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21 — 25 April 2021 | Leuven. Belgium

A big question to start your week: What makes cities life-sized?

A big question to start your week: What makes cities life-sized?

Architecture & Urbanism Social Innovation

At and& festival, we are building an interdisciplinary space where curious minds merge, in the quest for answers to the big problems of our time. Because all good answers start with good questions, we’ve come up with 21 questions for the 21st century

This week’s question: ‘What makes cities life-sized?’ With confirmed speakers: Mikael Colville-Andersen, Marianne Lefever, Rachel Armstrong and Carolyn Steel.

Smog City

By 2050 the world’s population is expected to reach 9.8 billion. That’s a lot of people. Nearly 70 percent of this booming population—some 6.7 billion people— is projected to live in urban areas. In the last years alone, China used more concrete than the US has in the entire 20th century. And while China now has 100 cities with more than 1 million inhabitants, some developing megalopolises in Africa are hitting 80 million people. We’re moving towards a future where megacities are no longer a fantasy. So how can we facilitate that amount of people whilst maintaining a healthy, sustainable, inclusive urban environment?

For a long time, cities grew accidentally. They sprung up around strategic places such as harbours, mines or nearby transport routes. Whilst the population grew, the infrastructure was built ad-hoc, according to the needs of the people, and often even by the people. (South African Townships, Brazilian Favelas) This means that in most places in the world cities are monoliths; big, built with singular purposes in mind, and difficult to change. Complex webs of tubes, roads, sewer systems, and electricity lines run wild in an ever-growing cityscape. 

Despite all the problems cities face, they remain the most safe, healthy and productive form of human habitation. Perfection is unattainable, but what is inherently imperfect is also capable of infinite improvement. Today, we have the power to turn cities into a space that is grounded in the unique cultural values of its people while embracing modern technology. Cities shouldn’t be accidents anymore, but rather the product of thoughtful design. Do it right, and magic happens. 

Mikael Colville-Andersen is the CEO of Copenhagenize Design Company and an urban designer and mobility expert. He also LOVES riding a bike! He coaches cities and governments around the world to become more bicycle-friendly. He strongly advocates for design as a change-maker in building life-sized cities. “Design begins with a need," Colville-Andersen explains. "People first, then construction and then engineering. This is the legacy we can all work towards." His vision is paying off, because in 4 years Copenhagen may become the world’s first carbon-neutral city.

This is something Marianne Lefever can agree on. Lefever is an architect with over 10 years of experience in climate mitigation and sustainable urban planning. She mainly focuses on the ‘health’ part of future cities. She is convinced that if we want to improve our health & wellbeing, we need to take a look at the environments we operate in. As a managing partner at Healthy City Global, she is currently transforming cities around the globe into healthy environments and communities. The company uses data analytics to understand how a certain location is impacting our well-being and how we can improve it.

Green Architecture

“When you think that every day for a city the size of London, enough food has to be produced, transported, bought and sold, cooked, eaten, disposed of and that something similar has to happen every day for every city on earth, it's remarkable that cities get fed at all.” 

 

- Carolyn Steel
 

Rachel Armstrong understands all too well how outdated current architecture can be. She is a Professor of Experimental Architecture that aims to create buildings that grow, metabolise and defend us, as a living organism would. Her work examines how it may be possible to harness the properties of living systems and scale them up to generate environmental solutions in the built environment, using synthetic biology and smart chemistry. “All buildings today have something in common. They're made using Victorian technologies. This is not sustainable. I believe that the only way that it is possible for us to construct genuinely sustainable homes and cities is by connecting them to nature, not insulating them from it.”

Our last futurist is Carolyn Steel, a British architect, writer and lecturer. She focuses on another aspect of the urban jungle; the relationship between cities and food. We take it for granted that we can just walk into a shop or a restaurant and be able to order food, at any time of day. If you consider the logistics that are needed to enable this, it truly is an extraordinary feat. In her book The Hungry City, she examines the way in which modern food production has damaged the balance of human existence and she explains how the gargantuan effort needed to feed cities across the world on a daily basis has a massive and vastly under-appreciated social and physical impact on both human populations and the planet. 

Ever thought about what your ideal city would look like? Need some inspiration?

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