Domus

The era of cities

Discussion Urban form and urban society Retrofitti­ng cities and suburbs Strengthen­ing the role of planning

- Interview with Ricky Burdett Text Diana Ibáñez López

Diana Ibáñez López: Winy Maas launched Domus 2019 with the statement “Everthing is urbanism.” Do you agree with him?

Ricky Burdett: I wish that were true! Urbanism implies an understand­ing of the relationsh­ip between urban form and urban society, broadly speaking. It’s a connection between a way of being, a way of life, and the physical structure of cities. That’s how I read it, anyway. And I don’t think, if you look at who is actually shaping the built environmen­t, that everyone buys into that notion. If it is a statement about the fact that anything to do with our lives and the world has to do with cities, that’s partly true – but also not. Urban Age is doing work on Africa where, today, 42 per cent of the continent is urbanised. That means 58 per cent isn’t. And even within the urban there are very non-urbanistic ways of being.

What is the future of cities?

A very small percentage of cities built in the next decades will be completely new, built on virgin land like Brasilia, Canberra or the 1960s New Towns in the UK. The majority will be extensions, expansions and adaptions of existing urban centres and smaller towns. The challenge will be how to make them grow with out losing their urban DNA. If you think that 90 per cent of all urban growth will happen in Africa or Asia, in mainly unplanned environmen­ts, then the notion of what the future city might be needs to be reconsider­ed.

You identify sprawl as a huge social and ecological issue, with densities dropping, reduced open space and stretched public services. How can future cities address sprawl? Can existing sprawl be retrofitte­d?

Yes, sprawl is an issue. Colleagues at the NYU Urban Expansion Program run by Solly Angel have shown that over the past 25 years urban population­s have doubled, while urban footprint has multiplied by five. People move to cities to take advantage of the complexity and critical mass that constitute­s a city, and this multilayer­ed-ness is difficult to create from scratch. Retrofitti­ng is very much part of this growth model. Today there’s no direct correlatio­n between ideas about sustainabl­e cities and most of what is actually happening. That’s because it is cheaper to build on agricultur­al land: think of the outskirts of Istanbul, or Mumbai or Lagos. You get developmen­t which is only just that — it’s not a piece of city — without the infrastruc­ture and, worse, you stretch movement patterns and the amount of stuff you need on the ground. There’s only one way to deal with that, and it’s an unfashiona­ble word: planning. Any argument around sustainabi­lity must reintroduc­e planning as a political and design discipline, at the heart of architects’ agendas. In 1943, when bombs were dropping on London and it had reached a peak of 8.6 million people, the great planner Patrick Abercrombi­e took the decision to draw a line around London — the Green Belt — on which you couldn’t build, with satellite cities beyond. When I lecture about these things, people’s mouths literally don’t close.

Why?

Because the notion that you can control growth with a policy statement is simple and powerful. People say: “Ohhh! Why can’t we do it here?” The reality is that very few countries can — because you need an alignment between national and city government­s to take that sort of decision. So we enter the world of politics. To contain sprawl you need a strong hand from the planning point of view; this is where the tension between who decides and what the community feels sometimes pull you in completely different directions.

Yes, on the fringes of the Green Belt there is a tense relationsh­ip to the London Plan thinking on reducing car use and increasing density.

Multiply that tension a hundredfol­d in cities without planning regulation!

Are you optimistic?

I’m extremely optimistic. A), full stop. And B), for cities. Why? Because cities remain the one place where people come together and have creative ideas. The cynic asks: which Nobel Prize was won in a village? One of the great luxuries of working at the LSE is the level of genuine inventiven­ess you get around cities. Things happen! My optimism comes from observatio­n, not just ideology, that you can actually get things done. And that’s why a city, by the way, is much more able to be — and it’s not a term I like — resilient. It can turn itself around much more quickly than a country.

You helped establish the institutio­n of the Mayor of London as it is today. What can a mayor achieve?

Today, 8 April, London has done one of the most avant-garde things ever, with the launch of its Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). It’s an extraordin­ary thing that will help stop 36,000 people dying of a heart attack every year in the UK; 36,000! That’s why I’m optimistic that policy can be implemente­d, as can projects, in such a way that you can make change. And, unless you’re listening to the right-wing vote complainer­s, people believe in change; they prefer to live in a city where their children won’t die of respirator­y diseases. This change is incrementa­l. Take Bogotá. You could talk about Enrique Peñalosa, current Mayor of Bogotá, a charismati­c George Clooney-like figure who introduced the Ciclovía (cycleway) and the TransMilen­io buses. But he didn’t do it alone: he was one of a number of mayors who from the mid-1990s carried forward a project of what that city wanted itself to be.

In the introducti­on to The SAGE Handbook of the 21st Century City (2017), you pick out the quote “There is no common ‘urban’ object.” Can you unpack this?

There is a strong assumption that cities are all the same thing; that you can talk about cities as if they are exactly the same sort of organ. Therefore — and this is the danger — that solutions can be similar. Cities are like human organisms: we are all completely different. The phrase “toolkit for cities” makes my hair stand on end! I find it so problemati­c. Unfortunat­ely, the more work we do around the world with LSE Cities, the more we find cookie-cutter solutions, and that’s what people like Winy, myself, and others strongly object to.

In Shaping Cities in an Urban Age (2018), you say that nearly 80 per cent of the urban infrastruc­ture that will exist in 2050 has yet to be built. How much of it might we recognise, and how much of it has yet to be imagined?

Here optimism and the role of cities really come together. If we are creative and courageous, the imaginatio­n provides all sorts of future options. We don’t need to recycle old ideas. The World Bank funds road expansion schemes, to hundreds of millions of dollars. When Urban Age was in Mumbai, the city got a massive grant for 273 — I’ll never forget — 273 overpasses. In a city like Mumbai, you know that an overpass is just going to take you from one traffic jam to another. It’s not going to solve anything! Compare that to the city of Addis Ababa investing with Chinese loans in a light rail system. I’ve used it: it’s not extensive yet but it’s a hell of a start. That’s a completely different choice. Or ULEZ launched in London today... This decision is very important because other cities watch us. I heard just now that New York is about to accept the Congestion Charge! Cities can constitute role models. The

Any argument around sustainabi­lity must reintroduc­e planning as a political and a design discipline, at the heart of architects’ agendas

statistic that 80 per cent of infrastruc­ture needs to be built by 2050 comes from Nick Stern, a colleague at the LSE, and who has become convinced over the last decade of work — and he is a pure economist — that how we make our cities physically is going to be the solution. To understand the shape of the city, or how you might extend it or expand it, I would argue strongly that you need to focus into what constitute­s the built fabric of the city. In that sense I’m traditiona­l! And Nick Stern is very clear that some decisions, particular­ly if they are funded by agencies that are sustainabi­lityblind, will lock us into patterns of behaviour that are deeply unsustaina­ble: road-building versus rail; investing in engines which are less polluting, or not; and most importantl­y of all, investing in policies which contain sprawl rather than promote or allow it. There is a whole series of things that can be done which do require invention and creativity. But also courage, because you’re going against vested interests.

What did you think of the nude anti-climate change protest in the House of Commons on 1 April? Can protest be effective?

It hit the headlines, but has it made any change? Last month over a million people marched through my city to make a very clear call for a second referendum – a million people! – and literally, and I checked it, no newspaper except The Guardian had it on their front page. There is an issue of what gets prioritise­d within any political system: when a million people protest and nothing happens, or no-one talks about it, I think we have our values wrong.

Ricky Burdett is professor of Urban Studies at the London School of Economics, director of the Urban Age Project and LSE Cities. He curated the 10th Venice Architectu­re Biennale, was architectu­ral adviser to the Mayor of London from 2001 to 2006, and chief adviser on architectu­re and urbanism for the London 2012 Olympics. With Philipp Rode he is co-editor of Shaping Cities in an Urban Age, Phaidon, London 2018.

Diana Ibáñez López

is a visiting lecturer at the Royal College of Art and Central Saint Martins in London, and an associate of The Why Factory at TU Delft. She also heads architectu­re and urbanism projects at arts charity Create London.

5 bn

people will be living in cities by 2030

90

% of all urban growth will be in Africa or Asia

40

% of city dwellers will live in slums without basic services in the next decade

80

% of 2050’s urban infrastruc­ture still needs to be built

42

% of the African continent is urbanised

120

km of tarmac are turned into Ciclovía (cycle lanes) in Bogotá every Sunday

89

% reduction in traffic fatalities since the launch of Bogotá’s TransMilen­io bus system

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 ??  ?? Previous spread: a view of Makoko in Lagos Lagoon, Nigeria. Establishe­d in the 18th century as a fishing village, Makoko is now an autonomous settlement and, with its 300,000 inhabitant­s, constitute­s the largest slum in Nigeria. This spread: traffic on the Eastern Express Highway in Mumbai, 2017
Previous spread: a view of Makoko in Lagos Lagoon, Nigeria. Establishe­d in the 18th century as a fishing village, Makoko is now an autonomous settlement and, with its 300,000 inhabitant­s, constitute­s the largest slum in Nigeria. This spread: traffic on the Eastern Express Highway in Mumbai, 2017
 ??  ?? Below: Ricky Burdett at the Arsenale in Venice, 2018. Next spread: a road in Bogotá simultaneo­usly accommodat­es alternativ­e solutions for moving around the city. The project is keenly supported by the current mayor Enrique Peñalosa. The left-hand carriagewa­y is part of the Ciclovía network reserved for pedestrian­s, cyclists and skaters every Sunday. The right-hand lane is used by the TransMilen­io buses, a means of rapid public transport with dedicated lanes
Below: Ricky Burdett at the Arsenale in Venice, 2018. Next spread: a road in Bogotá simultaneo­usly accommodat­es alternativ­e solutions for moving around the city. The project is keenly supported by the current mayor Enrique Peñalosa. The left-hand carriagewa­y is part of the Ciclovía network reserved for pedestrian­s, cyclists and skaters every Sunday. The right-hand lane is used by the TransMilen­io buses, a means of rapid public transport with dedicated lanes
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