Well-attended conference in Buenos Aires


The second Future of Places conference brought together 300 people from 40+ countries, who were interested in advancing the public space agenda. The conference consisted of a range of sessions including plenary discussions, academic sessions, practical workshops and discussion forums as well as key events throughout the beautiful city of Buenos Aires.

Of particular interest was the fact that the speakers highlighted a broad range of issues in relation to public space (ie. rapidly urbanizing cities, street networks, building cities to human scale, multidisciplinary spaces, land value capture, a city wide approach to planning, access to public space, inclusive public space with particular focus on vulnerable groups, a people centred approach to planning public spaces, and the importance of including public space in the sustainable urban development agenda). These issues are essential to not only building good public spaces, but also to promoting key principles of sustainable urban development- such as integration instead of segregation, compactness instead of sprawl and connectivity instead of congestion.

“The first Future of Places conference held in Stockholm in 2013 convened the leading global thinkers on public space to discuss and prioritize the key elements of public space that need to be included as part of the new urban agenda that would arise out of the Habitat III conference in 2016. Following this, the Future of Places II conference in Buenos Aires in 2014 resulted in a carefully crafted set of key messages that would be used to influence the preparatory discussions in the Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals as well as the Habitat III process; both of which are currently shaping the global development agenda. The second Future of Places conference differentiated itself from its predecessor in two ways: firstly, it focused on the topic of Streets as Public Spaces and Drivers of Urban Prosperity, and secondly, it elevated itself from a conference aimed at collecting knowledge on public space into a conference that aimed at leveraging the political processes of the United Nations system (namely, the Post 2015 Development Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, and also the Habitat III process). In doing just that, the Future of Places collected expertise from the range of stakeholder groups present in both the first and second Future of Places conferences and reflected their views in an outcome document delivering 10 key messages to the Secretary General of Habitat III Dr. Joan Clos in an Open Consultation in New York on September 11, 2014. This shift in focus has now positioned the Future of Places to spearhead the public space agenda in the preparatory discussions in the lead up to Habitat III in 2016; which will eventually establish the new urban agenda of the 21st century.”

The upcoming Future of Places III conference which is set to be held back in Stockholm in late June 2015 strives to draft the public space message that should be included as part of the new urban agenda that will be discussed and adopted at the Habitat III conference in 2016. The agenda promises to include elements related to participatory planning, a city-wide approach, public space inclusive to all- specifically the urban poor, building cities to human scale and much more. In the lead up to Future of Places III, the diverse network of stakeholders that are part of the Future of Places movement will be working behind the scenes to ensure that the UN Member States understand the imperative role of public space as the spine of urbanization.”


The Future of Places: Streets as Public Spaces and Drivers of Prosperity

The Future of Places: Streets as Public Spaces and Drivers of Prosperity
Introduction to Academic Session Synthesis Report

Michael Mehaffy, Academic Committee Chair

It seems to me this conference series is circling around a very important idea: Cities, when they function well, and when they maintain equity, have an astonishing inherent capacity, a structural dynamic, that can promote the capacity and capability of their residents – all residents – to secure and to enrich their quality of life, both individually and in common. But there are very specific structural requirements for that process – requirements that exist at the level of streets and sidewalks, and other human places.

By the way, I think that was the real point of Jane Jacobs’ marvelous work, and I suspect she would have considered the topic of racism to be another much larger issue that was beyond her core concern – any more than issues of ageism, or sexism, or anti-semitism, or other social ills that impinge on public spatial issues, but also comprise other enormous broad subjects. But I think the focus, for her and for us, is this: what are the inherent dynamics of an open and equitable city, and how can we put those dynamics to work? And yes, power is part of the issue – how it is distributed, how it occurs spatially, how it is democratic and equitable. How it occurs, and is created, in specific places. And we can see that those dynamics produce astonishing benefits, including economic, health and well-being.

I think this is the core idea behind the broad concept of “placemaking” – creating networks of places, or more accurately empowering the capacity of citizens to create, modify and evolve their own spaces. I suggest this is in fact a new agenda in many ways – in practice, in education and in policy.

But — if that term “placemaking” is not to be dangerously vague, I think we have to define, in concrete terms, the actual structural characteristics of these capacity-building places, the different groups and their dynamics of power, control and interaction, how they operate spatially and as adjacencies, and what we need to do to tap this remarkable power of urban “place networks.” And a special burden is on us, as professionals or academics – and as reformers – to provide agenda-driving evidence that these urban places will in fact be more productive, equitable, diverse, and sustainable.

Luckily for us, there is a rich body of research emerging in many fields that can help us to do precisely that. These fields include sociology, public health, economics, environmental psychology, network science, mathematics, and a number of others — in addition, of course to the design professions. And this body of research is just what yesterday’s academic sessions were designed to explore, and to begin to gather together.

At a time when the globe is urbanizing at an unprecedented pace, when we are poised to create more urban fabric in the next fifty years than we have in all of human history – think about that! – and when we also face unprecedented threats from resource depletion, climate change and systems collapse, these issues take on unprecedented urgency. Cities can be enormous contributors to the problems we face – to the potential catastrophes we face – but they can also be powerful contributors to the solutions.

However, if we are to see this happen, I think we have to confront the disastrous professional mistakes we have collectively made in recent decades, and are still making – the responsibility for the drastic changes in urban settlements around the world, in many ways driven by us in the privileged upper middle class, thanks to the models we and our leaders created. And this is still going on, whatever our aspirations about political change. So I think we have to determine the pragmatic structural steps needed to learn from those mistakes, as a civilization, and to adapt to the rapid changes that we now face. It seems to me that this urgent agenda is very much at the core of this conference series.

So in that light my hard-working colleagues who moderated the academic sessions yesterday will help me to make a brief overview of each presentation. They comprise a remarkable collection of twenty-seven papers, spanning a wide variety of topics of place-making, but with a focus on the role of streets as public places. These papers are all available on your thumb drive on your badge, so if you have not seen it, I heartily encourage you to do so!

The session was divided into four complementary topics, covering new placemaking tools and teaching approaches; the patterns and forms of placemaking; placemaking as a political and economic process; and new theoretical insights into placemaking. Each presenter was asked to express, through its moderator, the key conclusions and agenda issues that, as the attendees felt, should be agenda items for the wider conference – that is, issues urgently needing policy changes, or educational changes, or further research.

Speaking for my colleagues, it was safe to say that in these sessions there was clear evidence of a growing movement and a growing body of evidence behind an agenda for professional and policy and educational reform – for streets as public places, and for placemaking more generally. I hope this conference series can play a useful role in pushing that urgent agenda forward. If we are going to meet the challenges of the future, we must employ a pragmatic, shareable, evidence-based approach to making successful public places for human beings.

Key Messages September 1-3, 2014 | Buenos Aires, Argentina

Key Messages
September 1-3, 2014 | Buenos Aires, Argentina
by Kyle Ferrell

This document represents both the key messages that arose out of Future of Places I and II and reflects on the principles of the Charter and Draft Toolkit on Public Space.

We affirm the role of public places as the connective matrix on which healthy and prosperous cities must grow.

Public places – streets, squares and parks – afford an essential human capacity for interaction, exchange, creativity, and knowledge transfer. They support the capabilities of residents to improve their own prosperity, health and wellbeing, and to modify their own relations to one another and adapt to conditions and opportunities. On such a connective matrix, great cities grow.

But public places have essential requirements, without which they cannot function. These requirements are largely known through evidence and history, but they are too often ignored as the result of professional and administrative limitations, and perverse incentives producing unintended consequences. Meeting this challenge will require key reforms in current practices.

The following messages reflect the views of the Future of Places:

Public space in rapidly urbanizing cities
Cities need to establish spatial plans, strategies and frameworks that aim to accommodate urban population changes and rapid growth rather than constrict and constrain it. Re-densification, revitalization and expansion processes are all needed with the imminent help of traditional block patterns, arterial and street grids. Investing in main squares and parks with the help of legislation can create a high quality in the architecture of the streets and public spaces, despite periods of change.

Street networks as interconnected public spaces
Streets in cities of the 21st century should serve as multimodal networks of social and economic exchange, built around the notion of interconnected public space. Applying an approach that emphasizes walkability and multimodal mobility will encourage a fine-grained block structure enhancing the street network by promoting density, social interaction and providing amenities and services of mixed-use.

Public space at a human scale
Studying the social behavior of the users of public space is essential. Through observation and understanding of human biomechanics, senses and behavioral patterns throughout different intervals in time, public space can be designed to cater to a variety of human variables- speed, shape and distance. This can then be followed by simple temporary interventions to promote positive behavioral patterns.

Public spaces designed as multidisciplinary arenas of sustainability
Properly designed public spaces not only contribute to improve the overall visual character of a city, but they also stimulate economic activities and enhance the functionality of the city. High density areas with adequate public spaces and infrastructure that facilitate non-motorized and public transport encourage walking, cycling and other forms of eco-friendly mobility, thereby reducing carbon emissions and cutting down reliance on fossil fuels.

Co-benefits of public space
Investing in public space can have social and economic benefits for the cities. If people are committed to their future in a specific place, they tend to invest more time and capital in that place; as a result, having a positive impact on the local GDP. The economic factor shows that public space has potential to offer economic returns on investment. Land value capture can be utilized as a tool employed by the municipality to collect captured value in the form of taxes as a result of their public investment.

Public space- a citywide approach
The consequences of poor urbanism can be detrimental and that is why a holistic view of the city is needed. When designing public spaces, attention needs to be placed not only on the space itself, but the form, function and connectivity of a city as a whole. Promotion of public space interventions directed at enhancing passages, establishing crossings, breaking down barriers and upgrading other functional localities throughout the city should be promoted.

Access to public space- public and private spheres
There has been a substantial reduction in access to public space creating unclear boundaries between the public and private spheres; which has the potential to limit democracy. There is a need for a new paradigm that should recognize the inability of the market to ensure the creation of a hierarchy of public and private open spaces protected over time. We need a more nuanced approach to planning, protecting and designing the urban hierarchy of open places including semi-public and semi-private space.

Inclusive public space for all- particularly vulnerable groups
Planning and designing public space for all implies taking special account of the most vulnerable portions of the population and those who do not have a voice. Attention needs to be placed on members of the population that are in vulnerable situations to ensure equal, safe and healthy access to the public realm. Vulnerable groups, most particularly the urban poor, those in high-density neighborhoods, and those with small dwellings, need to be satisfied from a social, political and spatial perspective when it comes to the public realm.

People centred approach to spatial planning
As an arena for public use and social interaction, public spaces are most often developed, managed and maintained on behalf of the municipal government. If the municipal government adopts a people-centred approach to urban planning, where the people guide the development of the city, they will more effectively achieve sustainable development. Emphasis needs to be placed on a shared responsibility between community and private entities in regards to the maintenance of public space.

Public space reflected in the sustainable urban development agenda
In order to create people centred cities, public space, as an interdisciplinary and intermodal sphere that interacts with all segments of the population, needs to be highlighted in the international sustainable urban development agenda. There is a need to establish a network of public space actors equipped with common principles and tools to ensure that adequate policy and management of public space are adopted and monitored in and beyond the Post 2015 development agenda, including the sustainable development goals and the new urban agenda that will arise out of Habitat III in 2016.


Future of Places Conference II 2015 Day 1 Key Messages from Keynote Speakers


Future of Places
Day 1 Key Messages
by Kyle Farrell, UN Habitat and CAL


Peter Elmlund- Opening Remarks

Welcome to the Future of Places. I would like to first thank the city of Buenos Aires for hosting such a conference. The conference is based on a report produced by UN-Habitat titled Streets as Public Spaces and Drivers of Urban prosperity. The only problem is nobody is reading UN reports. I think it is important to remember that what makes great cities is simple design with an economic and social understanding. Currently, we are undergoing a movement that redefines the street as we know it; this consists of less individual building blcoks (with character) and instead consists of single building blocks that lack the people centred design. Ideally we would prefer to have a simple design that can stimulate a large impact consisting of particular patterns that allow for diversity, safety, experiences, access, etc.; a fine grain plot structure.

Thomas Melin- The Habitat III Conference

The United Nations system is complex. When it received its mandate in the 1970’s, the world was not urban, but now it is today. Urbanization has been an ongoing process, but not always at the same speed. Urbanization can be both positive and negative. If we build cities wrong, it is complicated and difficult to fix them- the cost could potentially be more than 9 times greater then the initial investment needed to get cities right from the beginning. UN-Habitat therefore wants to work with cities that are not on the right track, to ensure they are not led astray. Currently we are faced with a profound opportunity to take advantage of the political processes that are at our disposal; namely the Post 2015 SDG process and the Habitat III process towards establishing a new urban agenda after 2016. The Post 2015 SDG process has recently yielded strong results with its adoption of the Open Working Group report on the Post 2015 Development Agenda. Included in this report is a goal on urbanization and a specific target on public space. As we advance the Habitat III process, we must begin incorporating the inputs of our key partner constituency. Future of Places therefore has an opportunity to establish itself as a convening group towards the preparatory processes of Habitat III and share its message to encourage the establishment of people centred cities.

Presentation by Huang Yi on the importance of bringing public life into Chinese cities

Over the past 60 years China’s urban population has increased seven-fold. China has managed to move from 20% urbanized to 40% in 20 years; this is 2 times as fast as most countries. China has however benefited from rapid urbanization in terms of both social and economic interests. That being said public space and public life in many instances have suffered. Traditional buildings have had to make way for modernity in many cases and the social life that has been developed around these locations have also suffered. Three case studies across China demonstrated the important role the street plays in Chinese cities and how there is a need to protect traditional ways. Overall, the presentation demonstrated the importance of focusing on common factors among cities and using creative solutions to address these concerns.

Panel discussion following the presentations by Peter Elmlund, Thomas Melin, Eduardo Moreno, Cecilia Martinez, Huang Yi and Gil Penalosa. Moderated by Femi Oke

A main issue in the discussion was the role of the private sector in the provision of public space and the panel all agreed that all parts of society must work together, private public and community, but the public sector has responsibility to create guidelines and regulation as public space is never the responsibility of the developers.

The question of density and compact cities was raised and the panel agreed that density is important – but even more is to support connections and regulations, not density per se. Skyscrapers are not the answer but a consistent high density. Building for pedestrians and reduction in speed is important for the security and quality of pedestrian spaces.

Victor Dover, Mathew Carmona and Victoria I Raffo. Moderated by Femi Oke.

The discussion covered street design and the street and block as one entity. It also touched upon issues o gentrification. Roundabouts and other traffic calming measures were perceived as positive in terms of the safety of pedestrians. The need to see the street and block as one entity was discussed, as the block is the provider of life to the street. Gentrification can have bad social consequences for a neighbourhood so transforming areas must focus also on affordable housing and small businesses. At the same time it is important to remember that cities are constantly changing.

David Sim Creative Director of Gehl Architects

Places should always be for people and people around the world are basically the same. Our scale, our senses are the same. We want to meet others, smell coffee, hear birds singing and water flowing and feel that we are in the natural environment. On a global scale cities face a multitude of problems – traffic, corruption and health issues so how can simple measures and place making help? Simple measures can have huge impact if they help create places where people can be human beings and experience everyday life. By creating good places economic, social and health benefits will follow. Examples from Scandinavia, New York, New Zealand and Argentina shows that the basic wishes and needs are the same.