Upon his retirement from local government in 2006, Larry Beasley established a small planning consultancy specializing in quality urbanism. The firm provides advice to governments and the development community on projects and initiatives at the scale of entire city plans to neighbourhood schemes to specific site developments. The firm is based in Vancouver, B.C., but does work throughout the world, with extensive experience in Canada, the Unites States and the Middle East.
The foundation of Beasley and Associates is Larry Beasley’s long and primary involvement in the transformation of Vancouver into one of the world’s most pleasant and beloved cities. He led efforts in neighbourhood revitalization, new community development, downtown revival, heritage preservation, transportation planning, transit-oriented area planning and development evaluation that put Vancouver at the cutting edge of planning practice in the world. In private practice, Beasley went on to found a robust and innovative planning service in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and an extensive urban design practice within the local government of Dallas, Texas. For three years he was the planning director of a large Canadian development company, Aquilini Development Ltd. He is also a professor of planning at the University of British Columbia. Because of this diversity of activity, Beasley and Associates offers its clients a unique, holistic perspective in addressing problems and opportunities of the environment and the city.
Beasley’s planning emphasizes the “city by design”, with a focus on sustainable, liveable and appealing urbanism. His team has particular expertise in higher density, mixed use, inner city development and is developing a special interest in mid-sized cities. They provide advice on urban design, policy planning, advanced systems of development regulation and management and related tools that incentivize preferred urban forms and garner public goods. Beasley also specializes in group facilitation and interest-based problem solving. Producing charettes to engage interested parties and experts in expedited planning is a related specialty.
Beasley and Associates generally works in consortium with larger planning, architecture and landscape architecture firms, providing special expertize and leadership, and emphasizing top quality production.
Photo Credit: Marina Dodis
LARRY BEASLEY is a senior Canadian city planner, urban designer, teacher, and author.
He is the ‘Distinguished Practice’ Professor of Planning at the University of British Columbia, and founding principal of Beasley and Associates. For many years, he was the Chief Planner for the City of Vancouver.
Among many appointments, he sits on the Boards of TransLink in Metro Vancouver, the National Capital Commission in Ottawa, the Green Line Transit Project in Calgary, and the International Economic Advisory Board in Rotterdam.
Working in cities around the world, he has completed game-changing assignments in Abu Dhabi, Moscow, Dallas, Scandinavia, and across Canada.
He has authored two popular books – “Vancouverism”, and, “Ecodesign for Cities and Suburbs”. He teaches extensively and his on-line course has had a world-wide reach.
Larry Beasley has received several Honourary Doctorates as well as the Kevin Lynch Prize from MIT and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
He is a Member of the Order of Canada.
Initially studying architecture, he has degrees in Geography/Political Science and Planning. He is a Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Planners, an Honorary Member of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects, and has been recognized as an “Advocate for Architecture” by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. He has also received the Dean’s Medal of Distinction from UBC’s Faculty of Applied Sciences.
WILLIAM (SANDY) LOGAN is the principal associate of Beasley and Associates, an international planning and urban design consultancy. He is a Senior Project Manager with expertise in human and health services, community planning, organizational change and development, business and personal coaching and group facilitation.
As a seasoned professional, Sandy Logan has over three decades of experience in project management in the public and private sectors. For many years as a senior manager in the Government of British Columbia, he was responsible for the development and implementation of two of the largest computer systems used by the provincial government. These systems reorganized the delivery of human services for a significant portion of the public in the Province and significantly and permanently impacted the job responsibilities of thousands of employees. Then, Sandy Logan was employed, for seven years, by IBM Canada as a senior consultant in the Human Services Global Practice Team. Fulfilling this role involved consulting with the leadership of a number of governments in the Western world. Sandy was IBM’s Project Manager on a number of government undertakings involving significant organizational change. He was a member of IBM’s team responsible for project risk assessment and mitigation. This included the renegotiation of troubled projects.
For the past several years with Beasley and Associates, Sandy Logan has worked internationally on large urban design and urban planning projects. These included the following key projects.
Abu Dhabi – From 2006 through 2011, Sandy Logan was the Project Manager for the multi-disciplinary planning and production team convened by Beasley and Associates (including Civitas and Perkins+Will Canada) responsible for the development of the Abu Dhabi 2030 Plan, the Al Ain 2030 Plan, the Al Gharbia 2030 Plan and the Al Ain Region 2030 Plan. He was intimately involved with all phases of these 2030 Plans – from inception, through development, completion and delivery. During this time he organized and managed the complex logistics of major charettes and the various workshops that were fundamental to the success of these 2030 plans. He was the lead customer contact. He served as the health and community services expert at the charettes. He was also the Project Manager for the Capital Cities workshop that was the genesis of the Capital City District Master Plan. He was the Project Manager for The Emirate of Abu Dhabi’s Public Art project. This entailed the organization of a large public art charette and subsequent consultation with the Sheikha Salama Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation – the sponsor of this project. He introduced IBM’s Smarter Cities initiative to Abu Dhabi’s Urban Planning Council and continues to be involved with IBM’s Smarter Cities team.
Dallas – Sandy Logan is playing a major leadership role in a program to fully integrate leading urban design practices into all functions of the local government as well as the development community.
Toronto – Sandy Logan played a key and extensive role in several recent projects. This included development of the City Planning Division’s Strategic Plan 2013 – 2018. This Plan has won wide-spread acclaim and has been used to fundamentally re-orient the way the department works internally and externally in a very challenging and demanding environment. In a separate assignment, he co-facilitated a ground-breaking accord for a significant waterfront development between the local government and Pinnacle International, a large Canadian development group.
Moscow – Sandy Logan was part of a multi-disciplinary planning and urban design team (including Urban Design Associates, Gillespie’s, John Thompson and Partners, Beasley and Associates) that developed a competition winning plan for the expansion of the city and a new National Capital District for the Russian Federation.
Sandy Logan has also provided separate professional services for key Vancouver projects.
University of British Columbia – He recently co-led the development of a strategic directions plan for the university’s Campus and Community Planning Group.
The Rennie Group – For the past seven years, he has provided organizational change and development advice to this group, which is one of the leading condominium sales, marketing and design firms in North America. In addition he has been coaching the future leadership of the Rennie Group of Companies in preparation for a full turnover of the management structure and organization.
Sandy Logan has a degree in Psychology and Political Sciences (BA) and has had extensive complimentary training and education.
-Vancouver’s Transportation Future, editor (Fall 1972).
– “Champlain Heights: Citizens’ Urban Design in Vancouver”, Landscape Architecture Magazine (March 1976).
-A Design Probe Comparison of Regional and Municipal Attitudes Toward Regional Town Centres – Case Study in Burnaby, B.C., master’s thesis (May 1976).
-“Hastings Sunrise”, “Planning for Cassiar Street”, “The ALRT System”, and “1986 and Beyond – Giving to Vancouver’s Future”, Quarterly Review Magazine (October 1980, October 1981, April 1982 and July 1985, respectively).
-“More Testimony: Theory and Practice of Citizens’ Participation”, Plan Canada Magazine, book review (early 1984).
– The Vancouver Legacies Program – Visions, (July 1985).
-“Design Guidelines – Curse or Blessing”, Awards Magazine for Architecture, Construction and Interior Design, with others (September 1994).
-City of Vancouver Casino Review Discussion Paper, with others (August 1994).
-“New Urban Neighbourhoods in Old Urban Ways”, New Urbanism – Publication of the International Making Cities Liveable Council (Spring 1997).
-“Hands Across the Pacific: Lessons from Chinese and Canadian Co-Operation” Forum – Canada’s National Municipal Affairs Magazine, with Louise Morris (Summer/Fall 1998).
-“Living First in Downtown Vancouver”, American Planning Association – Zoning News (April 2000).
-“Development Management in a Fast-Changing Canadian City: The Vancouver Example” and “China-Canada: Urban Cross Currents”, with Louise Morris, China-Urban Planning Overseas (November 2000).
-“New Urban Neighbourhoods in Vancouver”, Making Cities Liveable Newsletter (Vol. 5, No. 3/4. 2000).
-“Neighbourhood in the City”, with Jacqui Underwood, Vancouver Lifestyles Magazine (April 2001).
-“Laws and Processes Behind the Urban Designer’s Pencil: Thoughts from the Vancouver Experience”, Plan Canada Magazine (Autumn 2003).
-“Re-inventing the City for People – A City by Design”, Ontario Planning Journal (Vol. 19, No. 1, January/February 2004).
-“Beaudry is Linchpin of NCC’s Excellence”, Ottawa Citizen (March 2004).
-“Moving Forward in Canadian Communities: Soliloquy of an Urbanist”, Plan Canada Magazine (Winter 2004) – Winner of the 2005 Plan Canada Feature Article of the Year from the Canadian Institute of Planners.
-“Living in False Creek North – From the Residents’ Perspective”, self-published booklet through the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning (July, 2008).
-“Taking Canada to the World: Touchstones for Effective Canadian Planning Abroad”, Plan Canada Magazine (Winter 2012).
-“The City as Museum and the Museum as City”, chapter in e-book, The City and Its Museum, edited by Marlen Moulion and Eric Sandweiss, International Council of Museums (2015, publication pending).
– “Canada Needs a New Vision for the Suburbs”, Vancouver Sun (October 30 2015).
–“Reclaiming Space for the Community – Giving the 13th Floor to the People”, Vancouver Sun (November 10 2017).
-“Northeast False Creek: Vancouver’s New Golden Apple”, Vancouver Sun (February 21 2018).
“The Art of the City by Raffaele Milani – Book Review”, Canadian Architect (Vol. 63, No. 3, March 2018).
Following are publications where Larry Beasley’s work is extensively discussed:
-Register, Richard: Ecocities – Building Cities in Balance with Nature, Berkeley Hills Books, 2002.
-Punter, John: The Vancouver Achievement, UBC Press, 2003.
-Breen, Ann and Rigby, Dick: In Town Living – A Different American Dream, Praeger Publishers, 2004.
-Fisher, Bonnie et al: Remaking the Urban Waterfront, Urban Land Institute, 2004.
-Berelowitz, Lance: Dream City – Vancouver and the Global Imagination, Douglas & McIntyre, 2005.
-Sandercock, Leonie, “An Anatomy of Civic Ambition in Vancouver: Toward Human Density”, Harvard Design Magazine (Number 22, Spring/Summer, 2005).
-MacDonald, Elizabeth, “Street-facing Dwelling Units and Liveability: The Impact of Emerging Building Types in Vancouver’s New High-Density Residential Neighbourhoods”, Journal of Urban Design (Vol. 18, Number 1, February, 2005).
Montgomery, Charles, “Futureville”, Canadian Geographic Magazine (Vol. 126, No. 3, May/June, 2006).
-Grant, Jill, “Experiential Planning: A Practitioner’s Account of Vancouver’s Success”, Journal of the American Planning Association (Vol. 75, Number 3, 2009).
-MacDonald, Elizabeth, Urban Waterfront Promenades, Routledge, 2018.
1987 Achievement Award- Downtown Vancouver Association (Legacies Program)
1987 Special Achievement Award- International Downtown Association, Washington D.C. (Legacies Program)
1988 National Honour Award- Canadian Institute of Planners (Legacies Program)
1990 Award for Planning Excellence- Planning Institute of British Columbia (False Creek North Plan)
1991 Award of Merit- Planning Institute of British Columbia (Coal Harbour Policy Plan)
1992 Award of Merit- Planning Institute of British Columbia (Central Area Plan)
1992 “Golden Nugget” Award- Pacific Coast Builders Conference, San Francisco, Calif. (False Creek North Plan)
1992 Excellence on the Waterfront Honour Award- Waterfront Centre Society, Washington, D.C. (Coal Harbour Plan)
1993 Award for Planning Excellence- Planning Institute of British Columbia (Downtown South Plan/Implementation)
1994 Award for Contribution to Local Government- Social Planning & Research Council of B.C. & Forum for Planning Action
(Victory Square Planning Program)
1994 “Georgie” – Silver Award- Canadian Home Builders’ Association of B.C. (Government Cooperation for Concord Pacific Place)
1995 National Honour Award for Intergovernmental Cooperation- Canadian Institute of Planners (Central Waterfront Port
Lands Policy Statement)
1996 Award of Merit- Planning Institute of British Columbia (Downtown Public Realm Improvements)
1996 Award of Planning Excellence- Planning Institute of British Columbia (False Creek North Policy Broadsheets and Official Development Plan)
1996 “World’s 100 Best Planning- United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, Nairobi, Kenya – for
Practices” Habitat II Summit, Istanbul, Turkey (Waterfront Planning Process and Plans)
1998 Award for Planning Excellence-Planning Institute of British Columbia (Vancouver Skyline Study)
1999 National Honour Award- Canadian Institute of Planners (Historic Preservation Planning in Xi’an, China)
2000 National Honour Award- Canadian Institute of Planners (Southeast False Creek Environmentally Sustainable Community – Policy Statement)
2003 Excellence on the Waterfront Honour Award- Waterfront Centre Society, Washington, DC (Waterfront Promenade)
2003 Awards for Planning Excellence- Canadian Institute of Planners and Planning Institute of British Columbia (Downtown Transportation Plan)
2003 “Advocate for Architecture” Medal- Royal Architectural Institute of Canada
2004 Award of Excellence- Planning Institute of British Columbia (Urban Design Booklet -Vol.2: “Vancouver’s New Neighbourhoods”)
2004 Excellence on the Waterfront Honour Award- Waterfront Centre Society, Washington, D.C. (False Creek North Neighbourhoods)
2004 Special Achievement Award for Planning- International Downtown Association, Washington, D.C.
(“Living First” Strategy Downtown)
2005 Plan Canada Feature Article of the Year- Canadian Institute of Planners (for “Moving Forward in Canadian Communities:
Soliloquy of an Urbanist”)
2005 Appreciation Award- Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association
2006 Leadership in Healthy Public Policy Award- Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
2006 Award of Excellence- Congress for the New Urbanism, Chicago, Ill. (“Living First” Strategy Downtown)
2006 Honorary Landscape Architect- Canadian Society of Landscape Architects
2007 Distinguished Alumni Award- Simon Fraser University Alumni Association
2007 Honorary Doctorate Degree- Simon Fraser University
2007 Kevin Lynch Prize- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
2008 Building Named for Him- “The Beasley”, Downtown Vancouver
2008 Award of Excellence- Planning Institute of British Columbia (for “Plan Abu Dhabi 2030”)
2009 Award of Excellence- International Society of City and Regional Planners, The Hague, Nl. (for “Plan Al Ain 2030”)
2010 Award of Excellence-Publications- Canadian Institute of Planning (for “Experiential Planning – A Practitioner’s Account of Vancouver’s Success” – with Jill Grant)
2011 Honorary Doctorate Degree- Dalhousie University
2011 CLIDE Award- North Central Texas Council of Governments (for Dallas CityDesign Studio’s West Dallas Urban Structure Plan and Guidelines)
2011 Winner and Peoples’ Choice Award- Vancouver Viaducts Removal Competition (City of Vancouver)
2012 Design Leadership Award- International Interior Designers Association, Interior Designers Canada and Interior Designers Institute of British Columbia
2012 Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal- Governor General of Canada
2012 Award of Excellence-Urban Design- Canadian Institute of Planners (for Dallas CityDesign Studio’s West Dallas Urban Structure Plan and Guidelines)
2012 Competition Winner- Moscow Capital Expansion Competition (City of Moscow)
2016 Dean’s Medal of Distinction- University of British Columbia, Faculty of Applied Sciences
2016 President’s Award- Canadian Institute of Planners (for role in Future Forward Task Force)
2020 Honorary Faculty Member- Vancouver Island University, Master of Community Planning Program
Purchase Here: http://islandpress.org/ecodesign-for-cities-and-suburbs
As world population grows, and more people move to cities and suburbs, they place greater stress on the operating system of our whole planet. But urbanization and increasing densities also present our best opportunity for improving sustainability, by transforming urban development into desirable, lower-carbon, compact and walkable communities and business centers. Jonathan Barnett and Larry Beasley seek to demonstrate that a sustainable built and natural environment can be achieved through ecodesign, which integrates the practice of planning and urban design with environmental conservation, through normal business practices and the kinds of capital programs and regulations already in use in many communities. Ecodesign helps adapt the design of our built environment to both a changing climate and a rapidly growing world, creating more desirable places in the process. In six comprehensively illustrated chapters, the authors explain ecodesign concepts, including the importance of preserving and restoring natural systems while also adapting to climate change; minimizing congestion on highways and at airports by making development more compact, and by making it easier to walk, cycle and take trains and mass transit; crafting and managing regulations to insure better placemaking and fulfill consumer preferences, while incentivizing preferred practices; creating an inviting and environmentally responsible public realm from parks to streets to forgotten spaces; and finally how to implement these ecodesign concepts. Throughout the book, the ecodesign framework is demonstrated by innovative practices that are already underway or have been accomplished in many cities and suburbs—from Hammarby Sjöstad in Stockholm to False Creek North in Vancouver to Battery Park City in Manhattan, as well as many smaller-scale examples that can be adopted in any community. Ecodesign thinking is relevant to anyone who has a part in shaping or influencing the future of cities and suburbs – designers, public officials, and politicians.
It has been said that the modern city is soulless; that it is heartless; that it is brutal. And, I think this is all too true for many people today – and maybe even for many people in this room today. The great irony of modern culture is that the more we choose city life – and well over half of all human beings have now made this choice – the less city life is satisfying us; and the more cities expand as our primary human habitat, the more damaging they are to the natural eco-systems that allow us to survive as a species.
We need to fix this and in many places creative people are slowly putting the pieces together for a new urban model. All over the world, there is a growing recognition that this brutality must stop; that we have to imagine a different kind of city which addresses human needs and that puts the soul back into the city. Put another way, there is a growing understanding that it is actually “love” that will be the prime force in the future evolution of successful 21st century cities– and that is really my main theme today.
Who would have thought in the last generation that “love” might become a meaningful topic in a discussion about civic economies, much less a prime force for environmental reconciliation? Yet, over the last few decades, we’ve seen cities hit with fundamental challenges that they can only respond to if their citizens are solidly on their side, which is to say, if their citizens hold a strong enough personal affection for their city to be loyal and to do their part for it.
The first and most direct of the urban challenges that I want to highlight is the incredible struggle today among cities for hegemony. It’s a dog-eat-dog competition among modern cities – all driven by the incredible mobility of people. The world has become footloose, with people and their ideas and capital moving at will: business can be done anywhere; other aspects of life are more important than one’s livelihood; and where people choose to settle is not tied down the way it used to be. We can do and be almost anything anywhere. So what a city feels like can be a determining factor in its competitive edge.
But, let’s hold that thought for a moment so we can weave it together with a second set of challenges that are even more fundamental. These challenges are now focussing around two profound urban themes: the sustainable city and the liveable city.
There has been endless talk at City Halls around the world about sustainability – of course, this audience knows as much about this as anyone anywhere. We know what needs to be done but the roadblock here is the human reaction to these new ideas and this brings us to the theme of liveability. You see, I worry that in all our scientists’ creative thinking about sustainable technologies, and in all our retooling for sustainable products, there may be some strong denial going on about average people and their typical inclinations; denial that will block the way towards sustainability. And I think to respond to this situation is going to take a new way of planning – so I want to talk about that.
Now, to set the frame for my remarks, let me remind us of the simple formula for “smart growth” that we all know so well.
You know that, from a structural point of view,
-it’s about the form of our cities – clustered density and mixed use and all kinds of diversity and protected open space; and,
-it’s about the fabric of our cities – the green construction that you are leading here in Australia;
From an infrastructural point of view,
-its about the circulation within our communities – transportation choices that put the private car into a logical array of movement alternatives that include and favour transit and cycling and walking;
-its about social and community and cultural facilities that offer support for people and stability for their communities; and,
-its about the utilities of our cities – managing water and waste and energy in a conserving way and locally accessing inputs, including food.
We all know this is a very useful formula – but now we come to the essential denial that I want to expose today. Is the public with us in all of this? Will they change their life patterns and habits to achieve the kind of ecological footprint that is necessary?
After all, we live in a free society – people will listen but they can do whatever they want. This is especially true when we talk about the things people make personal choices about – like density and mixed use and diversity and active transportation? Frankly, most consumers in modern cities, except in a very few special, gracious places, have shown very little interest in being a part of the kind of city that these factors create. In my country, over two-thirds of Canadians live in unsustainable situations that boast none of these qualities – and that proportion is even higher in America. I wonder what the numbers are for Australia.
Let’s be blunt: most people hate density because most of it has been so bad; they think of mixed use as probably hitting them negatively and diversity as unsafe and transit is not even in most peoples’ vocabulary. But I also have to say that, to some degree, I understand and sympathize with their predicament. Could you fall in love with this…or this….? I don’t think so.
We have to change that – and I think we can change that by making one addition to that formula of smart growth. That addition, which fosters peoples’ genuine affection for the city, is “placemaking”.
And this is where urban competition , urban sustainability and urban liveability can be seen through the same city lens – because in each case the bottom line is that making progress on these issues requires us to conceptualize the city from a people perspective – bringing back the human touch; no longer casually trading away the things people care about for the urgencies of the moment.
I call this “Experiential Urbanism” – learning about and then carefully designing the community to deliver the direct tangible experiences that people tell us they want in their lives and for their families every day. These become the fragments of DNA from which the urban pattern is built up, layer upon layer. This has two fundamental aspects. First, it takes a consumer focus to define what needs to be done in the formation of cities; and, second, it takes a physical urban design focus at a basic level to realize those consumer hopes and expectations.
For as long as anyone can remember, the shape of modern cities, with very few exceptions, has been the result of the city exploited as a commodity. But that doesn’t have to be the case. We can define the quality city through careful design. Modern people are very savvy about the design of things – look at the Apple Computer. Yet, most of the contemporary city is not actually designed. It is just laid out. Many of our buildings and spaces are not even designed by architects or landscape architects. We use artists only occasionally. Whole districts have never enjoyed the touch of an urban designer. It is all so utilitarian and it turns most people off. They just want to escape it – if not physically then at least metaphorically. We must bring the great prowess of design back to the task of building the city so we can create something that people will actually get excited about – see as chic and hip – invest in and live in happily – for a life time.
Well, how do we engender an urban environment rich in genuine human interest?
Of course, I could go to the obvious. I could talk about the broad urban arrangements of the city: the overall regional structure that preserves the green lungs and offers the essential respite from the frenetic civic chaos that people long for. For example, I’m thinking of the regional growth boundary in Portland, Oregon and the Agricultural Land Reserve in Vancouver.
Or, I could talk about shifting attitudes about transportation – where there is an awfully lot to say. There is no question that we are an automobile world and the trend is for that to become even more so in the future. 2.6 billion vehicles predicted by 2030 is a lot of personal mobility – and I cannot see people, in mass, weaning themselves from the extraordinary benefits of the car, but that does not mean that there is no room for transportation diversity. We can enhance transportation choices and cut the negative impacts that cars now have on our cities. There are more and more inspirational examples out there. Few cities went the Vancouver route of avoiding freeways altogether but many cities are now editing out there excess freeway infrastructure in favour of parks and elegant boulevards – such as the remarkable freeway demolition and daylighting of a river in Seoul, South Korea, and the Tom McCall Park replacement for a freeway in Portland, or the transformation of the Embarcadero Freeway to a regular street in San Francisco. There are also moves to submerge freeways under parks, such as the Madrid Rio project along the Manzanares River, the freeway cap of Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, and the “Big Dig” in Boston. By the way, these projects and more are detailed in my new book with Jonathan Barnett that will be out this June. But the important story is the worldwide diversification of transit, and new emphasis on bikeways and walkability. Think of the initiative for the webbed transit network in what is called “Toronto’s Big Move” and the building of economic and flexible Bus Rapid Transit, started in Curitiba, Brazil, and now used in Istanbul, Bogotá, Seattle and many other cities. Everywhere in the world people are mimicking the success of Amsterdam and Rotterdam with networks of bikeways. And as we tighten up the scale of our cities, the walking culture is taking hold. Walking is cheap to accommodate and it is the most naturally attractive alternative to the car.
But, I’m not going to talk about any of that. These are all structural concerns that may miss my point. Instead, let me talk about the relatively untapped potential of basic urban design – first in the core city and then in the suburbs, because these are the two fundamental formats of contemporary urbanism and they require absolutely different solutions even if the principles stay the same.
For core cities, I will use my home town of Vancouver as an example of a different way to handle density, and mixed use, and built form through a detailed attention to urban design, in a quest to improve the quality of everyday life.
The most powerful inner-city policy that Vancouver has pursued is an intensive, residentially-based growth strategy that balances the natural inclination for commercial growth. It is called “living first”. It’s based on the concept of coherent neighbourhood units because consumers make housing choices based on everything essential for their day-to-day living. This includes walkable distances, all the amenities and services at hand and a local shopping “high street” at the centre for basic needs and to provide the places where a neighbourhood creates its culture (the standard amenities we require are listed here and the targeted basic scale is noted here).
Also essential is that open space and the public realm be used to contribute to neighbourhood identity and amenity. 65 acres of new parks in Downtown Vancouver have been very carefully designed – avoiding useless private plazas and using buildings to give memorable form to public park spaces and squares – and managing sun and shading – and embellishing parks with public art. The park pattern is then tied together with a growing walkway/bikeway network. The street has also been identified as a centre of public life so sidewalks are detailed with grass boulevards and a double row of trees and lush landscaping to screen the density. Private open space is provided in delightful enclosed courtyards and roof gardens where residents can have their own small gardens.
Density is the goal – the idea is for the city to be as compact and dense as possible. But we found early on that the impacts of large-scaled buildings cannot be left to chance or else there are some pretty unpleasant results. So design expectations are carefully codified to insure quality materials and to manage security and noise and privacy, and interface conditions to insure what we call “neighbourliness”. Almost all parking, except for visitors, is tucked away – and parking standards are pushed as low as practical. Car shares are also being pushed hard to cut the number of cars.
There is a cool reciprocal formula for success when density and quality are tied together: the architectural solutions allow the density to work; the high density generates enough value to carry quality construction, great on-site amenities and a very nice contribution to the neighbourhood infrastructure; and the supportive neighbourhood draws all kinds of people back to a truly urban lifestyle.
Now let me turn to social mix.
First, this includes targets for a genuine economic mix of both non-market and market housing in every multiple-family neighbourhood (in these areas, 20% of all units have to be developed for low-income people). Everyone is mixed together, not necessarily within buildings because of problems that worried both the non-market managers as well as the condo sellers and consumers, but certainly mixed within the neighbourhood among buildings. But design attention keeps the buildings indistinguishable.
Second, it also includes a mix of household types; building at high densities for special needs and seniors and families with children. For example, in addition to traditional apartments we have facilitated live-work units and lofts and artists’ studios and even houseboats. But the biggest quest has been for households with children. This is where the urban design agenda has to switch into high gear because drawing families to higher density is a tough bet. In Vancouver, we have special design guidelines for family housing at high density and 25% of all new dense housing has to meet these guidelines.
So what do these guidelines talk about?
-For the unit, appropriate bedroom count and separation from active living areas; child-proof finishes; private open spaces for supervised “outside time”; minimum storage provisions; and in-unit laundry – among other needs.
-For the building, clustering of family units for mutual support; secure and visible semi-public outdoor spaces where children can meet one another; family gathering and gardening and party facilities; grade-level units and separate entrances for people who fear heights or want a dog or their own front door.
-For the neighbourhood, adequate numbers and quality of parks and schools and community facilities and childcare; safe areas without traffic cross-streets, and nearby transit.
But now to the real heart of urban design – let me turn specifically to built form. Of course in Vancouver, there is no debate that the high-rise has generally been our preferred form, especially where everyone wants a glimpse of the water or mountains, even though most of the smartest cities of the world seem to prefer mid-rises. For example, here’s a typical low-rise form preferred in Rotterdam. But whatever the height, we’ve found that with complex buildings, you have to get the architecture right – success or failure for liveability rests in the details.
For high-rise Vancouver this has meant design codes for tall thin towers to get people up to the splendid views; and ample separation among towers so people can see around and through them. Of course this also means carefully brokering private views with every new proposal. And then, we modulate Vancouver’s skyline to protect key public viewsheds and corridors. For mid-rise buildings, a careful sculpting of the architecture opens up vistas and protects natural light.
But equally important in either case is a coherent, dominant street wall at the traditional scale with the bases of tall buildings shielded from the sidewalk to cut their powerful impacts, allowing them to float almost out of one’s perception. This is how tall buildings can be humanized.
It’s important to bring active residential use right down to the sidewalk level as often as possible – fostering the shop-house form where it makes sense but more often pushing for row houses to truly domesticate the street. This means no blank walls; and lots of doors and porches and stoops and windows and almost any engaging detail down at eye level. This includes weather protection along commercial routes. Essentially, within the first three floors, there needs to be the fascinating, intimate urbanism that engenders a strong sense of place, comfort, hominess, civility, safety and vivid memory. – and value, value, value.
The results in Vancouver are very encouraging. Our inner city has more than tripled its population to over 120,000 people in little over two decades and it continues to grow and thrive. Families are flooding back downtown in record numbers – we now have several thousand row houses downtown and over 9000 children. Almost 30% of downtown households built in this generation include children.
I’m not saying this is a perfect story. Vancouver still has its problems – homelessness remains a concern and not nearly enough has been done for middle-income housing so affordability is a top issue. But this attention to urban design has made a big difference. The point of this illustration is that new demand has been built for a sustainable city by also making it deliciously liveable.
Now, let’s move to the suburbs – and here we are talking about a very different kettle of fish. I’m afraid we’re back to that contradiction I talked about at the beginning.
If you look at the car-friendly suburban communities we have been building, around the world, since the War, from a sustainability lens, the picture is not very positive. They sprawl, they hit the environment hard, they are short on services and those services are expensive to deliver, they cannot support public transit without vast subsidy, they are socially exclusive, and they are often one-dimensional.
But most people live in these post-war communities not because they have to but because they want to, enjoying the benefits even though they also have to suffer the consequences. Most consumers absolutely want the independence and self-sufficiency they offer, their spaciousness and human scale, the absence of towers, and the safety, especially for children, they are said to represent. We want that image of “neighbourhood” rootedness – who could blame any of us for that.
So, how can we re-invent suburbia to be both in the consumer image and in the image of a responsible urbanism? I think this will be the biggest issue for the next generation. And, this is where, frankly, there are few credible solutions anywhere in the world – we have our TOD’s and our remake of redundant shopping malls, but we are not going to fundamentally reshape the suburbs with these moves. But there are some tantalizing inspirations out there that could take us a lot further.
There is one template that I think has great potential – both to retrofit existing suburbs and to build new ones – and it is also very popular with the public. It’s a place filled with solutions that planners have overlooked for too long. I’m talking about the pre-war, “streetcar” neighbourhoods, built between the early 1900’s and the 1930’s, which exist in every modern western city. You have some of the best examples in the world right here in Melbourne. I’m using as my reference today a combination of pictures from a Regina neighbourhood in Canada and a Dallas neighbourhood in the United States but you don’t need to go that far to find similar examples everywhere.
Whether we look at these places from a liveability point of view or a sustainability perspective or as a visual statement or at a functional level, the pre-war neighbourhood has a lot going for it. It has a charm and beauty that comes from its age, no argument about that, but that attractiveness also comes from the way it all fits together into a coherent logical whole. These are places average citizens aspire to live in. These are places of real financial value and real emotional value.
The typical pre-war neighbourhood urban structure is usually a simple pattern of blocks of apparently single houses extending out from a commercial “high street” of shops (where the streetcar used to stop – or maybe a bus still stops), with offices or apartments over the shops. There are often back utility lanes so there is a nice sense of decorum at the front door. There is always the local park and often some useful smaller greens as well. Streets are lined with big trees. There are lots of private gardens and many people even include a vegetable garden in the back. There is almost always a local community centre and school and other local services. Over the years, lots of additional housing has been tucked in along the lanes and as houses were converted into suites or a new infill development happened from time to time; but just as often, some people have chosen to keep their single family home and that is OK as well. Overall, though, without anyone really trying, the density and social diversity have increased while the predominately one and two storey scale has been maintained. We know, for example, that a sustainable, walkable neighbourhood starts to work at no more than 100 units per hectare – and many of these older neighbourhoods have that and more even if most people would not realize it. The streets are usually quite narrow with parking on one or both sides. These neighbourhoods are certainly accommodating to the car but they do not let auto standards dominate every other consideration. I hope you get the picture of what I am talking about – and I bet every person here has an example in your mind from here in Australia. And I bet that you feel quite good about those examples. You instinctively relate to them.
Now, I do not want you to read me as just nostalgic – I’m not saying we can just replicate these old neighbourhoods. We have to acknowledge the limitations of these places as well. The houses are sturdy but surely don’t have “green” construction features or universal accessibility. The utilities are pretty conventional. Sometimes there are traffic problems and on-street parking can be difficult. And, if the neighbourhood has really kept its “polish and shine”, it is often quite a consumer draw so housing prices can become disproportionately high for what you get.
But, you know, we are talking “inspiration” here not a ready-to-wear “model”. The take-away features that we can explore for future suburban reform are simple but powerful. They have a great prevailing scale that people intuitively like. They show us that densification can be gentle and incremental. They offer an organic diversity that is set to the preferences of each community rather than following some theoretical model. They are full of pleasant and useful places. They are walkable, with good permeability and connectivity and they work for transit, cycling and the car – so they offer a natural balance of transportation. All the design standards are scaled down so space is not wasted and patterns are just tight enough for public services to be cost effective. And, lastly, they are lush with landscaping and diverse architecture so they are full of character and charm that touches consumers deeply. Of course, this all sounds a lot like the smart growth formula that I outlined at the beginning.
Unfortunately there are very few places like this newly built on green-field sites in the post-war era. However, there is one example that has many of the right features – and that is the Subiaco Community in Perth. This, to me, is one of the most brilliant new neighbourhood designs in the world. Make no mistake, the “Subiaco model” could redefine the suburbs. It would offer the gentle urbanism that people want while supplying the responsible urbanism that everybody needs.
Well, now we have to ask: are most cities positioned well to build an urban design ethos and culture? Generally, the answer is “no”. This will take three key moves that I can tell you from experience will bring out the urban design and architectural and landscape architectural talents of any town. All of this can be done without touching the required profitability of development – in fact there is often a lot of money to be saved and new money to be made. Let me talk about each of these by asking a few questions.
First, let’s talk about regulation and design. Does your zoning and other development regulations here in Australia require and facilitate excellence in design? Are you able to deny approval when you face a poor or mundane or insensitive or imported design – or to motivate a reshaping of that design with attractive bonuses? In the modern world of competitive and sustainable cities, you have to be able to say “yes” to these questions. And the way to do that is to reform your zoning, adding a strong design imperative and making your zoning into a wealth creation device, not just a policing mechanism, which you can then apply to quality design through incentives that do not touch the civic budget. This takes a discretionary regulatory system that is flexible – light on rules and heavy on design guidelines and that allows people to build more if they sponsor great design and add public goods in and around their projects. This system sets things up for a natural collaboration among city builders based upon parallel and reconciled interests.
Second, let’s talk about managing for great design. Who adjudicates the design questions in your community? This activity takes learning and experience and taste and design prowess. So a smart city will make sure it has that expertise in house. It will have civic architects who can speak the language of private architects as professional equals. And really smart cities will go beyond that to offer peer review of all major developments in the form of an advisory “Urban Design Panel” of local design professionals. This makes available your community’s best home-grown advice on design to developers and decision-makers and it brings design questions to the fore for everyone to see and think about. I can tell you from the experience of cities as divergent as Vancouver and Abu Dhabi or Dallas that peer review is an almost cost-free way to transform your city into a design savvy and a design demanding community resulting in better design of every single new project.
Third, let’s look at the bankrupt formulas that tend to shape modern cities, especially the suburbs. Is your city created from an application of off-the-shelf standards or is it the result of tailored design? The most damaging roadblocks to progressive urban design are the outdated street and road standards, and obsolete subdivision standards, and insensitive corporate architectural formulas and the layering of all kinds of single-interest rules in building codes and parking bylaws and health requirements and security regulations. These things each had their logic when they were created but the people who invented them were not thinking of the whole picture and they were certainly not thinking about maximizing human experience. These kinds of fixed rules are most manifest in our suburbs around the world because that has been the big building boon since most of these rules came into effect, and wherever they apply our cities have become more mundane and harsher and less special. I think we need in every city a ritual burning of these outdated and single-minded rules. And then we have to say to everyone “let’s take those interests and meld them with other interests for liveability and sociability and sustainability in specific urban design work to create genuine, unique communities”. We must go from this to this and from this to this. It is that simple.
Now in all three of these moves I want to be clear that I am not talking about de-regulation. For real excellence, we have to more carefully regulate the more we grow. But future regulations will tailor not homogenize, they will sharpen profits not diminish them, they will adjust to contemporary needs not drag along the obsolete.
I’m also not talking about a “top-down” agenda. This new way of doing business requires a strong and diverse engagement of the public at every step along the way to articulate the public perspective and to insure public buy-in and ownership. We have to speak to people as citizens, voting members of the body politic, and as consumers driving market trends that are way more powerful in shaping any city than all the civic laws and policies put together.
But I will tell you that if you do those three things in any modern city, you will create the conditions for collaboration between government, developers and citizens – because these civic forces have to work together to create the city that meets the high expectations of consumers and shapes consumer choices – one sector cannot do it alone. The success of one amplifies the others. This is the only way to meet the challenges that I talked about at the beginning – to build green performance comfortably into proformas and to build demand in new market segments that were just too risky in the past.
Tomorrow’s city must meet the environmental test and the economic test but it must also meet the experiential test; and that is the test of love; that is the test of soul. It’s simply got to have that “wow” factor. When we achieve that, then these little ones will do the right thing as they grows up and take their places within the community. They will understand what is at stake – they will appreciate what they have received – and that we are all in this together – and they will do whatever is necessary to hand on their city in a better condition to their children. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the true power of rekindling the urban love affair.
I am here today to tell you about some very exciting creative thinking for Dallas that I have been a part of with a number of people over the last few months – what I have called in the title of my talk “another dream for Dallas”.
-We continue to be dreamers for Dallas – many of you will recall that last year I told you about some serious dreams to reconnect downtown Dallas to the corridor of the Trinity River – as a result of what was called the “Connected City Design Competition” undertaken by the CityDesign Studio at City Hall under the inspired leadership of Brent Brown. I am happy to report today that Brent has technical work now well underway to make big parts of that dream come true over the next few years. It is exciting to see that moving forward.
-This year I want to tell you about a different dream – a particular dream for greatly enhanced access to the Trinity River corridor that has come from a group of interesting and smart urban designers that I had the honor to lead and facilitate since last December.
-I want to tell you about our idea for a gracious and harmonious parkway for part of the Trinity River corridor area in central Dallas.
Now, wait a minute, you are probably saying, isn’t there already a highway proposal for this area and isn’t there a big debate going on about that right now and isn’t this a big issue in the current civic election? Of course, the answers are yes and yes and yes – but what our little group came together to talk about is quite different from the highway that has been proposed and totally separate from the current political debate and the governments and groups that are involved in that debate.
-In fact, as I present this to you today, I want you to put that highway and that debate aside for just a moment so you can hear what we came up with. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.
-I want you to know that the group I was working with does not see itself as contributing to the current “yes or no” battle regarding the highway – we are sure you have all the insights you need here in Dallas to fully play out that drama and to make your political decision about that. It is a healthy debate.
-I also want you to know that the group I was working with does not see itself as affiliated with any government or agency and really has nothing to do with the specific highway proposal that is currently before the Federal environmental authorities for approval – although we have been quite excited to see some very influential people take up some of our ideas in recent weeks – including His Worship, Mayor Rawlings.
-We were simply asked by a group of well-meaning Dallas citizens to take a fresh look at a situation that has dogged this town for a very long time. I think the people who sponsored our dreaming session felt that there might be another vision out there that would better meet the needs of this great new Trinity Park that is under development in the heart of Dallas.
-They felt that maybe the park needed a little special care and attention as this big debate about a highway takes its natural political course. They asked us to look at the whole question of access and circulation from the perspective of the park – so that is what we did.
You may still be skeptical out there – you may be saying, well haven’t a lot of technical people already dealt with these issues and hasn’t a lot of money already been spent on a highway design? Again, the answer is yes – but that has been for what you might call the “big boom solution” – for a scheme that was conceived to fully serve the maximum transportation needs in this area of Dallas for a hundred years or more, a scheme that may not need to be fully built out for the foreseeable future, a scheme that may not have considered the needs of this magnificent new park as the top priority that we think it should be.
-We asked ourselves a different question: what does the park need, what will be good for park access and visibility and what would have the least impacts on the park?
-We also asked a parallel question: what would be the best for park access to set off a positive redevelopment of the very large landholdings that are adjacent to the park? We could see that this economic development inquiry is very important to that larger question of connecting Dallas with the Trinity that we worked so hard on last year in the Connected City competition.
-Then we asked, with those considerations tied down, what kind of vehicular access way, if any, would be appropriate and was it possible to also meet the through-traffic aspirations for this district – so we felt it was smart to look again at the design of whatever street or way might be compatible for the area.
Having said all of this, there is no denying that our work was only a free-flow inquiry, not a detailed design process. What more can it be with just a few days’ work, even if it was intensive, studio work. But in the world of city-design, it is often necessary to get disconnected from the web of details and all the noisy debate in order to see clearly the whole picture – to be able to see the forest instead of all the trees.
-We did not collect new data. We did not discuss funding. We did not try to work out every detail. We worked primarily from our own knowledge and experience, augmented with information that is already readily available on the table.
-Initially we heard from some of the local experts that have been working on this but after that we worked alone, with several representatives of our sponsors coming along for the ride – we did not see ourselves as having to sort out all the rules and regulations for this kind of thing the way all the local experts have to do. But, as Jane Jacobs used to say, sometimes the rules rule out the right things.
-What we conceived is only a dream – a vision for a different way to look at the questions that you have not been able to put to rest here in Dallas for this roadway.
-There are a lot of people that have started to think that maybe there is a new idea – a better idea – that would take a different trajectory from the “yes or no” scenarios – the massive freeway or the do-nothing options that are the hot topics and the only choices at the moment here in Dallas.
So, we got together back in February and had a creative jam session over 4 days with some very distinguished visiting urbanists and we came up with a proposition that surprised even us.
-We had some of the smartest people in the country here for our session – the likes of Alex Kreiger from Harvard and Allen Jacobs from UC Berkeley and Jeff Tumlin from San Francisco and John Alshuler from New York – in fact, a group of some 12 very with-it professionals with no axe to grind here in Dallas but big reputations under their belts – here are the names; I’m sure you will know some of them from their profile here in Texas: people like Ignacio Bunster-Ossa, Alan Mountjoy, Tim Dekker, and Mark Simmons.
-We didn’t make it a big public event for three reasons – first, we were not sure we would come up with anything interesting or helpful so we did not want to get any hopes up – second, we did not want the whole thing to be taken over by the “yes or no” debate that is raging here right now (not much air time would be left for the kind of fresh inquiry we felt we might be able to do) – and, third, for creative things to spark in our field, you have to have a studio atmosphere of design and exploration not an argumentative debating platform. In any event, we felt that anything we came up with would need full community review and discussion before it could be taken too seriously by anyone. Of course, it would also need a lot of technical testing.
In a preamble meeting back in December, we came to a few basic conclusions and set a simple set of objectives for our big creative jam session. Then when we actually all got here, again in February, those conclusions were strongly confirmed.
-First, we reviewed carefully the original Balanced Vision Plan completed back in 2003 and we all strongly agreed that it was a very solid plan and should be the philosophical basis for all of our work. It is the foundation – and it is very good.
-Second (and this will surprise some people in this room), we concluded unanimously that there needs to be some sort of auto access route into the Trinity Park corridor because the park lands are just too cut off from the city by that unrelenting tall wall of levees. The park is so close but also so profoundly isolated. If all the park can be for most Dallas people is a distant view from atop a bridge as you speed by and if there is a struggle otherwise to get into the park, then it will always stay peripheral to the day-to-day experience of Dallas residents and visitors – and peripheral to the image and life of this city. There really does need to be a road of some kind into and through the place over those levees.
-Third, we decided to work toward three basic objectives that would put the needs of the park and park users first. We decided: (1) we would maximize visual and physical access to the Trinity Park corridor; (2) we would try to bring the park and development sites close together at the key points so the park can really become a genuine catalyst for development of the adjacent urban district; and, (3) yes, if possible, we would try to facilitate the auto bypass of the downtown that represents 80% of the demand for vehicles coming through the area, that is, if we put aside the un-estimated number of cars that might actually want to stop to visit the park – it fascinated us that that particular figure, the auto demand for direct park access, has never actually been projected. We agreed we would pursue these objectives if it did not diminish the park design and experience – in fact, we felt we needed to expand and enhance that experience. We felt this was a reasonable and responsible agenda for a project of this kind.
-Fourth, at a highly conceptual level, we hypothesized what kind of auto access route might be suitable. We concluded that a limited-access highway and access ramp pattern, much like the size and capacity of the current maximum build-out design, is simply not needed – the traffic projections to 2030 confirm that point in no uncertain terms – and that kind of scheme does not offer much for the park or adjacent development. On the other hand, we found that a typical city street with lots of intersections and lights is not very realistic because it can never connect with the city street system on the other side of that wall of dikes. We found that no street at all, well maybe just a pattern of access lanes and loops where convenient over the levees, is also not very helpful because it would offer no real expansion of the experience of the park for passers-by. This would miss a fundamental opportunity to open up the park in a big way to the people of Dallas. But we did conclude that a meandering parkway of a calibrated humane scale and slim, low-impact design might do the trick. We concluded that our design time in the charrette would be spent on that kind of scheme, in the great tradition of North American parkways – and I will come back to what that really means and to the design of that in a minute.
So what we designed in February is a “gracious and harmonious all-American parkway”. That’s what we think Dallas needs for the next generation or maybe even longer and that’s what we felt could fit comfortably within the beautiful park that is coming together on both sides of the Trinity River. The report of our work is available as of today.
And here’s what it might look like. It is a complete, integrated concept but we highlighted 20 specific features that we think would make this place sing and I want to quickly take you through our ideas. There are 10 big moves and 10 supporting ideas.
First and foremost, this parkway only needs to be 4 lanes wide to comfortably carry all the traffic that is projected for the foreseeable future. That means building only one-half of the big freeway for the next generation. Those lanes can be narrower than is currently designed, they can include grass shoulders, and they can meander back and forth along the road corridor that is currently plotted.
I found a perfect inspiration for what is needed in a nice little parkway I came across in Perth, in Australia, and here is something like what might be the Dallas parkway cross-section.
There are similar examples in San Diego, Boston and along the Hudson River in New York, just to name a few other references. There’s quite a tradition of integrated parkways in North America.
Second, all those ramps that have been projected are just not needed – and it is the huge ramp systems that will really impact everything around them in a negative way. All you need is one set of ramps in and out on the north and another set on the south – remember only about 20% of drivers want to get off in the downtown; most will be passing right through – and there are perfectly good access streets downtown to channel the traffic once it is off the parkway. You can put the other many unnecessary groups of ramps on hold for a very long time and no one will even notice – maybe you will never even need them. And with this change, the whole arch design standard can be brought down to a more relaxed approach which you see in that Australian example I showed you a moment ago.
Third, if you carefully align the gentle meander of the parkway, not only do you open up more interesting views of the park, lakes and river, all along the route, but you can now slip in a batch of places to pull off and park on spots that might become paved roadway in the far future. You can have them on both sides of the parkway which opens up the park to users like you have never dreamed of before. That means people will not only be able to see and feel the park up close and personal as they drive along but, if they want, they can stop and dive into the pleasures and recreation of this amazing space or relax and embrace a fine scenic overlook. This is the single most important idea to come out of our work – direct park access as a top priority, not just park views. It really needs to happen with this parkway.
Fourth, we think the treescape can be refined and enhanced in a dramatic way. Remember that lovely Australian example. We envisioned a consistent linear planting of large trees, closely spaced, all along the parkway giving it an elegant “tree-lined” character and beauty – and changing the highway image dramatically.
Fifth, we really loved the aspect of the current concept of creating a higher bench or elevation of land for the parkway above the low valley of the river by using the excavation when digging out the new lakes. Along this bench, the general corridor and end connections that are shown in the current scheme work just fine, as the boundaries for swinging the meanders in the parkway gently back and forth; and also for getting the parkway over the levies north and south of downtown. This system will fit together really well. But, the bench is the best part because it offers more interesting contours for the parkway drive, good flood control, more opportunities for viewpoints in the pull-overs and a greater potential for ecologically generating landscaping all along the route. The bench will be the foundation for a really smart scheme that adds lakes and raises the parkway above the natural floor of the river corridor – so we like the bench of land a lot.
Sixth, we also loved the many pedestrian crossings that are included in the current proposal, so we included in our design all 15 and added a few more of the under and over pedestrian links from the city to the park that will give generous access for people on foot and bikes at least every quarter mile or less. But we are suggesting that they become things of real beauty and real amenity as they are designed in detail.
Seventh, we felt that a lot more elegant design improvements can be completed on the flood protection barriers that are a necessity of any parkway scheme within the levees. They do not need to be ugly blank walls. They can be completed as hillocks and berms with landscaping and public art and the few actual walls that might still be needed can be finished as green features or with artistic treatments that tell some of the story and history of the river and the park. We actually think you could refine the design to a 10-year flood standard rather than a 100-year flood standard, which would dramatically open up new views and interest and character all along the parkway with very little risk. This might mean once a decade or so the occasional flood and momentary closure of the parkway but the beauty and character that would be achieved, we think, would be more than worth this tiny inconvenience. However, if the people of Dallas really want that 100-year flood security, then so be it – but it can still be much more sensitively designed as an enhancement of the park experience.
Eighth, we think it is absolutely essential that you really go to town on a top notch landscape plan for the entire bench and bench edges down to the lower park – and especially at the stream outfalls all along the route. We think this is the place to instill a strong ecological strategy to regenerate habitat and enhance the natural landscape seasons and diversity of the park. For example, we could easily see this as a key stopping-off point for monarch butterflies on their annual migrations. The edges and stream outfalls could be places of remarkable beauty for the park that would entice people out of the city and into the park.
Ninth, we absolutely embraced the provision of the top-of-levee continuous bikeway and pedestrian pathway that is included in the current proposal. There had once been the hope for a full street at the top of the levee that could be a frontage street for the front doors of the new development. But now we see that is not possible while protecting the integrity of the levee structures – but the bikeway/walkway is the next best thing and we think it is absolutely essential to make it easy to enjoy the park from hundreds of levee-top locations.
And then, tenth, all of this careful work to insinuate a delicate parkway and build up the park landscape and character and cut the impact of excessive ramps – all of this can become a powerful catalyst for private development outside the levees at the center of the alignment as an extension of downtown if every effort is taken to associate that development as close to the park as possible. This will take an extensive cluster of decking structures over the parkway with links directly down to the park. I’m talking about the vicinity of Reunion, where the jails are currently located – as I said last year, those penal institutions need to leave the edge of the river and find another location so that these prime sites can become the home of thousands of new Dallas downtown residents and offices. I’m also talking about the “mix-master district”. These pivotal private development parcels can be brought on years earlier than would otherwise be expected if the links to the park and spacious boardwalks for the park can be built right up front. But, of course, none of this will happen if the highway and all the ramps create a harsh barrier between the development sites and the green corridor.
Those are the ten big moves and they will create a wonderful parkway framework that opens up and plays up the park to the highest possible degree. But even this can be enhanced with a few more very special features – here is a list of the reinforcing secondary moves that would really make the whole design sing.
-As you see, this includes banning trucks from this alignment – the trucks do not need the route and the park does not need the truck impacts.
-This includes allowing on-street parking along the parkway during the weekends when through traffic has no need for the route but park users would surely enjoy the convenient parking.
-This includes implementing a variation in the tolling procedure to facilitate equitable park use – actually forgiving the toll if a car stops for two hours or longer in one of the pull-offs along the route. This would really incentivize park use without sacrificing very much tolls revenue.
-This includes adding a simple u-turn opportunity somewhere mid-point along the parkway so park users can move around more freely to access the key park attractions.
-This includes implementing every one of the network of service roads and bikeways and pedestrian paths along and around the parkway that are already included in the current plan. These all open up the park dramatically for people once you add the pull-off points that we are suggesting. It is like an enticing web of access and it will be a magnet for people.
-This includes locating new transit stops to enhance transit-user access to the park over the parkway – for example at Houston Bridge and Riverfront Boulevard.
-And this includes some clever design refinement for pullovers at the location of five major “wow” views that we discovered that give astounding perspectives over the park and parkway to the city skyline.
And then the whole ensemble can be used to spread the economic development pattern all along the route.
-For the “design district” adding a regular and attractive pattern of pedestrian connections across the parkway to the park will speed up the incremental development trend that is already evident.
-For the “southside district”, doing a major overhaul of the existing water bodies, now called the “sumps”, will rev up the current development inclination, because these “sumps” have the potential to be the knockout amenities that are more important than even the park and parkway in this area.
-For the districts at the far north and south ends of the parkway, just before it would join the existing highways, a strategy to build public and private facilities under or over the parkway will spur private investment that can augment the existing neighborhoods – developments like these.
So there it is – twenty ideas that make a dramatically different vision for what a street and a park and economic development can do for one another and for the city of Dallas – if all the thinking is driven by the vision for the park; if it is all carefully designed and managed in the interests of that most magnificent transformations of all – the vast park, river and nature corridor. Yes, this vision has a road in the corridor but, you can see, this road is nothing like the limited-access highway that has been talked about for this area for the last few years.
And the amazing thing about this vision is that it fits nicely within the framework of the design that is already under scrutiny for federal environmental approval. We did not really plan it that way. We just said that we should design what we felt Dallas needs for the foreseeable future. But when we completed our sketches we realized that it would actually fit as a compatible “first phase” of the proposal that is currently on the books – either it was a confirmation of components of the current proposal or it reflects compatible variations for immediate construction or it predicted the kind of design refinements that have to yet be undertaken anyway or it reflected economic development ideas that had not been addressed before. So anyone who wants to can see it as a practical, comfortable first phase. But to be frank, it is a first phase that might never need a second phase – or that might become so beloved by the people that a second phase would simply no longer be appealing if it swept away the benefits that people will have come to enjoy and treasure. The point is, your children’s children can decide what they want when the time finally comes to think about further phases and further construction.
We think our 20-point concept represents a powerful and compelling dream for Dallas.
-Of course, it needs full review with the public in a wide public process. Yes, it will also need detailed multi-disciplinary design refinement and careful testing.
-But not another pencil should ever be put to paper on this project without a strong urban design hand – this parkway cannot just reflect engineering standards. It needs the engineers working hand-in-hand with architects and landscape architects and ecological scientists and water artists and all the rest.
-But also, it will need a conscience that is “of the people” if this moves forward. Our suggestion is a carefully arranged monitoring of implementation, now and on an ongoing basis into the distant future, by a panel of both professional and citizen monitors who can make sure the good design does not again get distorted.
The participants in this review had to walk a very fine line between their general philosophical views of what they consider best world practice, the particular circumstances and needs here in Dallas, the official status of the process for this particular project, and their judgment about the expectations of future Dallas residents. Having said this, throughout the review we have tried to err on the side of what will be best for Dallas now and into the future, not what have been the conclusions of the past. We were also trying to discover how to move a compatible project forward so that the needs of many interests can be satisfied but also balanced. In our preferred scheme, no one interest prevails over another and all interests have been subject to some concessions and compromises. At the same time, we firmly believe the proposed pattern works well as a whole and favors the park every step along the way.
You don’t need that big aggressive new highway in your wonderful park – so don’t let it happen. Go for something a lot better. We think a gracious and harmonious parkway, done in a gentle and humane way with nature as its inspiration and the park as its client, is a very practical thing. We think it is a necessary thing. We think it can be a thing of utility and of beauty. And it can be brought within reach if you, the people of Dallas, have the courage to insist that it happen.
It has been said that the modern city is brutal. And, I think this is all too true for many people today – and maybe even for many people in this room today. Contemporary urbanism is a fascinating conundrum: there is no doubt that the modern city represents in its scale and complexity one of the most extraordinary of human inventions; but there is also no doubt that everywhere in the world it is also one of our biggest failures. And the bluntness of this reality is now starting to come home to roost. The dysfunction of a city in the past was an inconvenience. The dysfunction of a city in the future will be a profound disaster for that city – and, ironically, a profound opportunity for another city, of a smarter city, that has found out how to position itself better in the world of cities, but equally importantly in the eyes and hearts of its own citizens.
Taking a long-term and world view, I am here to testify that big, fundamental shifts are underway among cities – shifts that will change everything we have known in the past and that will challenge how we have dealt with our cities in the past. All over the world, there is a growing recognition that this brutality must stop; that we have to imagine a different kind of city which addresses human needs and that puts the soul back into the city. There is growing recognition that this is an essential economic development strategy for the government and business community in a forward-looking city. Put another way, there is a growing understanding that it is actually “design” that will be the prime force in the economy of tomorrows successful cities – and that is really my main theme today.
I want to talk today about the challenges that modern city-regions face, an attitude for planning and a form of urbanism that can reconcile those challenges, and a way of doing business that can achieve that progressive urbanism. And as I talk, I will use images from my home city, Vancouver, and from around the world, to illustrate my thinking. I use Vancouver because this is a city that has pioneered the attitudes and systems I will talk about and it is a city where the results are now there for all to see – they speak for themselves. I hope you enjoy the images that go with my words.
We have about an hour-and-a-half, so I thought I would talk for about 45 minutes and then we will open the floor for a general discussion, especially to explore how my themes might be relevant here in Perth and in Australia in general.
Let me preface my talk with an inspiration that has been very enlightening for me and for Vancouver and I think is very powerful for Australia. I was in Madrid several years ago and a colleague at the meeting was the famous Brazilian urbanist, Jaime Lerner. He said something very simple but very profound. He said:
“Every city has to have a design. A city without a design doesn’t know where it is going; doesn’t know how to grow.”
Who would have thought in the last generation that “urban design” might become a meaningful topic in a discussion about urban economies, much less a prime driver of those economies? Yet, over the last decade, we’ve seen cities hit with challenges that confounded them. There will always be the world iconic cities and specialty cities that set their own pace. There will be some “alpha” cities and some inevitable “delta” cities. But the world downturn of the late-2000’s showed us that most cities are not as secure as they thought they were. Manufacturing has shifted away from the first world. Financial shenanigans have wiped out confidence in many cities. Even demand for natural resources can shift unexpectedly. Peoples’ expectations are changing rapidly. Most cities are facing daunting difficulties in both attracting people and keeping people as the anchor they need for all else they do for their economic development and growth.
And all of this is because the dynamics of urban growth and competition have fundamentally changed in the last quarter century –driven by the increasing mobility of people. The world has become footloose, with people and capital moving at will: business can be done anywhere; other aspects of life are more important than one’s livelihood; and where people choose to settle is not tied down the way it used to be. We can do and be almost anything anywhere.
The result is a new kind of economic driver for our cities, augmenting the traditional economic activities that are more or less, according to where you are, holding our cities together. The late Sir Peter Hall, of Great Britain, called it the “service” city. It’s built on drawing those footloose people with that wealth and talent and energy; and around these people clustering supportive services; and using these clusters to create a powerful metropole of social and economic strength that is much more robust and diversified than the traditional economies. This is an economy driven by people, their direct needs, their ideas and their day-to-day experiences.
But beyond this challenge of drawing energy to your city, a second and equally fundamental challenge is keeping people in your city. We’ve not done a very good job in many cities especially in the growth and development since the last World War, so the quality of life for people has diminished, even as their personal wealth has increased. For many reasons, we have homogenized our communities, marred them with inappropriate and ugly development, demolished the buildings and places people cared for, polluted them unmercifully, and spread things out to the lowest common denominator.
I think it was Richard Florida who first brought this to our attention when he talked about the factors that draw and keep the ‘creative class’. But I think the dynamic goes well beyond this. If you live in a core city, have you ever tried to get a gardener or a plumber? How about a specialist physician in the suburbs? But, even beyond that, you have to think about all of the professions and vocations. You have to think about visitors, and the whole culture of tourism. You have to think about all the different kinds of people that inhabit the city. So very quickly, we’re not just talking about the service sector or the ‘creatives’, we’re talking about almost everybody having locational flexibility and choices for living and working – at a level that we’ve just never seen before. And the economic and political implications of all this are just staggering.
Now we have to add in another challenge that will increasingly hit the economic robustness of the city – and that is the imperative for sustainability: to clean up our cities and make them compatible with the ecosystems in which they are located. The pollution and despoliation are so dramatic in some cities that it keeps people away and pushes people out. More importantly, average people are beginning to see the environmental contradictions and they just do not want to be part of that – they want to be part of fixing the problem.
So we see three big challenges coming together as a tsunami for the economic vitality of cities – we are becoming less competitive, less liveable and more unsustainable. How do we cope?
Well, I think we can start with a conceptual framework that offers many practical solutions. In our upcoming book, coming out this June, Jonathan Barnett and I call this the “ecodesign framework for smart growth”. It is a pretty straightforward formula. Here it is. This is about both the urban structure and urban infrastructure of your community.
From a structural point of view,
-it is about the form of communities – clustered density and mixed use and all kinds of diversity and protected open space; and,
-it is about the fabric of our communities – green construction;
From an infrastructural point of view,
-it is about the circulation within our communities – transportation choices that put the private car into a logical array of movement alternatives that include and favour transit and cycling and walking;
-it is about social and community and cultural facilities that offer support for people and stability for their communities; and,
-it is about the utilities of our cities – managing water and waste and energy in a conserving way and locally accessing inputs, including food.
What fascinates me about this formula is that it works over the range of many contradictions we face in modern life. Of course, there are many testimonials of its urgency to address environmental problems – that’s where the whole idea originated. Jane Jacobs has illustrated in her many writings that it is also a formula for economic opportunity and robustness, particularly that concept of “diversity”. Larry Frank, a professor at the University of British Columbia, has shown in his extensive research that it is the right formula to address many of our most endemic health problems, especially those focussed around the world’s growing obesity. I think the same can be said for dynamic culture and social isolation and perhaps even national ingenuity – I may be pushing beyond science to speculation here but there is no doubt that this is a very useful formula.
In Vancouver we have even put our own brand to some of these ideas when a recent mayor invented a term for the restructuring of the city that he called “eco-density”. It sounded good, and, indeed, in the intense circumstances of the core city, it has a lot of merit and has proved to be very helpful. But, outside the core, it was seen as something quite bazaar – it was seen as the “thin edge of the wedge” of something to be nothing but frightened of. And that is because a lot of smart growth advocates do not understand one reality of modern cities where land is valued and used based upon location – and that is the concept of the ‘urban transect’ invented by a colleague of mine, Andres Duany, one of America’s most interesting urban thinkers.
The ‘transect’ is the notion that intensity of use based upon location will naturally be calibrated with the scale of a place and its spaciousness, related to open spaces as compared to buildings. It naturally works at the metropolitan scale, with the biggest buildings and tightest clustering of buildings at the big city core; and it works at the sub-regional and local level with focal points of intensity and height associated with important locations. But it also explains why a lower scale is often the best scale in a suburban and rural circumstance.
And, this idea of the ‘transect’ allows us to take those ecodesign principles of smart growth and both apply them to our big cities as well as translate them into forms suitable for areas that are not at the metropolitan core. Ecodesign can become a region-wide approach.
But that reaction of many people in Vancouver should make us pause a minute and ask a hard question. Is the public with us in all of this? Will they change their life patterns and habits to embrace the kind of city that this represents?
I often hear urbanists say, “Well, people are simply going to have to do things differently in the future – they will have no choice” – they usually then add, “…especially as oil prices peak”. But is that really true? After all, we live in a free society with guaranteed personal freedoms – people will listen but they can do whatever they want to. And people are wealthier than they have ever been so they are able to buy whatever pleasures and luxuries that they desire.
Now, frankly, I don’t have big worries about alternative infrastructure or preserved open space or even green construction, as long as we have informed governments and responsible developers, because most people don’t actually make direct decisions on these matters; we accept the utilities and buildings that are offered to us at whatever level we can afford and that’s the end of it.
But what about density and mixed use and diversity and active transportation? These are things that people do make direct decisions about. And, frankly, most consumers in the English speaking world, except in a very few of our older gracious cities, have shown very little interest in being a part of the kind of city that these factors create. As one sardonic Canadian mayor has said: “The only thing the public hates more than sprawl is intensification”. Let’s be blunt: most people hate density because most of it has been so bad; they think of mixed use as probably hitting them negatively and diversity as unsafe and transit is not even in most peoples’ vocabulary. To many people this is all just a bad joke. For example, in my country over 60% of us still prefer living choices that are the exact opposite of this formula.
But I also have to say that, to some degree, I understand the consumer at this point – I sympathize with their predicament – have we been delivering a city that is easy to embrace? Could you fall in love with this…or this….? I don’t think so.
We have to change that – and I think we can change that by making one addition to that formula of smart growth. That addition, which fosters peoples’ genuine affection for the city, is “placemaking”. We have to again start to bring back into our cities the human touch – we have to bring placemaking to the very heart of the civic agenda and we have to stop trading away the urban qualities we care about for the urgencies of the moment of modern life.
If we can build places that truly appeal to people – yes, places that are sustainable, certainly dense, mixed use and diverse – places where the car, and for that matter all forms of mechanical transportation, are not needed – but, more importantly, places that are exciting and stylish and supportive and so good that people will spontaneously prefer them – then they will become the real attraction and we will start to see changes in behaviour that automatically go in the right direction.
And this is where urban competition , urban sustainability and urban liveability can be seen through the same city lens – because in each case the bottom line is that making progress on these issues requires us to conceptualize the city from a people perspective – an imperative to tap into peoples’ emotional response to their city, their town, their neighbourhood – their definitions and preferences for their own well-being – and then reshaping those definitions to support civic competitiveness and stability and sustainability? This is quite contrary to what we have been doing for many years.
I call this “Experiential Urbanism” – learning about and then carefully designing the community to deliver the direct tangible experiences that people tell us they want in their lives and for their families every day. These become the basic fragments of DNA from which the urban pattern is built up.
This has two fundamental aspects. First, it takes a consumer focus to define what needs to be done in the creation of our towns and cities; and, second, it takes a physical urban design focus at a basic level to realize those consumer hopes and expectations.
Looking at the politics, government officials usually think of the people we are planning for and with as “citizens” and, as such, we tend to consider their group needs in society. This is an approach that, of course, considers that overall policy frame – and most governments know a lot about that. It’s the systemic overview of the city that we often talk about as being the “public interest” – and, rightfully so, we see ourselves as custodians for that. But the planning approach I am talking about requires you to go beyond that. It requires you to think of people in regard to how they are “engaged” with the city, which, frankly, most public officials don’t actually know much about. This approach is certainly about looking at the big picture of policy, but it also puts a top priority on getting down to the level of the intimate things that touch people and determine their basic personal choices – things that people truly want. It is this that really drives consumer preferences and practices. And these consumer practices, to my mind, really determine more than voting practices or any of our laws and policies and plans or any other influence the shape and ambiance of our settlements.
So all urbanists – government officials, developers, designers and community leaders – have to know about and respond to people as consumers with new and clever design solutions. Do you feel this is happening in Perth?
We go into this in a lot of detail in our new book, but let me give you just a taste of what I am talking about.
I think you can say you’re doing experiential urbanism at the regional level if you’re actively clustering growth into identifiable places that can evolve their own personality and preserving the green lungs that offer the essential respite from the frenetic urban chaos that people long for. I’m thinking of the regional growth boundary in Portland, Oregon and the Agricultural Land Reserve Regional Town Centers in Greater Vancouver. But if you’re just applying existing residential patterns and road standards and locating that next business park in the middle of nowhere and casually annexing natural country or farms that perpetuate the undefined suburbs, you might want to have second thoughts.
I think you can say you’re doing experiential urbanism at the city or town level if you’re sponsoring an arrangement of built form and transportation options that bring things closer together, get us out of our cars for healthy walking and offer a scale that we can comfortably relate to while mitigating the impacts of density by fostering quiet and privacy and security and clarity of personal territory. There is no question that we are an automobile world and the trend is for that to become even more so in the future. 2.6 billion vehicles predicted by 2030 is a lot of personal mobility – and I cannot see people, in mass, weaning themselves from the extraordinary benefits of the car, but that does not mean that there is no room for transportation diversity. We can enhance transportation choices and cut the negative impacts that cars now have on our cities. There are more and more inspirational examples out there. Few cities went the Vancouver route of avoiding freeways altogether but many cities are now editing out there excess freeway infrastructure in favour of parks and elegant boulevards – such as the remarkable freeway demolition and daylighting of a river in Seoul, South Korea, and the Tom McCall Park replacement for a freeway in Portland, or the transformation of the Embarcadero Freeway to a regular street in San Francisco. There are also moves to submerge freeways under parks, such as the Madrid Rio project along the Manzanares River, the freeway cap of Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, and the “Big Dig” in Boston. But the important story is the worldwide diversification of transit, and new emphasis on bikeways and walkability. Think of the initiative for the webbed transit network in what is called “Toronto’s Big Move” and the building of economic and flexible Bus Rapid Transit, started in Curitiba, Brazil, and now used in Istanbul, Bogotá, Seattle and many other cities. Everywhere in the world people are mimicking the success of Amsterdam and Rotterdam with networks of bikeways. And as we tighten up the scale of our cities, the walking culture is taking hold. Walking is cheap to accommodate and it is the most naturally attractive alternative to the car. But if you’re just using conventional zoning tools that make it all much simpler but perpetuate that uncomfortable sense of homogeneity that people feel in the city because the zoning pulls things apart and separates activities and different social or economic demographics resulting in a boring unwholesomeness of place and people; or, if you are just giving the car free reign, extending its systems and the sprawl that goes with it, and not building the alternatives or mitigating the impacts – you might want to have second thoughts.
I think you can say you’re doing experiential urbanism at a neighbourhood level if you’re facilitating local networks for a healthy social cohesion and fostering a balanced local commercial ecology and creating attractive places for people to enjoy every day, along with an infrastructure of community services. We start to get the benefits of that smart growth formula at no more than about 100-units-per-hectare, without the need for high-rises, or huge streets, and at this density transit and services can also be delivered without subsidy. This is not incompatible with most suburban expectations. But if you are just laying out that next residential subdivision with the old lot sizes and home construction requirements at the lowest densities and that also incorporates those inhospitable corporate retail standards with that sea of parking and barrage of signage, you may want to have second thoughts.
I think you can say you’re doing experiential urbanism at any level if you’re engaging the public in a continuous way and in a vivid way and in a way that works on their terms – if you are using a diversity of techniques that overlay one another to build up a deep and full understanding of peoples’ hopes and preferences. But if you are just holding another public meeting, finding that few people attend, or just doing the odd survey, or hoping the newspaper will do the job, you may want to have second thoughts.
For as long as anyone can remember, the shape of modern cities, with very few exceptions, has been the result of just economic activity and politics and the shifting of social groups; frankly, the city exploited as a commodity. But that doesn’t have to be the case. We can actually design our cities as an explicit act of creation – not just architecture of important buildings (which, of course, is important) but grand civic design (the whole city as a canvas); where our cities will manifest our greatest dreams and hopes, not just be accidents; where our cities will strive to differentiate themselves, not accept cookie-cutter replications of what’s being done everywhere else. You know from your own history as much as I do from mine that this is very much about a reaction to globalization. Smart cities are seeing themselves within the context of other places and they are seeing themselves within the mirror of their own citizens’ attitudes and levels of satisfaction. And when they don’t like what they see, they need to fix it.
But modern cities are not well organized to make urban design important and evolve an urban design ethos and culture. This will take shifts in how we manage and undertake development – with regulatory and management systems that are discretionary and transactional. We have to start with a regulatory system for development that secures quality design. We have to manage development by bringing your local design forces as well as public opinion into the equation. And we have to avoid the bankrupt formulas that tend to shape modern cities, especially in the suburbs. All of this can be done without touching the required profitability of development – in fact there is often a lot money to be saved and new money to be made.
High performance in urban design for successful cities in the future requires a much greater level of collaboration among city builders than we have been accustomed to in the past. Developers, their designers, public officials and citizens have to work together. No one group can achieve the integrated city that modern people are demanding – people buy lifestyle, they buy community; not just a place to live or a place to work. These are holistic propositions partly delivered by the private sector, partly delivered by the public sector and only delivered with the support of citizens and consumers in a free society and free market.
So, COLLABORATION is essential.
To achieve this we will have to re-invent City Hall and to re-invent how the development community works in most of the cities of the world.
The various drivers of city building have to be working from their own interests – otherwise they are not deeply motivated to participate – but we have to find ways to bring divergent interests into alignment so that working for your own interest puts you parallel with others working for their interests – and together you achieve the community interests.
I have found that eight principles have to be at play for a full reconciliation and collaboration among interests to result. So let me summarize those principles.
The first principle is that regions and their various local governments need a strong, clear vision of what the whole region and its many differentiated areas want to be – there needs to be an understandable concept; there needs to be a physical design structured at the various scales that make up the place. And with that concept, a region needs a way to cooperate among its local authorities to coordinate activities, distribute and share functionalities, set broad systems in place, and manage everything for the most progressive performance. Without that, the likelihood is that processes and laws and the resulting development will just be in confusion; local governments within the region will find themselves working at cross purposes. While people tend to act for their own ends, they can also cooperate to achieve common objectives, if those objectives are clear and convincing and consistent across the various authorities. So, regional and municipal pro-action and planning prowess are vital for the contemporary city.
The second principle is that regional and local capital investment must be tied to the urban design vision and plans – there must be a strategic plan to finance growth. A lot, if not most, public goods have to be leveraged through the development approval process – otherwise local governments can never afford to sponsor the high quality that is essential with intensive development – taxpayers will simply rebel. But there is also a sustained level of public capital investment that is equally important – and all of this investment must be coordinated.
The third principle is that the right kinds of laws are needed to foster good urbanism and to help underwrite its costs. In the complexity of the modern city and a free economy, regulation is essential but that regulation must serve both public and private needs. Zoning and all the other laws at the municipal level must change from the conventional approach that specifies everything and separates everything. That’s the policeman’s approach and all it really does is keep the worst at bay. I include here the antiquated requirements we are now shackled with on all fronts, such as oppressive street standards and building codes and even health and fire and other supposed safety requirements. These laws and regulations are forcing us into less and less humane environments for interests that have become hard for regular people to understand and justify and force us to trade away qualities of the city that we really want and need to achieve. Frankly, most of these specifications need to be reformed and they need to be loosened up, at least with equivalencies. For example, the new zoning needs to manage complex mixed uses; and be discretionary to foster innovation; and be heavy with incentives and bonuses to motivate excellence and generate wealth to pay for public goods – and I think this applies to the array of municipal regulations. Yes, the regulatory system must manifest and secure the public interests in a development; but its application should also create genuine quality that adds value to developments from the consumer’s point of view that can be invested in part in the commonwealth that creates a great city.
The fourth principle is that smart growth is about joint action – working together – around the design table. Developers, architects and planning officials cannot be enemies – they must be allies to achieve a city by design. They cannot design in different places with different programs and expect it all to come together. Having government and private designers working on the same drawing boards can broker hundreds of public/private trade-offs at a very great level of subtlety, thus finding a good balance in the final scheme.
The fifth principle I have already mentioned – and that is that there must be strong and continuous public involvement and input into planning, framing projects, and making development decisions. This must be done in iterations, from the conceptual to the specific, in many formats, including involvement right at the moment of final decisions. Having said this, it is also important that involvement generate a value add, not force the lowest compromises or just stretch out forever, avoiding hard decisions.
Which brings me to the sixth principle: balancing public involvement there must be equal involvement and advice by professional peers, preferably separate from the general public input. This is best done with an Urban Design Panel to advise the developer and municipality on all significant projects. This is one of the most cost effective ways to insinuate design into the vocabulary of a city. There’s simply no better way to get solid resolution on the sticky judgements that characterize urban design. Remember, urban design is an art not a science.
The seventh principle, and one that goes contrary to much common wisdom of our day, is that municipal development decisions should be made by experts. Politicians should frame policy and zoning but we will be much better off when the days of politicians or lay citizens making all the development decisions fade away. The best development decisions are made by some kind of Board of appointed officials, with strong and demonstrated expertize, with no appeal to politicians.
The eighth, and final, principle is that municipalities must offer efficient processing of development proposals – timely, ascertainable, fair, and predictable. As the laws and procedures become more complicated it becomes more and more essential that municipal processes are not left to circumstances.
In a nutshell, these kinds of process principles allow the pressures for competition, liveability and sustainability to be reconciled with public preferences through a coordinated and creative act of urban design. It will be through urban design that we make our cities popular again and that we make our cities sit comfortably within their host ecosystem – so we have to find a way to govern that allows that design to prevail and thrive.
The kind of city building that I have been talking about today leads to a deliberate city that can meet very high standards and expectations from a skeptical public. In the deliberate city we will achieve a certain state of grace that is very special. We will have a strong shared dream for the quality of place that we want and we will see people making their contribution to get there not because they have to but because they want to. There will be an alignment of profitability and community building. We will also see people coming back to live in the core city and in the transformed suburbs through natural choice and preference. There will be an alignment of consumer selection and sustainable practice. This will include all kinds of people but especially families with children. We will see the efficiencies of the city but also memorable placemaking. There will be an alignment of urban systems and personal fulfillment. And, if you’re lucky there will also be a little magic.
The point is: in the deliberate city we will design for prosperity and that will be the secret that secures our economic success.