As each bygone year adds a new perspective to design methodologies, Urban designers have expended a lot of thought and contemplation to the future of urban spaces. A city is a complex agglomeration of various tangible and intangible elements; each forming separate layers all superimposed on one another. This makes Urban Design a collaborative undertaking. Merging this with the present-day crises faced by the world, planners and designers are striving to achieve future cities that resolve issues faced today. 

The concept of smart Cities and wise cities has taken hold, as designers fuse technology, infrastructure, culture, society and design philosophies to create improved urban environments. 

Here are 10 things that, if included, will help create better cities.

1. INCLUSIVE URBAN GRAIN (DENSITY, DIVERSITY AND MIX)

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Partizánske in Slovakia – an example of a typical planned European industrial city founded in 1938. ©en.wikipedia.org
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Urban Grids of various cities ©helmofthepublicrealm.com

Urban Design is a process that begins at macro-level zonal planning to a street-level amenity design. When operating at a larger scale, it is important to lay the city spaces in tandem with the natural environments that exist in the area. The natural topography, landscape and species are all a crucial part of the urban fabric and a careful study and planning of the same needs to be carried out. The relationship between open spaces of built forms needs to be balanced so as not to overwhelm the residents with superfluous concrete masses. Simple and clean road layouts placed as per hierarchy will help mobility within the city limits.

2. EASE OF MOBILITY

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Public Transport vs Private Transport ©www.reddit.com
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Transit-Oriented Development ©www.treehugger.com

A good city has good mobility. IF the residents cannot get from point A to point B without a cumbersome commute, the lifestyle and social environment of the city moves towards the negative. Noise Pollution and Air Pollution envelope the city. To resolve these issues, planners and designers propose simple interconnecting road layouts that recede from highways to neighborhood streetscapes. The biggest enemy to mobility in a city is the extensive usage of private vehicles. Optimization of Public transport and enabling of pedestrianization, combined with strict parking and use regulations for private automobiles will help solve these issues. Most sustainable cities hence invest in TOD (Transit Oriented Development) as it channels resources towards providing quality transport and other commercial amenities to the public.

3. INTEGRATED NATURAL SYSTEMS

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Central Park, New York ©www.timeout.com
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Water Sensitive Planning ©in.pinterest.com

The natural environment is an integral component of a city. In the light of climate change, an intermingling of natural systems with urban infrastructural systems appears to hold wisdom. The cities need to actively participate in preserving, protecting and enhancing the natural environment surrounding them. This is not only for the health of the flora, fauna and aquatic life, but these systems are closely tethered to human life and community. It affects the physical and mental health of groups and individuals, making it an important factor to be noted when planning for a healthy city. Clean water resources, fresh air, a thriving biodiverse ecosystem all contribute to a resilient city. 

4. INTEGRATED TECHNICAL AND INDUSTRIAL SYSTEMS

Enhanced effectiveness, safety and efficiency of the technical and industrial systems within the city help in the founding of responsible resilient cities. The economic health and vitality or a city rely on this conscious effort. All cities need to start striving to reduce their carbon footprint, using energy responsibly so as not to wreak havoc on the natural systems available to the world. Many proposals suggest cities to symbiotically incorporate industrial zones such that waste from one can be reused as raw material for the other. This would help to lower the environmental impact of the waste by-products of these processes. Water Supply, Electricity, Gas, Communication Services should also be upgraded with every technological advancement brought about by the future years.

5. LOCAL SOURCES

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Self-Sustaining Design ©www.cambridge.org
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Urban Farming ©urbanizehub.com

Sustainable cities are enabled by a self-dependent process of existence. To date, most urban areas have relied on the rural areas on the urban fringes to bring in products and resources for the survival of the city. This dependency is a result of limited usable land within city limits for food production and cultivation. Most factories are hence situated on the outskirts of urban areas. To create a self-sustaining city, it becomes imperative to bring these processes to the interiors of the city. This allows a healthy interaction between the consumers and products from the initial stages of its conception. For example, many cities have started rooftop agriculture. This makes crops available within the city, increasing employment opportunities. When all the needs of a community can be provided locally, it creates independent urban systems that thrive economically while reducing the carbon footprint of the city considerably. 

6. PLACE-MAKING

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Elements of a City by Kevin Lynch ©in.pinterest.com

Along with the complex technical systems that make a city function, it is conducive to lifestyle to create an identity for the city and its residents. By fabricating spaces that act as identifiable focal points in a city, each individual’s mental map of the city pin-points these spaces as recognizable nodes, which help to make the city familiar. Flexible nooks and crannies that have a strong sense of character bring forth a specific ambiance to the city. All these spaces then integrate with the community at large, allowing for numerous interactions and activities. Humans can hence reflect on the city with the feeling of belonging to it, as each resident finds his or her nodes to remember. 

7. CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE AND LIFE-SAFETY

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Infrastructure for Smart Cities ©www.e-zigurat.com

The density of population in the cities around the world have made neighborhoods unsafe for the residents. Crime rates are high, and freedom of movement for men, women and children is restricted. This safety hazard can germinate from perpetrators of criminal activity, blind and negative spaces, ill-executed road safety, poor surveillance systems, etc. Hence, these same issues come to the forefront when pondering solutions. Well-lit, open spaces create visibility, bringing the potential for crime to a low. Surveillance systems, Streetlights, traffic lights, 24/7 medical services, police surveillance are all appendages to critical infrastructure. But the key to life-safety depends on the optimal placement of each of these services to avail help in the shortest possible time.

8. ENGAGED COMMUNITIES

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Importance of Communities ©inhabitat.com
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Community Components of a city ©Kriti Shivagunde

The city is, in actuality, a stage and the people residing in it are the performing artists. Unhappy communities indicate urban failure. People and their interactions create engagement, and this synergy requires a space crafted to fit the needs of the same. Urban public spaces, parks, plazas, nature trails, sports grounds, playgrounds, theatres, malls, restaurants, etc, are all conducive to the healthy community atmosphere. These spaces foster social celebrations and activities that bring societal relations into existence. It also helps in the conception of such spaces when the residents of the city, as well as the stakeholders, participate in the design process.

9. MICRO-LEVEL COMFORT AND SERVICES

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Streetscape design ©tooledesign.com
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Urban Furniture ©twitter.com

 When the scale of planning funnels down to a minute-level, urban design panders to shaping the streetscapes and landscapes in a neighborhood. Side-walk designs, road divider designs, use of solar energy for lighting the streets in the night, transport pick-up points, traffic segregation, bicycle paths, vegetation, shrubbery and so on, are all an integral part of micro-planning. Public infrastructure design has progressed through the years, modifying needs and provisions based on site context and public behavior. Public spaces also need to start recognizing various user groups and design to help each such group. For example, many spaces are still inaccessible to people with disabilities, and a lot of cities have begun to transform their infrastructure to cater to the disabled.

10. PEDESTRIAN-FRIENDLY NEIGHBOURHOODS

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A pedestrian-friendly street ©www.thrillist.com
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Pedestrian-friendly streets in Washington ©www.thrillist.com

Cities are redundant if the streets are taken away from the people. When vehicles dominate the streets, causing the residents to operate on the margins, it creates an oppressive environment for the users. The city is for the people to use and enjoy, but when this enjoyment is delivered with the hefty risk of losing one’s life, a re-evaluation of existing systems is in order. This retrospection has started the revolution for pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. These localities essentially locate all services and necessary resources (e.g. grocery stores, medical supplies, schools, parks, etc) within walking distance of the residence. Street lights, street furniture, cross-walks, etc are all integral parts of this system. Some cities have introduced smart-poles which are light poles with CCTV surveillance, an SOS feature, charging points for electric vehicles and many such amenities fit into one single body. 

Designers aim to make the public areas safe for everyone in general, and this can be done by conjoining design and technology together. 

Kriti Shivagunde
Author

Kriti Shivagunde is a hopeless list-maker. She makes lists more than she breathes in a day. She writes too much, sings too much, and loves hummus too much. She is passionate about sleeping and helping animals. An architecture student from the unfortunate 2020 graduating batch, she hopes to one day call herself an Architect.

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