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

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

http://futureofplaces.com/

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.

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