Gordon Cullen was an English town planner in the mid-20th century. He argued that town planning is a physical and visual art form, as opposed to say, the management of statistics. One of his most profound insights was of what he called “serial vision,” the understanding that what we experience as we walk through towns is comprised of both what we see and what we expect to see – “the emerging view.” These are two sides of the emotional experience of a city.
What we see is static, and while important, it is not as affecting the emerging view. It is the sense of anticipation that pulls a person through a city, connects them to it, and if done right, provides the pleasure of being in a city. Creating the emerging view is the job of the urban designer: to create a dynamic composition that elicits the positive emotional connection to the city.
Below is an example of serial vision in Cortona on the Via Natzionale (or Rugapiana as the locals call it – “flat street”). Here, without formal planning direction, a great interplay between static and emerging views is achieved. The gentle deflections of the scenes invite you to keep strolling while at the same time it is serene enough for you to contemplate what is in your view. This is a great emotional experience: urbanity as art.
Another way to put it is that this is true “recreation” in the original sense of the word: to recreate mental, spiritual, and physical health in the midst of industrial life. We have a controlled-nature fetish in the US, and believe that only by visiting parks can we have recreation. But great cities can provide just as much recreation, in the original sense of the word. The urban US is such an aesthetically deprived place that most people never are fortunate enough to experience the recreational qualities of the Bella Citta. The assumption is that such a thing is for the tourist visiting Europe only – something to be consumed only once in a lifetime. However, quality of place is absolutely necessary to quality of life, something that planners overlook or ignore or write off as too hard.