This experimental US 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.