Reclaiming City Spaces

I can’t believe it is Labour Day Weekend, the summer flew by. When I was a young girl, a summer seemed to last forever, and the older I get, it now seems as fast as a hummingbird’s wings. My research agenda has looked at the characteristics of place, scale, limits and diversity, and now we are going to look at the question of time, how our perceptions of time shape place and how we move through spaces. And time may also be cultural, so stay tuned this year as we explore temporality.

With respect to place, I just read a fascinating analysis by Camagni (1998), on sustainable urban development. He defines it as “process of synergetic integration and co-evolution among the great subsystems making up a city (economic, social, physical and environmental), which guarantees the local population a non-decreasing level of wellbeing in the long term, without compromising the possibilities of development of surrounding areas and contributing by this towards reducing the harmful effects of development on the biosphere”.

He explains that cities are by definition poles in the spatial division of labour, nodes of international exchange of non-material goods, with a high content of intelligence relative to material goods. But they are being jeopardized by processes of disordered and limitless growth, sprawl, and edge-city development (Campagni, 1994), and ghetto development. “These processes have rendered the conceptual distinction between city and countryside empirically ambiguous, leading us towards a non-city and non-countryside; process that have, above all, exacerbated the problem of mobility and energy consumption because they result in a settlement model wholly dependent on the private car”.

 How then can cities become more sustainable? An OCED survey (1995) and a Report on European Cities (Camagni 1997) reveal the following best practice policies, not rocket science to implement.

  1. revitalization of city centres (to the point of retrofitting centrality and urban effect where previously no centre existed
  2. policies for polynuclear reorganization and for the creation of ‘urban
  3. policies for urban containment
  4. attempt to implement integrated transport/land-use planning by locating huge mobility-generating activities at the major nodes of the public transportation networks
  5. increasing resistance to the opening of suburban hypermarkets.

 The redesign of our cities and suburbs is a fascinating challenge for the next decades and I encourage all young people to think about how to bring back nature, aesthetics, biodiversity and beauty back into these spaces in addition to making them more sustainable.

 [Camagni, R. (1998). Sustainable urban development: definition and reasons for a research programme. International Journal of Environment and Pollution, 10(1): 6-27]