Redesigned surroundings of the main railway station more pedestrian/biker friendly, credits Niilo Tenkanen/ Urban Finland
September 3, 2018
#citizenengagement    #urbanplanning   #governance

Urban Revival: How Public Acceptance of Urban Planning Has Been Shifting Over The Past Decades

A talk with Juhana Rantavuori

Are smart cities “smart”? Maybe our cities are rather “social” than “smart”. What do you think?

Juhana Rantavuori is a member of Urban Helsinki Collective, and one of the administrators of Lisää kaupunkia Helsinkiin Facebook group that gathers more than seventeen thousand followers who are invested in the future of their city. Lisää kaupunkia can be regarded as a movement, since it has given a start to numerous similarly named splinter groups, i.e. for Espoo, Tampere, Vantaa and many other Finnish cities and administrative divisions. Same goes for Twitter where you can find dozens of different accounts dedicated to urban issues, neighborhoods and cities (globally).

City developers and urban designers turn to Social Media as a source to receive some insights and sense general sentiments. Nevertheless, this approach for them will cost accuracy and details. They will miss hard facts and statistics to base their urban planning decision-making upon. Juhana, having been an insider for many years and an active advocate for urban initiatives and change, shared with CHAOS architects that during the past decade, there was a major shift in people’s mindset and city’s strategy. “There is a definite line between old and new way of planning”, says Juhana. He listed three current trends that did not exist before:

Trend 1: Prioritising pedestrians
Cities are now  trying to secure pedestrian priority areas.. “Two-three decades ago, when there was a boom of private cars, it was unimaginable that such a shift would happen and there would be a rise of public transportation and lines expansion. Now, a car-centered planning gets resistance.” There are new emerging concepts like car and bike sharing, or boulevardization that are happening in Helsinki. Similar practices can be seen worldwide.
Some examples: Embarcadero Freeway San Francisco (USA),  Cheonggyecheon Seoul (South Korea)

Trend 2: Densification
Densification is set to become a bigger and bigger trend globally. Increasing density of people residing in an urban area means “less suburban outlooks” and an increasing demand for services. This, along with an increasingly competitive market, puts pressure on city developers to search for new and creative planning solutions. One of the new approaches is to handle a project as a placemaking project: the balance between public realm and street level activation.

Trend 3: Infrastructure
Infrastructure, in this sense, is derivative of densification. “Life happens between the buildings”, says Juhana, “construction companies do not market just a place or building anymore, they market the whole area.” Building an infrastructure: services, facilities, recreational and business hubs means cooperation of all stakeholders to build it. Mixed use development of areas contributes to creating lively and vibrant street environments.

When it comes to citizen engagement, Juhana’s main concern is that as of today citizens are not invited to be involved in the urban planning process early enough.

“People should be approached at the initial stage. Generate a discussion, set up a time frame for crowdsourcing, plan multiple alternatives based on results and give people the right to choose one. There will never be objectively the best option in urban planning, but at the end of the day, you will be able to deliver an option that will satisfy the needs and priorities of an end user.

Juhana highlights, that this might be a reason why current city planning is missing customisation to fully meet specific demands of different areas. In city planning practices, architects, urban planners and other professionals should be using soft data on demographics and citizen engagement to gain insight into  people’s mental maps, their sentiments, and emotions tied to different places. It also helps to grasp spatial patterns of citizens, or to learn about urban segregation and categories of people to whom urban designs can be tailored.

To achieve this, the last missing ingredient is the right smart city tool that is able to provide such information and metrics for city developers. As it shows our cities are already social and the next logical step is to become fully smart.

To learn more about Juhana Rantavuori:
On the 7th of September, between 13:30-15:30, Juhana will hold a talk “Oppiminen ja yhteiskunnalliset liikkeet kaupungeissa” during Finnish Housing Fair - City Living in Jätkäsaari

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