Intuitive Cities: Pre-Reflective, Aesthetic and Political Aspects of Urban Design

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Evidence affirms that aesthetic engagement patterns our movements, often with us barely aware. This invites an examination of pre-reflective engagement within cities and also aesthetic experience as a form of the pre-reflective. The invitation is amplified because design has political implications. For instance, it can draw people in or exclude them by establishing implicitly recognized public-private boundaries. The Value Sensitive Design school, which holds that artifacts embody ethical and political values, stresses some of this. But while emphasizing that design embodies implicit values, research in this field lacks sustained attention to largely unconscious background biases or values, rooted in cultural attitudes and personal interests, that lead theorists and planners—often too narrowly—to promote design organized around specific values such as defensibility. In examining these points, I draw on J. J. Gibson, a central figure for some writing on aesthetics and cities, and whom pragmatists and phenomenologists in turn influenced. Taking a cue from pragmatists in particular, I argue Gibson’s perceptual theory of affordances entails a theory of values, meaning our perception and therewith movements are inherently value-based. I advocate design that accounts for relatively constantly held values such as safety, while also handling the vast pluralism that exists and not crushing the aesthetic vibrancy of city life.
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Archival date: 2017-03-12
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