With the advent of automobiles in the late nineteenth century, cars and automobiles were brought into human life, pushing city design and human life in a completely different direction from what it had been so far. In a century of development, cars and automobiles have become so essential to human life and its processes, mobility and comfort that it has become impossible to imagine a life without cars. However, this comfort, freedom, and ease of mobility have come at a high price. Cities, which were once living being, throbbing with life, have now become a dead skeleton of capitalistic pursuits and everyday economy, a city driven merely by productivity and velocity. Thus a century later, cities are making baby steps to go back to the days when cities were human-centric and designed to envelop a soulful life that feels humane.

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Promenade Wellington, Montreal “Coolest Street in the World”_ ©Caroline Perron Photographies

People in People-Oriented Cities

Since human life is a series of complicated and unpredictable processes, cities that cater to each individual are challenging to design. There are way too many variables at play. Yet it is possible to design a city that addresses the lives and values of its inhabitants to some extent, such that each individual finds a sense of home. Safety and defensibility, accessibility, mobility, serviceability, inclusivity, and identity are some factors that make a city become people-oriented. A city that is designed to evoke human experience has to be on a human scale. With the regulation of road widths and building heights, the use of natural and comforting materials, and the design of a homogenous streetscape, a city can be conformed to a scale and pattern that feels human.

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Chengdu Yulin Alley by Nhoow Architects_ ©Sanlian lifeweek

A rich pedestrian experience is the pillar of a people-oriented city because it has to be a walkable city with related amenities for pedestrians and cycling and safety measures. With more spacious, connected, and safe pedestrianised zones for experiencing a city through walking speed, the functions and processes of a city can be lived through. An immersive pedestrian experience indulges all five of the senses in an individual. When the sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing are involved when an individual traverses a city, a memory is engraved in that individual that orients him/her in time and space. A city, thus, becomes an entity through which an individual experiences life.

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City with an Identity, Dubrovnik, Croatia_ ©Wojtek Chmielewski

Sharing of a Life

In a people-oriented city, life is shared amongst the inhabitants of the said city. It is evident in the traditional settlements around the world, where a city’s identity is deeply linked to the sociocultural practices of the place. There is a sharing of life and activities. Celebrations and mourning occur in shared spaces. For a sharing of life, a people-oriented city is accessible to people of all socio-economic classes and physical locations within and surrounding the city. Accessibility also includes addressing the question of mobility and comfort to those physically challenged and neuro-divergent. A city must be tolerant and accepting of the socio-cultural and economic backgrounds of individuals residing and promote the assimilation of differences in a harmonic way.

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Car free NYC on Earth Day 2017_ ©New York City Department of Transportation

The spaces in a people-oriented city are hospitable and welcoming, complete with rest stops, public taps, benches, common services, telephone booths, benches, lamp shades, etc., which are turning obsolete in the vehicle-oriented cities of today. The functional layout of the spaces is also done such that the private spaces are linked through a central spine of a street or a market, with a central square where people spill out and share life. Community halls, Libraries, Day Care Centres, and Parks are indispensable amenities of a city where the rejuvenating and recreational activities of the people are addressed. Healthy community life and interaction among neighbours are imperative to the birth of a people-oriented city.

Diversification of Space

One of the most defining features of a people-oriented city is the availability and use of public space. Such a city would have an abundance of public spaces in streets, squares, alleys, parks, playgrounds, etc. These public spaces must be accessible to all inhabitants and close to related services and amenities. Public places should be multi-functional and capable of hosting a wide range of activities. Celebrations, programs, performances, rallies, and processions are regularly held in these public spaces. The spaces are easy to navigate yet have surprise and wonder elements. Such a city is unique in its architectural expression, an inheritance in the form of the place’s historical, sociocultural, economic, and political identity.

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Vibrant Streetscape of Kathmandu _ ©the common wanderer

A people-oriented city is an autonomous system, a microcosm within a more extensive system that holds the activities and processes and the related services and amenities within itself. Such a city would have a place for cottage and small-scale industries and a community-based economy. Such a city is vibrant with visitors, sellers, buyers, performers, and musicians and is a hub for the informal economy. Empty spaces within the cities can be revitalised to house various such activities. In such a city, local art and craft flourished and manifest in forms of temporal public art or the local economy.

Speed of Life

In an automobile-based city, life is experienced in a series of fleeting images, as seen through a train window, in the dead silence of the car, immersed in the aromas of car freshener. While a city driven by productivity and speed inspires movement, people-oriented cities inspire a break. They allow for life to occur at the speed of life. They allow leisure every day and make extraordinary out-of-the-ordinary days. The chirping of birds, the blowing of the wind, the striking of raindrops against the pavement, the smell of the mud right after the first raindrops hit the grass, and the smell of grass right after a fresh mowing, are the very ordinary experiences of everyday life that humanises a city.

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A slow day in the Street of Kathmandu Valley_ ©ASHRAFULAREFIN

In a society where the mechanisation of everyday processes is turning people into breathing robots, people-oriented cities allow one to walk on sunny paths on a Sunny day, and on snowy paths on a snowy day, to experience the changing of seasons and make a trip around the sun. It allows one to experience the journey of their neighbour from childhood to early adulthood and share a life with them, to celebrate and mourn together. Designing human-centric cities allow the newer generations to inherit the socio-cultural practices and values from their fathers and mothers. It grants a space an identity unique to its inhabitants’ lifestyle and the ethos of the place. Most of all, a human-centric city design matches the speed of life.


An architecture and art enthusiast, Rashmi Gautam, is an Architecture Student from Nepal in search of her own expression in forms of words and design. Finding solace in the company of literature, art and architecture, she can be found brooding in the nearest library or museum.