It’s hard to understate the importance of cities. Throughout human history, they have produced the greatest ideas, most influential movements and most productive revolutions. They also reflect the human condition: in a world that is now mostly urban, cities tell us about ourselves. Our greatest achievements and our most profound miseries are embodied by the brick and mortar beast of urbanity. Cities are more than just concentrations of people — they are the collective product of their inhabitants’ individual hopes, dreams and efforts.
Yet many people do not understand their own cities. They have not been exposed to the intricacies of urban life; they don’t know how to read their city as it exists. I don’t mean to sound pedantic. After all, none of us can ever really understand a city — it’s in their nature to be inscrutable and amorphous. But we should do our best to develop what I like to call an urban eye: a perspective that observes cities as they are and traces from the ground up their impact on our own lives and society as a whole. The simplest way to do this is to walk down the street and observe what’s there. Buildings, sidewalks, signs, graffiti, cars — all of these everyday objects tell us a lot about the life of the city and its inhabitants.
That’s what I’ve tried to do at Urbanphoto since I started it in 1999. Over the years, I have, with the help of many others, tried to investigate cities through word and photography. This fall, as Urbanphoto neared its seventh anniversary, I decided it was time for a change. After all of these years, it needed a better way to fulfill its mission. So today, I am relaunching it as a collaborative blog.