thoughts on our urban future

Dream a little

Urban world

The world is urban. This is the title of our website, which we very consciously chose not only because it’s true (according to the United Nations, World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision (2007), 2008 would be the year we moved from having more people living in the countryside to more people living in cities or towns, as shown in this cool graphic taken from The Guardian), but because we believe urban living is enriching and potentially more sustainable.

So, more and more people are moving to live in cities and towns, especially in the developing world. That of course poses many challenges with regards to what happens in the countryside, which would merit a post (or posts) of its own, but I want to focus on what happens in these growing urban areas, because we should aiming to provide this new urban dwellers with the potential for a good quality of life, with all that ecompasses.

In places like the UK, there have been over the years efforts to highlight and demonstrate the value of good design. However, no matter how much has been done in trying to regulate, advice and encourage good design, more often than not we find most of what is actually built fails to achieve the expected levels of quality. Elsewhere, different approaches achieve similar results. It seems in too many cases other issues get put in front of design quality and become priorities, whether they are financial, political or any other failures in the delivery mechanisms.

There are countless challenges for dealing with the numbers of new urban dwellers that are forecasted in the coming decades, and yet when we talk about them design quality is seldom mentioned. I like to think this is because it’s obvious that if something is being improved or built from scratch, it needs to be done properly, no need to mention that; but perhaps by not being more demanding on the issue we are missing an opportunity? We should not allow ambitions to be scaled back from the start because we expect the process to be too complicated to even try; we really should make sure we start up by dreaming a little, or rather a lot, if we want to have a chance to getting things right more often. I really believe the effort will pay off if we do.

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  1. Passion, innovation and exploration need to be promoted in our towns and cities. Yes there are financial concerns, legal issues, restrictions and so on, but once we tap into the potential of the people in our communities, we will see urbanity flourish. In doing so, cities will be more unique and specific to address local concerns and aspirations.

    There will need to be a balance, as ever, to ensure creativity does not encroach on individual freedoms and collective rights – or perhaps respond to new ways of living together in more compact and engaging environments. Yet the potential of places can only be truly realised if we are allowed to dream, and enact on new creative ideas. This won’t just happen to cities; we as passionate urbanists need to seek opportunities to make things happen, and also to encourage one another.

    Cities throughout the world are growing (well at least most of them), and growing at a pace never seen before in human history. People are also more mobile than ever in the recent past – technology in transport, more open borders amongst countries, interconnected economies and the Internet are all promoting a more open network of cities across the world. We hope this blog will allow anyone interested in learning and sharing all that we love about places, all that challenges that status quo and all that can inspire others to dream!

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