A lot has been said about cities. There is bookshelf’s full of books. But sometimes someone says something that you don’t want to forget. I collected some of these lines and paragraphs. They speak for themselves. These are by Peter Hall, the worlds leading geographer for many years, who died in 2014. By Comedia, a British think tank that works with Charles Landry. And by Richard Rogers, one of the worlds leading architects and urbanists.
Peter Hall: Cities in Civilization
At the turning point between the twentieth century and the twenty-first, a new kind of economy is coming into being, and a new kind of society, and a new kind of city: some might say no city at all, the end of the city as we have known it, but they will doubtless prove wrong. The driver, as so many times before in this long history, is technology: this time, information technology. But it will not drive, indeed never has driven, in any simple or determinist way: new technology shapes new opportunities, to create new industries and transform old ones, to present new ways of organizing firms or entire societies, to transform the potential for living; but it does not compel these changes, and certainly in some societies and in some places the resulting opportunities may never be seized. There will always be leaders and laggards. Just as Manchester led the way at the end of the eighteenth century, Detroit at the end of the nineteenth, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area in the middle of the twentieth, so surely will new cities blaze a trail in the coming century. There will be choices; and societies can influence those choices by conscious decision.
The essence of the present change is this: as Manuel Castells has put it, we are moving from an industrial era to an informational era, from an era in which most people worked to make or handle goods, to one in which most of us will make and manipulate and transmit and exchange information. Advanced economies, like the United States and the United Kingdom, are already nearly at that point: in them, close on half the workforce are already engaged in informational industries and occupations. At the end of the day, producing goods still matters, of course: we still consume not merely food and shelter but also an increasing range of items that are chosen for their qualities of fashion or prestige. But even in producing and distributing those, information becomes of steadily greater importance.
Comedia: The future of cities
We must always bear in mind that cities are wealth-creating engines of human development and invention. While many cities have lost their industrial, manufacturing base, cities are now centres of the new financial services, of scientific research and development, of the new cultural industries associated with global broadcasting and publishing, the burgeoning music and fashion industries. In cities the key interplay’s between economic innovation, technological innovation and cultural innovation often go hand in hand. The ‘de-materialisation’ of the economy, through electronic markets and call centres, through the Internet and other on-line services, and through the invisible trade in copyright, patents, contracts and licences produce (rather than the production of the material goods themselves) is only one part of the modern economic story. Finding the right vocabulary to describe what is happening in cities is important. Many of the most astute writers on planning and urban geography have talked about how all the great steps forward in conceptual understandings of cities, regions and urban relationships have been based around developing a new vocabulary.
Static descriptions of space, for example – empty, crowded, attractive, blighted, residential, light industrial – need to be replaced by more active notions of city geographies and economies, with currents, flows, rhythms, exchanges, transactions and forms of connectedness. Most people experience cities in movement rather than from a fixed, stationary perspective: therefore access, flow and ease of mobility are as important as aesthetic design, or land-use planning and zoning. These changes in vocabulary, from the formalistic (and producer-oriented) to the reflexive (and consumer-oriented) also relate to organisational capacity and flair. The intelligent or creative organisation is more likely to succeed in the modern urban setting than the bureaucratic or ‘command and control’ organisation. Hence the notion of the ‘creative city’, which seeks to engage through an imaginative awareness of new environments and new conditions, anticipating change, rather than reluctantly responding to it.
City leadership and management is entering a phase which recognises the need for an integrated approach that brings together a range of public and private services from policing to health. This is about building coalitions and the power of ideas. Town planning, for example, can no longer be based on a set of rules and controls but now depends upon processes of debate and deliberation. As central government acknowledges its own limitations in the face of global economic change, the argument of The Richness of Cities is that the fortunes of cities can indeed be enhanced or worsened by the quality of city management.
Richard Rogers in his Megacities lecture in The Hague (October 15,2001)
My practice recently made a study of East Manchester, a city that had been one of the great industrial
power centres of the 19th century. In this part of the city the population has dropped from about 80,000 immediately after the Second World War to only 18,000.
Four out of five houses are boarded up, most urban entrepreneurs are leaving, and indeed anyone who can get out does so, hopping over the green belt areas and moving into the suburbs. The result is an inner city area rapidly transformed into a ghost town, deprived of facilities. Other cities such as Birmingham, Leeds and Newcastle face similar crises. Gradually there is a shift in perception and people are beginning to see the advantages of living in the heart of their cities, but local governments face a huge task if they are to successfully regenerate their city centres and draw people back in significant numbers. The ideal is a mix of live – work – leisure all within bicycling and walking distances, knitted together with large green public space.
A well-designed sustainable city will attract people back into its centre. I believe city living lies at the heart of our society, for cities are conceived as meeting places for people, friends or strangers. People make cities end cities make citizens. A sustainable city is compact, polycentric, ecologically aware end based on walking. There should be diverse activities: live, work, leisure. Its people are easily connected. It is well designed, economically strong and well governed. Above all, it promotes social inclusion. With better education and fiscal and legal commitment, all this can be ours. This is no utopian vision: cities that are beautiful, safe end equitable are within our grasp.