Sustainable cities

Proper designs are often victim of the reality of municipal infrastructure.

Recent dialogue in Israel regarding "green cities" or "healthy cities", has usually referred to improvements in conventional environmental measures of "sustainability". These include clean air, encouraging use of public transportation, advancing judicious use of resources (water, energy), recycling, renewable energy, and more.

But can one measure the ability of the surrounding environment to facilitate and encourage social interaction and improve the well being of the individual and the community in the city itself?

London, a city with a population over 7 million and a population density of about 4,500 people per square kilometer, made a deliberate decision to improve the quality of life for its inhabitats and visitors. Its Mayor named a multi-disciplinary group, Design for London, to define a vision for the city in order to transform it to be a better place for living and working.

Design for London director Peter Bishop will speak at this year's annual conference on Landscape Architecture in Bat Yam. Provision of "inspiring, well managed public spaces that everyone can use, from pavements to parks" is part of his vision for the city, as defined in the Design for London internet site

In Israel, too, it is also accepted that the quality of open and public urban spaces, including transportation routes, is a central factor affecting the quality of life in the city. In light of a trend to increase population density in cities, which in some cases is already much higher than in London (such as in Bat Yam and Givatayim, and in Bnei Brak where the density is over 15,000 people per square kilometer), planning authorities are working toward improving the development of public spaces, through interdiciplinary guidelines and recommendations to improve the street and area.

Though the design intentions are commendable, printed manuals regarding the extent of open spaces and their quality are not always understood, agreed with, or applicable in existing cities. Most of the time, constraints due to infrastructure, building rights and boundaries, and traffic movement, have priority over recommendations for physical improvement and upgrading of the public space, and the city is left with narrow sidewalks strewn with obstacles, trees that do not contribute to improvement of the city climate or reach full development, and other issues - and the quality of design and life in the city is sorely compromised.

In addition, the numerous rules and regulations regarding improvement of urban space has the risk of adding to the already complex bureaucratic system, and even if a project is managed in a sustainable manner with green building codes, it's not sufficient to improve the quality of life in the city.

Examination of the open public space as a whole, in particular streets and sidewalks, using criteria that can ensure quality is required, together with uncoventional thinking to bring about changes to accepted directions of development and standard solutions.

The Israel Association of Landscape Architects hopes that a conferece that is scheduled to take place on December 11th in Bat-Yam, will contribute to the understanding of what comprises "well being " in the city, and that labels such as "green city" and "sustainable city" will be more than a communications gimmick, and mean commitment to an enriching framework that benefits and improves the quality of life in the city as well as its physical and environmental aspects.

The conference will end with a guest lecture by Jeppe Aagaard Andersen, landscape architect and artist from Denmark, whose numerous works are highly regarded world wide.

The writers are on the steering committee of the Israel Association of Landscape Architects conference.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on December 8, 2008

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2008

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