How can we make cities which make us happy?
Maud Webster | Bristol, United Kingdom
This week, I attended a conference titled ‘Urban mobility transitions: towards sustainable and liveable cities’ with my friend Taryn, and a bunch of academics. Basically, it was a day of really intellectual people talking about how engineers, architects, and urban planners can create cities which can make people & the planet happy.
To be honest, I felt pretty out of place and was chuffed to understand maybe 70% of the content. Nonetheless I thought it was super important that my friend and I were there to represent the ‘youth’, and convince the academics that young people are actually concerned about our urban futures, and excited to learn about sustainable buildings and transport. After all, the more diverse a range of people working on a topic, whether this demographic be by gender, age, race, ethnicity, the better and more effective outcome can be produced. This is scientifically proven.
A joint venture between University College London [UCL], and Hong Kong University [HKU], the day was organised neatly into fifteen minute topic talks from a range of PhD candidates, and university lecturers and professors, as well as a couple of people in industry. Here are the top three things I’ve learnt from the event!
1. Cities tend to come to a point where, as their country’s GDP per capita surpasses an amount just under $10000USD, where their planning departments and transport engineers can choose to invest in an implement one of two routes. Firstly, increasing the capacity for motorized vehicles (cars) on roads, or secondly, choose to put funding and space towards increasing public transport networks, and capability for citizens to choose to walk or cycle.
This means that currently, a wealth of developing countries are positioned at the crossroads to choose between provision for cars or provision for trains, trams and buses. Many speakers tried to address this potential and how cities can be swayed to make certain, environmentally beneficial decisions.
2. A few sessions were structured around comparing two types of situational analysis: CBA - or Cost Benefit Analysis - and multi-actor analysis.
It could be argued that at the moment, heavy use of CBA is leading to important decisions becoming too focused on short-term economic gain, perhaps neglecting the views of a range of bodies, such as local authority, local residents, transport planners, engineers, etc.
It was an interesting debate, weighing up the pros and cons of each system.
3. The last section of the day tied up a lot of loose ends and connected these decisions to a very interesting concept: how can we live happily, cohesively, in an urban environment?
Prof. Becky Loo from HKU covered how urban planners are required now to think beyond pavement placing and about ‘place’ - how to make places to walk which embody well-being, comfort and livability.
A lot of this focused on the role of the automobile in cities, as they can disrupt pedestrian travel, length of building ‘blocks’, and creating inclusive and well-lit, safe spaces to walk through, which ideally are as green as possible.
I found the event very useful, and was delighted to see that instead of just focusing on the UK’s infrastructure, the speakers included a whole range of worldwide cities and countries. This is very important as it highlights the universal nature of the problems we’re facing when it comes to climate change and global warming, as well as general unhappiness of urban dwellers. I was able to attend the event due to the support of the Bright Green Future programme, based at the Centre for Sustainable Energy in Bristol, UK.
If you are based in the UK, I’d completely recommend looking into and potentially getting involved with this fantastic project, there are so many exciting aspects you can be part of! Find their website here: http://www.brightgreenfuture.org.uk