WHY CITIES DON'T WORK...
Updated: Apr 22
I'm Arthur Templeman-Lilley and the following are my thoughts and observations.
Throughout history, cities have been melting pots of cultures, trade, industry, and creativity. They are the centers of urban lifestyles that have become synonymous with success. It is in cities that many people find opportunities to learn, work, or participate in activities. With more and more people migrating to cities, cracks in this system are becoming visible.
A key issue with modern cities is outdated infrastructure. Many of the world's most densely populated cities were built before we knew
what the future would hold and how technology would advance. We have roads and landscapes that are not fit for purpose, where traffic builds up and emits harmful gases within residential areas.
In many cases, the construction methods used in roads, homes and other structures are unsustainable, requiring costly upgrades to make them complaint. City councils rarely focus on infrastructure as a problem. This is despite it being the basis for issues such as pollution, litter, waste management and fly tipping, all of which can exaggerate cases of anti-social behavior and crime.
Furthermore, cities are traditionally segregated into rich and poor – a consequence of how these social hubs were established.
There is a disparity between different parts of cities, impacting health, education, the environment, and employment prospects. Generational poverty means children growing up in cities do not have equitable access to opportunities, and their potential is untapped. Motivation is lacking. Drug and alcohol consumption is prevalent. Crime and anti-social behavior are the norm. The lack of safe space, especially within low-income areas, creates an air of tension amongst communities. These are indeed effects of the financial peril that many citizens find themselves in. However, it can also be seen as a cause for why this happens repeatedly, and why government input is essential to ensuring everyone can reach their goals.
Local councils hold power within cities. They have the budget and the staff. What they do not have: solutions to most of the problems cities are currently facing. Poor planning, and funding allocations that favor the middle/high income areas are all too common within cities. There is little balance when developing a project or a fresh initiative. It is as if two priorities conflict. People or the planet? City councils repeatedly fail to acknowledge that sustainability requires both to benefit. To keep a secure voting base and appear proactive, projects are rushed through crucial stages where impacts are not well considered. Decision-makers’ priorities are too often misaligned, with the emphasis put on schemes that gain media attention and provide short-term revenue, instead of those that will lead to sustained prosperity for every corner of the city.
It's true that, right now, cities don’t work, however, this realization provides us with the opportunity to change. By improving civic participation models within cities, it will make the public feel more comfortable sharing their honest opinions and ideas. This will empower people to feel like they have a voice and make a difference. This has ripple effects within the economy as when citizens know they are valued, and their voice is acknowledged, they strive to do more within a workplace setting and their community. This includes upskilling and contributing more effectively. By designing innovative spaces for collaboration and idea generation, we will create a culture of sharing that extends from youth to old age.
We have established that governance within cities needs to be adapted to meet modern standards. A simple way to start this process would be by carrying out detailed impact assessments prior to a project. This would include analyzing potential drawbacks and benefits. Involving professionals and citizens (including young people) from broad and varied backgrounds and disciplines will allow for fair representation within governance spaces. This should enable the most favorable outcome for all parties involved.
It is impossible to escape the fact that our infrastructure is outdated, particularly within cities that developed during the industrial revolution.
Sustainability requires setting the ground for long-term infrastructure redevelopment, where advances and developments in technology are considered. This is not easy and will require effective governance. However, beginning to have these conversations will provide us with a head start when the systems we have in place no longer fit our day-to-day needs.
There is a disconnect between those that write the cheques and sign the documents, and those that are directly impacted by the decisions made. Civic participation structures are biased, if they exist at all, leading to a lack of trust, awareness, and inspiration
When those in power fail to listen to the people, they become closed-minded, unable to act inventively. To restore cities to the ideal they were intended, decision-makers need to change their approaches, implementing systems that include residents’ experiences, well thought out proposals, long-term thinking, and balanced priorities.
It is working and below are some images of where: