4/ The Urban Landscape

This virtual issue sets out the grapple with use of the term ‘the urban landscape’ within Urban Geography. Over the last four decades, the urban landscape has been a useful lens by which to examine urban space, both within the pages of Urban Geography, and as also reflected within the wider area of urban studies. As a term, ‘landscape’ is often conjoined with other terms, with reference to residential landscapes, racialized landscapes, social landscapes and vernacular landscapes being common examples. ‘Landscape’ is also notoriously ‘slippery’, offering a multiplicity of interpretations and meanings. Yet, arguably this multiplicity of meanings has also allowed it to traverse a wide-array of themes and approaches, while also showing the intertwined nature of the phenomena under analysis, including, but not limited to urban and rural, public and private, industrial and post-industrial, the local and the global. The lens of the urban landscape has also allowed for an engagement with a wide-array of conceptual and theoretical lenses, from Marxist-inspired urban political ecology, and urban political economy, to humanist traditions, as well as critical approaches within GIS, such as that which comes under the label of ‘geo-coding the landscape’. Parallel to this, the term ‘landscape’ has also been used to denote a wider range of meanings, that are often less explicit, such as when used as a capture-all term for wider social changes as they take place within contemporary cities. Here, when prefixed with terms such as ‘rural’, ‘peri-urban’, ‘prestigious’, or ‘wealthy’, the meaning of the urban landscape becomes a form of shorthand for wider social phenomena and associated power dynamics.

The forty-year period since the founding of Urban Geography has played witness to a significant transformation of the urban fabric and the way in which it is theorized and researched. Debates have moved from those over the relevance of the Chicago School of Human Ecology, the rise of the LA school, and on to more recent debates over ordinary cities, and planetary and extended urbanization. As has been a continued focus of work within Urban Geography, the changing urban landscape embodies a shift in the entire make up of cities. Not alone are contemporary urban landscapes a reflection of these processes, but are deeply embroiled within the political economic dynamics driving the associated changes. When we discuss the shift, for example, from industrial to post-industrial landscapes, we are talking of something that embodies a wholesale transformation of the economic functioning of cities, as well as the wider social dynamics within which they are embedded. Similarly, every time a mayor, local booster, or development corporation talks of an iconic building or a new marketing program, they are putting landscape to work in order to achieve a form of recognition. The city as something to be sold internationally – and increasingly via digital technologies – renders the urban landscape as a central feature of contemporary urban economies. This works right down to the local scale, where businesses actively draw upon a particular ‘theme’ – through the choice of associated imagery – in order to market or sell their produce. The urban landscape, in essence, can come to embody a set of ideals or a set of processes that predominate in a specific location. The landscape of a ‘creative district’ has a look and feel that becomes its unique selling point. Although built upon a mythology, there is a power within this look and feel that is central to the political economy of place.

As is attested to in a number of the papers chosen for this virtual special issue, a key task of urban scholarship has been to critically analyze the urban landscape so as to understand wider social phenomena. The landscape that is first presented to us can often mask the very social relations that produced it in the first place. The landscape of the mid-20th century suburb, for example, comes to stand in for a particular set of social relations, as, indeed, does the gentrified space that has itself become a focus of study within this journal. It is an idyll, but an idyll that hides the social relations contained within. This can be expanded to look at how landscape is used as means by which to reproduce and reinforce certain privileges over and above others, often through racial, gendered and class-based practices. This is as relevant for the intertwining of landscape and ‘nature’ as it is about emergent neoliberal landscapes of condo developments and transformed waterfronts. Further to this, deciphering the landscape requires an analysis of the inter-relationship between the actions of law that delineate such, including zoning, the work of real estate, or the regulation of homeless people. The inter-relationship between the urban landscape and law is of key importance, with covenants set down in a manner that governs space, and the landscape serving to naturalize these laws. What is or isn’t allowed becomes governed through what is acceptable in the landscape, and, also through what how the landscape should be. As something presented as natural, the work of landscape to exclude certain practices or people. At the same time, however, meaning in the urban landscape is never static or given, but something to be fought over. Resistance itself becomes embedded within the landscape through the contestation, such as in sites of official memory, or, indeed, within ordinary streets.

The selection of papers here employs an array of engagements with the urban landscape in order to analyze sets of social relations as they can be observed and understood in space. Furthermore, the ways in which the urban landscape is used throughout the papers presented here varies from that which is more passive to that which is more active in terms of engagement. The more passive approach sees the urban landscape as shorthand for sets of social processes as related to space and place, and something with an almost functional meaning. The more active use seeks to tease out the more precise meanings of the processes that structure the urban landscape, including the meaning of the term itself and the power dynamics that it can be used to untangle. Fundamentally, however, throughout these different approaches, what emerges is an understanding of the unevenness of the forms of social relations that emerge within urban space and become embedded and reproduced within the urban landscape.

This virtual issue sets out the grapple with use of the term ‘the urban landscape’ within Urban Geography. Over the last four decades, the urban landscape has been a useful lens by which to examine urban space, both within the pages of Urban Geography, and as also reflected within the wider area of urban studies. As a term, ‘landscape’ is often conjoined with other terms, with reference to residential landscapes, racialized landscapes, social landscapes and vernacular landscapes being common examples. ‘Landscape’ is also notoriously ‘slippery’, offering a multiplicity of interpretations and meanings. Yet, arguably this multiplicity of meanings has also allowed it to traverse a wide-array of themes and approaches, while also showing the intertwined nature of the phenomena under analysis, including, but not limited to urban and rural, public and private, industrial and post-industrial, the local and the global. The lens of the urban landscape has also allowed for an engagement with a wide-array of conceptual and theoretical lenses, from Marxist-inspired urban political ecology, and urban political economy, to humanist traditions, as well as critical approaches within GIS, such as that which comes under the label of ‘geo-coding the landscape’. Parallel to this, the term ‘landscape’ has also been used to denote a wider range of meanings, that are often less explicit, such as when used as a capture-all term for wider social changes as they take place within contemporary cities. Here, when prefixed with terms such as ‘rural’, ‘peri-urban’, ‘prestigious’, or ‘wealthy’, the meaning of the urban landscape becomes a form of shorthand for wider social phenomena and associated power dynamics.

The forty-year period since the founding of Urban Geography has played witness to a significant transformation of the urban fabric and the way in which it is theorized and researched. Debates have moved from those over the relevance of the Chicago School of Human Ecology, the rise of the LA school, and on to more recent debates over ordinary cities, and planetary and extended urbanization. As has been a continued focus of work within Urban Geography, the changing urban landscape embodies a shift in the entire make up of cities. Not alone are contemporary urban landscapes a reflection of these processes, but are deeply embroiled within the political economic dynamics driving the associated changes. When we discuss the shift, for example, from industrial to post-industrial landscapes, we are talking of something that embodies a wholesale transformation of the economic functioning of cities, as well as the wider social dynamics within which they are embedded. Similarly, every time a mayor, local booster, or development corporation talks of an iconic building or a new marketing program, they are putting landscape to work in order to achieve a form of recognition. The city as something to be sold internationally – and increasingly via digital technologies – renders the urban landscape as a central feature of contemporary urban economies. This works right down to the local scale, where businesses actively draw upon a particular ‘theme’ – through the choice of associated imagery – in order to market or sell their produce. The urban landscape, in essence, can come to embody a set of ideals or a set of processes that predominate in a specific location. The landscape of a ‘creative district’ has a look and feel that becomes its unique selling point. Although built upon a mythology, there is a power within this look and feel that is central to the political economy of place.

As is attested to in a number of the papers chosen for this virtual special issue, a key task of urban scholarship has been to critically analyze the urban landscape so as to understand wider social phenomena. The landscape that is first presented to us can often mask the very social relations that produced it in the first place. The landscape of the mid-20th century suburb, for example, comes to stand in for a particular set of social relations, as, indeed, does the gentrified space that has itself become a focus of study within this journal. It is an idyll, but an idyll that hides the social relations contained within. This can be expanded to look at how landscape is used as means by which to reproduce and reinforce certain privileges over and above others, often through racial, gendered and class-based practices. This is as relevant for the intertwining of landscape and ‘nature’ as it is about emergent neoliberal landscapes of condo developments and transformed waterfronts. Further to this, deciphering the landscape requires an analysis of the inter-relationship between the actions of law that delineate such, including zoning, the work of real estate, or the regulation of homeless people. The inter-relationship between the urban landscape and law is of key importance, with covenants set down in a manner that governs space, and the landscape serving to naturalize these laws. What is or isn’t allowed becomes governed through what is acceptable in the landscape, and, also through what how the landscape should be. As something presented as natural, the work of landscape to exclude certain practices or people. At the same time, however, meaning in the urban landscape is never static or given, but something to be fought over. Resistance itself becomes embedded within the landscape through the contestation, such as in sites of official memory, or, indeed, within ordinary streets.

The selection of papers here employs an array of engagements with the urban landscape in order to analyze sets of social relations as they can be observed and understood in space. Furthermore, the ways in which the urban landscape is used throughout the papers presented here varies from that which is more passive to that which is more active in terms of engagement. The more passive approach sees the urban landscape as shorthand for sets of social processes as related to space and place, and something with an almost functional meaning. The more active use seeks to tease out the more precise meanings of the processes that structure the urban landscape, including the meaning of the term itself and the power dynamics that it can be used to untangle. Fundamentally, however, throughout these different approaches, what emerges is an understanding of the unevenness of the forms of social relations that emerge within urban space and become embedded and reproduced within the urban landscape.

Philip Lawton, Assistant Professor in Geography, Trinity College Dublin

Ackerman, W.V., 1999. Growth control versus the growth machine in Redlands, California: Conflict in urban land use. Urban Geography20(2), pp.146-167. https://doi.org/10.2747/0272-3638.20.2.146 

Benton, L.M., 1995. Will the real/reel Los Angeles please stand up?. Urban Geography16(2), pp.144-164. https://doi.org/10.2747/0272-3638.16.2.144 

Bondi, L., 1998. Gender, class, and urban space: Public and private space in contemporary urban landscapes. Urban geography19(2), pp.160-185. https://doi.org/10.2747/0272-3638.19.2.160 

Chang, T.C., Huang, S. and Savage, V.R., 2004. On the waterfront: Globalization and urbanization in Singapore. Urban Geography25(5), pp.413-436. https://doi.org/10.2747/0272-3638.25.5.413 

Clark, T.A., 1985. The interdependence among gentrifying neighborhoods: Central Denver since 1970. Urban Geography6(3), pp.246-273. https://doi.org/10.2747/0272-3638.6.3.246 

Domosh, M., 1992. Urban imagery. Urban geography13(5), pp.475-480. 
https://doi.org/10.2747/0272-3638.13.5.475 

Feagan, M. & Ripmeester, M. 1999. Contesting Naturalil(ized) Lawns: A Geography of Private Green Space in The Niagara Region, Urban Geography, 20:7, 617-634, 

https://doi.org/10.2747/0272-3638.20.7.617 
Hackworth, J., 2005. Emergent urban forms, or emergent post-modernisms? A comparison of large US metropolitan areas. Urban Geography26(6), pp.484-519. 

https://doi.org/10.2747/0272-3638.26.6.484
Herod, A., 1991. From rag trade to real estate in New York’s Garment Center: Remaking the labor landscape in a global city. Urban geography12(4), pp.324-338. 
10.2747/0272-3638.12.4.324 

Hutton, T.A., 2000. Reconstructed production landscapes in the postmodern city: applied design and creative services in the metropolitan core. Urban Geography21(4), pp.285-317. https://doi.org/10.2747/0272-3638.21.4.285 

Kern, L., 2007. Reshaping the boundaries of public and private life: Gender, condominium development, and the neoliberalization of urban living. Urban Geography28(7), pp.657-681. https://doi.org/10.2747/0272-3638.28.7.657 

Knox, P.L., 1996. Globalization and urban change. Urban Geography17(1), pp.115-117. https://doi.org/10.2747/0272-3638.17.1.115 

Lesutis, G., 2020. Planetary urbanization and the “right against the urbicidal city”. Urban Geography, pp.1-19. https://doi.org/10.1080/02723638.2020.1765632 

Ley, D., 1988. From urban structure to urban landscape. Urban Geography(1), pp.98-105. https://doi.org/10.2747/0272-3638.9.1.98 

Lin, W., 2013. Digitizing the Dragon Head, Geo-Coding the Urban Landscape: GIS and the Transformation of China’s Urban Governance, Urban Geography, 34:7, 901-922 https://doi.org/10.1080/02723638.2013.812389 

McCann, E.J., 1995. Neotraditional developments: the anatomy of a new urban form. Urban geography16(3), pp.210-233. https://doi.org/10.2747/0272-3638.16.3.210 

McElroy, E., 2019. Data, dispossession, and Facebook: techno-imperialism and toponymy in gentrifying San Francisco. Urban Geography40(6), pp.826-845. https://doi.org/10.1080/02723638.2019.1591143 

Ross, B. and Mitchell, D., 2004. Commentary: Neoliberal Landscapes of Deception: Detroit, Ford Field, and the Ford Motor Company. Urban Geography25(7), pp.685-690. https://doi.org/10.2747/0272-3638.25.7.685 

Richard H. Schein (2012) Urban Form and Racial Order, Urban Geography, 33:7, 942-960. https://doi.org/10.2747/0272-3638.33.7.942 

Shoval, N. and Strom, E., 2009. Inscribing universal values into the urban landscape: New York, Jerusalem, and Winnipeg as case studies. Urban Geography30(2), pp.143-161. https://doi.org/10.2747/0272-3638.30.2.143 

Sorrensen, C.L., Carter, P.L. and Phelps, J., 2015. Urban landscape as mirror of ethnicity: trees of the South Plains. Urban Geography36(7), pp.1042-1063. 
https://doi.org/10.1080/02723638.2015.1039397