The Visual and the Law of Cities

Stephen R. Miller

University of Idaho College of Law - Boise


Pace Law Review, Vol. 33, No. 1, 2013

This experimental article will attempt to explore, through brief sketches, or 'tableaus,' four ways in which the visual interplays with the law of cities, and how a deeper understanding of this intersection can assist in the development of these laws and their underlying policies. For the purposes of this article, the 'law of cities' is defined as those allied fields of law that deal with building, construction, architecture, planning, developing, preserving, and otherwise creating the places where we live. First, the article explores the law’s longstanding adverse relationship to the visual, as well as contemporary efforts to change that relationship. The article then turns to the four tableaus that explore the law of cities and the visual. In the first tableau, the article discusses the question of the cultural value of a hand-drawn map by reviewing the U.S. Supreme Court’s nineteenth century jurisprudence on Spanish era diseños, or property maps, which were part of Spanish and Mexican California-era land grants. In the second tableau, the article discusses the question of whether aesthetics is a proper domain of the law of cities by comparing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Berman v. Parker, its progeny, and Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago, which was the first, and perhaps most important, comprehensive plan drafted for an American city in the “City Beautiful” tradition. The third tableau explores the production of space and the philosophy of Henri Lefebvre in the context of the visual as law, most notably, in the rise of visual zoning codes. The fourth tableau extends the law and literature movement to the visual arts through the philosophy of Edward Casey as applied to the painter Edward Hopper. By presenting these four approaches in which the visual complicates and assists the law of cities, and sometimes even acts as the law of cities, the article intends to spur a dialogue on the complicated relationship of the visual to the law of cities.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 51

Keywords: land use, visual, Edward Casey, Henri Lefebvre, Edward Hopper, legal geography, form-based zoning codes, disenos, aesthetics, law and literature

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Date posted: September 20, 2012 ; Last revised: February 25, 2013

Suggested Citation

Miller, Stephen R., The Visual and the Law of Cities (2013). Pace Law Review, Vol. 33, No. 1, 2013. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2149173

Contact Information

Stephen R. Miller (Contact Author)
University of Idaho College of Law - Boise ( email )
514 W. Jefferson St
Boise, ID 83702
United States
208-364-4559 (Phone)
208-344-2176 (Fax)
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