase goods from local vendors.

The potential to create better lives keeps Salingaros hopeful. “It’s fun if we see tremendous improvements in people’s lives.”

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