What if we were able to send children around the world, on a kid's photo contest with an urban twist, and ask them to interpret the cities?
Well-composed photographs are an essential part of understanding urbanism. I have suggested before that writing about city life (in an urban diary) can be best enhanced with a camera. A recent overseas trip only strengthened that point of view.
Prior to rediscovering some old photographs, now digitized here, my thoughts about cameras did not entertain the child's sense of the city. But upon rediscovery, I recalled a not unusual, hand-me-down dynamic of family tradition. My father was an urban planning professor, and, while growing up, I watched him photograph for purposes of later sketching, teaching, and advocating the role of urban imagery.
In a 1965 article (M.R. Wolfe, "A Visual Supplement to Urban Social Studies"), he argued that several then-leading studies of American communities (e.g. Lloyd Warner's Yankee City and Robert and Helen Lynd's Middletown) partially missed the mark because they lacked diagrams and pictures:
Many social studies of communities refer implicitly or explicitly to urban form without so much as a picture, map, or diagram. Yet visual material can make a contribution to understanding the urban environment itself, the interrelationship of society and environment, and the development of techniques for study and communication.
Acknowledging an inherited penchant for city observation only spurred a further question -- will my own children, now college age, have similar inclinations?