#enduringcity – resilient cities for all
As we described in our first blog, when enduring cities are appreciated by many, they are cared for and sustained by many. But how can the diversity of all needs be incorporated into urban design? Before we can answer this question, it is important to establish what we mean by diversity. There are many definitions, but at the core they all agree that diverse urban spaces should accommodate all citizens, regardless of age, gender, background or other physical or mental features and (dis)abilities. This does not mean each space needs to tend to everyone’s needs – inclusive design is not about creating everything for everyone, but about creating something in a fair balance.
The inclusive design process
What could a more inclusive design process look like? This was investigated in neighborhood De Staart in Dordrecht, resulting in three lessons learned. Firstly, co-creation invites residents to feel a sense of ownership of urban spaces. This leads to more use of those spaces and better social cohesion between those involved. An interesting example of an inclusive design process is the housing development Hunziker Areal in Zurich. In the "Mehr als Wohnen" cooperative project, the design of the open spaces included both permanent and flexible design elements. This approach allowed residents to decide for themselves how the public spaces should be filled in, helping to build social cohesion from the beginning and improve the mental wellbeing of all residents.
Secondly, momentum can be more important than measurable impact. Designers, planners, and policy makers often feel the need to make decisions for healthy cities based on the time-consuming comparison of quantifiable data. However, reacting to existing energy in the area might have much more impact than waiting for the “perfect” spatial intervention that ticks all the boxes. Reacting to existing energy happened, for example, with skatepark Zeeburgereiland in Amsterdam. A group of enthusiastic skaters initiated and lobbied for a skatepark, which led to a close collaboration between the skaters, residents and the municipality of Amsterdam to actually build the park. The area has now become a vibrant location that promotes physical activity and attracts skaters from all over the Netherlands.
Finally, a design process can only be inclusive if it is informed by different perspectives; throughout different phases and on all levels of the design process. An inclusive design process is based on continuous critical reflection of one’s own position and work in relation to the shifting positions of the people we are working for. This means an inclusive design manual could never be “finished”, but is constantly developing to not only accommodate current generations but future ones too.
The importance of green
The inclusive design process includes not only people, but also nature. After all, green public spaces are places where people can interact, socialize, recreate and identify with the environment. Green spaces may not be able to solve all urban problems, but they are a relatively inexpensive way of improving the living environment. To create more space for greenery, it should be included as an essential design element at the beginning of every project. For example, in the project for Leiden Central Station, the design took into account not only people, but also animals and plants. In order to realize sufficient space for high-quality urban greenery both above and below ground, experts who know what plants and animals need to thrive must be invited early on in the process. In turn, a balance can be achieved for the entire ecological system, including the people and the urban conditions they create.
Designing diverse and resilient cities that stimulate healthy living for all starts with involving different perspectives early on in the process. These perspectives not only include designers, policy makers and planners, but also local residents. Ultimately, the inclusive environment can only be established if everyone works together. At the same, time it goes beyond the inclusion of people, and also includes nature. It should also be kept in mind that what people want today might not be what people want tomorrow, and climate change makes the need for greenery in the city greater than ever. Designing for enduring cities therefore takes into account nature, the diversity of existing places, users and uses and translates these into potential futures. This idea – working with what is already there – is also at the basis of a circular design approach, which we will discuss in our next blog!