Speakers at Friday's TEDCity2.0 conference focused on reinventing and redesigning our cities so they are safer and more inclusive in the rapidly urbanizing world. The all-day conference was held at the TimesCenter in New York City, and while the speakers came from a range of professions and hometowns, some themes on good design for cities emerged.
Author and city planner Jeff Speck spoke on the advantages of more walkable streets, arguing "the worst idea we have ever had is suburban sprawl." But of course, its tricky to adapt our megacities constructed around car transport to pedestrian and public traffic. New York City Department of Transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan described some of her larger efforts in the city, including the public plaza in Times Square and dedicated bike lanes, emphasizing that these walkability projects did not need to be complex. "We've done it with paint and temporary materials," she said.
The balance between public and private transit was also discussed. Enrique Peñalosa, board president of the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy, put that balance into a well-worded ratio, arguing that if every person is created equal under the law, then "a bus with 80 passengers has a right to 80 times more space than a car with one." While that likely isn't practical in already-built cities, it's a model worth thinking about.
But there is also the challenge of making streets safe for the myriad of personalities and cultures in the modern melting-pot city. Emily May has made it her mission to put an end to street harassment, and likened the movement to the cultural shift against workplace harassment. "You can sue the pants off a corporation, but you can't sue the pants off the sidewalk," she said. Her Hollaback app and website, which encourages people to report instances of street harassment, has received 5,000 stories from around the world.
And there are also special cases that city design needs to consider. How will the blind navigate a smart street, for instance? Christopher Downey, AIA, explained his contrasting experiences with street life before and after he went blind in 2008. "Everywhere I go, I get all kinds of advice," he said. Artist Jason Sweeney's Stereopublic app crowdsources quiet escapes within the urban bustle, for people who just need a moment to get away: "I prefer to disappear in a metropolis," he said.
Architect Lance Hosey (who has contributed to ARCHITECT) asked the basic question driving the day: "What's the purpose of design?" His answer, in short, was that design should be "less about what us as designers like, and more about what makes us all happier and healthier."