Physical Determinism vs Cultural Difference

I need to thank my urban studio professors for somehow selecting me as the one student in our section to read PeterĀ Calthorpe’s The Next American Metropolis in order to brief my peers.

The book is written by a practitioner and not a pure academic. It may just be me, but it appeals. I find it connecting with my interests exercised in Architecture and also those exercised in the Social Study of Science and Technology.

Here is an interesting selection for your reading pleasure:

The question of cultural and social determinism in relation to planning has been debated endlessly – to no conclusive result. Unfortunately, it is just as simplistic to claim that the form of communities has no impact on human behavior as it is to claim that we can prescribe behavior by physical design.


For example, a recent (1990’s) comparison study of ten-year olds in a small town in Vermont and a new suburb of Orange County showed that the Vermont kids had three times the mobility (distance and places they could get to on their own) while the Orange county kids watched four times as much TV.


Is this physical determinism or a cultural difference? The two come to be inseparable. Certainly the Orange County kids had fewer mobility alternatives given the physical structure of their neighborhoods, but their culture and peer group priorities may also have directed their behavior. Or perhaps the technology, cable TV, played the decisive role.

Source: Calthorpe, Peter. The Next American Metropolis. 1993. pp 9.

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