Why do we focus on cities? First, the world is rapidly urbanizing—by 2050, 75% of the world’s population will live in cities. Second, global pressures that play out at a city scale − such as climate change, disease pandemics, economic fluctuations, and terrorism − pose new challenges and uncertainty. Sudden shocks or accumulating stresses in cities can cause significant damage and disruption; in 2011, the cost of natural disasters was estimated at over $380 billion. Because city systems are interconnected, breakdowns can lead to multiple or sequential failure. At worst, this can result in social breakdown, physical collapse, or economic decline.
One major finding began to shine through, and I’ll now share it with you. ‘People tend sit where there are places to sit.’ This may not strike you as an intellectual bombshell, but this simple lesson is one that very few cities have ever heeded – they’re tough places to sit in.
This documentary is not available on line at this time of writing, but if you can get hold if it, it is a great watch.
It is often assumed that children play in the street because they lack playground space. But many children play in the streets because they like to. One of the best play areas we came across was a block on 101st Street in East Harlem. It had its problems, but it worked. The street itself was the play area. Adjoining stoops and fire escapes provided prime viewing across the street and were highly functional for mothers and older people. There are other factors at work, too, and had we been more prescient, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time spent later looking at plazas. Though we did not know it then, this block had within it all the basic elements of a successful urban place.
For more from Project for Public Spaces, the nonprofit organisation founded by William H. Whyte, and the work they are doing around placemaking, click here.