Urban planning: a recipe for healthy cities

Urban designers "can't cut away from a city's past," says Philadelphia planner David Gouverneur.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

The ideal city does not exist, according to Philadelphia urban designer David Gouverneur.

At least that's what he said to Johanna Hoffman of Next American City, who interviewed the University of Pennsylvania professor about how city planning involves not just shaping places, but environments and societies, too.

In a Q&A, Gouverneur makes some interesting big-picture points about cities.

Among the highlights:

  • "Built environments are reflective of the cultures that create them. There is a power in place and culture, which seeps into architecture."
  • "Designers are responsible for responding to the cultures they belong to."
  • "A designer can't cut away from a city's past and start from a blank canvas."
  • "An ideal city doesn't exist. The task of responsible designers is to digest the nuances of individual places. It's all about creating designs that are appropriate for their contexts."
  • On climate change and water conservation: "The next major wars will be over water access."
  • On the grid plan. "[It] has great value. It's an open plan. If you need to accommodate growth, you just expand it. It's flexible and adaptable ... [but it] poses pros and cons."
  • On Philadelphia's particular problems: "The poor areas in Philadelphia now are the regions that lack economic drive. Neighborhood fabric has eroded, there are increased levels of vacancy, and the grid is full of holes. I think of it like dental work that's losing teeth."

Interesting stuff -- Philadelphia is the home base of NextAmCity (and this author).

Finally, on the value of data in urban planning and design:

I think of applying design interventions like systems of acupressure - in isolated pressure points. This means investing your resources, and community and institutional efforts on specific places that you think are most likely to 'succeed.' In the U.S., there's available data you can use to do that, data that maps out the lowest crime rates, rates on unemployment, public transportation access, number of vacancies.

"An Ideal City Doesn't Exist": An Interview with David Gouverneur [Next American City]

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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