A better urban future

There are a lot of great directions to ponder in this short piece, Together for a better urban future. Last year, Urban Design London and the studio Hassell held a full-day conference to explore “New Ideas for an Urban Future.” The author, Camilla Siggaard Andersen, synthesised the conference and presents several central themes that emerged.

The new urban future is local-first
Something we’ve covered several times here and which is being discussed far and wide; the pandemic showed the shortcomings of many cities and offered lessons on more resilient neighbourhoods and a focus on the local.

But even before the pandemic hit, it was clear that there was an imbalance in the provision of services between neighbourhoods, at best resulting in long commutes and car dependency and at worst exacerbating social deprivation and health inequities. […]

By rewriting the role of the local neighbourhood to serve more functions within an environment that’s designed for the health and wellbeing of daily users, the new urban future rebalances our relationship with space and time to use less of the former and have more of the latter.

One highlight of the piece is that each theme includes a paragraph on how “to unlock this future.” I’m quoting the first one here, be sure to click through for all the keys.

[W]e need building regulations that favour mixed-use developments and encourage the co-location of functions (in addition to mitigating the challenges associated with co-location) and transport policies that support a multi-hub network with strong lateral connections.”

The new urban future is loose-fit
Cities face existing, and upcoming disruptions; economic, social, and environmental are all entangled across systems. “Looser-fitting” cities are better adapted to adjust and react to these disruptions.

By creating more loose-fit, flexible buildings and places, cities (and their citizens and businesses) will be better prepared to respond and better equipped to recover. Flexibility creates resilience, and adaptability unlocks long-term prosperity. By being loose-fit, the city’s built assets may also remain in operation for longer, reducing carbon emissions from new construction.

The new urban future is activity-based
Echoing many of our posts here, we can read this theme as the need to be citizen-centred instead of focusing on the physical planning and design of space. In other words, start from the activities citizens are trying to accomplish and design/plan from there.

For many years, the physical planning and design of space has taken precedence over activities and programming, requiring people to modify their behaviour to fit in, instead of modifying our spaces to fit with people. This approach has often been applied with a focus on large-scale order over small-scale vibrancy. […]

Activity-based thinking is a shift from the planning of the inanimate city to the planning of animate cities, and from technology-led to purpose-led system design.

The future is what we make in the present
We can imagine futures all we want, better cities, etc., but it starts with decisions taken now. And, in the words of the author: “If our current tools for planning, designing, and realising urban environments can’t lead us in the right direction, then we’ll need to invent new ones.”