At the turn of the 20th century, only ten percent of the world’s population resided in cities; today, that number has grown to nearly fifty percent. Paul Romer, Director of the Marron Institute at NYU, projects that “in 100 years, there will be about five billion more urban residents in the evolving world than there… Read more »
At the turn of the 20th century, only ten percent of the world’s population resided in cities; today, that number has grown to nearly fifty percent. Paul Romer, Director of the Marron Institute at NYU, projects that “in 100 years, there will be about five billion more urban residents in the evolving world than there are currently living in cities.” This critical issue was the focus of the 2014 New Cities Summit held in the recently completed Dallas Arts District in early June.
The conference was branded “Re-imagining Cities,” a theme that attracted 800 attendees from 51 countries, and the discussions highlighted these urban challenges: inadequate infrastructure, inefficient public transit, less than iron-clad crime prevention plans, and mediocre directives on how to protect and enhance art and cultural heritage within their boundaries. So how can we help?
As design professionals with specialized knowledge about our cities, it’s up to us to educate our clients about the things we can control and to present optimal solutions. Safeguarding and co-opting public open space is part of an ongoing mission at SWA, for instance. As our existing cities are squeezed with developments to allow for adequate housing, open space must be protected and planned for in advance, so that people will have the ability to move easily and interact within the city. When Manhattan was planned, for example, 30 percent of its land was dedicated to public open space, a factor that led to its successful growth. Those who inhabit and visit the borough are able to coexist and move about it a lot more freely than in a place that has only say, five percent open space, a relatable measure that has been organically created within Latin American favelas.
Another topic which struck a chord with me is the preservation of urban art and culture. During a panel called Cultural Districts as Engines of Urban Transformation, an intriguing notion was suggested by Jamie Bennett, Executive Director of ArtPlace America. He made me question whether, when we create our beloved Arts Districts, we also create environments that support the growth of art and culture. Too often, our landscapes are cut off from the artistry and process of the art being celebrated. Bennett suggests that we should, “Create a pattern of foot traffic and cluster arts organizations, buildings and communities together.” I agree, because art progresses fluidly as it is inspired by and within communities. If we could enhance art synergy at the locations where it already exists—within artist studios, coffee shops, and restaurants—art and culture would have a better capacity to enliven neighborhoods.
My two and a half days spent at The New Cities Summit 2014 allowed me to connect with community, government, and industry leaders while being exposed to a global perspective on how our cities are growing. It was an empowering experience to imagine myself as a design professional, a citizen, and a parent having the ability to make a positive impact on this imminent and exponential growth.
Photograph of the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas by Barrett Doherty.