For centuries, urban planners have tried to tackle the question of: what an ideal city is, and how to create one? All the written down, formulated rules of city planning often came together like a utopia, that never was and never will be the solution. Trial and error being the popular option for designing and redesigning of cites, conventional cities still keep failing all around the globe.

Individual-centric Urban Design What does it look like -1
Image Sources: Garden City ©

Oldest cities that mankind has known – the kinds of Mesopotamia were planned on the basis of hierarchies.  Initially dwelling clusters sprung up because man wanted to grow crops in fertile land and herded together to river banks and wetlands. Then gradually social strata came up in these societies- religion, power, trade and agriculture related practices dictated the formation of cities of varying hierarchies.  As necessities of man changed with time, functionalities of modern cities evolved accordingly.

1885- The year a revolutionary invention came about- cars. Bringing travel time down manifold, cars were welcomed by the world with much enthusiasm. The impact of this single machinery was so big that for decades, cities were built for cars. Roads were planned out to suit cars the best, buildings were laid out to be set with these road networks, and rest of the amenities were aligned to set with these plans. Major motto of planning cities was to calculate and reduce travel time and make commute as comfortable as possible, in effect improving the productivity of the people (in theory).

Individual-centric Urban Design What does it look like -2
Old Car in Streets ©
Individual-centric Urban Design What does it look like -3
City for Cars ©

City planners gradually started noticing the ill effects this practice seemed to bring into the citizens of the city- various physical and psychological health issues, degrading social values and to be put bluntly, it birthed practically dysfunctional cities. The thus created ideologies of urban designing were perfect theoretically, yet a blunder practically. This is where the thought of concentrating on people for city planning came up. After all, the most basic unit of a city is each of its people.

Individual-centric Urban Design What does it look like -4
Jan Gehl ©

The famous Danish architect and urban designer Jan Gehl is a very vocal leading voice in the revolutionary movement of ‘making cities for people’. He has stressed over the years how a functional city is always one that concentrates solely on its people.  He proposed 5 rules for building a good city:

  1. Stop building for automobiles and cheap gasoline
  2. Make public life the driving force for urban design
  3. Design for multisensory experience
  4. Make public transportation more equitable
  5. Ban cars

Original concept of the garden city model by Ebenezer Howard was creation of lush green spaces for recreational activities for laid back neighbourhood of close-knit families.  Even as the concept failed to reach its full potential, the core idea sustained.  Today the cities that are conscious of its people’s health are cities that make people walk, socialise, think, and be creative. With this backdrop, several car-free cities have been springing up globally and with the effects of it being noted mostly positive, it could be considered a step in the right direction.

Car-free, walkable cities are conceptualised to make walking a pleasant experience. Pedestrians are given top priority in the design, public transportation is made most efficient to facilitate this, and the whole experience is made cheap and safe. Venice is a prime example as to how a modern city can function perfectly, in the absence of cars.

Importance of pedestrianisation

From the concept of ‘cities for people’ a further streamlined design ideology of individual centric development has stemmed. With more and more planners and designers learning about the benefits of this, and applying it practically, a lot of the future cities are going to be adopting the concept. Imagine being able to plan the city you are going to live in. This is the most advanced concept of city planning called ‘data driven urban planning’ which seems to be the window to the future of planning cities.

Individual-centric Urban Design What does it look like -5
Reclaiming the Roads for People ©

Data driven urban planning

The data obtained from cities with respect to its inhabitants is very valuable. It tells you about the population demographic, activities occurring in the city and accessibility of the people to each of its facilities. This lets planners know as to the changes that need to be brought about to make the city tailor fit its occupants. For example, in sections of the city with increased aging population, it should be ensured that services reach them, and the urban layout is done in a manner to encourage them to practice a healthy, active and social life. In New York City, every year the municipal data is handed over to programmers, designers and entrepreneurs by the York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). This is done as part of the Big Apps competition, which is held to solve the issues of the city residents. In Finland, in the year 2011, the city of Porvoo was seeing an increase in the production of waste in several parts of it. It was getting impossible to handle, and at this point, a smart sensor service was set up inside the bins to collect the data regarding the type and quantity. The city was in turn able to reduce the amount of collection to 51 percent. The system also managed to solve the problem without increasing the emissions from extra runs of garbage vehicles.

Human-centric Smart Building Solution by Hitachi, was launched in Singapore in February 2019. The advanced technology functions by collecting data at various levels and enabling a human-centric automated building management solution and changes the building dynamics based on the functions of the spaces, activities of its occupants and personal comfort. Advanced artificial intelligence is utilised to assess various factors and to collect relevant data. Along with the focus on individual comfort, model is also developed to be highly energy efficient- an unavoidable consideration in a tropical part of the world, like Singapore.

The base idea that forms the foundation of this school of thought is that a city is its people, each and every one of them. With time, the models based on this ideology will show us how practical and successful the thought is. With the examples we have to date, these cities indeed seem to be helping nourish its inhabitants individually, and hence are considered the guides to future of urban planning.

Individual-centric Urban Design What does it look like -6
Singapore ©
Individual-centric Urban Design What does it look like -7
Playground roads for people, Oslo ©

Melva Joseph is a young, passionate architecture graduate from TKM College of Engineering, Kerala. Being extremely curious and adaptable made her an extensive reader, avid traveller and a good conversationalist. She holds close the belief that the existing gap between architecture and the common man should be bridged.

Write A Comment