Privatism in urban form: A case study on the morphological transformation of Society Hill and Olde City in Philadelphia since the early sixties

Ki-Cheol Shin, University of Pennsylvania


This essay is concerned with a study of urban form in terms of its cultural content, privatism. It aims to give an interpretation of the syndrome of privatization that is "expressed" in select urban forms in America, and in particular, in the forms of Society Hill and Olde City in Philadelphia. The legitimacy of urban physical intervention has been based on a populist ethos--the urban-form-as-public-asset view of contemporary cities. This idea holds that an insider-territorial holder's property right "can or must" be transferred to the governance of outsiders if an intervention would cater to the collective welfare of a region where the intervention takes place. In private cities where privatism is the dominant urban culture, urban property relations are instituted as commodity relations, thus, urban forms are treated as private goods. These two movements are, by nature, likely to contradict each other. This essay hopes to postulate an idea that, paradoxically, both tend to affiliate, not to contradict, due to the imperatives of privatist urban culture. This affiliation has often resulted in walled divisions of urban space and people, that is, urban enclaves. Three principal approaches have been the basis for this inquiry: they include cultural research, general morphological research, and focused morphological research. As a cultural research, chapter two discusses the various symptoms of privatization that are reflected on urban cultural spheres. As a general morphological research, chapter three interprets the ways in which this cultural content has been expressed in the morphological attributes of typical street-blocks in American cities. Finally, as a focused morphological research, chapters four and five are devoted to an empirical observation and explanation of the privatization tendencies which are reflected in the forms of the study areas, on the basis of the conceptual frames of reference, i.e., the depth of public claims and private claims. This essay is an exercise of what I have identified in chapter one as the syndrome view of urban morphology, whose eventual goal is to suggest critical accounts of the role and meaning of the urban form-giving disciplinarism that are practiced today in many private cities.

Subject Area

Architecture|Geography|Urban planning|Area planning & development

Recommended Citation

Shin, Ki-Cheol, "Privatism in urban form: A case study on the morphological transformation of Society Hill and Olde City in Philadelphia since the early sixties" (1990). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9026644.