Springing off from my last post (here) in which I identified an “ideal” density of 3800ppl/km2, I decided to directly chart population density against happiness for a selection of cities that belong to the following three categories: most livable, most global and most emerging.
A clear converging tendency can be observed, almost as a funnel, reaching to that “ideal density” zone. From this tendency and the selection of cities we can extract a series of observations that relate to some of the issues that we have seen in class:
Maturity: Something that distinguishes the most livable cities from the most emerging ones is their maturity. This means, that most of the cities that stand on the furthest happiest side have gone through a process of design iteration in which infrastructures, systems, organizations, and regulations have been tested over and over again adapting to changing conditions and achieving optimal efficiency.
Decentralization: Melbourne, Auckland, Munich, Zurich, Vancouver, Barcelona… these are some of the top ranked most livable cities, yet, they are not capitals or huge metropolis. When directing this observation towards the developing world, it might imply that there is great potential in second-tier cities absorbing some of the urban growth that tends to be centralized in megacities. An example of a second-tier city that has demonstrated its potential is the city of Medellin, Colombia.
Diversity: When talking about green field cities we often found that one entity or reason behind their development. This presents a high risk that might not be apparent when the economy is at a euphoric growth rate, yet we have a long list of cities that have been abandoned when their main “feeder” has disappeared or when the economic conditions have declined. To anticipate for that it is important to promote diversity at every single level.
Human-centered design: Copenhagen or Melbourne vs Chongqing or Shanghai –while the most livable cities are vocally striving for quality of life and creating a fertile environment for economic growth, the emerging ones are often aggressively just growing. Whether it’s a public or a private initiative or development, is it possible to include people as one of the main factors to take into account? There has been a lot of talk about happy employees working better – is it possible to think about happy citizens also creating better economic and livable environments? How do we quantify it?
Government in the background: Most of the livable cities are not (or not anymore) top-down cities; instead the government has established the infrastructure for economic growth and for private initiatives to take place.
In class it has been argued that the biggest opportunities lie in green field cities. Yet I would argue that it depends on which kind of opportunities – if it’s about social impact, 55% of the population already live in cities (1); if it’s about sustainability impact, 70% of the world’s greenhouse emissions (GHG) come from the existing built environment (2); if it’s about financial opportunities, one would have to consider the risks associated with the complexity of the creation of vibrant new cities… Intervening in existing socioeconomic and political contexts might have big barriers of entry, but the benefits are arguably more significant.
(2) Masdar and Tianjin: Eco-Cities case by John D. Macomber