“Pedestrian is the life of a city” | Daily News


 

Human- centred, eco friendly city planning

“Pedestrian is the life of a city”

There’s a certain mystery and excitement when it comes to city life and this is undeniable. This is because people falling in love with the city is natural. The public domain and the space between buildings is what allow us to see the wonder of creation. ArchWorld speaks to Chartered Architect, Danya Udukumbure, on the importance of not losing the soul of city life.

Parks and meeting places are essential to city life. This is where we discover what we have in common by interacting with each other. What would life be if we isolate ourselves and no longer experience the simple joys of interacting with each other? Think what a child misses out when he or she no longer plays with children his or her own age and becomes a recluse favoring social media over real people? In other words sharing experiences. This is what the city needs to give priority to. This is the soul of the city people talk about.

Udukumbure points out that like any good city, Colombo should be a place for the people, by the people. Colombo is enthralling because it has evolved and developed based on centuries of experience. Its time span includes successive waves of different European cultures and imprints of local, Asian and African communities. In fact, Colombo is older than New York City and you can very well identify layers and layers of rich historic evolution. Colombo is an exciting place. There is so much we can all experience together.

public spaces

“Life in our city spaces still offers a wealth of experiences. You would notice the dramatic developments that have taken place in the recent past and Colombo is about to leap into yet another new era. Some of these changes are quite positive and welcoming. The removal of boundary walls and opening up spaces for the public, developing many recreational public spaces including walking tracks, landscaping and city beautification activities are some of these developments that breathed in new life to a city that was once at a dilapidated state. Another aspect of this rejuvenation is the number of mega structures coming up at a rapid pace. However, Colombo faces a certain risk. This is the prioritizing and emphasizing on free-standing individual buildings and speeding vehicular traffic, squeezing the urban life out of urban spaces. We need to remember that cities are conglomerations of buildings and city space or public domain. This public domain or the space between the buildings should be the stage or the catalyst that promotes enjoyable, lively urban life that would include meeting people, exchanging ideas and simply enjoy living.” explained Udukumbure.

highly livable neighborhoods

Udukumbure quite correctly points out that aspiring to live in a ‘Green City’ means encouraging sustainable development while emphasizing on a high quality of life and the creation of highly livable neighborhoods and communities. It is essential that we understand that it is a practice of creating communities beneficial to human and the environment where you strive to live within your ecological limits, fundamentally reducing the ecological footprint.

“There are multi- faceted aspects in achieving this. Promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy in all our activities, land compactness with mixed land use and social mix practices in planning systems, striving towards local and regional self-sufficiency and nurture local/regional food production, economy, power production, sustainable design of buildings, infrastructure and townscapes and many other activities that sustain and support the population. It is in fact an intricate web of activities that needs the guidance of interdisciplinary professionals combining the collaboration of landscape architects, engineers, urban planners, ecologists, transport planners, sociologists, economists and other specialists in addition to architects and urban designers. In other words, it has to be a team effort,” pointed out Udukumbure.

Colombo is our bride. She is a fitting bride for us – the bridegroom. She is beautiful. Udukumbure is correct when she says that Colombo is still full of potential to facilitate and encourage sustainable, healthy lifestyles that are designed for and function in ways analogous to nature. Colombo is already blessed with many natural aspects. It has the Indian Ocean on one side, as well as the beautiful Beira Lake and a series of other wetlands. Originally it was designed as ‘The Garden City of the East’ by Patrick Geddes in 1921 to reflect its beauty and glory in the region. That beauty still remains with majestic tree lined streets and road systems with relatively large land plots. Though it is our main city with a heavy concentration of functions, this Garden City still somehow preserves a rural spirit. However, Geddes plan emphasized on horizontal expansion extending to garden residential suburbs but with the growing demand for land we need to now look at vertical development so that we can retain sufficient open spaces. We need to find new ways to adapt to and retain our ‘Garden City’ spirit. Udukumbure assures that the facilities and opportunities the cities offer attract the people. When a city is compact it is more sustainable as you can provide facilities and services to more people within a limited area. If you allow a city to grow haphazardly, encroaching in to suburban and rural areas it poses several issues. This low-density, haphazard development spiraling outward from urban centers is identified as urban sprawl and its main disadvantages are; increased cost on infrastructure development, increased travel time, transport costs, pollution, destruction of countryside, environmental degradation and visual pollution. The environmental consequences associated with this development include, air pollution resulting from automobile dependency, increase of impervious surfaces, increased flood risks, the loss or disruption of environmentally sensitive areas, including critical natural habitats such as wetlands, wildlife reserves and reductions in open space. However, the positive aspects you can consider in this type of development is that it provides relatively affordable land and housing opportunities and a higher quality of life if you prefer quieter neighborhoods and larger living spaces.

“There are national planning policies in place to concentrate growth within targeted areas, and help protect or restore the natural resource base. The objective is to reduce sprawl without compromising needed development, providing cleaner air and water, the protection of natural systems with lower infrastructure costs, and increased quality of life. The National Physical Structure Plan has identified growth centers and a system of connecting urban service centers and rural settlements byway of a systematic infrastructure network. The local decision makers and leaders however have to have the vision to support the implementation of these policies for the greater good of people and the environment,” added Udukumbure.

city space

She firmly believes that the pedestrian is the life of a city. In recent times, the traditional function of city space as a meeting place and social forum for city dwellers has been reduced and threatened. This is the danger. Instead the need to accommodating the rocketing rise in car traffic and giving priority for individual buildings has intensified the competition for city space and the conditions of urban life and pedestrians have become a lot less dignified.

“Prioritizing the city dweller on foot is not just about giving many pavements or spaces. It has to first start with a good public transport system and then there should be a network of linkages that connects public spaces which are designed for the human scale and the enjoyment of the user. Key objectives of urban planning which are- lively cities, safety, sustainability and health could be promoted when you choose to place more value on the pedestrian and city life in general. Also, a number of valuable social and recreational opportunities naturally emerge when you reinforce life on foot,” said Udukumbure.

Since we have a hot, humid tropical climate, the design of pedestrian linkages needs to consider the comfort of the user. Shading by trees and arcades, pathways connected through the public spaces of buildings and easy access to public transport are some of it. While there should be well designed pathways to walk, there also need to be many things to see and experience while you are at it.

The interesting things that are there to see at eye level include rich details, well designed spaces, street patterns, vibrant activities that will enrich the quality of the pedestrian routs. Those experiences would invite people to come and also invite them to stay longer. In order to make them stay there, there should be places to pause, stand, and sit as well as opportunities to enjoy, express themselves, play and exercise. To quote Jan Gehl – ‘Instead of the reverse order in the planning process that prioritize buildings, then space and perhaps a little life, working with the human dimension requires life and space to be treated before buildings’.

parking spaces

The parking problem can be addressed by developing a good public transport system. Giving more roads and more parking spaces is not going to resolve the issue. The more you give, there will always be more cars and more traffic. Compared to the development in public transport facilities in other countries like metro, train and light rail, Colombo is still lacking behind in that aspect and we are still highly dependent on private vehicles. The BRT or Bus Rapid Transport solutions are more simple and cheaper to establish and yet can transport a large number of passengers quickly and comfortably. We can look forward to the development of these aspects to take place in our city soon.


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