The collision of urbanisation with sustainability has created a dynamic scene for urban planning.
As millions of new urban residents crowd into cities around the world, urban planners face immense challenges in creating cities that work. They also face exciting opportunities to create places that people love, and that are healthy and prosperous. Several trends are evident as planners and developers address the market for better cities.
Older cities were built to be walkable, but most newer cities have needed a makeover. Newer plans elevate the status of the pedestrian to equal, and sometimes more than equal, to cars. Generous sidewalks, pedestrian and bicycle bridges, benches and seating, and lighting aimed at both aesthetics and safety are now necessities, not amenities. Rule changes that welcome sidewalk cafes and other businesses out of their buildings and onto the sidewalks contribute immensely to a place feeling walkable. Groups such as Walk Score rate locations for their walkability, and also provide guidance about the local scene, with information about restaurants, retail, rental properties, and so on.
A related component, streetscaping, adds both visual appeal and safety features, with street trees and other vegetation, curb bumpouts, bike racks, and improved signage helping to upgrade the user experience.
Also related is placemaking, which aims to create public spaces that are heavily used by people, such as parks and plazas. Successful placemaking schemes often include private development such as bars, cafes, bookstores, and shops. Some placemaking projects involve parklets, or pop-up parks, that re-claim urban space from parking, and occasionally streets, and turn it to other uses.
Restricting car access
Concurrently, cities are starting to restrict and even ban cars in their city centres. Madrid, Paris, Helsinki, and Hamburg have begun schemes to restrict private cars, while Oslo is poised to ban cars outright by 2019. As this action enhances walkability, it also lessens the need for urban parking lots and garages. Those parcels can then be re-made through infill development, which helps to expand the supply of buildable urban land without demolishing useable buildings.
Fewer cars in cities does not obviate the need for transportation, and transit-oriented development neatly fills the void in transportation while also encouraging development projects around the transit hub, such as retail space, restaurants, office space, and residential units.
Green space has been shown to provide substantial benefits to urban dwellers, and planners are responding with projects such as tree planting, and microparks. In addition, green infrastructure and “sponge cities” can play a huge role in making cities more beautiful, as well as adapting to climate change and its effects.
Green roofs can absorb rainfall, preventing storm sewers from flooding, while also providing urban residents with recreation areas and the mental and physical benefits of plants in close proximity. Similarly, permeable pavement, bioswales, and wetlands manage stormwater as a resource in a healthier and more appealing way than gray infrastructure.