Shaping America’s Role in the Post-COVID World
On March 4th, 2022, Future of Cities participated in the annual digitally mediated Horasis USA meeting. The meeting focused on the United States’ future and how it impacts the rest of the world. With 750 speakers and more than 150 sessions, it was an insightful event that resulted in numerous proposed ideas to positively shape the future of our world.
Tony Cho, CEO and founder of Future of Cities, was on a panel centered around the complexities of new urbanization—chaired by Timothy J. Nichol of Liverpool John Moores University—with Antonio Cantalapiedra of Woonivers, Mayor Eugene W. Grant of Seat Pleasant, Maxim Kiselev of Skoltech, and Avi Rabinovitch of Creative Links.
About Horasis: Horasis is a “global visions community committed to inspiring our future” and offers leaders and companies a platform to go global.
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As extreme weather events, like sea-level rise, wildfires, and other ecological disasters occur, climate change is becoming a more real and imminent threat by the day. In response, innovative concepts are spawning to mitigate effects and protect our society’s future. One such approach discussed in the sustainability and climate discourse has been regenerative placemaking. But what is this?
Regenerative placemaking offers a new, holistic approach that is actively being applied in cities on a global scale. It seeks to go beyond net-zero to create a net positive impact on the environment. The principles that support regenerative placemaking are many, including living systems thinking, biophilia, sustainable practices, and community engagement.
In this article, we are highlighting a few cities that are practicing these principles, and what can be learned from them.
1. Copenhagen, Denmark
Already known as the world’s greenest and most habitable city, Copenhagen has employed numerous regenerative placemaking tactics that contribute to its healthy living environment.
- Inclusive Public Spaces: Copenhagen has designed numerous urban development projects to create places that are healthy, sustainable, and foster inclusive social interactions. Sønder Boulevard Street in the Vesterbro neighborhood is one example. With a portion of the Boulevard developed into a recreational park, the green space helps reduce the urban heat island effect, the desired goal in Copenhagen. The park also encourages more walking and more outdoor activities which contribute to the overall health of the community.
- Energy Efficiency: The public’s support for wind power has grown substantially due to the encouragement of community-owned facilities and awareness campaigns. Based on Copenhagen’s Climate Plan, a hundred new wind turbines will be installed by 2025 to contribute to the intermittent energy already being provided from existing wind farms. Their energy efficiency extends to their built environment as well. For instance, a percentage of hotels in Copenhagen have an eco-certificate or other prestigious environmental credentials, through the help of environmental managers.
2. Medellin, Colombia
Medellin is a member of the “100 Resilient Cities” and part of the UN’s Green Cities initiative. In the midst of its natural forests, Medellin is evolving and has proven itself to be a model of social and urban transformation. The city owes its development to the collective co-creation amongst its citizens, public and private organizations. The presence of this transdisciplinary interaction has led to increased levels of community engagement. Emerging from this partnership is an image of a resilient Medellin, one with goals of safety, equity, and sustainability.
- Referred to as the ‘Corredores Verdes,’ Medellin’s Green Corridor initiative was designed to interconnect 30 green corridors within the city that has a host of widespread benefits. The corridors go beyond heat reduction, by improving biodiversity (serving as a home to new ecosystems), sequestering carbon dioxide emissions, and reducing air pollution.
- Sustainable Transportation: The city has the largest electric fleet in Colombia. Vehicles, like electric trams and cable cars, create sustainable connections all over the city, including between impoverished areas and the city centers. Medellin is aiming to be an eco-city and initiatives like these gear it closer to the goal. The city was also awarded the sustainable transport award by the UN.
3. Auckland, New Zealand
As one of the most liveable cities in the world, Auckland continues to find ways to create exceptional strategies that result in the city’s transformation. There is an emphasis placed on eco-design and energy efficiency. For example, the city provides readily available resources to assist the community to make smart choices and reduce waste–whether home or business. Unique to Auckland is its reconnection with its indigenous population and natural systems. In an effort to create diverse and inclusive community engagement, a Māori design leader, Phil Wohongi, was appointed in an aim to foster the integration of identity and culture in Auckland. The city’s outreach includes speaking and listening to various community members and taking action. In regards to natural systems, Auckland has taken up many projects that include the redevelopment of waterfronts and biophilic practices.
- Organic Link at Te Wananga, in Waitematā Harbor: A ferry basin area at Waitematā, suffers from polluted waters. The Auckland Council created a unique natural solution to this issue through the addition of ropes of mussels to the underside of the public outdoor space. Mussels are known to be capable of removing pollutants and are exceptional at filtering seawater. The project illustrates solutions that can be implemented from Māori practices.
- Te Auaunga Awa Restoration (Biophilia in Auckland): it is common to find varying levels of biophilia in Auckland in an effort to increase biodiversity and stormwater management, ranging from green roofs to natural parks. The Te Auaunga Awa (Oakley Creek) project was an upgrade for better flooding and stormwater management. It involved the naturalization of the previous concrete-lined waterway. The upgrades have led to a lush park with a meandering stream and an increase in social, healthy interaction at the Creek.
4. Montevideo, Uruguay
Montevideo is the cultural, political, and economic center of Uruguay. The city is committed to the welfare of its citizens by placing an emphasis on human rights and sustainability. Montevideo is actively implementing the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 agenda. The city has developed a number of strategic plans for development and tackling social, economic, and environmental vulnerability. In 2016, Montevideo was listed as a member of the 100 Resilient Cities Network. A Resilience Executive Unit was established then, to create and deliver a Resilience Strategy by 2018. The Strategy involved regenerative placemaking approaches like inclusivity, co-creation environmental commitments. Beyond this, Montevideo, and Uruguay as a whole, have taken up other projects to constantly improve agricultural and energy systems.
- Renewable Energy: Uruguay is one of the leading countries in renewable energy and is making exceptional headway to be carbon neutral by 2030. 98% of the country’s power is from renewable sources. The Country has also found ways to utilize the biomass produced from agricultural industries to generate electricity.
- Agricultural Systems: The Country has also found effective ways to conserve the natural forests, habitats, and biodiversity. There has also been an integration of smart technologies into the agricultural systems making it possible for “agro-intelligent” agriculture in Uruguay.
Ultimately, what we can learn from these identified cities are the huge role nature, technology, and the community plays. The effectiveness of natural solutions to environmental challenges is evident. We can look to nature as an energy resource, and utilize its cooling and filtration properties. There is also the benefit of equipping the built environment with smart tools for energy measurement and efficiency. All these tactics depend on community engagement. It is important for the community, not just to understand these principles, but also to be involved in them, so that implementation and necessary lifestyle changes will be welcomed.
There are many other cities that are implementing regenerative placemaking principles in an effort to create healthy and sustainable environments; It is only a matter of time before we start seeing the effect of these changes.
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With thanks to conversations with Ludo Campbell-Reid, Ralph Webster,
and Frith Walker
Twenty years ago, the City of Auckland was suffering from a depressed economy, declining public health, and a short-term, self-centric viewpoint called “Auckland disease.” Now a decade later with a ten-fold increase in private investment, public transport patronage doubling every year, and the strengthening of its social and natural systems, Auckland’s embrace of Regenerative Placemaking principles has resulted in this remarkable transformation and the recent recognition as the most liveable city in the world.
Employing regenerative thinking in the sense of re-activating and enlivening the city; using the city to support social and ecological capacity; and activating these strategies through fine-grained testing of ideas and active agency of stakeholders; Auckland’s efforts to revitalize the heart of the city have been extraordinary.
For example, take the transformation of Fort and Elliott Streets. On Fort Street, there has been a 54% increase in pedestrian volumes and a 47% increase in consumer spending, while on Elliott Street there has been a 10% pedestrian and 27% spending increase.
However, while these are tangible examples in simple terms, there are many additional reflections to map Regenerative Placemaking components over the past decade in Auckland. Six of note are:
- Living systems thinking
Understood as a philosophy that studies the interrelation and dependence of all stakeholders and environments in a given place, for Auckland this approach was leveraged to emphasize reconnecting to its natural systems – the bay, rivers, and mountains.
In practice, this was realized by:
- The rebuilding of a plaza – cantilevered over the water to improve its ability to withstand earthquakes – as a mussel habitat that helped clean the water and improve the eco-system
- The redevelopment of a vibrant waterfront not with a “anchor tenant” to drive commerce but an “anchor playground” to foster community and children’s health
- The integration of public transport connections within privately financed projects to encourage health transport, reducing the reliance and negative impact of cars
- The repurposing of a discussed offramp into the Nelson Street Cycleway known as Te Ara I Whiti (“Pink Path”). Inspired by the Highline in New York City, this Pink Path has an LED mood lighting system that constantly changes the Māori name
- Transdisciplinary knowledge exchange
Focused on consulting with everyone to gain significant ideas and better solutions, Ralph Webster, the Auckland Council’s former program development manager said that working on a Regenerative Placemaking development was not “just a team sport, but an intergenerational team sport.”
- Diversifying decision making and being inclusive of indigenous populations, the Auckland Council appointed a Māori Design Leader resulting in greater custodianship and integration of the Māori language and worldview in all activities
- A governance structure that functioned like a fractal or mycelian network of engagement and responsibility, meaning decisions flowed from the smallest communities to the highest levels of decision making and back down again
- Rigorous and inclusive community engagement
Community engagement done well means that they are agents in the eventual outcome and have a sense of custodianship and stewardship which is critical. This creates attachment and belonging leading to positive social, ecological, and economic outcomes.
Critically this engagement should not only be about extracting ideas and good will from participants it is ensuring they gain benefit from the experience also as Webster said, “In addition to working with all stakeholders in projects to increase the vitality and vibrancy of a place, one of the most critical parts is to create the potential to have fun, laugh and play through the process and embed it in the end result.”
In Auckland this came to life in practical terms by:
- Speaking to all stakeholders with the intent to learn something: from children to entrepreneurs, homeless to shop keepers. And remember, nature is a stakeholder too
- Connect into the Indigenous worldview
- Listen, do, learn, do, listen, do, learn, do – evaluate and reflect, and then repeat to measure the implication and drive success
- Biophilia and sustainability practices
Throughout Auckland, connection to nature is an integral part of how spaces are looked at, from working with threatened species to how to plan support biodiversity. This is evidenced through experimentation with green roofs on shipping container activation nodes, using them for insects and other small threatened species.
Auckland’s focus on nature enables them to imagine future potential, and this leads to human benefits such as reduced urban heat and biophilic benefits with a stronger connection to nature.
These practices are put into action by asking these simple questions:
- How can ecological value be added?
- How can we connected ecosystems around us to interact, learn and contribute?
- How can we realize and communicate the social and economic benefits of creating a nature- filled place?
- Regenerative placemaking interventions
Testing within the community was an integral part of the City of Auckland’s processes and their work with stakeholders. Practically, this collaboration has resulted in the Activate Auckland plan to support the 30-year strategic redevelopment plan of the City.
- Avoiding gentrification
Auckland has attracted its share of critique for increased housing prices, yet this was addressed by creating innovative models to support home ownership and community planning.
- Collaboration across agencies and community on urban innovative home ownership models Shared ownership (SO) is a policy alternative widens access to affordable housing to low and moderate-income households by allowing the potential owner to purchase a share in a property (between 20-80%), while a third party (e.g., a housing association) owns the remaining share, on which the shared owner pays rent.
- On the waterfront, rather than displacing existing businesses, fish markets were made central to the ongoing development. This allowed local workers to stay employed and protected these businesses.
While Regenerative Placemaking is an ever-evolving, living development approach, Auckland demonstrates through its transformation as one of the least to most-liveable cities that with incredible amounts of private investment, collaboration, preservation, and conservation that a socially, ecologically, and socially thriving city can be willed. All it takes is commitment and vision!
Introduction by Tony Cho, Future of Cities Founder
This past year has been one of deep global transformation as we continue to navigate through one of the most impactful events in modern human history. The global pandemic has revealed a tale of two worlds, the haves and have-nots. The social and racial inequality gap continues to dramatically widen, and people and governments around the world are reevaluating policies, searching for answers and figuring out what’s next. How do we build back better, more sustainably, more equitably and more inclusively so 100% of humanity can thrive — while remaining in balance with nature?
This inquiry is at the core of our mission at the Future of Cities, where we aspire to impact the lives of 1 billion people through innovations in the built environment. So, how do we do this and where do we begin? Over the past 3 years, we’ve studied and analyzed Systems-Thinking theories ranging from Buckminster Fuller to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and recognized a need to co-design a new systems-oriented framework for real estate development. This framework we aim to open-source and share widely, putting forward new standards that will be embodied in demonstration projects that can serve as beacons for those interested in new, regenerative pathways for urban development and vitality.
Building on local learnings from creative placemaking derived over the past two decades developing Miami’s Wynwood Art’s District and Magic City Innovation District in Little Haiti, combined with Regenerative Development practices most notably proposed by Bill Reed and Pamela Mang’s team at Regenesis, we’ve set out to co-create and popularize a new framework, entitled Regenerative Placemaking, which aims to accelerate place-based sustainability into new, mainstream industry norms.
In this process of discovery, we were quickly directed to Dr. Dominque Hes, one of the world’s foremost thinkers, theorists and practitioners of Regenerative Placemaking. Dr. Hes has been formulating the Regenerative Placemaking theory for several years and has authored multiple articles on the topic.
We are grateful and honored to welcome Dr. Hes to our global board of advisors for the Future of Cities, and excited to co-create, design and open-source our research on this critical advancement for our industry. The time has never been more urgent for developers to reimagine their role as stewards who are responsible for the wellbeing of communities and cities. And so, we are pleased to introduce you to this newly synthesized and still-emergent body of work, with hope you will be inspired to build the future with these values in motion, to evolve the role of placemaking, and urban development as we know it.
Creating The Future of Cities With Regenerative Placemaking
By Dr. Dominique Hes, Advisor to Future of Cities, with Bill Reed of Regenesis
Addressing Systemic Failures
The world’s urban population is playing a game of chicken with our environment and global economy. By 2050, more than 6.6 billion people, or 68.4 percent of the population, will live in cities. However, whether the threat of pandemic, sea level rise, food deserts, or myriad of other challenges, this growth is going unchecked.
Does this mean a moratorium should be placed on urban density in favor of suburban sprawl? Or is a solution that is more evolutionary and redefines urban living and development more feasible?
The answer is that we must create places that support the future of cities. Places designed for living, working, creating, and contributing, combined with strategies that incorporate nature integration and the non-human aspects of life critical to all local ecosystems. Enter, regenerative placemaking.
Enter: A New Design Paradigm
Defined as a strategic process of (re)igniting people’s relationship to socio-ecological systems through place-specific activations, regenerative placemaking harnesses the key strengths of regenerative development and placemaking practices.
The merging of these two practices delivers places designed for both humans and non-humans, shifting city-making from a largely anthropocentric practice to one aligned with living systems, by which people are empowered as cultural and environmental stewards.
The result is the creation of a way to interact with a geographical location that enables continual adaptation, health, and wellbeing. The aim is not to create utopia, but a realistic way to engage with the problems and potentials of a place and all its complexities.
The regenerative development component creates the ways to understand a place, to see its essence, its potential and the ways to understand what healthy, vital, viable and abundant looks like. The placemaking component ties these ideas to a specific place, with the local stakeholders, supporting them to be a critical part of the potential of the place and its capabilities.
Pandemic Lessons and Proper Practices
While the effects on populations and economies were severe, what the pandemic showed was how changes in urban living could influence our environment. From better air quality and cleaner water ways to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, the global population can slow and reverse negative climate impacts.
To start creating regenerative placemaking demonstration projects, what is needed is a process to guide design and development, and to enable the ability to learn, understand, and grow. Key components in moving regenerative placemaking forward include:
- Living systems thinking, employed as a way of understanding the socio-ecological aspects of place
- Rigorous and inclusive community engagement to gather the patterns/essence of place, identify the values and needs of the present and past, and deliver an ongoing strategy for engagement at self, group, system actualization levels
- Transdisciplinary research and education, acting as a vehicle for knowledge exchange
- Ecological aesthetic (i.e., biophilia) and sustainability practices, assisting people to visualise a healthier living environment
- Regenerative placemaking interventions (i.e., pop-up parks, festivals), as a way of trialling programming and design ideas for long-term projects and planning initiatives.
Measuring and Refining Success
Having developed the ways to enact the above processes, how does a project understand how well it has done?
The first step is to understand that measurement serves a developmental process, not as a way to ‘score’ an effort. The second step is to evolve and adapt measurement as within regenerative placemaking, fixed and adaptable system measures can change over time in negotiation with stakeholders. We ask: what are the signs of life of a healthy place (fixed) and what are the unique traits of thriving and abundance of the place that may change as it matures (adaptable)?
However, while the measures and benchmarks can shift, the objective does not. Regenerative Placemaking is about contributing to improved social, ecological, and economic outcomes by building local capacity and potential. This means looking at the richness of the relationships – individual, community, built and natural environment – contributing to these outcomes.
Though not a perfect example of the full potential of Regenerative Placemaking, a project that illustrates the importance of building relationships to the flows through a place is the Cheonggyecheon Stream Restoration Project. In this example, water flowing through a community is of no benefit in a pipe where it cannot contribute positively through relationship (habitat, urban cooling, watering, recreation, etc.), similarly, money flowing through a place is only beneficial if it nourishes and contributes to the area. Michael Shuman has shown that every dollar spent at a locally owned business generates two-to-four times the jobs, income, wealth, and taxes as a dollar spent in a comparable nonlocal one (link).
The Cheonggyecheon Stream Restoration Project
Benefits of daylighting the river:
- flood protection for up to a 200-year flood event
- Increased overall biodiversity by 639%
- reduction of urban heat island 3.3° to 5.9°C
- Reduced small-particle air pollution by 35%
- Attracted (pre Covid-19) an average of 64,000 visitors daily and $1.9 million USD) in visitor spending.
- Business growth 1.5% higher than neighboring areas
- Land prices increased 30-50% (though this is also a gentrification danger)
Find more information on the Cheonggyecheon Stream Restoration Project here ⟶ https://www.landscapeperformance.org/case-study-briefs/cheonggyecheon-stream-restoration
To implement regenerative placemaking principles, a sea change is required in how developers approach projects and their regulation. From the scaling of ESG standards and creating incentives for sustainable development, to further enhancing Opportunity Zone framework and shifting investors’ mindsets to focus beyond triple bottom-line returns, to creating local potential, these adaptations are vital and achievable.
It is the responsibility of those with the ability to influence change to make it happen, and for stakeholders and communities to help co-create the future in support of better, self-sustaining cities.
About Dr. Dominique Hes
Holding a PhD in Architecture and Degree in Engineering from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and Botany degree from Melbourne University, Hes is an associate of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute and award-winning author. She is also the chair of the board of Greenfleet, and an advisor for the Future of Cities; a mission-driven consortium that is part-real estate investment and development company, part-venture capital ecosystem and part-think tank that will cultivate living laboratories to steward regeneration and improve liveability in cities.