Cities: how urban design can make people less likely to use public spaces
Urban beautification campaigns are usually sold to local residents as a way to improve their daily lives. Design elements – from lighting systems to signs, benches, bollards, fountains and planters, and sometimes even surveillance equipment – are used to refurbish and embellish public spaces.
Designers refer to these elements as “urban furniture”. And the projects they’re used in are usually aimed at increasing social interaction, heightening safety, improving accessibility and generally making life in the city better.
Cities aren’t only identified by their monuments or signature buildings. You can tell New York City and Palermo apart just by looking at what people are doing in public. A New York scene is more likely to feature someone on a skateboard eating a burrito, while a Palermo image might include a group of men in a street watching a football match on television through a shop window.
Urban space is where city children learn and play, students read and people work, walk and relax. It is through these different activities that any single city’s urban culture is created.
Architects, infrastructural and spatial designers carefully configure the built environment – the constructed fabric of our cities – and this has a lasting effect on how we use or inhabit them.
In cities around the globe – from Algiers, Auckland and Chicago to Hanoi, Mexico City and Seoul – research shows that transforming public spaces markedly affects the diversity of what people do in them, and whether they use them.
In Algiers, the Algerian capital, neighbourhoods were formally designed in the 1970s in a rigid modernist style. Design elements including shady trees, benches and lights at night made people feel comfortable carrying out activities such as playing cards or gathering to chat, but huge buildings, wide streets and large spaces also caused people to feel insecure and lost.
Further, the land was landscaped in the kind of homogenous way characteristic of other big cities including Los Angeles, Auckland and Sydney. These large-scale and non-contextual designs have also been linked to antisocial behaviour.
After the area was transformed in 2013, there was a notable decline in the diversity of the activities people undertook there (family and religious gatherings; street art; music; informal vendors). Instead, the law now prioritises touristic activity over local people’s everyday needs and allows the authorities to operate a zero-tolerance approach towards anything deemed disruptive. Vendors have become nomadic, packing up and hiding as soon as the police are nearby.
In the Cheonggyecheon-Euljiro area of Seoul, South Korea, meanwhile, redevelopment led to 50-year-old workshops being torn down. This in turn has threatened the historical and cultural values of the local population and disrupted social networks.
How cities are co-created
In his 1968 book, The Right to the City, the French Marxist philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre described the city as a co-created space. This contrasts with the more capitalist definition in which urban space is a commodity to be bought and sold, Lefebvre saw it as a meeting place where citizens collectively built urban life.
This idea that public space is a public good that belongs to everybody has been increasingly challenged in recent years, with the rise of privately owned public space. Most of the parks in London (roughly 42 kilometres squared) of green space in total) are owned by the City of London Corporation, the municipal body that governs the City of London, but increasingly squares within new developments are owned by corporations.
Urban theorists have long noted the connection between how a city is designed and how life is conducted within it. The US scholar Jane Jacobs is famous for highlighting that cities fail when they are not designed for everyone. And Danish architect Jan Gehl’s output has consistently focused on what he has termed the “life between buildings”.
As Gehl has explained, for a city to be good to its residents, those in charge of designing it have to be aware of how it is being used: what people are doing in its spaces. To be successful, urban designs have to be focused on and geared towards people’s daily lives. Gehl has explained that designing a city for pedestrians – at a walkable scale – is how you make it healthy, sustainable, lively and attractive.
Research has also highlighted how democratic this can be. But it is contingent on those spaces being designed in consort with residents. When a public space, by contrast, is overly designed without people’s needs being taken into account, it does not get used.
3D printed concrete may lead to a shift in architecture and construction. Because it can be used to produce new shapes and forms that current technologies struggle with, it may change the centuries-old processes and procedures that are still used to construct buildings, resulting in lower costs and saved time.
However, concrete has a significant environmental impact. Vast quantities of natural sand are currently used to meet the world’s insatiable appetite for concrete, at great cost to the environment. In general, the construction industry struggles with sustainability. It creates around 35% of all landfill waste globally.
Our new research suggests a way to curb this impact. We have trialled using recycled glass as a component of concrete for 3D printing.
Concrete is made of a mix of cement, water, and aggregates such as sand. We trialled replacing up to 100% of the aggregate in the mix with glass. Simply put, glass is produced from sand, is easy to recycle, and can be used to make concrete without any complex processing.
Demand from the construction industry could also help ensure glass is recycled. In 2018 in the US only a quarter of glass was recycled, with more than half going to landfill.
We used brown soda-lime beverage glass obtained from a local recycling company. The glass bottles were first crushed using a crushing machine and then the crushed pieces were washed, dried, milled, and sieved. The resulting particles were smaller than a millimetre square.
The crushed glass was then used to make concrete in the same way that sand would be. We used this concrete to 3D print wall elements and prefabricated building blocks that could be fitted together to make a whole building.
If used in this way, waste glass can find a new life as part of a construction material.
The presence of glass does not only solve the problem of waste but also contributes to the development of a concrete with superior properties than that containing natural sand.
The thermal conductivity of soda-lime glass – the most common type of glass, which you find in windows and bottles – is more than three times lower than that of quartz aggregate, which is used extensively in concrete. This means that concrete containing recycled glass has better insulation properties. They could substantially decrease the costs required for cooling or heating during summer or winter.
We also made other changes to the concrete mixture in order to make it more sustainable as a building material, including replacing some of the Portland cement with limestone powder.
Portland cement is a key component of concrete, used to bind the other ingredients together into a mix that will harden. However, the production of ordinary Portland cement leads to the release of significant amounts of carbon dioxide as well as other greenhouse gases. The cement production industry accounts for around 8% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the environment.
We also added lightweight fillers, made from tiny hollow thermoplastic spheres, to reduce the density of the concrete. This changed the thermal conductivity of the concrete, reducing it by up to 40% when compared with other concrete used for 3D printing. This further improved the insulation properties of the concrete, and reduced the amount of raw material required.
Using 3D printing technology, we can simply develop a wall structure on a computer, convert it to simple code and send it to a 3D printer to be constructed. 3D printers can operate for 24 hours a day, decrease the amount of waste produced, as well as increase the safety of construction workers.
Our research shows that an ultra-lightweight, well insulated 3D building is possible – something that could be a vital step on our mission towards net zero.
In the MENA region through the years, wealth has always been absent and this for millennia especially in the Gulf area. Nowadays, images of gold buildings, fantastic motorways, and all the most expensive things in life have become commonly known and used. In the Gulf, however, one thing comes to most people’s minds first. It is oil. Dubai, Doha and Riyadh are among the top 5 in MENA ranking would not be a surprise since this region rich with its rich oil reserves and supply of that oil is one reason and a good one for those cities in this area have earned a spot on the list of the world’s wealthiest nations. Now turning that wealth into smart cities could be considered to be some achievement.
The above image is for illustration and is of Doha, Qatar.
Dubai, Doha and Riyadh among top 5 in MENA ranking
Dubai continues to lead the region in Kearney’s Global Cities report climbing four places in the global ranking, while Doha experienced the most dramatic jump globally, placing it third regionally, while Riyadh ranks fifth in Mena.
Riyadh also leads in Human Capital dimension in the GCC, highlighting its ongoing efforts in attracting international talent and large foreign-born population, according to the 11th edition of the report, which offers key insights into how Covid-19 and the resulting pandemic containment measures have impacted the level of global engagement of 156 cities around the world.
Comprising of Global Cities Index (GCI) and Global Cities Outlook (GCO), the report measures how globally engaged cities are across five dimensions: business activity, human capital, information exchange, cultural experience, and political engagement as part of the GCI. GCO, which is a forward-looking evaluation based on 13 indicators, assesses how the same cities are creating conditions for their future status as global hubs.
Global Cities Index
Dubai retains its top spot in the Index for the region, and is also ranked fourth globally in Cultural Experience, reflecting the city’s relatively early reopening to international travellers, bolstered by strict testing requirements, a rapid rollout of vaccines and Bluetooth-enabled contact tracing.
Doha saw the largest jump of any city on this year’s Global Cities Index, rising 15 places following the restoration of diplomatic relations between Qatar and its neighbouring countries, highlighting the importance of fostering regional relationships in addition to global ones.
Cairo ranked fourth in the Mena region, followed by Riyadh. Saudi Arabia’s capital city leads in Human Capital in the GCC, where its strengths in attracting international talent and large foreign-born population contribute to the strong showing. This is in line with the country’s increased emphasis on strengthening citizens’ capabilities to compete globally, in support of the realization of several strategic objectives set out in the Saudi Vision 2030.
Overall, 21 cities in the Mena region rose six or more positions in the GCI ranking compared to last year. Istanbul climbed seven spots, with the city’s efforts to become a global travel hub proving their worth. Addis Ababa moved up eight places, propelled by Ethiopia’s development investments that have supported rapid economic growth.
Global Cities Outlook
In terms of outlook, Abu Dhabi ranks fourth globally, a testament to the city’s continued focus on providing accessible, high-quality healthcare and a commitment to reducing its environmental impact, which is core to the personal well-being dimension. Dubai and Abu Dhabi co-lead in the outlook for infrastructure, an illustration of the UAE’s commitment to a future of sustainable and resilient economic growth.
Antoine Nasr, Partner, Government Practice Leader, Kearney Middle East, said: “In Mena, GCC economies, particularly the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are poised to lead regional recovery supported by accelerated efforts of their governments across the five main dimensions of the report. What’s also noteworthy is Doha has recorded the biggest gain globally for any city, a result of the compounded benefits of their strengthened economy and the newly restored regional ties. This reflects the importance of a balance between self-sufficiency and global connectivity.”
Five strategic imperatives for city leaders
The report highlights five strategic imperatives for city leaders along with a range of ways in which cities around the world can address the challenges they share:
• Win in the competition for global talent: with human capital as the driving force behind economic activity, cities that adapt to the new priorities of prospective residents, with a renewed emphasis on urban livability and economic opportunity, will be those that emerge on top • Embrace the rapidly growing digital economy: while it threatens to contribute to an emptying of cities and relocation of business headquarters, cities that harness the benefits of the global digital economy to drive differentiated competitive advantage will accelerate economic growth • Ensure economic resilience by balancing global and local resources: with the fragility of the global trade system exposed during the early months of the pandemic, cities that recalibrate and balance relationships at global, regional, and local levels will be most resilient to future disruptions • Adapt in the face of climate change: as climate change accelerates, and in the absence of unified global leadership on the topic, cities must lead the way in driving toward sustainability around the world • Invest in individual and community well-being: in recovering from the collective scars of the pandemic, cities that focus their investments on advancing the well-being of their populations will be those that create an environment in which innovation can thrive
“Though they were initially hit hardest by Covid-19, our 2021 report shows that the leading global cities have once again proven their resilience and adaptive capacity. Their broad diversity of strengths positioned them for a quicker rebound that, with leadership focus and clarity of direction, can transition into leadership of a long-term, global recovery,” concluded Rudolph Lohmeyer, Partner, National Transformations Institute, Kearney Middle East.
Construction Kenya’s INSIGHTS advises as to how to build sustainable cities for the good of all. Still, in an era of rapid urbanisation, we witness increasing demand for additional housing, infrastructure, transport and green spaces. We can only agree on how all around the world thinkers can help tackle these challenges.
How to build sustainable cities
More than 66% of humanity projected to live in urban areas by 2050.
In the next thirty years, more than two thirds of humanity is projected to live in urban areas with most of the urban population growth expected to happen in lower income nations.
With that in mind, there is an urgent need for planners to ensure that urban areas are inclusive, safe, sustainable and resilient enough to meet the anticipated population growth.
But what makes a city liveable? While there is no single magical bullet, cities can make themselves more habitable by adopting a range of social and technological measures.
Here are 10 ways to build more sustainable cities:
1. Clean energy
Although most cities can generate clean energy, their high level of power consumption means the metropolises are unlikely to be self-sufficient in terms of energy production.
However, cities can lower their carbon footprints by, among other things, converting sunshine into electricity; using timber from local forests to produce low-carbon energy for heating and electricity generation; and using solar to heat buildings and water.
Converting waste into energy is also a great step towards improving a city. The Indonesian city of Sodong, for example, has implemented an air-filled waste disposal system that uses pipes to suck trash from homes into processing centres that automatically sort the material to recycle and turn it into renewable energy.
London Heathrow, one of the busiest airports in the world, uses “springy” tiles to harness the kinetic energy in foot traffic and convert it into electricity.
Such innovations can help cities to become more sustainable.
2. Efficient buildings
Buildings consume most of a city’s energy intake while emitting large quantities of carbon. Cities should encourage the design and construction of efficient buildings – which are often more cost-effective and functional compared to installation of costly devices for clean energy production.
Creating efficient buildings involves the insulation of walls, windows, and roofs, and operating energy-efficient lighting and heating systems.
Passive House in Darmstadt, Germany, is a great example of energy efficient building. The ultra-low energy house is so highly insulated that it requires no heating or cooling.
Singapore and New York have shown the world how small initiatives such as painting roofs white and planting trees can reduce city temperatures by up to 2°C – thereby cutting a city’s energy consumption.
In Scandinavian and eastern European countries, hot water for heating is distributed to buildings through insulated pipes underneath the streets. The water is heated using energy generated from extremely efficient power stations that generate both heat and electricity.
3. Efficient transportation
While vehicles, trains and aeroplanes facilitate the smooth running of a city, the transport systems can cause traffic congestion, poor air quality and gas emissions.
To minimise the number of cars on the road, some cities have formulated ideas that can be adopted in other parts of the world.
The Scottish city of Edinburgh, for example, has developed one of the largest car-sharing clubs in the UK, which allows members to use cars only when they need to.
Singapore and London have designed high-quality bus and underground rail systems, as well as low-emission areas where only electric vehicles are permitted.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, cycle commuting is highly encouraged with cyclists given priority at traffic lights throughout the city.
4. Urban agriculture
The food we eat comes with a carbon footprint, which is worse if the produce travels hundreds of miles to reach us. It is therefore a great idea to encourage urban farming to ensure local sourcing of foodstuffs.
Urban farmers such as US-based Aero Farms are already embracing vertical farming solutions to produce food in cities. Vertical farming produces crops on stacked layers, often on skyscrapers, instead of on a single layer in either an open field or a greenhouse.
Advances in lighting and automation, as well as other factors such as reduced use of pesticides, enable vertical farmers to make higher profits than traditional farmers.
5. Sharing spaces
City residents around the world are reducing the carbon footprint of consumption through sharing of resources. It is increasingly common to find inhabitants engaging in carpooling, lodging rental and shared ownership of facilities such as gyms and lounges.
6. Design for social integration
Once considered the world’s most dangerous city, Colombian city of Medellin has transformed itself by focusing on architecture and design.
The city has adopted the use of shared spaces and improved public transport to blur economic boundaries and create a sense of connection among its residents.
7. Mobility on demand
Smartphone-assisted traffic management and car routing can reduce time and fuel wasted trying to navigate through congested cities.
Likewise, self-driving vehicles and carpooling can increase efficiency by maximising use of vehicles and reducing the need for space to park idle cars.
8. Nature-based solutions
Nature-based solutions to urban problems can help cities to tackle climate change while reducing disaster risks.
New York City’s greened rooftops and streets that can better manage storm water runoff and improve urban climate are a great example of natured-based solutions.
Another great example is China’s introduction of the concept of ‘sponge cities’, cities with open spaces that can soak up floodwater and prevent disaster in ecologically friendly ways.
9. Pocket parks
In densely populated cities such as San Francisco, local authorities have put in place small green spaces that help to increase green cover while providing recreation space to residents.
Most pocket parks re-use spaces that previously served other purposes — for example, rehabilitated street parking spaces or a public right-of-way that was earlier used for transportation.
10. Pervious concrete
Pervious concrete is a mixture of cement, coarse aggregate, water and admixture, with little or no fine aggregates. It is designed to allow water to penetrate the asphalt for absorption by the earth. This can help cities to tackle flash floods and worsening quality of water in river courses and so on.
Hailed as one of the most promising sustainable material today, pervious concrete has outstanding potential to counteract these adverse impacts while providing necessary structural integrity, thus supporting continued urbanization.
City life is often compared to an urban jungle where people merely exist in a given space, in a given time.
But what if space and time are rediscovered with fulfilment felt by the dwellers in a community that thrives in sustainability of living? What if time and space are elements that give birth to economic advancement, environmental preservation and community progress?
The one thousand and one “what-ifs” are a thousand and one realities SMDC offers to people who deserve a thousand and one more chances of a life of quality. Not only today but also in the years – many, many years – to come.
“Making cities sustainable means creating career and business opportunities, safe and affordable housing, and building resilient societies and economies,” the United Nations has said.
Because today and tomorrow are important to SMDC, its communities are designed and run based on three sustainability pillars: economic, environmental, and social.
More than a roof over one’s head
Community building, for SMDC, is more than just providing a roof over one’s head. It is about creating a place that allows people to thrive, where all the living essentials are within striking distance – from one’s daily necessities to opportunities for commerce, for jobs and for livelihood.
Building a nation of homeowners, as envisioned by Chairman Henry Sy Jr., means providing homes that are practical – efficient in size, generous in amenities, luxurious in services and facilities.
South 2 Residences in Las Piñas City is built on the concept of 15-minute cities, where economic opportunities, everyday essentials and public services are reachable in 15 minutes or less.
Sustainability, after all, is about sharing spaces and resources, so that they become inclusive and affordable, while providing enough space for others to thrive. For people to continue to thrive, they need to be close to where the economic opportunities are, in major CBDs whose property prices are constantly skyrocketing. An SMDC home, therefore, does not just take care of today’s dwellers; it is a place where homeowners can reap good financial rewards, as a legacy that can be passed on to their children and their children’s children.
It is this idea of shared spaces that opens SMDC communities to the everyday home seeker. To be able to live in a safe community with hotel-like lobbies, resort-style amenities, 24/7 security, located in a major CBD, was a luxury available only to the rich. Now everyone can have a piece of that luxury. And by everyone, it also means individuals who may be challenged to live in vertical spaces. SMDC homes are built with accessibility provisions for seniors, children and PWDs.
More than just a breathing space
City living spaces are often viewed as concrete jungles devoid of breathing spaces. Community building by way of SMDC means creating homes where residents and guests not only enjoy vast, open spaces with lots of greenery, but also with energy efficiency as part and parcel of every design. Units are built to bring in natural light and ventilation, LED fixtures are used and a waste management system is in place.
Sands Residences brings to Manila a premium-quality waterfront home in a complete community that provides a lot of breathing space and magnificent views
Every development is built with disaster-resiliency and future-readiness in mind – from site selection to construction and beyond. SMDC’s property management personnel are trained to respond quickly to emergencies of all kinds. These trainings are made available to residents through regular workshops.
Being situated where all of life’s daily essentials are within walkable distances, not only encourages residents to walk, jog or bike, but also allows them to become stewards of the Earth by reducing their carbon footprint. SMDC’s sprawling amenities and activity areas encourage residents to spend more time outdoors, savor Nature and reduce energy consumption.
More than just existing
Sustainability is built around the concept of continued existence for people. But to continue to exist, i.e., to extend today’s lives and to continue life for the future, means being in a place where health and happiness are given primary importance. SMDC’s properties allow residents to take care of their physical, mental and emotional health through spaces designed for these activities, spaces that encourage the creation of social connections, the very concept of community building.
The Good Guys Weekend Market provides a venue for residents to continue generating income during this pandemic.
But mere spaces are not enough. There has to be a catalyst to make these connections, and community spirit, come to life. SMDC’s The Good Guys program, enables SMDC communities to come together in the spirit of conviviality, to provide for both economic and social progress for residents, and to extend this altruism beyond its communities.
Building happy, healthy, secure and thriving communities is the heart of sustainable living, as exemplified in SMDC HappyNings, 2-time Quill awardee for community relations.
There is no life in mere existing. To live is to exist sustainably.
In a given space and a given time, SMDC creates the space for people to live today and to continue to survive the challenges of time.
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