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David Sim is a partner and Creative Director at Gehl Architects in Copenhagen. He and his team are currently working with the Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative (ESCI) in Xalapa, Mexico to improve its public spaces and make the city more sustainable. From his experience in Xalapa, Sim tells us about three ideas to make people-friendly cities.
1. Improving public space
There is a kind of a circuit of public space in Xalapa. And if we could make the connections, you could have this necklace of public space, and it would really give everybody access to like a whole range of physical and cultural experiences. Lots of small connections that go from being a collection of isolated things into a true network. Urban design or planning is about joining things up, it’s thinking in a joined up way.
We try to work with pilot projects. So rather than doing an expensive project that nobody understands, and nobody really gets, to do a very simple intervention, and give people a taste, and ask them: Do you like something like this? Should we make it more or less? And then you can interact in 3 dimensions with the idea. And that’s what we have done in New York and in Mar del Plata. Its a way of waving together infrastructure with culture.
2. Promote bicycle use
Biking is a fantastic democratic transport system, because it’s cheap, it uses no energy, it doesn’t pollute, it’s healthy. But most importantly, you can stand next to somebody really different from you in the bike, and it’s not like be in a car, where you are completely protected and sealed off, but actually we can almost touch each other, we can eye contact, we can speak. And that’s really about practicing democracy.
3. Include kids in the planning process
If you teach the children the right thing to do, they will teach the adults. They will be the police: “Mom, why are you now wearing a bike helmet?” “Mom, are you going to put the trash there?” If we teach our children the good examples, the good behaviours for good citizenship, they will take care of everyone else.