Resilience being overlooked in urban planning: summit speaker

Cities have abandoned the principles on which they were once founded, resulting in resilience being overlooked in the planning process, says Tim Stonor, Managing Director of Space Syntax and speaker at the Designing City Resilience summit.

In his book, De Architectura, the Roman architect Vitruvius asserted that a good building must have three qualities: “firmitas, utilitas, venustas”, in other words, it must “last long, work well and look good”.

While the relative importance of these attributes can be debated, cities exhibiting strength and stability, that function to the benefit of their citizens and are pleasant places in which to live, work and visit are, by their very nature, resilient.

Cities engender collective purpose, deliver great benefits – social, economical and cultural – and drive innovation. This great mechanism, which brings people together, is risked when planning cities around the car.

What planners need to move back to is the principle ancient cities were built upon: mixed use communities – with shops, businesses and homes – connected by simple grids of streets.

The danger is that the planners of new cities, such as in China and the Middle East, adopt a car-led approach, with commercial and residential zones and shopping malls, all linked by multi-lane highways, not people-friendly streets. This is not a panacea for resilience but is likely instead to contribute to huge problems in the future.

Segregation exists in the professional world too. Architects, engineers, planners and others are educated separately and tend to operate in silos. Cities, on the other hand, cannot be categorised. They are complex and sophisticated ‘machines’ involving a huge number of interdependent systems, with street-based cities out-performing car-dominated ones both socially and economically.

To create resilience there is a need to connect people, deliver good social outcomes and make cities more equitable and fun. We also have to create links between professional silos, to create new ways of thinking that can influence national and city level policy for the better.

As Sir Brendan Gormley, former Chief Executive of the Disasters Emergency Committee, says: “The built environment sector can be pivotal in persuading national and city governments to engage more with communities. Only by opening up channels of communication between all stakeholders, including local people, will planning, design and construction improve the quality of life for citizens and create cities resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges they face.”

Ultimately, city governments and planners have a choice – are their decisions dictated by the car, or by the personal interactions of their citizens?

Designing City Resilience

Designing City Resilience is an international summit taking place on 16 and 17 June 2015 in London. It will include the City Resilience Challenge, a workshop providing a unique opportunity for professionals from the built environment, government, insurance, finance, technology and communications to work on real issues faced by cities around the world. Outcomes will be published after the event, so they can be applied by cities to improve their resilience and help with future growth and investment.

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