The hosting city of Cork provided both a wonderful stage and food for thought for this year’s topic, ‘Cities on the Rise,’ at the Academy of Urbanism Annual Congress - a dynamic city on the cusp of momentous change.
Like many other ‘Second Cities on the Rise,’ Cork combines a wide range of services and facilities with easy access to the fantastic natural amenities of its wider region. Whilst capital cities provide a higher quantity of services, employment, entertainment and culture than smaller cities, they sometimes struggle to provide high quality of life due to congestion, high crime rates, and unaffordability.
As capital cities increasingly become victims of their own success, the ‘Creative Class’ observed by Richard Florida, the key speaker at the event and top companies such as Apple, are banking on the advantages and quality of life offered by smaller cities, breathing new life into them, but at the same time potentially creating huge development pressures: both the engine for short term renewal and growth, and the cause of rising inequality. It is therefore vital that these second cities look to manage this change carefully.
Collaboration in planning and placemaking can go a long way in establishing values and long-term objectives for communities and cities, as well as contributing to the delivery of smaller inner-city regeneration projects. Collaborative planning techniques and tools enable communities to contribute to placemaking; co-designing and delivering with and for communities. As planners tap in to a wealth of local knowledge and creativity, people’s views are heard and honored; ultimately creating a place that people are at the heart of, ensuring continuity of local governance.
Connectivity is at the forefront of this second cities tide of change and the focus should be on mobility of people not cars (even if they are hybrid or driverless). Utopias on technological advances saving the day have been showing us visionary futures for more than a century, but congestion is an economic rather than a technology or infrastructure problem. For example, empty car seats occupy precious public space, which could be used for the public good to accommodate public transport, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, providing a higher flow rate of people than single-occupancy cars (autonomous or not).
As many attendees rightfully observed during the closing congress debate, land ownership continues to be a crucial issue when it comes to addressing urban inequality. As we see the wealthier use capital cities as piggy banks, we see smaller cities benefiting from their decline, and attracting talent and business opportunities. The proposals presented for Hafencity in Hamburg demonstrate that large scale development can in fact deliver diverse housing typologies and tenures (including affordable), as well as commercial and community facilities, alongside an attractive network of waterfront public spaces. For other cities where brownfield land in public ownership is not as readily available, it will certainly be a lot more challenging to deliver such a wide range of benefits in partnership with private landowners.
As population ages and grows exponentially, and the world becomes more urbanized and technologically advanced, most of the world's economic power is concentrating in cities, which become pivotal in delivering sustainable development for generations to come. Cities are increasingly connecting to each other and forging their own diplomatic networks; a phenomenon described as "diplomacity" by Parag Khanna. Connectivity within cities and between them (through highways, railways, airports, pipelines, electricity grids, Internet and more) is crucial for growth, and can enable social mobility and greater equality. Retaining land ownership within the public sector and for the public good is key to providing people-centric urban design solutions over time. Rivers and estuaries are the backbone and raison d'être of many cities, and their environmental protection is also paramount to their success. Growth poses many challenges for second cities, but equally it provides fantastic opportunities for renewal which should be seized in a way that puts people first, if they are to thrive in the long term.
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