Running at Piedmont Park in Atlanta

As announced a week ago, I already signed up for the SHAPE’s women half marathon in Manhattan. It will take place in four weeks, and I do not feel ready. Everyday when I wake up there is one less day to go, and more miles to run. In What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, Haruki Murakami documented that prior to his New York Marathon, he ran consistently up to 200 miles a month for three months before the event. Sure, my race is half of the distance that Murakami signed up for. I still think that I need to train for it. As of now, I feel that I need to have a huge excel sheet (I grew up with an accountant. We think with excel sheets) where I document where I run, and when I run prior to the marathon in April.

Last week, New York was icy cold. Hence I had a reason to not go out for a run on a daily basis. Instead, I stayed at home, wrote reflections on my notebooks, and composed blog post after blog post. Then I had an opportunity to go to Atlanta for a few days to stay away from the cold, and also visit friends. It was such a change!

Atlanta was so ready for the spring. The moment I landed, I noticed that trees already started blossoming. Japanese magnolia flowers were dotting neighborhoods with their purple and pinkish flowers. What I also recognized this time was that Atlanta was so green. There were so many more trees, and parks, and lawns than in New York. I also miss my favorite southern magnolia trees.

One afternoon, after having some light lunch at a friend’s house, I decided to go for a run lest I won’t be able to run once I get back to New York. My favorite place to run is always parks. So I decided to head to Piedmont Park in Midtown Atlanta to run. I thought that it would be like Central Park where many urbanites would run in the afternoon especially on a Friday. However, I was wrong. What I found was that there were not that many people who were training with me. I found a few people walking their dogs, a few teenagers taking pictures of the beautiful parks, and some going on a walk. “What is going on here?,” I asked myself.  How could the park be so quiet?

I thought that it was the nature of Piedmont Park was quietude. My guess was that Atlantans were not much into their public parks like New Yorkers. So I brought up this observation to a couple friends the following day. To my surprise the answer was that most runners in Atlanta now prefer to run on the Beltline. It is a unique redevelopment project in Atlanta which is  based on railroad corridors that formerly encircled Atlanta.

Get-Connected-Map-2016.jpgIt is not yet completed, but a lot of it has been put to use since I was in college. Essentially, it is a pedestrian and cycle only road that encircles the city of Atlanta. According to the map above, it cuts through Piedmont Park. When I was running at Piedmont, I saw many people running on the Beltline. My Atlanta friends were very happy, and proud of this accomplishment of the city. They thought that it was one of the most ingenious redevelopment projects that Atlanta, specifically a student from Georgia Tech, came up with. When completed, it will connect 45 intown neighborhoods via a 22-mile loop of multi-use trails, modern streetcar, and parks. Its shape, its ideas, and its sociability, and potential to connect urban neighborhoods in the era of disconnection give us hope. The Beltline seems to symbolize connectivity, community, and sustainable development. If I could, I would definitely conduct research about this particular redevelopment project. I wonder how it has impacted different communities. This project is still in progress for sure. Yet this just offers an amazing opportunity for people to explore a large-scale redevelopment project on community development, and social cohesion. I wonder what it really does. Why don’t people write about it? Why urban sociologists do not grasp this chance to examine something that is so grass-roots like this project? I think I would definitely want to write about it. 

I wonder whether Atlanta will soon organize a marathon on the complete Beltline around the city. I would love to sign up for this run. As of now, I need to tally up my miles for the run in Central Park that I will have in the next few weeks.

 

Not in use – Cafés Lie in Wait for Gentrifiers?

Since I moved to Harlem almost two years ago, I started to notice that a couple of cafes never became opened.  Then I started looking around, there are other beautiful buildings that are empty, and not housing anybody as well. This phenomenon raises various questions about housing value, and gentrification. For one, the in-progress cafes suggest some form of commercial gentrification, while the empty beautiful buildings suggest some form of speculative real-estate development activities.

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Walking on the main culinary street in my neighborhood, Frederick Douglass, I have seen that many new stores, cafes restaurants are popping up. Now we have a place to paint, and drink. It’s called Paint N Pour NYC. Last week when I walked by, I saw many adults tentatively draw on canvases. They wanted to let their inner child come out. They were bringing out their own Big Magic (to borrow Elizabeth Gilbert’s term). Yet, it felt very gentrifying to me. Then strolling another block northwards, I saw a real estate agency that was trying to help potential customers to find apartments and brown-stone houses in both Harlem, and elsewhere in New York. Real estate brokers are very active in Harlem. They have tried to brand the neighborhood as SOHA, a practice that has become commonplace and also controversial for many district neighborhoods in New York. Residents in Harlem fought tooth and nail to remove this name out of real estate agency’s listings, and branding. They succeeded in killing it from commercial purposes, yet I still hear it at times from local residents.

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One thing everyone can agrees on is that Harlem is gentrifying fast. I see new street names popping up every few weeks. For example, the building in front of my apartment building occupies technically an entire triangle-shaped block. Yet it is empty. Now it is called Matthew S. Turner Triangle. Something does not feel right about having an empty building occupy a fancy triangle.

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My feeling is that there is something that have to do with both commercial gentrification and residential gentrification in all of those processes and signs that one sees in Harlem. How do Harlem residents feel about these fast changes? 

It seems that landlords create not-in-use store fronts to bring in wealthy, hip, rich, young new customers for the buildings that they own. In the mean time, the city government  gives license for these places to run but without enforcing and checking when they should open. My former landlord in Harlem seemed to appreciate new restaurants, new resources that new residents bringing into the area. However, I am not sure if that other people would share the same feeling with her.

 

Societal Transition from Production to Consumption

Shopping teaches us how to live in a market society.

Points of Purchase, Sharon Zukin

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and after the dinner is over, many households in the United States would get themselves in the cars, go to the malls, stand in line, wait for super sales on Black Friday across the country. I dread black Friday shopping. I dread shopping in general. Sometimes I could not understand why people enjoy going shopping, and buying items that they dont even use. It is a waste of time, and resources to me. If I have time, I would prefer to consume a good book in a quiet corner of my house with a cup of coffee, or matcha tea. As Thanksgiving draws closer, I ask myself the question of why Americans keep religiously going to Black Friday sales despite many reports about accidents that happen on that day.  The more important questions are what is the nature of consumer society that America finds itself in, and when America made a transition from a production-oriented society to a consumption-oriented society. As a sociologist, I go to the literature of my discipline for an answer. Specifically, I read texts that deal with the changing nature of political economy, and also the changing nature of consumption. This blog post aims to answer the two questions: what is the nature of American consumption society, and when did it start becoming the main organizing principle?

First, it seems that the post-industrial society helped to usher in the consumer society. Once society no longer revolves around production, and manufacturing factories were shipped overseas, it moves to the realm of consumption.  This organizing principle affects how individuals experience themselves, and express themselves. The switch happened somewhere in the 60s or the 70s. From a Marxist point of view, all workers are consumers, but not all consumers are workers. We, workers, need to consume in order to make the capitalist economy function. In the documentary Inequality for All, former secretary of labor, Robert Reich makes the point that when the middle-class are strong they they consume; their consumption creates jobs, thus strengthening the economy. In contrast, if the returns of investment are disproportionately reaped by the management and capitalist classes, they do not consume as much, and cannot create as many jobs. The extra cash that they don’t spend will be saved to speculate on other assets as they see fit. In other words, they will take out cash that could be invested in productive sectors of the economy, and put it into as speculative sectors such as real estate, or stock market. This is not good for the economy in general. Consumers have power to change the course of the economy, and strengthening the middle class are the central message. Reich seems to focus explicitly on the middle class, and the term consumption is synonymous to  the middle class. Yet, how the consumer society came into being is certainly a more complicated picture than just the expansion of American middle class.

The sociologist Sharon Zukin has written many books that focus on the question of  political economy changes, and their impacts on individuals and their relationship to society. One book of interest where she talks about the transition from a production-oriented society to consumption-oriented one is Landscapes of Power. In this book Zukin  examines different urban spaces that symbolize the material reality and power dynamics of the market economy.  One example is Detroit, a rustbell city, and another example is Disney Land, a dream land of a consumer society. Another book, Points of Purchase  goes deeper into the lived experience of individuals in a consumer society. She specifically zooms in on the act of shopping, how it shapes the self, and its relationship to society. Shopping places tell a story of urban consumption, and they are not innocuous spaces where every customer is treated with the same level of respect. They are also dark places that reflect social biases and prejudices.

Since the nineties, shopping has become our principal strategy for creating value….With the shift of the economy toward consumption, and our weaker attachment to traditional art forms, religions, and politics, shopping has come to define who we, as individuals, are and what we, as a society, want to become.

Sharon argues that the American way of life in terms of shopping changed in the 90s. We hang out at the mall. Shopping malls replace traditional public institutions such as churches and libraries. Consumers have an illusion of democracy where they feel as if they share the same space with people from different classes. New York epitomizes this idea. Every single block in Manhattan is covered with businesses on the first floors. Tourists and New Yorkers alike are spending more of their time in commercial venues than spending time with their friends and families at public squares, parks, or museums. One gain cultural capital via learning what to shop and how to shop. In the twenty-first century, when everyone has a cell phone in their pocket, shopping becomes an effortless act of finger typing, and swiping on the smartphone screens. Shops might not be physically available, but shopping is ubiquitous.

Another book that I read recently that deals with the working class in a consumer society is Working for Respect, which I wrote a book review here. Currently I am re-reading it with a reading group, and other members have pointed out many arguments that I missed in my first reading of the book. We have been talking about the power of consumers over workers in forcing the company to acknowledge its responsibility to the workers. At one point we talked about how nowadays consumers have more power over the company than workers. The case in point is Walmart. Given how anti-union Walmart is, and that Walmart has a way to organize workers in a way that each worker is replaceable. Even if 20% of Wal-Mart workers go on strike, the company could still function, and the workers might risk losing their jobs at the end. In this day and age, if consumers boycott the company, it might be a more effective bargaining tactic to change work conditions for workers. One can see various examples in real life. For example, fair trade coffee where consumers are supposed to pay more, such that the profits can go directly to coffee growers in the developing world. This type of consumption ethics is prevalent in a consumer society.

I have come to realize that I my relationship with shopping has been complicated. I used to hate shopping for clothing because I had trouble with my body image. Now I enjoyed shopping for clothes a little bit more as I figured out quite a bit about my taste, how to negotiate with shop keepers, and what to buy for which occasions. More importantly, being financially independent plays a large role in changing the relationship with shopping. I dont need to ask for anybody’s permission to buy a dress. It seems I am gradually incorporated into this consumer society of America.

Gemeinschaft vs. Gesellschaft

Gemeinschaft is old; Gesellschaft is new as a name and as a phenomenon.

Community & Society, Ferdinand Tonnies

When Amazon announced that it would build one of its two second  headquarters (dubbed H2Q) in Queens, New York, Queens residents got really upset. Many condemned Major Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo. The reason being that politicians would subsidize a corporation to create very few jobs, while one social consequence would be a destruction of communities. In other words, in order to gain some handful number of jobs, politicians are willing to give up prime real estate, and livelihood of thousands of people. Most likely, they would be displaced once highly-paid Amazon employees move into their neighborhoods. New York’s newly elected congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has spoken out about  Amazon’s building its second headquarters in Queens. She represents the voice of the community, and says that the community is not happy about this decision from both Amazon, and the politicians of New York. Screen Shot 2018-11-17 at 11.07.48

As a sociologist, I wonder what the community in this context means. Not trying to be a post-modern theorist, and deconstructing every word that Ocasio-Cortez uses, I just want to sociologically, and theoretically understand the concept “community” being used in political discussions in the United States. This concept is being used frequently both in the scientific discipline of sociology, and used in common daily discussions. The context that I hear the most from media has to do with activism. Activists would call the Asian American community, black community, LGBTQ community, etc. The idea is that these people share some well-defined identity, and they can work together to solve a common issue. Each individual can be a part of various communities for as complex human beings we have different social identities. When I was living in Vietnam, and in Germany, I did not hear this concept being used much. I wonder whether in those two countries, social identities are less fluidly defined. Anyhow, as a sociologist, I went back to the history of my discipline, looked up the concept, and tried to think through how I could use the concept “community” rigorously.

The concept community in sociology can be traced back to the German sociologist, Ferdinand Tönnies, who in 1887 defined the concept in a book called Gemeinschaft & Gesellschaft. Roughly translated, Gemeinschaft is community, and Gesellschaft is society. Specifically, he defines:

The theory of Gemeinschaft starts from the assumption of perfect unity of human wills as an original or natural condition which is preserved in spite of actual separation. This natural condition is found in manifold forms because of dependence on the nature of the relationship between individuals who are differently conditioned.

Whereas,

Gesellschaft, an aggregate by convention and law of nature, is to be understood as a multitude of natural and artificial individuals, the wills, and spheres of whom are in many relations with and to one another, and remain nevertheless independent of one another and devoid of mutual familiar relationships.

Tönnies divides social groupings into two categories according to social ties. In a Gemeinschaft, social ties are often strong. Therefore, there are unity, and intimate connections between members. One can think of a family unit as a community, where everyone is caring for each other, and maintains an interest in each other’s well beings. In contrast, a Gesellschaft is comprised of weak ties, and social connections are mostly defined by abstract social contracts instead of concrete social intimacy. Members are dependent on one another in a Gemeinschaft, while they are independent from each other in a Gesellschaft.

An individual is an social atom, and is living for himself instead of for other people in a Gesellschaft.

In Gesellschaft every person strives for that which is to his own advantage and he affirms the actions of others only in so far as and as long as they can further his interest.

Social relations are of instrumental use for an individual in a Gesellschaft. He uses these connections to “further his interest”. 

However, when we comes back to the original example, where Queens residents voice their frustration through Ocasio-Cortez, they speak with a sense of unity. They are not using Ocasio-Cortez instrumentally as an individual should do in a Gesellschaft of New York City. What this example shows is that within a Gesellschaft, there are many Gemeinschafts. 

As I am preparing for my oral exam in urban sociology, I cannot help but ask: why do sociologists especially urban sociologists care about the distinction between Gemeinschaft & Gesellschaft? One answer could be that because a Gemeinschaft can bring people together because of its unity, while Gesellschaft gives its members flexibility to move up, and out of their various Gemeinschafts. Weak ties are not always bad. That is why one of the most famous sociology papers is titled “Strength of Weak Ties.”    Despite the fact that technology may have change the former communities, it helps to form new communities.  As human beings, we desire for intimate connection, and a sense of belonging. Therefore, the concept Gemeinschaft will never get old. 

It would be a fool of me to say that I understand everything that Tönnies outlines in his book. Instead, I looked for some video that explains the concepts more clearly with visual illustrations. One very good YouTube video that I found is the following one, which is appropriate for any undergraduate sociology course:

Seattle: A City of Possibilities

Early in the fall, I had a chance to visit Seattle for a weekend. It turned out to be a wonderful trip. I got to enjoy the hipster scene in downtown Seattle at night, visit the iconic Pike Place Market, indulge every single third culture coffee drip in the town, poke around the artisanal food scene, microbreweries, and of course consume marijuana like a real tourist. Furthermore, I got to catch up with a long-time friend, who happened to attend a conference in town, and made some new friends along the way. There is nothing better than enjoying a nice city with a group of interesting people.

At the end of the trip, I was asked to write a blog post about the wonderful and mighty Seattle. The question being raised was: Would you move to Seattle? Without any hesitation, I answered yes. However, the blog post has been delayed for quite a while because I wanted to think through my decision, or thinking with my fingers as my writing professor would call it. Why did I say yes then, and have I changed my mind now?

Seattle skyline is beautiful with the iconic Space Needle to be the signature of its urban landscape. It reminds me of another iconic tower that is dear to my heart: the TV tower, Fernsehturm, in East Berlin. On the background, the majestic Mount Rainier dominates the landscape. The mountain on the background of Seattle reminds a visitor of the relationship between the iconic Mount Fuji and the city Tokyo. It is a perfect marriage of urban landscape, man-made structure and the almighty and beautiful natural landscape. On Elliot Bay, the giant Great Wheel reminds one of the London eye. Moreover, Seattle’s rainy weather resembles London’s weather so much. Then hilly  streets that lead to the bay make one wonder whether one is lost in San Francisco. In short, Seattle has various endearing features of all great cities in the world.

On the flight to Seattle, I happened to sit next to a New York retiree lawyer, who grew up in Seattle. When being asked what should one do in the city, she answered by telling her childhood stories growing up next to the Pacific Ocean. Her dad was a military man, involved briefly in the Vietnam War. They ended up moving to the Pacific Northwest because he got a job building the navy in Seattle back in the late 60s or early 70s. I gathered her childhood was cheerful, and Seattle has been a stable home base. She was on her way back to visit her family members. At one point, she took out her iPhone, and showed various pictures of the house where she grew up. It was a ginormous  suburban house right next to the ocean, with mountains on three sides. Her story charmed me immediately, and in on the 5 hours flight, I filled in the rest her stories with my own imagination. Imagine how awesome it would be to live in Seattle: going to the bay in the afternoon, and swimming every once in a while. Why wouldnt one want to live there?

During the weekend, I enjoyed various seafood dishes in the City. Having heard that Bainbridge, an island off the coast of Seattle, had a little town feeling, I spent a day to go there, and walked around the town. The ferry ride across the bay was beyond description. I wanted to just move straight to this part of the world.

Then I also visited Bellevue, an upscale, expensive area where most tech companies have their head quarters there. My various Lyft drivers were accidentally turned into tour guides because I asked questions about their impressions of each neighborhood. They talked about their communities, properties price, social problems in Seattle caused by the tech industry. They brought me closer to what is actually experienced by the local residents. Many of them are driven out of the city because of skyrocketing real estate price.

Homelessness is a big issue. Many volunteered to be homeless to protest again increasing home price caused by the tech industry. They talked about how Amazon negotiated with the City to not have to pay corporate taxes. They talked about deteriorating infrastructure because the city doesn’t have enough money to build new roads. They talked about the differential power between tech giants, the city and the local residents. Seattle is a social laboratory for me as a social scientist. There are so many problems to analyze, and to find solutions for. It seems that I would find myself some social problem to solve if I end up there one day.

The question is not so much about whether I would move to Seattle.  Essentially it is about whether I  would trade New York City for Seattle?

In the past three years living in the city, I have become a happy New Yorker. The city provides both: chaos and order. New York has both the past and the future. New York has the part of immigration history that I dearly love. New York has literary institutions, museums, cultural institutions.My mind is constantly stimulated by intellectual exchanges with a diverse group of people. In other words, New York is full of culture; whereas Seattle is full of nature, and possibilities.

New York is layering up like an onion. After one peels a layer, there are million more layers to peel. I am still loving New York. The more I live here, the more things about New York I find out, and the more I adore it. The love for New York is only deepened over time. It is not love at first sight. My affection and appreciation for New York is like a feeling for good wine. The more one is experienced with wine, the more one is appreciative of a good old wine. New York is a full-bodied, smooth red wine. It has complex taste that is never appealing to teetotalers, but is a must for a wine connoisseur because of its layering of taste. One can be frustrated in this city, but this frustration  arises out of care, and deep connection to to the city.

Would I still move to Seattle? Yes, when I feel that I can leave New York, when I want to have a house, and when I want to raise a family. I think Seattle is a great place for somebody in their thirties, but as of now, I am enjoying my life as a New Yorker.

New Urbanism: Nostalgia for Communities

Technology reinforces the idea that local communities are archaic, even while making their image more available.

Landscapes of Power, Sharon Zukin

While studying for my oral test in urban sociology, I spend much of my time thinking about the concept “community,” and various conflicts between community and capital/market, and the state.  In the blog post about urbanism, which  describes the study of the urban, and inhabitants in the city. That implies that urbanism also studies different communities that are formed in the precinct of a city. Studying community is such an important part of urban sociology that the main sociology journal which focuses on urban sociology is called City & Community . In this blog post, I aim to explore the concept new urbanism, and how new urbanists conceptualize “community.”

Wikipedia defines new urbanism as:

An urban design movement which promotes environmentally friendly habits by creating walkable neighborhoods containing a wide range of housing and job types. It arose in the United States in the early 1980s, and has gradually influenced many aspects of real estate development, urban planning, and municipal land-use strategies.

The definition suggests that it is an urban design movement, which turns away from suburbanization, and promotes environmentally friendly neighborhoods. It started out in the 80s, and has had influenced on urban planning, and land-use strategies in the United States since. The key idea here is the concept “walkable.” What does it mean by having a walkable neighrbood? As opposed to what?

By digging a bit deeper, I figured out that this entire notion of walkable neighborhood is directly opposed to the idea that an urban neighborhood is built for cars. Prior to 1980s, cities were centered around cars, and the highways. Jane Jacobs had to write a book called The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961 to defend an urban way of life that would be threatened by cars, and constructions of highways in the city. She saw that Greenwich Village, her urban village would be destroyed by cars. There would be no more sociability on the streets because cars would stop people walking, and converting pavements where neighbors meet one another into driveways where drivers shout at each other instead. It took two decades for Jacobs’s ideas to get into urban planning institutions, and architecture schools. Starting from the 80s, urban planners and architects proposed that urban design needed to take human life as a center of the picture. Hence, the promotion for walk-able streets, and cities. In other words, life needed to be on display.

New urbanists want to bring human factors into the city. They want to promote communal life of previous eras. There was a deep sense of nostalgic feeling about communities, and what has been lost due to the rise of modern technology such as cars, and phones. Thus, they went out of their way to build cities that display precisely that which they yearned for: commercial activities on streets, and walkable neighborhoods. However, one criticism they face is that that this movement still promotes urban sprawl, but uses the nostalgic imagery of the previous eras.

To look at how attractive the idea of  walkable cities is, one can watch the Ted talk Walkable Cities by Kent Larson, Principal Research Scientist at MIT Media Lab:

Larson points out rightly that small cities, and walkable cities are desirable. They help us to feel larger, and that humans matter. He advocates to have people and human life to be the center of city  planning. However, gradually his talk becomes how autonomous vehicles to solve mobility problems rather than how city planning can do a better job at facilitating human interactions, which are the core of the sociability issue. In many ways, the promises of a walkable city become a transportation and car industry’s solution instead of a structural and ideological change in thinking how one should live a better life in a city.  If a city is to follow Larson’s suggestion to build more autonomous vehicle that would help with traffic within a city, the lack of human interactions still remains as a problem. One still feels isolated as a city dweller.  A social problem cannot really be addressed technically if the ideology about urban life is not changed. At the end of the day the technical problem is how a city can be designed, and re-designed to accommodate the most people in the most environmentally sustainable way. In that process, new urbanists would hope to build spaces where human interactions can take place. In order to answer the question how can this challenge be solved, we should take a look at what cities most people adore, and would like to live in.

The philosopher Alain de Botton offers a solution to make a city attractive.

In this video, de Botton is very much concerned with the aesthetics of a city, and how one can organize a city based on aesthetic principles. Coming from a humanist’s point of view, de Botton shows us an ideal city where human beings are at the center of any urban design. He argues persuasively that when one looks at many modern cities nowadays, one sees corporate interests above all. This display of corporate power is a testament to our current societal interests despite the fact that we do not like to admit that corporate interests have trumped all other interests. His solution of how to bring people into the center of the urban planning picture is holistic. It requires a concerted effort of different groups of people: public policy makers, urban planners, architects, transportation engineers, and more importantly city dwellers themselves. In other words, city planning, and how to create a live-able built environment should not be left only for technocrats. It has to be a social and political project where different interest groups can voice their opinions. According to this prescription, Larson’s solution is one-sided, and incomplete at best.

In conclusion, this new urbanism movement is a reaction to the previous development of big cities which value cars more than people. The idea of walkable cities looks to the past for inspiration about how a community should live. However, in practice the domain of how to change the lived environment in the United States is pretty much left to technocrats such as urban planners, architects, and transportation engineers, who design the city according to what they think as best for human interactions, and to display human life.  In other words, “community” as a concept is evoked to justify urbanization, and commercialization of certain spaces.

What is Urbanism?

Currently I am preparing for a qualifying exam in urban sociology. The plan is to get it done by February of 2019. In the course of preparation, I have been reading many classical and contemporary texts in urban sociology. One question that arose along the way is what is urbanism? It’s a central concept in many disciplines that have to do with the urban such as urban planning, architecture, and of course urban sociology.

With the question in mind, I started looking for the answer on Wikipedia, texts in my disciplines, and even YouTube.

First and foremost, Wikepedia defines “urbanism” as:

the study of how inhabitants of urban areas, such as towns and cities, interact with the built environment.

The definition suggests that it is a study, and it looks at the interaction between mostly human and the built environment.

Now, to break this definition even further, I searched the concept on Youtube, and listened to people who seem to understand the concept, who would explain it to me visually.

This is an interesting video that I found, even though it doest really directly explain the concept:

Having done some Internet searching, I go back to the classical text in my discipline that defines the concept and rigorously defines, and operationalizes it. The text is

Wirth, L. (1938). Urbanism as a Way of Life. American journal of sociology, 44(1), 1-24.

Wirth attempts to explain the emerging phenomenon of urbanization in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. He argues that city, and the urban are not only a place that a lot of people live, and work, it exerts more influence than that. There is culture in a city.

The influences which cities exert upon the social life of man are greater than the ratio of the urban population would indicate, for the city is not only in ever larger degrees the dwelling-place and the workshop of modern man, but it is the initiating and controlling center of economic, political and cultural life that has drawn the most remote parts of the world into its orbit and woven diverse areas, peoples, and activities into a cosmos.

His description of life in the cities makes us think about the galaxy. The relationship between the city to towns is likened to the relationship between the sun to planets. It seems that the city attracts town people, and at the same time the city radiates energy, and influence to town people. There is more to a city than just its infrastructure, and the sheer numbers of inhabitants. When people live next to each other, there are interactions, from which there arise social problems, and sometimes social magic.

In order to formulate his sociological theory of urbanism, Wirth defines a city as

a relatively large, dense, and permanent settlement of socially heterogeneous individuals.

In many ways, the definition is relatively flexible in terms of size, density. However, one important criterion is that the city has to be inhabited by a heterogeneous group of people. Heterogeneous here is broadly defined. People can be different in their racial, class, cast, and occupational identities.

Then Wirth goes on explaining what his theory of urbanism is. He suggests that from a sociological point of view:

The central problem … is to discover the forms of social action and organization that typically emerge in relatively permanent, compact settlements of large numbers of heterogeneous individuals.

He then points out three important characteristics of a city: large number of inhabitants, density, and heterogeneity. Those are the main focus of his theory of urbanism. From each characteristic, there would be corresponding hypotheses to explain how the city reproduces itself, and how each characteristic would affect individuals living in the city.

In conclusion, he suggests that empirical research on the urban should pay attention to the three characteristics. And he sketches various approaches that one can take:

Urbanism as a characteristic mode of life may be approached empirically from three interrelated perspectives: (1) as a physical structure comprising a population base, a technology, and an ecological order, (2) as a system of social organization involving a characteristic social structure, a series of social institutions, and a typical pattern  of social relationships; and (3) as a set of attitudes and ideas and a constellation of personalities engaging in typical forms of collective behavior and subject to characteristic mechanisms of social control.

An urban sociologist can study many things in a city: from infrastructure to social institution to attitudes and ideas. That is to say there is a rich landscape of possible empirical research topics for an urban sociologist. This text is promoting a development of a sub-field in sociology. Since the publication of this text, urban sociology has evolved, and indeed many have taken his suggestions to study infrastructure (roads, buildings), social institutions (churches, urban schools), and ideas (culture). One thing that I know for sure is that the field is huge, and one has to make an effort to distinguish oneself from myriad other urban studies scholars.