Is design at the human-scale important for the future of cities or is this an irrelevant subject as we now need to think at the mega-city scale?
Last week, David Cameron met with Architects and Planners at 10 Downing Street to discuss the future of cities. Thoughts on how to improve city design in general with emphasis on making it safer to get on your bikes in cities were discussed. British architect Richard Rogers as well as Danish designer Bjarke Ingles offered their thoughts amongst a collection of people which number 10 feels is “at the forefront of thinking about the city in the 21st century with the aim of inspiring ministers and mayors to stretch their ambitions”.
The future for cities is one of a cunning choreography of incremental growth; in scale, size and mass. Compact mixed-use developments at human scale should be favourable over ostentatiously large-scale plots. A design balance has to be struck between creating a fanciful foot and cyclepath connected over 10 stories against running the risk of making residents completely anonymous. Super-high density should only be considered as last resort where pressures on land and resources dictate development massing. There will always be pressure especially for inner city sites to be (re)developed. However, it is vitally important that a ‘choreographing’ of size, scale and use helps the creation of a connected and legible areas. Pockets of regeneration not only offer opportunities to stitch parts of ‘torn’ cities together physically but also historically.
As mentioned in my previous post, the Scottish Government has published policies on Placemaking and Street Design (Manual for Streets being its sister publication for England & Wales although as technical guidance only) which places the emphasis in making places and streets safer for the pedestrian. The priorities of placemaking and street design has been flipped to give emphasis to Pedestrians, Cyclists, Public Transport, Service Vehicles and Private Transport; in that order.
There has to be a shift in policymaking, design and attitude from the modernist principles of segregating function and access type towards a more ‘traditional’ shared surface approach. It is vital that all three aspects are working in tandem as it is useless having policies for placemaking which are sidelined by planners, transport engineers and users alike. Decision-makers should uphold policies that places pedestrians first in placemaking. At the other end of the spectrum, there needs to be an attitudinal shift among street users especially drivers. It is not an attack on private vehicular ownership. Rather it is the question of ‘when’ to jump into the car and ‘how fast’ they are to be navigated especially in areas of high pedestrian activity. Reducing the number of vehicles as well as their speed helps make streets that little more safer.
This attitudinal shift is prioritising pedestrians and cyclists is still facing resistance (especially amongst transport engineers), and even when implemented, an ‘engineered’ solution is the most common outcome to street design (e.g. making dedicated cycleways by reclaiming part of the road). Combined with chicanes, speed bumps, railings, bollards, street signage, toucan crossings and, oh yes, street markings, is the street more pedestrian and cyclist friendly?