urbanism – landscape – ideas – theory – whimsy

Urban Fabric & Form Comparison

urban form comparison

The Star today published a cover story (Beyond Density) in their Condos section on the efforts in Mississauga to create a more vibrant and pedestrian-friendly downtown – key among the problems identified has been the large scale of the block patterns in Mississauga – to prove the point the article includes urban form/fabric drawings of 9 cities (one hopes at the same scales) in order to compare the scales of the fabric of the street network. I include the drawings below alphabetically (with Mississauga first).

(edit: a friend requested I lay out all the drawings in a grid for easier comparison – I hope you enjoy – click on the above image for a larger version)

More than anything, the comparisons expose the inherent problems of scale in trying to evolve any suburban, auto-oriented area into a more pedestrian-oriented centre. The traditional response in suburbia has been to internalize pedestrian areas (in the form of the mall), Square One (home to the largest Walmart in the world) being a particularly powerful example, though Scarborough Town Centre might be the more classic one. The size of Square One’s block makes a very interesting comparison with Copenhagen’s city centre (3rd below) in which a series of streets and spaces have been linked together and pedestrianized (view a map of the pedestrian areas of Copenhagen from Metropolis magazine). In size or length of pedestrian space, the two might even be close, but in overall character and degree of integration into the urban fabric (particularly important for pedestrians) they are from wholly different worlds and you can easily trace much of these differences to the scale of the street fabric.

The other striking lesson from such comparisons is that there really is no perfect form of street fabric – many different networks and patterns are capable of producing wonderful places and being friendly for pedestrians as long as their fabric allows frequent and comprehensive linkages – there simply seems to be an upper scale beyond which all hope of efficient (and therefore popular) pedestrian circulation is gone.

MISSISSAUGA: “Long blocks and virtually empty sidewalks”

Barcelona Urban Fabric
BARCELONA: “La Ramblas is the main north-south promenade”

Copenhagen Urban Form
COPENHAGEN: “City features a car-free zone called the Stroget”

London Urban Form
LONDON: “The Mayfair and Soho districts south of Oxford St”

New York Urban Form
NEW YORK: “Midtown Manhattan south of Central Park”

Paris Urban Form
PARIS: “Streets were designed by Georges-Eugne Haussmann”

Rome Urban Form
ROME: “East of the Tiber River bend that points to the Vatican”

San Francisco Urban Form
SAN FRANCISCO: “Market St splits the central city into two grids”

Toronto Urban Form
TORONTO: “Between Queen and College Sts east of Bathurst”

18 Comments so far
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Who made these images, where did they come from?

This was a compelling article–mostly because it was interesting to see the striking graphic comparisons in figure-ground format between the different city centres, side-by-side on the page. Your format, placing them one atop the other, is less effective, although it’s great to have the drawings at the scale you show them. Could you do both though? I mean, add a page with the six layouts at a scale making it possible to see them all at once?

Another interesting comparison would be to include the inner pedestrian realms of the megablocks–so we’d see the PATH system of Toronto as a system of streets undercutting the large block patterns. I’m always a little depressed when I walk the PATH–thinking about the fact of all those “missing” pedestrians in the public realm above–and always a little surprised when I resurface, to find that even with the thousands and thousands of people streaming along in their underground conduit, there are still quite a few folks on the real streets, too.

By the way, although the Star never gave credit, I think I recognize the plans it produced as being from the Allan Jacobs book, “Great Streets”–you probably know it. I found a representative sample through google images just now (note misspelling of Allan Jacobs’s name): http://tinyurl.com/yu5cle

The Star article gave no attribution, so I assumed they were produced in house, but I think you’re right Jake that most have in fact been lifted from Great Streets – with the exception of the Mississauga and Toronto maps which look like they have been done on computer instead and wouldn’t have been in Great Streets…

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I believe they were made by Manuel de Solà-Morales, and were featured in this book:


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this info really helped in understanding of urban pattern

I have checked the scale of the Star’s (Sola-Morales’s?) drawings. They are all at the same scale, with about 0.87 mile (1.4 km) on the long side. This includes the Mississauga drawing, although that drawing’s style is subtly different from the others. The drawings in Allan Jacobs’s book were all 1 mile (1.6 km) square.

[…] also I found via Bricoleurbanism a visual of urban form/fabric drawings in 9 cities, which does a great job of visualizing the […]

Hi, all!
I lived for almost 5 years in Waterloo and used to go to Toronto, many times trhough Mississauga….It is a loosing time to compare cities of different cultures as well as it is difficult to established a “new-order” to North American Urbanism. Now I am teaching Urban Design in Brazil and I think that (medium 130 hab/ha of Firenze) density and mixed use (see Jane Jacobs–Boston North End) is the solution for poor pedestrian life in Toronto and in many others Canadian cities. Not only for recovering quality of life but also to survive of a new housing/financial/economic crisis such as 2008’s Leman Brothers and the like.
Prof Roberto de Oliveira, PhD

Thank you for the article.
I liked it,and would like to know more about the topic,Is there any refrences can help me to understand each one of this pattren charactrictics ?!!

[…] mönster i några olika färgställningar. Inspirationen kommer från städer avbildade såhär. Kompenserar att det inte blivit en om dagen på sistone med ett gammalt projekt, ett second […]

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[…] Fabric of Paris […]


[…] understanding of/bird’s eye perspective on urban fabric(s) (from e.g. city planning as seen here: https://www.bricoleurbanism.org/ideas/urban-fabric-form-comparison/ ) to the actual configurations and compositions of texture and their relation to experience in and […]

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If you overlayed the optimum circulation pattern for pedestrians over that for vehicles you would get a contradiction.
They should probably be on different levels.People move from place to place (nodes).Vehicles move from intersection to intersection. (nodes).ie grid vs medieval.A hybrid or nodal planning is required.

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