When the sun comes out, any spot in Paris can look beautiful; and if there is a bistro with an awning rolled down, a few tables on the sidewalk and colored drinks in the glasses, then people look altogether human. And they are human - the finest people in the world when the sun shines! So intelligent, so indolent, so carefree! It's a crime to herd such a people into barracks [...]
-Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer
Even Lviv's wealthiest citizen knew he couldn't skirt the rules: merchant Constantine Korniakt could have no more than three windows along the façade of his building on Rynok Square.
Starting in the 13th century, Lviv was a self-governing city thanks to Magdeburg Rights, a set of privileges commonly adopted in cities across Europe at the time. These town charters provided city residents with exemptions from central government rule and allowed them to have greater influence over the city structure; in other words, people and their unique needs guided city planning. One example of Lviv's self-imposed set of laws was the three window mandate, a rule of equal opportunity made especially important as the city rebuilt itself following a devastating fire in 1527. Per local government, houses built on Rynok Square by tradesmen and residents were limited to three windows across, an attempt to level the playing field for the town's thriving population of merchants and businessmen; only clergy and nobility were granted a generous six windows. (Rich, powerful Korniakt finally rose above his three window limit in 1560, when he received the title of nobleman for his services to Polish kings; his immediate response was to construct a suitable palace with not three but six windows across, designed by an Italian architect to replace two buildings.)
Nearly five hundred years later, most of Rynok Square's original buildings with their rows of three (or six) windows stand in Lviv's UNESCO-listed historic center. And despite the restrictive law older than the buildings themselves, the square is anything but bland and uniform: traces of the city's Gothic roots mix with works of Italian master craftsmen and architects, bright pastel paint colors contrast with natural sandstone that has blackened over time. Each building has its own personality and smattering of rich architectural details: Lviv's old town is the antithesis of the lifeless, cookie-cutter byproducts modern zoning churns out today.
Lviv's Rynok Square (really the shape of a rectangle, but who's counting?), is notable for its orderly layout that dates back to medieval times. A stately yet elegant town hall and tower, built in 1835 in a classical Viennese style, centers the square and two streets radiate from every corner. Narrow cobblestone streets are open to pedestrian traffic only and the occasional noisy tram, and outdoor cafes fill depending on where the sun casts town hall's hulking shadow. Everything in Lviv's city center is lively, clean, and picturesque, and for less than a dollar, visitors can climb town hall's 65-meter tower to take it all in à la bird's-eye view.
After climbing town hall's tower, I stopped by the urban planning office to check out various project proposals hanging on the walls of the grand hallway. Typical boilerplate urban planning fluff, I thought to myself as I looked over redevelopment plans for the central train station. Why do urban planners insist on smothering its citizens with fancy mock-ups and color-coded charts that explain absolutely nothing about how people want their city to function? Why do planners continue to believe, despite centuries of evidence proving otherwise, that urban uses must be sterilized, compartmentalized, and zoned to the point of exhaustion, to the point that cities start to resemble each other in all of their spectacularly boring glory? Concrete buildings, generic architecture, roads congested with cars: apparently, these are the goals of today's urban planners. No thank you, I mumbled to myself as I made my way to the nearest exit, eager to return to the warm embrace of Lviv's beautiful, bustling old town; I'll take people-filled streets and the organic chaos of urban life over a dull concrete jungle any day.