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The International Making Cities Livable Conferences were founded in 1985. Until 2003 they were held biannually in the United States and Europe. Since then, they have been held just once a year. These conferences are unique in enabling city officials, architects, planners, developers, community leaders, behavioral and public health scientists, artists and others responsible for the livability of their cities to exchange experiences, ideas and expertise.
What distinguishes the IMCL Conferences from other conferences in architecture, planning or municipal affairs is the breadth of themes and issues addressed. From the outset the organizers felt that, unless our attention can encompass, at the same time, the array of elements essential to a livable city, little can be accomplished.
Discussions at the IMCL Conferences, therefore, range from architecture appropriate for maintaining a city's identity, to urban design and planning features conducive to public health and social life, to the description of festivals that energize and unite communities. Special attention is given to defining the elusive concept of the public realm, and its significance for the life of the city. At the same time there has been a continuing concern with features of cities essential for the well-being of children. The initial focus on city centers was extended, over time, to include the city's periphery, new urban neighborhoods, suburbs and the region as a whole. The wide range of expertise represented by city leaders, practitioners and scholars from cities in North America and Europe maintained an international and cross cultural perspective to show how efforts that promoted the well-being of a city's inhabitants in one city or country could, or could not be adapted for other cities. Within a brief time the conferences have become an indispensable forum for many politicians, urban professionals, academics and community leaders concerned with economic progress and social justice. Valuable working relationships have been established among the international network of colleagues.
Through the efforts of those who participated in these conferences, the IMCL Conferences have had considerable influence in shaping thinking about cities, and in refocusing the subject matter of other professional conferences on the city as a whole.
The conferences are based on the premise that the city is an organism, with interdependent social and physical elements, and that therefore, it is essential to understand the relationship between the built environment, patterns of urban social life, and city inhabitants' experience of well-being. Themes that have reoccured in plenary and panel sessions include:
- features of the built environment, social policies and values that create community and trust.
- urban spaces conducive to public life, for sociability and dialogue
- a sound economic basis for cities, one that does justice to the relation between economic activities, and community life and interests.
- architecture appropriate to the history of the city or region
- urban traditions that enrich everyday life, markets, civic community festivals
- including children in urban planning and community events
- housing policies which do not segregate by income, and which combine housing, shops and services
- strategies for increasing community involvement and participation
- urban design and planning strategies for improving public health
- alternatives to urban sprawl
- accessibility through walking, and land use planning policies based on walking
- transportation policies favoring public transportation and reducing impact of the car
- the ecological basis for architecture, urban design, and land use.
It was not accidental that Venice was selected as the city to hold the first IMCL Conference. Venice embodies the values essential in making cities livable for their inhabitants. We agree with Lewis Mumford's statement that "the new example Venice set in city planning was never taken in, much less imitated, by other cities. If people were aware of the uniqueness of Venice's plan, they treated it as a mere accident of nature, not as a series of bold adaptations with universal application." Venice provides the model for a new urban form, in the organization of the city by neighborhoods. In no other city is the relation between urban form and patterns of social life so explicit. The intricate relationship between the urban form of the "campo", the large, multifunctional urban space that lies at the heart of almost every Venetian neighborhood, and the rich quality of Venetians' everyday life offers important lessons to all those who wish to make their cities livable. This is still true today, even though Venice, like other great cities, is under assault from mass tourism and the global market place. Our experience in holding the first three IMCL Conferences in Venice provided participants the opportunity to observe and study the qualities of daily life on Venice's urban neighborhood places. As we wrote in our book Livable Cities (1987): Architects, city planners and urban designers can still learn from Venice's incomparable organization of community urban spaces -- its network of pedestrian streets, and its compact human scale. Mayors and city managers could study no city that offers its residents more ease and pleasure in shopping and marketing, in business and in accessibility, a city that for six centuries has maintained a diverse local economy. Few cities are as inexhaustibly imaginative in their production of festivals, concerts, performances, processions and dances in the campi. And social scientists could find no richer location for the study of everyday social life than the study of the Venetian campo.