Saturday, June 26, 2010

Diverse planners key to making a city liveable

Singapore is among the world's most liveable cities, say women delegates due to attend World Cities Summit here

LIVEABLE cities are best designed by diverse planners, say high-ranking women due to attend the World Cities Summit in Singapore next week.

A wide range of perspectives is unmistakably important in planning for practical lifestyles and a safe and comfortable living environment, says Fumiko Hayashi, the mayor of Yokohama, Japan.

'It is said that half of the world's population currently dwell in cities and that percentage is certain to continue to grow in the future,' she told BT. 'If that happens, there will be more and more opportunities for people with a variety of values to live in the same city.'

Today's culturally diverse cities require culturally diverse planners who can bring different lifestyle and value perspectives, says Vishakha Desai, president of the Asia Society.

And Louise Cox, president of the International Union of Architects, likewise believes that diversity among planners is essential: 'Otherwise, a city becomes boring, unloved and unused, so unfortunate things happen that do not need to happen to people and places.'

Diversity is where having women on a planning committee comes in handy. Saskia Sassen, a professor of sociology at Columbia University's Department of Sociology & Committee on Global Thought, says that women's concerns may be different from men's. 'Many women will mention security as the key issue, and some sense of privacy. So we have women-only carriages in crowded commuter trains in India and Japan, for example,' she points out.

Ms Cox agrees that security is a major concern for women: 'As a woman I view safety in a city and on its public transport as an enormous consideration.'

Some big cities, for example, have office areas that are virtually deserted after work - which can make a lone person walking down these streets at midnight vulnerable, she says. Lonely parks are another worry.

'These situations should and can be avoided,' says Ms Cox. 'It is more economical for a building or place to be used all the time instead of only eight hours a day.'

The women identify Singapore, New York, Paris and Sydney as some of the most 'liveable' cities.

And what makes these places stand out is how their quality urban environments - with excellent architecture and urban design - bring tangible economic and financial benefits, foster creativity, attract brains and businesses and engender a sense of rootedness among citizens.

Liveable and sustainable cities are those which can successfully balance economic growth, cultural diversity and social dynamism with a high quality of life, says Cheong Koon Hean, chief executive of Singapore's Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). 'A great, liveable city must also provide a diversity of experiences for its people - diversity in housing options, diversity of working environments, and diversity in leisure offerings,' she adds.

Amanda Burden, chair of New York City's planning commission and director of the department of city planning, says that when she first became commissioner, her team looked at areas where the city can grow and foster economic opportunity - not just established business districts such as Midtown or Lower Manhattan, but wherever there is potential, such as in Jamaica (in Queens) and Downtown Brooklyn. 'We transformed long neglected areas into thriving centres of economic activity,' she says. 'Through long-range comprehensive plans we ensure that development can flourish in districts located near transport hubs, providing new jobs and tax revenue for the city and its residents.

'The heart of this approach is to recognise the potential of new ways of doing business, take innovative approaches to unlock the potential of new places and make strategic investments today for the long-term health and stability of the city.'

But when all is said and done, the 'energy' of the people living in a city is crucial to its vitality and sustainable development, says Ms Hayashi. 'Citizens loyal to the cities they live in are active in all aspects of business and life, and I believe that this loyalty is what gives rise to safe, comfortable cities. We must gather the collective wisdom of these citizens to overcome global issues such as global warming, energy and poverty, and create sustainable cities together,' she says.

Adds Mrs Cheong: 'I believe that a successful city is not about being the biggest or having the tallest buildings, but it should focus on being a place where people want to be and can call it a home.'

Source: Business Times, 26 Jun 2010

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