Layers Of Urbanity: The Visual Effect We Rarely Appreciate

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I sat at the bar in a French-style restaurant in downtown Buffalo, enjoying some delicious food and a tasty adult beverage. I looked to my right, where people were sitting at tables, enjoying friends and family while laughing and smiling. Outside, people were walking up and down the street on a pleasant late summer evening. Beyond that, the Metro Rail glided by, setting the foreground for a backdrop of city architecture.

While it doesn’t quite do it justice, I’ve watched the video above over and over, wondering why I am so drawn to the power of this short visual. I have come to the conclusion that I am viciously attracted to Layers of Urbanity, which I am capitalizing because I think it’s a powerful concept we don’t always appreciate. Like a stunning landscape painting, I truly believe we are drawn to urban experiences with multiple layers of foreground, background and middle ground imagery.

I have found that this effect is most pronounced when there are multiple layers in motion. Streetcars have a profound effect on this point, adding a dimension of motion, people getting on and off, moving in different directions… they feed the hustle and bustle that breathes life into urban imagery.

Buffalo’s Metro Rail
Detroit’s QLINE
Edinburgh, Scotland

Outdoor cafes, trees in the sidewalk and iconic architecture can blend together in a way that draws us in.

Rochester, New York

The contrasting layers of nature and urbanity always produce powerful imagery. We simply don’t adequately appreciate how important it is to inject large amounts of carefully designed greenspace into our urban landscapes.

Maggie Daley Park, Chicago

When art meets architecture and functional public space, we all win.

Millennium Park, Chicago

The feeling we get from being in the calm embrace of the natural environment while being cradled by the urban backdrop is one of the most substantial, yet overlooked strengths of a well designed urban space.

Central Park, NYC

Cities big and small are places where multiple layers, dimensions and sources of movement have the power to stimulate our minds beyond the mundane. The draw of cities and their visual power is in their Layers of Urbanity, a sort of “kid in a candy store” effect that inspires us to see limitless possibilities. Emphasizing this layered effect, with architecture, nature, water, walkability, transit, public art and countless other stimuli should always be a focus of cities with regard to design and infrastructure. It is the unmistakable key that unlocks our cities’ ability to draw and retain the interest and admiration of people from all walks of life.