The People-Centered Future Cities
The design and structure of today’s cities affect people and society in every possible way. City planners now need to make more decisions focused on people. In the future, urban wellbeing and urban resilience will be people-centered.
Although urban wellbeing and urban resilience are mentioned frequently in the news, their meanings might remain elusive to most people. Urban wellbeing refers to the health of the urban environment. And 100 Resilient Cities defines urban resilience as “the capability of individuals, communities, institutions, and systems in a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.” Also, cities’ ability to achieve the two goals addressed in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Achieving urban wellbeing is important because cities are at the center of people’s health and wellness. With 90% of the time spent indoors, the chemicals used in building materials will accumulate in people’s bodies. However, exposure to natural light can lead better sleep quality. And cities’ use of green space contributes to well-being. According to David Owen, author of “Green Metropolis”, trees can not only improve air quality but also cheer up the city dwellers to walk more by their presence along the sidewalk, which is extremely important for freeing them from their sedentary work.
Resilient cities can better protect people from climate change. After the city of San Francisco designated the world’s first climate resilience officer in 2014, at least 84 other global cities followed. A report published by Climate Ready DC outlines the measures cities can take to prepare for rising seas, more frequent storms, and flooding. For example, it suggests that the buildings in Washington, DC should install green infrastructure to manage storm water and green roofs to save energy and help keep buildings cool when the temperature rises.
What’s more, achieving better urban wellbeing and urban resilience is good for cities’ economic development. A recent World Economic Forum study shows that places with reduced air and water pollution have increasing FDI inflows. Either the big companies prefer greener cities’ commitment to protecting their employers’ health, or they want to bolster their reputation of being environmental-friendly. In addition, the infrastructure work which fights for the environment can boost people’s confidence in the economy. Historically, the expansive investment has saved the nation out of severe economic downturns several times.
Experts agree that future urban planning should be people-oriented to achieve better urban well-being and urban resilience. One important idea is forcing people to walk more and drive less, which helps both with health and reducing air pollution. In an interview, Jan Gehl, author of “Cities for People” conducted an experiment in Copenhagen, in which researchers compared the cost for society of a person bicycling for one kilometer and that cost of one guy driving for the same distance. They found that “every time there was a bicyclist doing a kilometer, society picked up a quarter and every time the same distance was driven in a car, society lost 16 cents.”
City planners have developed some strategies to get people out of their cars. First, the city hub has to be dense enough to make transit by walk or bicycle conceivable. According to Neil Angus, a Boston environmental planner, the city should be built “on a pedestrian scale, with narrower streets, and pushing buildings closer to the street and to each other.”
Second, traffic-impeding “street furniture” could be strategically used to make driving less attractive. According to Owen, implementing plantings, bicycle racks, and speed bumps can blur the boundaries between driving and walking areas. For example, European cities that increase the ambiguity of urban road spaces can make drivers lower their speed, reduce accident rates, and improve people’s lives.
As more people will move in cities for longer in the future—almost 70 percent of the world’s population will move to cities by year 2050—it is important for urban planners to keep a “people scale” rather than “car scale” in mind. To be fully people-oriented, future cities should be designed around people’s health and be resilient to potential climate change. And trying to get people out of cars is a good start.