Designing Resilient Cities – creating a future Avalon

Designing Resilient Cities – notes from Day 1
A note from the Vice-Mayor for Infrastructure to the Mayor

cc
Vice-Mayor for Sustainability
Vice-Mayor for Engagement
Vice-Mayor for Disruption
The Public

Avalon faces the risk of functional failure. The only way forward is to change.

Our infrastructure is inefficient. It needs to become efficient. This is not just a question of maintenance. There won’t be enough money to run the transport network, supply water, remove waste, provide broadband. Unless the city either shrinks to a size its current economic structures can afford; or grows to create a larger tax base – so long as the city can retain control over how that tax is spent.

The view of the infrastructure team is that Avalon should grow. But not off the back of its existing industries. These are running out of steam. The industrial infrastructure of the city needs to expand and to reinvigorate. Creative industries will be central to this.

A new population will come to Avalon. A younger population, joining the older, wiser and more experienced population that built the city’s wealth in the 20th century. Joining young people who, having grown up in Avalon have chosen to stay there rather than take the increasingly well-trodden path elsewhere. The city has seen too much of this. Its infrastructure of talent must be rebuilt.

And these people will need somewhere to live. Houses that are affordable. We need to build.

But this does not mean ever further sprawl into our precious countryside – which is too beautiful and too productive to become a building site. No, it means building on our existing urban footprint. We need to find space within the city, not outside. Some of our redundant industrial sites will provide excellent places for new housing: close to transport infrastructure, with excellent, ready-made supplies of water and power. We need to look hard at the vast city parks that were built many years ago and have simply not worked as they were intended – they have harboured crime rather than nurtured culture.

And culture is central to what we must do. Avalon needs to recapture the spirit in which it was first built: a pioneering spirit where anything was possible. Music, art, sculpture, performance: song and dance – we were good at it when we tried. The future memories of Avalon will be built on the strength of the cultural infrastructure that we put in place in the next few years.

And to achieve all of this we need to change the way that we make decisions in the city. No more top down dictats. We need a governance infrastructure that involves everyone: participatory planning, budgeting and decision-taking. An elected mayor for a start.
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Components of infrastructure
Demographics
Life satisfaction.

Transportation
– on ground
– above ground
– below ground.

Health
Not just
– physical buildings

but also
– insurance.

Security
– police
– building protection
– wellbeing.

Equality

Utilities
– water
– gas
– waste
– digital.

Green environment

Culture
– facilities.

Place
– connections.

Diagnosis
Avalon is…

Set in its ways.

Boring.

No desire to change.

Reliant on the public sector.

Declining core industry.

Few common places.

Weak cultural identity.

Car-reliant.

Running out of time.

Risks
Functional failure
– not enough revenue to run the city.

Fragmentation
– in governance, leading to rivalry and underperformance.

Disenchantment
– no sense of belonging.

Disconnection
– of people from planning
– reinforced by physical remoteness of outlying centres.

Civic unrest
– class distinctions, unintegrated, breeding distrust.

Poverty
– when older population retire.

Complacency

Cultural sterility
– no fun
– no stimulation
– no sense of belonging.

Industrial stagnation
– no innovation.

Objectives
Governance
– committees to reflect areas
– directly elected mayor
– participatory planning
– devolved management of infrastructure.

Identity
– common vision
– campaign
– slogan.

Industry
– built around the creative industries
– attracting people from outside, not only serving existing population
– business development area
– enhance links to surrounding agriculture.

Public realm
– enhanced

Consumption
– reduce
– reuse
– recycle
– multiple uses of each infrastructure asset e.g. reservoir is boating lake.

Housing
– more affordable.

Density
– intensify existing urban footprint rather than further sprawl.

Connectivity
– revitalise the centre.

Transport
– integrate existing modes.
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Designing City Resilience is a two-day summit at the RIBA, 17-18th June 2015. Avalon is one of four imaginary cities being looked at during the event in a creative approach that breaks the mould of typical, presentation-only conference agendas. By engaging in a rapid prototyping exercise, delegates immediately test the ideas they have heard in the keynote presentations and on-stage discussions. They also bring to the event their own international experiences.

The result is a two-way, creative conversation that produces a richer outcome: a set of designs for the transformation of the physical, spatial, environmental, industrial, educational, healthcare and governmental structures of the four cities.

Green space in cities – when more is less

Tim Stonor‘s response to a study published today, which shows that green space in cities improves the mental development of schoolchildren. 

I welcome the study: the more we understand cities the better; the Science of Cities – the link between the design of the built environment and the way that we use it – much 20th century planning has been based on guesswork and gut instinct. 

The UK has recently embarked on a national effort to develop this science, setting up the ministerially-led Smart Cities Forum, the Government Office for Science’s study on the Future of Cities. My own organisation, Space Syntax, is a keen participant in this effort and has been pioneering the scientific study of cities for over 25 years. 

My concern is not with the study but with how the study might be interpreted by urban planners in the UK. 

The UK has had something of a love-hate affair: we enjoy visiting Barcelona, Paris, Prague, New York as tourists BUT our efforts to build new cities have given us low density, car-dependent new towns; housing developers continue to deliver this, saying this is what the customer wants; and we believe it. 

BUT go to Skelmersdale – built on garden city principles with great swathes of open green space – and speak to residents who rely on a taxi culture because there aren’t enough buses – because it’s not economically viable to cover all parts of the town with public transport when the housing is so far apart; or lonely parents in one-car families who are stuck at home because their partner has taken the car to work. 

Perhaps the most salutary fact is that the study was carried out in Barcelona: high density, mixed use – in other words, not zoned into housing zones, office zones and shopping zones – so people can walk to work, to the shops, to school – this is the sort of place we need more of. 

And, as Barcelona shows, it can be equally green and highly bio-diverse: street trees and grass verges can provide just as good access to green space as great empty swathes where you might come across more discarded shopping trolleys than people.

The Prince of Wales defines the resilient city #DCR15

3 key features:

1. Embracing local culture, knowledge and customs. Local understanding. 

2. Creating places for all types of people to live together – not ghettos. Diversity. 

3. Integrating people and nature at the centre of the process: urban gardens, parks, orchards & allotments – while protecting rural hinterland. 

http://www.designingcityresilience.com/