The Fractured Metropolis

Improving The New City, Restoring The Old City, Reshaping The Region

Jonathan Barnett | 1995

This book provides a thorough analysis of cities and the entire metropolitan region, considering how both are intrinsically linked and influence one other, targeted at architects, students, urban designers and planners, landscape architects, and city and regional officials.


This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book documents the many promising developments occurring in separate places. American cities are splitting apart. Traditional downtowns still have their ring of old urban neighborhoods, but nearby suburban villages and rural counties have been transformed into a new kind of city, where residential subdivisions extend for miles and shopping malls and office parks are strung out in long corridors of commercial development. The division between old cities and new has been created in the last generation. It is different from the familiar separation of rich and poor neighborhoods, or of city and suburb. It affects the new metropolis in the Sun Belt or on the West Coast as much as older urban concentrations in the Northeast and Middle West. Corporate headquarters and research installations are beginning to move to rural sites beyond the new city.

Changing philosophy 

The expansion of government intervention that began with highways, subsidized housing, and urban renewal has grown to include complex objectives such as environmental protection, social welfare, and economic development. The limited definition of planning that was adopted when implementation was restricted to development regulations and public-works projects clearly has had to change to accommodate these new public purposes. Design methodology applied to public policy means understanding, and planning, the interactions between a highway and surrounding neighborhoods; it means understanding that zoning regulations inevitably shape buildings and that these design consequences should be anticipated and intended. The conservation ethic and the concept of sustainability represent another major change in planning philosophy: people should manage the environment so that it can sustain future generations, and not just themselves. The modernist revolution in architecture had been needed because of innovations in technology: steel and concrete frames, elevators, artificial light, air conditioning, walls of glass.

Elements of City Design

Accepting that the design of all human settlements begins by understanding the natural landscape means changing many standard planning and design procedures. Plans for building in rural, undeveloped areas should start with a regional geographic analysis that maps streams, steep hillsides, wetlands, patterns of vegetation, and subsoil conditions. The carrying capacity of the natural environment becomes a basis for locating transportation systems, settlements, and growth boundaries. Regional planning thus becomes a design problem in which understanding both natural systems and the functional organization of existing development helps locate transportation systems, commercial centers, and growth boundaries. In cities or suburban locations where development has already taken place, the existing streets, parks, and buildings set the context for new construction. Monumental city design is based on an axis of symmetry and a hierarchy of parts controlled from a central point. Guidelines and regulations can help shape the contributions to the city made by private investors.


Barnett, J. (1995) The Fractured Metropolis: Improving The New City, Restoring The Old City, Reshaping The Region (1st ed.). New York: Routledge.