IKEA’s research and design lab in Copenhagen released a book this month on ways we can improve our cities. They start by recognizing we’re presently facing two global crisis: a pandemic and catastrophic climate change. Their proposals to address these two issues within cities is titled The Ideal City and they outright admit that top-down urban planning is inherently problematic. The goal of the book is to demonstrate that change is possible, it’s happening, and we can make the world better by improving our lived environments.
Making Cities Safer
This chapter proposes that in addition to lowering crime, cities need to protect their citizens against extreme weather events and provide a healthy environment that fosters physical and mental well-being. It highlights a small project that makes a big impact: the Tokyo Toilet, a series of 17 public restrooms designed by renowned architects in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. By incorporating colored glass that’s transparent when the lavatory is empty and opaque when in use, Pritzker Prize–winning architectShigeru Ban’s designaddresses two basic concerns people have with public toilets: cleanliness and how to know if someone’s inside.
Architects generally want people to feel comfortable around their buildings or interior spaces; however, architects aren’t perfect and may overlook some simple design solutions that can put people at ease. The World Bank Group has released a handbook for urban planners, architects, and anybody shaping our physical environment to use when making (or renovating) spaces. The handbook is all about designing for all genders and ensuring that the built environment is useful and welcoming to all regardless of their gender.
Urban planning and design quite literally shape the environment around us — and that environment, in turn, shapes how we live, work, play, move, and rest. This handbook aims to illuminate the relationships between gender inequality, the built environment, and urban planning and design; and to lay out a menu of simple, practicable processes and best practices for urban planning and design projects that build more inclusive cities – for men and women, for those with disabilities, and for those who are marginalized and excluded.
Architecture is all around us and most of us don’t even think about it. The built environment shapes how we think and provides (or denies) us with options on how to navigate the world and engage with it. This means that if we change the built environment we can change the planet. Years of thoughtless car friendly development have contributed greatly to the climate crisis and now architects are doing what they can to mitigate harm.
In May, some of the world’s leading UK-based architects joined forces to call for industry-led action on the twin issues of climate change and biodiversity loss. The “Architects Declare” group includes firms such as Foster + Partners, David Chipperfield Architects, and Zaha Hadid Architects.
In July,we reportedthat the City of Utrecht Council, in collaboration with advertising agency Clear Channel, has transformed 316 bus stops across the city into “bee stops.” The adaption involved installing green roofs onto the bus stops, creating bee-friendly spaces for the endangered species.
More people live and work in cities than ever before in the history of humanity, as a result the transportation pressures on these urban centres as equally increased. In North America, the last century focused on making cities for cars instead of for people and as more population density increases in cities the urban design can’t keep pace. Making cities for cars has led to a really problematic situation. We know the future of cities is in human-scale design instead of car-scale design and the transition has been hard. In the USA cyclist fatalities have increased by 25% and pedestrian deaths by 45% since 2010.
The solution for safer cities exists and places are already implementing better design practices. You can make an impact today by getting rid of your car or just driving less.
Strategies vary from one city to another. Boston, for example, has reduced the city speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 25 mph. Washington, D.C. is improving 36 intersections that pose threats to pedestrians and enacting more bicycle-friendly policies. These cities still have far to go, but they are moving in the right direction.
There are many more options. Manufacturers can make vehicles less threatening to pedestrians and bicyclists by reducing the height of front bumpers. And cities can make streets safer with a combination of speed limit reductions, traffic calming measures, “road diets” for neighborhoods that limit traffic speed and volume, and better education for all road users.
Tishaura Jones, the first female treasurer of St. Louis, set out to improve her city through good design. Through her own struggles dealing with the city’s bureaucracy she identified many problems with how information is presented, she noted she wasn’t the only one running into bad design. Jones decided to do something about it; the policies were there but nobody knew how to understand them since the information was presented in a Byzantine way. She has led St. Louis to alter how information gets communicated to its citizens.
As treasurer of St. Louis, she used two key design techniques to improve policy delivery and outcomes. First, she reached out to other cities that had prototyped and tested new, human-centered policies. Building on what other cities had learned allowed St. Louis to springboard forward instead of getting stuck reinventing wheels. Second, she brought together policy and processes, applying people-centered design to the rules that governed services and the delivery of them. By building connective tissue between policy, process, and people, Jones was able to built new trust in old institutions to deliver real change impacting residents’ lives.
Justin King, policy director of the family-centered social policy program at New America, where I did research, has spent his career working on issues at the intersection of children’s lives and government policies. “Tishaura and Jose before her are reinventing what’s possible inside government,” he says. “People see the state and municipal government, in a lot of cases, as a predator on them and their communities . . . [Their work] is against the tide. It is really positive and really innovative and really worth talking about.”