Human Cities – Fostering a Systems-Approach to Urban Life
Today, over half of the world’s human population lives in cities. According to the UN, this figure is projected to rise to 68 percent by 2050. As places that provide home to more and more of us, we might assume cities to be inherently human places. On reflection, however, we understand the contemporary city as a challenge for both humans and the natural world.
Issues like air pollution, stress, sedentary lifestyles and a lack of access to green space take their toll. In comparison to those living in rural areas, city dwellers typically display poorer levels of mental and physical wellbeing. These issues are compounded by rising inequality, which ensures even worse health outcomes for those without the means to pay. Looking closer, our cities often do not seem human at all.
Alongside industrial agriculture, city growth is also the leading driver of tropical deforestation, a major factor in climate change. However, this process is a vicious cycle, in that climate change only drives more and more people into urban areas, with this rapid growth, in turn, tending to unhealthy and unequal cities, with poorer health outcomes for those living there. One problem with cities is that they tend to separate and isolate us from nature. In this era of climate crisis, inequality and global pandemics, however, we need to think beyond their effect on individuals and consider their relation to the natural world.
How can we preserve the best things about cities––among them diversity, creativity, tolerance, and rich cultural life––without sacrificing our health and wellbeing? How do we ensure they exist as places of prosperity without accelerating rampant inequality? How can empathy and intersectionality become guiding principles to anchor our endeavours? Cities are highly complex, adaptive systems. This means the answer to how people can better thrive in them will inevitably be multifaceted as well. Reform in various areas––including but not limited to transportation, housing, education architecture and design, food, work, and cultural life––will play a pivotal role in the production of more humane and environmentally conscious urban spaces.
Therme Group believes that now is the time to think big and to start realising the human city. Catalysed by the recent publication of Therme Group’s ambitious green paper Human Cities: Increasing Urban Wellbeing, this Wellbeing Culture Forum session outlined the characteristics of the human city, focusing on the vital role of culture and creativity in creating urban environments more compatible with the wellbeing both of humans and the natural world. Gathering experienced individuals from culture, science and city planning, the event used the green paper’s bold visioning to foster collaboration, discussion and debate, and to promote fresh thinking in the quest for sustainable solutions.
1. What rituals of connection could be integrated into the design of an environmentally conscious city that prioritises wellbeing? 2. What architectural reform is needed in the realisation of the human city? What does transportation look like in it? 3. In what ways has COVID-19 highlighted the fragility of our cities and our interconnectivity to each other and our environment? How can we use this knowledge in future urban planning? 4. How does stress affect the brain? Is it inherently negative, or can it also be positive? And if so, what strategies can be used to channel it? 5. Through which specific ways of interactions do plants have a positive effect on our mental and physical well-being? 6. Why do humans tend to live in cities? 7. What community resources and infrastructure does a city need to lower rates of inequality, poverty, and crime? 8. How can we implement these improvements into city design without triggering opposition or increased gentrification? 9. How could future cities support a more participatory approach in the fight against climate change, from the infrastructural level to the domestic?
Stefano Boeri (Architect and Urban Planner) Anni Hood (Chief Executive, Well Intelligence) Suhair Khan (Tech and Design, Google) Ben Rogers (Director of the Centre for London) Prof. Dr med. Jörg Spitz (Founder of the Academy for Human Medicine and Evolutionary Health) Danny Sriskandarajah (Chief Executive of Oxfam Great Britain) Jane Withers (Design Consultant, Curator and Writer)
Mikolaj Sekutowicz (CEO and Curator, Therme Art)
Wellbeing Culture Forum
The Wellbeing Culture Forum is a series of discussions in virtual environments catalysed by the present pandemic. Gathering experts from diverse fields, the series fosters the necessary collaboration and knowledge transfer to realise a vision of the city and its cultural activity in symbiosis with the natural world, generating a holistic approach towards the health of humanity. The series was initiated by Therme Art and curated by Mikolaj Sekutowicz, who is co-hosting each panel discussion together with various partners and partner institutions from the private and public sector.
The Wellbeing Culture Forumhosts diverse conversations about culture which are designed to create ‘insights for action’ culminating in the creation of a Wellbeing City Manifesto. This will be made freely available worldwide, for individuals and organisations to implement and influence positive cultural change.
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