The Art of City Making
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The Art of City Making

Charles Landry

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eBook - ePub

The Art of City Making

Charles Landry

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About This Book

City-making is an art, not a formula. The skills required to re-enchant the city are far wider than the conventional ones like architecture, engineering and land-use planning. There is no simplistic, ten-point plan, but strong principles can help send good city-making on its way. The vision for 21st century cities must be to be the most imaginative cities for the world rather than in the world. This one change of word - from 'in' to 'for' - gives city-making an ethical foundation and value base. It helps cities become places of solidarity where the relations between the individual, the group, outsiders to the city and the planet are in better alignment. Following the widespread success of The Creative City, this new book, aided by international case studies, explains how to reassess urban potential so that cities can strengthen their identity and adapt to the changing global terms of trade and mass migration. It explores the deeper fault-lines, paradoxes and strategic dilemmas that make creating the 'good city' so difficult.

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City-making is a complex art; it is not a formula. There is no simplistic, ten-point plan that can be mechanically applied to guarantee success in any eventuality.
But there are some strong principles that can help send good city-making on its way:
  • The most significant argument of The Art of City-Making is that a city should not seek to be the most creative city in the world (or region or state) – it should strive to be the best and most imaginative city for the world.1 This one change of word – from ‘in’ to ‘for’ – has dramatic implications for a city's operating dynamics. It gives city-making an ethical foundation. It helps the aim of cities becoming places of solidarity, where the relations of the individual, the group and the outsider to the city and the planet are in better alignment. These can be cities of passion and compassion.
  • Go with the grain of local cultures and their distinctiveness, yet be open to outside influences. Balance local and global.
  • Involve those affected by what you do in decision-making. It is astonishing how ordinary people can make the extraordinary happen, given the chance.
  • Learn from what others have done well, but don't copy them thoughtlessly. Cities focused mainly on best practices are followers not leaders and do not take the required risks to move themselves forward.
  • Encourage projects that add value economically while simultaneously reinforcing ethical values. This means revisiting the balance between individual wants and collective and planetary needs relevant to the 21st century. Too often value is defined narrowly in terms of financial calculus. This is naïve. The new economy requires an ethical value base to guide action. It will imply behaviour change to meet value-based goals such as putting a halt to the exploitation of the environment. Combining social and environmental with economic accounting helps identify projects that pass this test. The ‘fair trade’ movement is an example.
  • Every place can make more out of its potential if the preconditions to think, plan and act with imagination are present. The imagination of people, combined with other qualities such as tenacity and courage, is our greatest resource.
  • Foster civic creativity as the ethos of your city. Civic creativity is imaginative problem-solving applied to public good objectives. It involves the public sector being more entrepreneurial, though within the bounds of accountability, and the private sector being more aware of its responsibilities to the collective whole.
You will come across recurring themes in The Art of City-Making. These include the following:
  • Our sensory landscape is shrinking precisely at the moment when it should be broadening. Sensory manipulation is distancing us from our cities and we are losing our visceral knowledge of them. We have forgotten how to understand the smells of the city, to listen to its noises, to grasp the messages its look sends out and to be aware of its materials. Instead there is information and sensory overload in the name of making the city a spectacular experience.
  • The city is discussed in barren, eviscerated terms and in technical jargon by urban professionals as it if were a lifeless, detached being. In fact, it is a sensory, emotional, lived experience. Cities are like relatives: you never really escape. The city is more than hardware. How often do strategic urban plans start with the words ‘beauty’, ‘love’, ‘happiness’ or ‘excitement’, as opposed to ‘bypass’, ‘spatial outcome’ or ‘planning framework’?
  • To understand the city and to capture its potential requires us to deal with five major blindspots: we need to think differently – in a more rounded way – in order to see the connections between things; we need to perceive the city as a more comprehensively sensory experience, so understanding its effect on individuals; we need to feel the city as an emotional experience; we need to understand cities culturally – cultural literacy is the skill that will help us better understand the dynamics of cities; and we need to recognize the artistic in all of us, which can lead us to a different level of experience.
  • An understanding of culture, in contrast to economics or sociology, is a superior way of describing the world because it can explain change and its causes and effects and does not take any ideology, institution or practice for granted or treat them as immutable. Culture is concerned with human behaviours and so cultural analysis can be expressed in human terms we find familiar and engaging. It is thus a good medium through which to provide stories about the world.
  • Cities need stories or cultural narratives about themselves to both anchor and drive identity as well as to galvanize citizens. These stories allow individuals to submerge themselves into bigger, more lofty endeavours. A city which describes itself as the ‘city of churches’ fosters different behavioural patterns in citizens than a city that projects itself as a ‘city of second chances’. (Critics complain, however, that such cultural narratives are difficult to measure. We shall return to this contention later.)
  • The internal logic of the unfettered market reveals a limited story of ambition and no ethics or morality. It has no view of the ‘good life’, of social mixing, of mutual caring or nurturing the environment. There is an imperative to make the market system serve the bigger picture – through incentives, regulations … or whatever. This places responsibility on us.
  • Like a veil, the market system shrouds our consciousness while plumping up desire and consumption. The market logic has a tendency to fragment groups into units of consumption and enclaves and, in so doing, to break up social solidarities. But the latter are needed if intractable urban problems such as meeting responsibility for the public realm or natural surveillance are to be achieved.
A conceptual framework is offered to help us unscramble complexity. It focuses on assessing deeper faultlines and problems that will take generations to solve: traditional drivers such as IT and the ageing population; battlegrounds and the day-to-day contests over priorities; and paradoxes such as the simultaneous rise of a risk-averse culture with a pressure to be creative and to break the rules.
Creative city-making is a fragileaffair, requiring constant alert-ness within an ethical frameworkof values
Source: Collin Bogaars
Some of the main points made in The Art of City-Making are that the overall dynamic of the system that governs city-making is far less rational than it makes itself appear – it does not look at comprehensive flows, connections or inter-relationships, and down-stream impacts are not seen or costed; that city-making is no one's job – the urban professions and politicians may believe it is theirs, but they are only responsible for a part; that because of this frag-mentation and the competing rules of different professions and interests we cannot build the cities we love anymore – the current rules, especially concerning traffic engineering, forbid it. And, not least, that 6 billion people on the planet is too many unless lifestyles change dramatically.
The Art of City-Making proposes that we:
  • Redefine the scope of creativity, focusing much more on unleashing the mass of ordinary, day-to-day, dormant creativity that lies within most of us. The focus should fall equally on social and other forms of creativity. This would represent a shift in attention from assuming creativity only comprises the creative industries and media. Creativity is in danger of being swallowed up by fashion.
  • Recognize artistic thinking as helpful in finding imaginative solutions and engaging and moving people. All urban profes-sions should consider thinking like artists, planning like generals and acting like impresarios.
  • Rethink who our celebrities are and what an urban heroine or hero should be. This could be an invisible planner, a business person, a social worker or an artist.
  • See that there is a major opportunity for the return of the city state and for cities to become value-driven to a much greater extent than nation states can ever be. This entails renegotiating power relations with national governments.
At its best, good city-making leads to the highest achievement of human culture. A cursory look at the globe reveals the names of cities old and new. Their names resonate as we think simultaneously about their physical presence, their activities, their cultures, and their people and ideas: Cairo, Isfahan, Delhi, Rome, Constantinople, Canton/Gúangzhõu, Kyoto, New York, San Francisco, Shanghai, Vancouver, or, on a smaller scale, Berne, Florence, Varanasi, Shibam. Our best cities are the most elaborate and sophisticated artefacts humans have conceived, shaped and made. The worst are forgettable, damaging, destructive, even hellish. For too long we believed that city-making involved only the art of architecture and land-use planning. Over time, the arts of engineering, surveying, valuing, property development and project management began to form part of the pantheon. We now know that the art of city-making involves all the arts; the physical alone do not make a city or a place. For that to happen, the art of understanding human needs, wants and desires; the art of generating wealth and bending the dynamics of the market and economics to the city's needs; the art of circulation and city movement; the art of urban design; and the art of trading power for creative influence so the power of people is unleashed must all be deployed. We could go on. And let's not forget community endorsement, health, inspiration and celebration. Most importantly, good city-making requires the art of adding value and values simultaneously in everything undertaken. Together, the mindsets, skills and values embodied in these arts help make places out of simple spaces.
The city is an interconnected whole. It cannot be viewed as merely a series of elements, although each element is important in its own right. When we consider a constituent part we cannot ignore its relation to the rest. The building speaks to its neighbouring building and to the street, and the street in turn helps fashion its neighbourhood. Infused throughout are the people who populate the city. They mould the physical into shape and frame its use and how it feels.
The city comprises both hard and soft infrastructure. The hard is like the bone structure, the skeleton, while the soft is akin to the nervous system and its synapses. One cannot exist without the other.
The city is a multifaceted entity. It is an economic structure – an economy; it is a community of people – a society; it is a designed environment – an artefact; and it is a natural environment – an ecosystem. And it is all four of these – economy, society, artefact and ecosystem – governed by an agreed set of rules – a polity. Its inner engine or animating force, however, is its culture. Culture – the things we find important, beliefs and habits – gives the city its distinctiveness – its flavour, tone and patina. The art of city-making touches all these dimensions. City-making is about choices, and therefore about politics, and therefore about the play of power. And our cities reflect the forces of power that have shaped them.
The Art of City-Making is quite a long book, but there are different rhythms beating in its pages and I hope it is easy to read in bite-sized, self-contained chunks. For instance, Chapter 2 (‘The Sensory Landscape of Cities’) has one mood and attempts to be lyrical in parts, while the section on ‘The City as a Guzzling Beast’ (Chapter 3) is fact-driven, and the sections on the geography of misery and desire have a more exasperated tone. The second half of the book seeks to bring all these things together, to clarify and simplify, and to help the reader throw light on complex, bigger issues affecting cities. Thus, as we draw towards the end, Chapter 6 (‘The City as a Living Work of Art’) is like a toolbox of ideas with which to move forward. And ‘Creative Cities for the World’ and ‘Creativity and the City: Thinking Through the Steps’ invite the reader to make their own judgements about what places are really inventive and why.

City-making and responsibility

Whose responsibility is it to make our cities? While the forms they take are usually unintentional, cities are not mere accidents. They are the product of decisions made for individual, separate, even disparate purposes, whose inter-relationships and side-effects have not been fully considered.
City-making is in fact no one person's job. Politicians say it is theirs, but they can get too concerned with managing a party rather than a city. Elected officials can get addicted to shorter-term thinking. The imperative to get re-elected can stifle leadership, risks are not taken, and easy wins or instantly visible results – the building of a bypass, say, or putting up as many housing units as possible – are thrust to the fore. Perhaps a local partnership or a chief executive officer is responsible? No – probably not.
The urban professions would claim they are in charge, even though they are responsible only for aspects of the physical parts. Yet if there is no conscious overarching sense of city- or place-making, we go by default patterns and the core assumptions of each profession – their technical codes, standards and guidelines, such as those that set patterns for a turning circle or the width of pavements. But such codes, standards and guidelines do not, on their own, provide a cohesive template for city-making. The technical knowledge of highway engineers, surveyors, planners or architects, viewed in isolation, is probably fine, albeit requiring rethinking on occasion, but a technical manual does not create a bigger picture of what a city is, where it could be going and how it fits into a global pattern.
It is no one person's job at present to connect the agendas, ways of thinking, knowledge and skill bases. But if, at present, no one is responsible, then everyone is to blame for our many ugly, soulless, unworkable cities and our occasional places of delight. And there is a pass-the-parcel attitude to responsibility. One moment the highway engineers are the scapegoats, the next it's the planner or the developer. What is needed is more than being a mere networker or broker of professions and requires a deeply etched understanding of what essence each professional grouping brings or could bring to the art of city-making.
The spirit of city-making, with its necessary creativity and imagination, is more like improvised jazz than chamber music. There is experimentation, trial and error, and everyone can be a leader, given a particular area of expertise. As if by some mysterious process, orchestration occurs through seemingly unwritten rules. Good city-making requires myriad acts of persistence and courage that need to be aligned like a good piece of music. There is not just one conductor, which is why leadership in its fullest sense is so important – seemingly disparate parts have to be melded into a whole.

Art and science

The Art of City-Making privileges the word ‘art’ over ‘science’. It acknowledges, though, that we can still be scientific in the procedures of how we approach city issues. As in the natural sciences, we can define questions, gather information and resources, form hypotheses, analyse facts and data and on occasion perform experiments, and certainly interpret things and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypotheses. But given the array of things in a city to consider, different forms of insight are needed, and these change all the time, for example from the hard science of engineering to the soft science of environmental psychology. Adhering to methodologies is inappropriate. Science assumes a predictability that the human ecologies that are cities cannot provide.
The phrase ‘the art of’ in itself implies judgements of value. We are in the realm of the subjective. It implies there is a profound understanding of each city-making area, but also, in addition, the ability to grasp the essence of other subjects, to be interdisciplinary. The methods used to gain insight and knowledge are broad-ranging, from simple listening to more formalized comparative methods and understanding how intangible issues like image can help urban competitiveness. These arts are in fact skills acquired by experience and acute observation, requiring deep knowledge, the use of imagination and discipline.
Fine judgement is key to city-making. What works in one situation, even when the factors seem the same, may not work in another. For example, to launch the long-term image and self-perception campaign in Leicester, posters declaring ‘Leicester is boring’ worked positively because there was enough resilience in the city to both understand the...

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