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Quality of life thanks to urban planning

How public space can be redesigned

Good urban planning has to cater for very different needs. While public space was often subordinate to car traffic in past decades, forward-looking cities are increasingly focusing on enhancing quality of life and creating green recreational spaces and places for social interaction for their residents. Find out here how the design of urban space will shape how we live together – thanks to green public spaces with attractive street furniture, greater social participation and development projects that aim to build smart cities.

Unusual green public spaces-Heber Galindo on Unsplash

Architecturally designed green public spaces, such as Little Island in New York City, not only provide open space for residents. They also reduce air pollution and enhance quality of life. (Photo: Heber Galindo on Unsplash)

Green infrastructure in urban centres

Little by little, the car’s dominance is faltering. Major cities such as London and Barcelona are banishing these space-gobbling means of transport from their centres. Even in Germany, the country of cars, the first pilot projects in Hamburg and Berlin are testing the idea. This issue is undeniably controversial and prompts emotional responses in some cases. But the figures for the “superblocks” , as the traffic-calmed neighbourhoods in Barcelona are known, speak clearly in favour of it: less air pollution, more local retail, improved quality of life thanks to reduced noise and better sleep. Children and older people benefit especially from the reduction in car traffic and the transformation of parking spaces into green parklets.

But urban planners’ visions go even further. The German Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) has made diverse use of spaces previously reserved for cars a cornerstone of its strategy for the future of cities:

Ideas ranging from green recreational spaces through to agricultural areas to encourage self-sufficiency and even entire garden cities are to give built-up areas a more human dimension and make them more resistant to climate change. Car sharing and expanding cycle paths are just as much a part of this strategy as weatherproof street furniture and greening existing structures , such as bus stops and high-rise roofs. On a smaller scale, modular shelving systems for green plants of various sizes have enormous potential – not just for private households, but also as part of innovative projects in the public sphere.

In addition to their impact on the climate, such proposals would also improve the physical and mental health of the urban population. The infrastructure of the future will be green and sustainable.

Unusual green public spaces-Heber Galindo on Unsplash

Architecturally designed green public spaces, such as Little Island in New York City, not only provide open space for residents. They also reduce air pollution and enhance quality of life. (Photo: Heber Galindo on Unsplash)

Increasing social participation with mobile sports equipment

If urban planning is to be socially responsible and viable in the future, it must consider not just buildings but open spaces, too, and actively design them. Urban spaces must not become denser and denser – on the contrary. Green public spaces are important for individual relaxation and recreation. But from a broader perspective, playgrounds, sports grounds and spaces for socialising are crucial to creating human-scale cities. Football pitches, table tennis tables, fitness parks and bowling greens are low-threshold facilities for everybody – they promote both a neighbourly sense of community and healthy movement.

To encourage this kind of participation, pop-up sports grounds could play a key role according to the BMI. Modular sports equipment that adapts to its users’ needs – such as the Flex-Mobile systems by Bar-Flex, which feature an adjustable rail system – presents an innovative solution. This could be a way to quickly fill urban brownfield sites with sports architecture. And even street furniture such as benches, walls and railings can be identified as potential sports equipment and take on a multifunctional role. Leaving aside companies that focus on the somewhat outdated “lose-weight paths”, it’s up to the manufacturers to play their part in designing public spaces with attractive sports equipment. When clubs or freelance trainers use these places, they can become temporary local gathering places. Especially if these initiatives are self-organised, they contribute significantly to creating liveable neighbourhoods and counteracting the phenomenon of growing anonymity in large cities.

 Designing public space with sports grounds-Ilnur Kalimullin on Unsplash

When designing public space, sports grounds and fitness parks are a crucial component. In the future, they will be increasingly innovative, mobile and flexible, not to mention visually attractive. (Photo: Ilnur Kalimullin on Unsplash)

Smart cities and the digitalisation of public space

Smart solutions will be indispensable in the city of the future. Global digitalisation has the potential to have a lasting impact on life in our cities and to improve the use of public space. For this to happen, tangible technological solutions to real human needs are needed. Naturally, this also includes prestigious smart city projects, such as digital parking optimisation and intelligent traffic management based on integrated sensors. Even augmented reality systems for tourism or local public transport are conceivable, and the first cycle paths are already being equipped with solar panels to generate electricity for integrated lighting.

But it’s often the little things that make everyday life easier for city dwellers – things like intelligent lighting for squares and footpaths, improving car and bike sharing, and digitalising waste disposal. Innovative street furniture such as benches with integrated charging points for smartphones and electric bikes could fundamentally transform our urban mobility in the smart cities of the future. What’s more, they could serve as wireless hotspots, and they have solar panels already installed for decentralised electricity supply. Connected furniture and digital smart home solutions could perhaps be brought out into the street. This would give city residents the opportunity to experience their urban living space in an entirely new way and to incorporate more movement into their daily lives.

This is exactly what the Sharing Cities initiative set out to achieve. Besides considering economic and energy policy issues, it focused on jointly identifying challenges and needs. Cities like Milan, Bordeaux and Warsaw took part in the pilot project in order to make their public spaces more liveable, efficient and greener.

Innovative examples of future-proof urban planning

The large number of bold urban planning projects in major metropolises proves how pressing this issue is. From New York to London and Berlin, these initiatives have grasped the importance of a planning strategy that focuses on people, not cars.

  • New York is building a space filled with green sports and leisure areas around Manhattan that will simultaneously protect the borough against the risk of catastrophic flooding.
  • In Berlin, modular parklets are taking over diverse districts of the city and creating small spaces for socialising in former car parking spaces.
  • Paris is planning to green the Champs-Élysées and the roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe with 1,000 trees. But that’s not all: The French capital has proclaimed the 15-minute city. The aim behind this vision is for every resident to be able to reach all the important parts of public life, such as doctors, educational institutions and shopping facilities, within a quarter of an hour – by bicycle or on foot. This idea is also set to be realised in Hamburg, Vienna and other cities.
  • London has adopted Edible Bus Stops – greened bus stops resembling miniature gardens that will be regularly tended to by neighbourhood volunteers. What’s more, the Streetspace for London project is set to create the world’s largest car-free zone in a capital. It aims to increase cycle and pedestrian traffic tenfold by building new paths and expanding existing ones.

Alongside the superblocks in Barcelona, which we mentioned above, these examples show how bold and, in some cases, radical these cities are being in initiating a paradigm shift in their urban planning. And these strategies offer exciting opportunities to develop suitable street furniture and other solutions.

The new design of public space

Climate change, the digital transformation, population growth – our cities face huge challenges. Innovative and climate-friendly ideas are needed to reimagine public space and ensure that it has a human dimension in the future. Many smart solutions are already available on the market, but the focus must remain on residents’ needs. Only by involving them in the development of urban planning projects from the beginning will such a fundamental rethinking succeed in the long run.

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