Cities as our Backdrop

“Cities for People” was the title of a well-known book by Jan Gehl. The book puts people at the heart of decisions regarding cities, particularly around the idea of “liveable” cities. Factors affecting liveability include “hard factors”, such as the availability of affordable housing, public transportation, cycling, walking, low crime, access to education and healthcare, and “soft factors” such as the quality of experiences that people have within their spatial environment.

The importance of “softer factors” should not be underestimated. Writer and activist on urban issues, Jane Jacobs, regarded cities as much more than just a collection of buildings, roads, businesses, and houses, but the essential backdrop to our everyday experience. This backdrop is a crucial part of our social condition. It influences our experience, our networks, our everyday encounters, cultural connections, creativity and ultimately our well-being. Empirical findings suggest that issues around urban form and architectural configurations, such as distance between buildings, building heights, door, window and economic unit densities, amongst many other things, matter for what occurs in public spaces.

If we want vibrant cities, we must focus on people and make them welcoming for people and families. They need to be people-spaces and family-spaces if they are to succeed. By harnessing local strengths and by focusing just as much on soft factors as we do on hard factors, the well-being of all citizens can be maximised.

Recently, the city council appear to be upping the ante on implementing their ideas for Cork. Among recent initiatives are the infamous event centre, skyscraper plans at customs house, and a unique tourist landmark. I have concerns that these are distractions from what really matters, which is  liveability, and their vision for the city appears unclear. Perhaps, despite their best interests, the reality is that the city has very little power to implement any vision – so why bother having one?

For the full text see: RTE Eile How local government failed Cork, 10 Feb 2018

By Dr Frank Crowley, Cork University Business School

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