“But cities aren’t like people; they live on and on, even though their reason for being where they are has gone downriver and out to sea.” – John Updike.
A city is a living, thriving, ever-growing entity. Often organic chaos, each city has its sound, smell, movement, pace, and a characteristic pulse. The romance of the city and its dwellers is never-ending. Many poets have personified cities as a man or a woman or even a child in some cases. Throughout the ages, urban centers have always attracted people of all types, backgrounds, and culture-making cities’ true metropolises. Often these cities end up creating a unique culture and lifestyle of its own. Over the years, the migration of people has led to rapid growth and development of cities and thus, the concurrent effect on urbanization. The lifestyle and health of its citizens have become a major concern for its authorities, planners, and urban designers.
“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody” – Jane Jacobs, The Death, and Life of Great American Cities.
Here are a few examples of urban design initiatives and experimental solutions done in various overpopulated cities to overcome their concerns and build community togetherness.
1. Inclusive Public Space: SUPERKILEN, Norrebro, Copenhagen, Denmark
Team: Superflex, Bjarke Ingels Group, Topotek1
‘A public space promoting integration across lines of ethnicity, religion, and culture’.
– The Aga Khan Development
Project Summary: This project takes the idea of public participation at its core. A stretch that was feared for vandalism and other anti-social activities was converted into a public space accessible and enjoyable by all the people in the neighborhood. This 1 km long stretch is now a park that caters to over 60 ethnic nationalities across the area. Varied Activities have been incorporated in its fold for people of all ages. It is a stretch of strong, stark, and colorful identity between the browns of the surroundings.
2. Urban Renewal: The Good’s Line, Sydney, Australia
Team: ASPECT Studios, CHROFI
Project Summary: A disused rail line in the heart of the city of Sydney, converted into a vibrant and connected urban spine as an elevated Park. It connects the Central Stations through Chinatown and Darling Harbour and has several important leisure and entertainment houses along its stretch. The stretch provides multiple opportunities for public engagement in its social infrastructure. This project also marks the city’s direction from its historic industrial past to a more inclusive, knowledge-based nation.
3. Post-pandemic World: ‘the Street Space’ Programme, City Of London
Team: Transport for London (TfL), Mayor of London
Project Summary: London has been constantly endeavoring and adopting various methods to reduce pollution and also to improve its efficiency as a capital and a business and economic magnet. London has already been mobilizing its residents towards becoming the smartest city in the world for almost a decade. With adapting digitalization to using and encouraging public transport and the announcement of car-free zones, it is already on the path to achieving its goal.
The Mayor of London has announced The Streetscape Programme post the lockdown, to transform parts of central London into one of the largest car-free zones in any capital city of the world. Emphasis on walking, cycling, and the use of public transport with apt social distancing norms and improvement in the quality of air will be the priority. Plans for making this transition w.r.t to public infrastructure is already in process.
4. Towards a Sustainable Paradigm: CYCLING STRATEGY, Copenhagen, Denmark
Team: City Government, National Government, Citizens
Year: 1990 onwards
“Sustainable cities of the future will be ones where transport options other than fossil-fuel powered private vehicles are the norm. Bike-friendly Copenhagen is leading the way, as this case study explores.”
Project Summary: Post WWII there was an extreme rise of car culture in many countries in Europe. Copenhagen’s authorities wanted to address this issue and adopted a pioneer strategy of converting the city into a sustainable and environmentally friendly place. Copenhagen aims to become the ‘world’s best bicycle city’ by 2025. With the emphasis on cyclists, cycle paths and completely re-organizing their traffics and road networks to prioritize cyclists in the city. It has become a prime example of reducing traffic and pollution in the city and also showcased a sustainable method to mark itself on the smart city leads.
5. Reclaiming Public Spaces: CARTER ROAD, Mumbai, India.
Team: PK Das and associates, MHADA Slum Board, Gaurav Agencies.
Project Summary: This is a part of the larger movement to reclaim public spaces in the city and to protect Mumbai’s coastline. This portion of the coastline located in a posh neighborhood had earlier succumbed to becoming a dumping ground. A Small intervention by the residents and the designer led to the stretch becoming an active space for joggers, kids, dog owners, and people of all ages. The various activities provided along with the steps leading towards the water and the amphitheater become a deck to feel the vastness of the pecan. This project also helped save the mangroves so important for the city.
6. Temporary But Regular Interventions: Paris Plages, River Seine, Paris, France
Team: Mayor of Paris
Year: Annually Since 2002/ 2006
Project Summary: This is an interesting intervention run by the office of the Mayor of Paris since 2002. Paris Plages are temporary or pop-up beaches created on the banks of River Seine during the extreme heat of summer in July and August. Roadways on the banks are curtailed and no vehicular traffic is allowed. For the public of the city, these spaces become spots of relief and vacation in the middle of the city during the hot months. It started as an experiment in one location and rapidly spread to other areas along the river. Various activities are added every year for the people to enjoy. This is a very unique insert in the crowded city of Paris providing relief to its residents.
7. Greening the Cities: Vertical Forest Exploration, Milan
Team: Stefano Boeri
Project Summary: With the ever-increasing population and consecutive demands, most megacities have taken the vertical way up. Italian Architect Stefano Boeri has experimented with the incorporation of greening within these multi-functional spaces and Tall Structures. The first example is the built-in Porta Nuova in Milan. This defines not only the urban and the technological characteristics of the project but also the architectural language and its expressive qualities.
“The Vertical Forest is a prototype building for a new format of architectural biodiversity which focuses not only on human beings but also on the relationship between humans and other living species.” – Stefano Boeri
8. Energy Efficiency: POWERHOUSE BRATTØRKAIA, Trondheim, Norway
Team: Entra, Skanska, ZERO, Snøhetta and Asplan Viak
Project Summary: Energy consumption has been a big challenge for most urban conglomerates in the current times. There is a constant battle to create energy-efficient buildings and sustainable technologies all over the world. Trondheim has an interesting situation wherein it receives 5 hrs daylight in winter 20 hrs in summer.
Taking advantage of the unique location of the building, the sunlight access, and the weather conditions of the region, Powerhouse is an excellent example of a building that proposes to produce double the amount of energy that it will use in its life span inclusive of construction and demolition. Therefore, being able to supply leftover electricity to its neighboring buildings and activities. This is a huge step in the direction of energy-efficient technologies.
9. Walkable City Concept: 15 Minute Cities
“In the ’80s, no one got it,” he said. “In the ’90s, developers started to get it. In the aughts, the cities got it. And now I’m finally seeing in this decade that the engineers are starting to get it.”
– Jeff Speck
Project Summary: A 15-minute city would be one where a person could find all the important amenities within 15 minutes of walking distance in their vicinity. The concept of Walkability has been stressed more than enough by many urban theorists and designers over the years. In this post-pandemic situation, it becomes even more imperative that the design of cities become as inclusive and compact as possible. This concept would also lead to a reduction in traffic congestion, pollution issues, car parks could be avoided and used for other public purposes, keep a check on the development explosion and also provide humane scale to the city at large.
10. People-Centric Cities
“You cannot think of architecture without thinking of the people.” Richard Rogers
The emphasis on people-centric cities and environments is becoming a very well accepted ideology in a lot of communities. Post pandemic situation especially demands that all design solutions need to have a people-first approach. Every part of the design will be affected by how human interaction takes place and the essence of the interaction between humans has changed in the past few months.
“At a time when growing numbers are populating cities, planning urban spaces to be humane, safe, and open to all is ever-more critical.” – Jan Gehl