Architecture

Citizen cities: ageing and urban development

March 28, 2016

That our elders want in on the fun they spent so many years generating should come as no surprise. How do we ensure our cities enhance the well-being of its citizens?

Image: Escale Numérique by Mathieu Lehanneur

“We have to stop building cities as if everyone is 30 years old and athletic.”

– Gil Penalosa

Cities are the artefacts of a gregarious humanity, the brash, unnatural habitat of the human animal. We elect to live in cities because, like moths, we are drawn to bright lights. We thrive on the hugger-mugger of humanity in the hive, high from imbibing our collective buzz. Theatre, football, opera, carnival, ballet, Mardi Gras… ad hoc performance or the mere theatre of street life on the move. Restaurants, cafés, dinners with friends – even frenemies, traffic jams, gridlock, drive-time, static… all the fun of the fair.

That our elders want in on the fun they spent so many years generating should come as no surprise. How do we ensure our cities enhance the well-being of its citizens? Our streets are most often obstacle courses precariously navigable by the fit and savvy, frankly hazardous to the infirm. “We have to stop building cities as if everyone is 30 years old and athletic,” says Gil Penalosa, executive director of Toronto-based non-profit, 8 80 Cities. Wide, smooth footpaths, discrete bicycle lanes, clear separation between walk, pedal and driving thoroughfares are considered best-practice scenarios around the world, nowhere more so than in Copenhagen, which last year was voted ‘Best City for Cyclists’ in recognition of its approximately 350 kilometres of kerb-segregated cycle tracks. The health of the Danish elderly is notoriously robust.

The need for seamless coexistence of transit technologies is widely recognised these days, although still an ongoing battle. But what about the in-between, the stationary spots, the places to rest in safety throughout the day – particularly as those Lycra-clad bullets whizz by? Beyond the odd, poorly tended bench, our streets are conceived as rapid conduits from A to B, with little thought to what occurs in between. A slow-moving citizen needs a place to rest, recharge a body – or a battery, for that matter. French designer Mathieu Lehanneur showcased a new suite of street furniture in Paris during last December’s United Nation Conference on Climate Change. Called Clover, the combined lighting and bench system is based on idealised tree and branch shapes, its elegant vertical pole gently rippled in imitation of arbour crenulations. Topped by petal-shaped LED lamps that emit a gentle light, its matching benches also mimic organic form. The designer likens the Clover installation to “a replanted tree that should always have been there” and indeed it seems perfectly in place.

A previous, ingenious piece of street furniture is Lehanneur’s Escale Numérique (Digital Stopover) featuring a garden-topped shelter propped up on smoothed tree trunks, with moulded concrete swivel seating perched on truncated versions of the same. Linked to the city’s fibreoptic network, Escale is a perfect resting spot for weary citizens of any age – and a great place for device-loving Boollennials to recharge phones and tablets and access high-speed internet. Escale is manufactured by global street furniture leader, JCDecaux. Both Escale Numérique and Clover are upbeat community assets, great contributions to life on the street and amenities for the aged, which benefit all citizens.

And there’s the rub. Creating streetscapes suitable for our elders does not equate with creating cities for the pathologically inelastic – or the tasteless. It’s about devising beautiful, functional, fulfilling urban environments to service all citizens throughout their lives and to encourage a rewarding collaborative cohabitation.

This article is an excerpt from the Architecture and Design Forecast 2016. To find out more on the Forecast, visit future.australiandesignreview.com

Click here to purchase your exclusive copy of the Forecast.

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