There’s Nothing Pedestrian About City Planning….
As civic crusaders we expend an inordinate amount of energy focused on the minutiae of local politics – it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that our struggles are universal. We have been building cities (we humans) for millenia now, and we have learned so many lessons that we keep forgetting, and relearning, and forgetting again – an endless cycle of repetition that ultimately does little justice to our capacities.
Here in North Vancouver we are currently undergoing a re-write of our Official Community Plan – a process of self reflection that asks us to engage with ideas of city-hood – who do we want to be, what do we want our community to look like? We are forced to confront questions of authority – and ask who the people are that are shaping our future. Is it we, the citizenry? Or is it some nebulous concept of ‘expert’? What is the nature of the interplay between the ‘planner’ and the ‘resident’ – and by resident I mean the end-user of the city? As we-who-reside-in-a-community, are we not all experts?
It is refreshing to remember that the same questions in city building occur the world over, particularly in cities of similar vintages. My home town of Brisbane, Australia, has many similarities to Vancouver – not least is its ‘newness’. Both Brisbane and Vancouver are suffering through the latter stages of puberty – they are aware of their innate talents, their sense of possibility, but struggling to discover how to manifest themselves in the world. They are aware of other cities, older places with more established histories and identities, aware and full of the usual inevitable jealousies and comparisons that foster self-doubt – and yet desperate to prove themselves, and carve their own way. Like the universal teenager, they are focused on their idiosyncrasies, stumbling to decide which to play up and display and to integrate into their public personas, and which to keep to themselves.
Below is a link to an opinion article from Brisbane’s ‘The Courier Mail’, thoughtfully forwarded to me by my mother (always keen to remind me of my roots, and keep me connected to the homeland). I always find it fascinating to note that so many of the central questions of urban planning are shared in cities around the world – though we read about Brisbane, we could just as easily be reading about our own locales:
There’s nothing pedestrian about city planning for Brisbane’s future
From: The Courier-Mail
April 27, 2013
“CITY planners rise from your little desks, flip the bird to meetings, abandon the laptop and go AWOL – actually exit the office, leave the smartphone behind and walk.
That’s right, walk your city. Outside. No, don’t virtually walk it via Google Map’s 360 Street View or fly through a 3D model. Actually walk it – with your feet.
Do it at dusk, at noon in summer, during an afternoon storm. Loiter. Sit on a public seat and observe for a while. People watch. Be a flaneur and watch, see, experience. Better still, rent yourself a lively toddler or grandmother with a walking stick for a couple of hours and travel the city with them.
The top world planners say the best cities are human paced – what’s good for children and the elderly is good for everyone. It’s called designing “habitat for humanity”.
See the place through their eyes. Suddenly shade, even footpaths, toilets, heat pads, trees, water fountains, toilets, wide footpaths, places to mill and chat, too much traffic, toilets, wind tunnels and mediocre public places become things you think about. The little things become the big things.”