czwartek, 19 września 2013

Secret urban designers

Our cities are made of large chunks of built-up areas crisscrossed with networks of transport systems hidden down under the surface or superimposed on and over it. Every few or more blocks you get a park or other amenity where one can find peace and space for physical activity. It's widely recognised that zones (housing, services, production etc.) mixed with green areas are what constitutes the city, proper ratio of these zones and distances which separate them define it's quality. The network seems to be there only to keep it all together and let us freely move from one place to the other, the streets are sometimes even called "infrastructure" to emphasize their subordinate role in serving the functional zones.

source: game SimCity 2013

That is where opinions diverge depending on how we define our perspective on the role of a city. Do we see the city as a machine, creating final product (economic output) in the most efficient manner or are we looking at the city as it was a collective of people who's well being and happiness makes the city an interesting destination and source of freedom and innovation bringing real prosperity. Yes, I am biased towards the latter, and I will not try to sound like I wasn't.


Masterplanners, urban designers and architects all realise their responsibility in creating livable places in-between buildings and attractive scenery for urban living. They might have realised that not long ago, but they did and many of them do their best to negotiate solutions beneficial for both their clients and the wider public which (thanks to media and fast information propagation via internet) can turn an artist-titled-engineer into almost a celebrity persona (who couldn't name a few?) or make his name forever forgotten (amen). What about those who are rarely called designers but impact citizen life's even to a greater extent? Does it mean that a civil or traffic engineer is just a technician who, like a plumber or electrician, can make it work or not (1/0 situation)? And all those people that make public transport schedules and decide on parking rules, aren't they also entitled to be recognised as urban designers? I dare to say they are. And here is just a couple of reasons why:
  1. Civil engineers leave everlasting mark on our cities with bridges, viaducts, canals that "channel" our behaviour decisively more than even greatest architectural landmarks and, if speaking of landmarks, there are no other better recognised elements of cities than those great endeavours undertaken to bring closer the dreams of generations that buit them and secure future prosperity
  2. Traffic engineers make up rules by which we move around cities. They tell us where we can turn, where do we stop and what is the right place to cross the street, unless we want to get a ticket. Their rules affect our city experience to even higher degree when our cities get more dynamic with transport authorities trying to move more and more people and cars through same streets we have known for decades. It's hard not to agree that our journey is not less important than the destination.
  3. Transit scheduler decides on the number of vehicles servicing given transit line (bus, tube, tram or other) and, as a matter of fact, he is the one responsible for the wait times and making transit supply meet demand. If you spent a good portion of your way to work in a bus or underground, remember that it's the scheduler who works for your journey to be as seamless as possible.
This only a handful of professions who's role in designing urban landscape and citizen experience is underestimated. I could name more of them but for now, I would like to give my salutation to those three!

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