11 June 2013 — The street cafes of Paris, New York’s Central Park and the pubs of London have generated more ideas than the libraries and labs in the world, according to Deutsche Bank Sustainable Planet Institute president and global strategist Sanjeev Sanyal.
Mr Sanyal presented his ideas on using walking as a design paradigm for cities at a panel discussion at the Centre for Liveable Cities in Singapore recently.
He said walkability was one of his “pet themes”.
“Now, if you are urban designer or urban planner, and you are asked to go about building a new city or redesigning a new city, you are immediately given a long list of things that you are supposed to cover.
“And you would be told you know we live in a time of climate change, we certainly want to make a city’s environmentally sustainable. They should need low energy and ecological footprint. We want them to be dense. We want minimised land-use. We want public transport and so on. So one big area that you will be asked to sort of try and plan for will be environmental sustainability.
“The second big area that you will be asked to think about will be about making that new city that you create economically sustainable. So you will need to talk about human clustering, networks, random exchange of ideas, ‘urban buzz’ and so on.
“And the third big area that you will be asked to think about is to create a city that is socially sustainable. You want the quality of life. You want to talk about clustering of amenities. You want health. You want to make it socially inclusive of all classes of society and so on and so forth.”
But Mr Sanyal said it was not enough to think about only these three issues because “when you are planning a 21st century city however, you also got to think about how fundamentally the way we live our lives is also changing in the 21st century”.
“The regular cycles of the 20th century life have broken down. 20th century urban life was, you got up in the morning, have quick breakfast with your family, if you are a male you kiss your wife goodbye, got into your car in the suburb, drove down the highway went to your office or factory or wherever, reach there by 9 o’clock. You work till 12.30, took a short break in the company cafeteria for one hour or whatever, went back to the office and worked till 6 o’clock.
“Then you got into your car and went home. And then maybe you met your kids or wife or whatever for a little while, watched TV and went to sleep. That was at least, roughly speaking, what life in the 20th century in a city would have looked like.
“Unfortunately, that’s totally not how we live our live anymore. Through the course of any day, many of you would do the following – you will get up and of course come to office, but after somewhere you will work in the office for an hour or something, you check your Facebook. I know all of you do it. And then you will probably hop out across and have coffee with a friend who happens to be visiting from some other part of the world. And you go back to the office, work for a little bit longer and then you hop across and maybe go somewhere for a lunch presentation at the URA. And then you will get back and you do some more a little bit work, do some more Facebook and then you decide you want to go to the gym. And then you will come back and by now, it has become dark but you still have the conference call that you need to do with New York. So you sit in the office till 7 o’clock, do this conference call to 7.30 or whatever.
Then you hop onto some form of transport, go home, meet your kids, hang out with them for a little while. And then at night, again you may decide to go out and catch a movie or, unfortunately for people like myself, you might be catching a late night flight out to some other place.
“The point I am making here is that there is no regular cycle in this. Through the course of the day, I have gone to five different places, done, met and in each case, I have had required a different form of transport. And the whole idea that you have this nice, regular cycles for very large part of the workforce, have effectively broken down.
“So the point I am making here is that, any urban landscape is all about multiplicity. Through the course of any individual’s day, he is using all kinds of transportation. And there are all kinds of people requiring different kinds of transportation. Far more than ever that has been the case.
“So not only do you have the old standard paradigms, you are also dealing with the society that is almost like a moth is, an ever-changing mix of activities.”
The importance of walkability
Mr Sanyal said walkability was thinking about urban design in terms of allowing an average citizen to be able to use walking as an important, if not dominant mode of transport for work and leisure.
“Now this is not just about creating some nice sidewalks. There are a lot of things that go into it, which includes shades, parks, public toilets, lighting, security and safety, accessibility for the disabled and the aged. But it also includes all kinds of things in any city, which is beyond any small one; you will need to enhance walking with all kinds of other things. For example, cycling or connections to public transport in any way. So walkability is not just about walking itself but all kinds of other things including connecting through to other forms of transport.”
Mr Sanyal said every form of public transport was ultimately based on walking, because the last mile and first mile had to be walked.
“And so designing for public transport at some level, is essentially about designing for walking. And then of course there are all kinds of other things, for example, as it is very widely accepted that denser cities are actually much more environmental much more friendly for a number of reasons. But of course, a dense city is a very important factor in walking. The denser the city, the lesser the distance you have to go.
“So if you design for walking, you are not only designing for the act of walking, you are designing for public transport. You are also designing for a city that is fundamentally denser.”
Mr Sanyal said there was another issue in urban design – the economic value of cities. The last 20 years had been the greatest age, ever of cities. And people were moving back into the middle of cities and willing to pay higher and higher rents.
“Why? It turns out that there is huge value to the personal interactions that cities create. This is about ‘urban buzz’, it’s about the exchange of ideas and creativity. It is about trust face-to-face. It is about social groupings and the clustering of amenities that is simply not possible to do if you disperse it. And walking is a very important ingredient in this ‘urban buzz’ that generate so much economic value. The street cafes of Paris, the New York’s Central Park and the pubs of London have generated more ideas than the libraries and labs in the world. So there is huge value to creating areas that you can walk, interact, think, sit, and exchange ideas. And so walking, oddly enough, is a very, very important economic generator.”
Mr Sanyal said walking also added to social inclusion saying all great successful cities were walkable.
“There is no way you can do anything better than walking as far as social inclusion is concerned. The poor can walk. The rich can walk. Everybody can walk.”
The full speech can be found at www.clc.gov.sg/documents/Lectures/2013/thewalkablecity_report.pdf