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2013 Urban Omnibus Essay Competition

2013 Urban Omnibus Essay Competition

International essay contestWith this essay competition, Urban Omnibus invites writers to infuse the quantitative language that pervades environmental understanding with narrative, theory, history, or humor. In so doing, we seek to advance our dedication to redefining the culture of city making by questioning how we talk about urban, environmental challenges.

For our second annual essay competition for evocative, non-fiction writing, Urban Omnibus is soliciting essays that reflect on the topic of cost, metrics, and measurement in urban life.

Environmental imperatives – and the urgency of shocking people out of climate change complacency – have accelerated the quantification of consumption habits and settlement patterns. This quantitative turn, supported by the availability of big data, has distracted us from unpacking the qualitative, cultural attitudes that underlie political inaction.

Meanwhile, the cost of some of what we consume in cities – like real estate – is reflected in its price structure, yet a lot of it – like parking, parks, or pollution – is not. Even if the environmental benefits of urban density are starting to be understood, an accepted calculus of a city’s externalities remains far from precise, subsumed in a metaphorical language of carbon footprints or numerical valuations like LEED. So let’s put it in personal terms. How do you measure your behavior: In rent? In square feet? The number of laps run around the park? MetroCard swipes? Brand of lightbulb? The distance food travels to end up on your plate? What are urban public goods – drinking water, open space, public access television, fireworks displays – worth to you?


What are the metrics or dimensions that govern your behavior in a city?

What are the “costs” and what are the “benefits” of living or working in a city?

How do you quantify your actions – literally or figuratively – in ecological, economic, or political terms?


Urban Omnibus


The jury will select one first-prize essay, whose author will receive an award of $500. Up to two second place winners will receive prizes of $250 each.


22 March, 2013


  • Essays might propose an alternative data set of quality of life indicators, relate a personal story of home economics, find the comedy in cap and trade, argue for or against the right to free parking, imagine the interior monologue of New York’s 1,000,000th tree.
  • Essays should be between 800 and 2000 words.
  • Suggestions of imagery to support or illustrate the essay are strongly encouraged.
  • Submissions must be emailed as letter-sized PDFs.
  • The applicant’s name and essay title must appear at the top of the first page of the PDF.
  • Email submissions to with “FUZZY MATH: ESSAY SUBMISSION” as the subject line.
  • Submissions must be received by 5:00pm EST on Friday, March 22nd, 2013. Late submissions will not be accepted.
  • Staff and board members of the Architectural League are not eligible for this competition. All others are encouraged to submit.
  • The criteria for selection include the quality of the prose, the originality of the interpretive position on cities, and the extent to which an essay provokes readers to discover something new or surprising in a familiar urban condition.
  • Winners will be announced in April.


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About Muhammed Abdullahi Tosin

Writer. Difference Maker. Entrepreneur. Author, Your Right To Write & Vertical Writing. Winner, 11 Writing Prizes.

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