NEW eReport: #89 Defining Livable Cities

Around the world, cities claim that they are livable, that whatever they are constructing –iconic museums, high rise hotels, floating cities, mass housing  - they are doing it all in the name of livability. And, they argue, the more they construct, the more livable their cities become. But does this make a city truly livable? We argue that livable cities must increase the common good and the sustainability of the earth, not put ever-greater profits into the hands of the few. This collection of videos, papers, and slides by eleven outstanding leaders examines the fundamental principles of livable cities, and how they can be achieved.

Every livable city must be socially and ecologically sustainable in the long term, as well as economically stable. Social sustainability depends on the existence of community and shared identity; true ecological sustainability is more than reducing fossil fuel consumption and energy efficient buildings. George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol, UK, 2015 Green Capital of Europe, discusses Bristol’s innovative initiatives that foster social life in public, development of neighborhood and city identity, local food and green infrastructure.

Every livable city needs a city center where citizens come together not only to work or shop but for social and cultural events, to be in each other’s presence, to socialize and celebrate together. Mayor Jim Brainard, Carmel, IN, presents the creation of Carmel’s new city center, a compact, mixed use, human scale urban fabric with squares, parks and beautiful, classical buildings that draw citizens together, and in which they take pride.

The question of how tall a city should be built for optimal livability and sustainability is addressed by Patrick Condon, Professor, James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Livable Environments, at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. He presents evidence that both horizontal sprawl and vertical sprawl are damaging to ecological and social sustainability and shows that the traditional continuous, compact, mixed use, mid-rise urban fabric provides the greatest overall benefits.

Auto-dependency is damaging for the ecology, for social life and for personal health. Trevor Budge, Associate Professor at La Trobe University and City Strategy Manager, City of Greater Bendigo, Australia discusses how livability and health indicators should form the core of an integrated transport and land use strategy.

Cities in India and China are growing at an alarmingly rapid rate in order to increase economic growth as measured by GDP. Reliance on this short-term economic measure outweighs all other considerations of equity and sustainability. As a result, while the rich get richer through the construction-generated economy, increasingly the poor become poorer, more people fall into poverty, and pollution and degradation of the earth increase. These problems become ever more deeply entrenched and more difficult to reverse. Prathima Manohar, Founder and Editor in Chief of The Urban Vision, Mumbai, India recounts Mumbai’s extraordinarily rapid development, the increasing inequity and ecological problems, and the city’s apparent inability to solve them.

Melbourne has frequently won the accolade of being the most livable city in the world, encouraging global investment in high-rise buildings that tend to destroy a city’s unique identity. Mike Scott, Director of Planisphere, in Fitzroy, Australia argues that Place DNA will be increasingly important as a competitive advantage for cities that desire global investment. Melbourne, he argues, has managed to retain and strengthen its sense of Place DNA.

During the last decade, Auckland has been targeted to become the next most livable global city. In a spectacularly beautiful waterfront setting, with a small downtown rapidly increasing its number of high-rise buildings, and a vast hinterland of auto-dependent bungalow suburbs, Auckland is struggling to ensure its livability and ecological sustainability while global investors mine its reputation. Two speakers from Auckland, Penny Pirrit, General Manager Plans and Places, Auckland Council, and Dr. Imran Muhammad, Senior Lecturer at the School of People, Environment and Planning, Massey University, discuss how Auckland is trying to balance these influences.

If the economic measure of a city’s “success” is leading cities away from livability and ecological sustainability, what alternative measure of success can guide city-making decisions? There is already a tradition of alternative measures that emphasize quality of life, including Hazel Henderson’s Quality of Life Indicators, the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW), the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index, London’s Happy Planet Index, and the IMCL Quality of Life Indicators. Liz Zeidler, Founding Director of Happy City, presents the Happy Cities Index developed in Bristol, UK. This is the kind of measure that must either be used to balance the GDP, or as an antidote to its effects.

For every individual, old and young, rich and poor, what makes a city livable is the fact that individuals are embedded within an intricate social network that provides daily face-to-face interaction with a wide variety of friends and familiars. Without these interactions, our “social immune system” is weakened, we get sick more often and more seriously, and we die younger. Edoardo Salzano, Emeritus Professor & Dean of Urban Planning, Venice University, Former Venice Assessori di Urbanistica, reminds us of Henry L. Lennard’s profound insight into the quality of social life in public, and why the Venetian campo in the ‘70s represented the epitome of an urban space that generated healthy, inclusive neighborhood community life.

Suzanne Crowhurst Lennard, IMCL Co-founder and Director, pulls together all the aspects of a livable city to present principles that must guide the task of city planner, urban designer, architect, landscape architect and transportation planner to achieve city livability.

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