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More than half of the world’s population – 4.5 billion – now live in cities, a figure expected to rise to 7 billion by 2050. The future of humanity will clearly be urban, but the challenge will be to ensure cities will be liveable.

As people continue to flock to cities, creating a utopian urban environment has become the holy grail for the 21st century’s developers and planners, but what actually makes a city liveable? 

The World Economic Forum scores city liveability on six factors: affordability, amenities, connectivity, culture, safety and sustainability. These comprise interwoven features of urban living, including accessible public transport, employment opportunities, good education, open green spaces, widespread recreational activities and universal health care.  

When a city boasts such attributes then it should, in theory, promote wellbeing in individuals, build communities and support a coherent and lively society. Sadly, many modern attempts to create such environments went wrong, turning what should have been vibrant locations into soulless urban wastelands. Perhaps planners have been approaching things from the wrong angle. 

Martha Thorne, dean of the IE School of Architecture and Design in Madrid, believes more people should listen to a German innovative industrial stylist who, she says, holds the key to liveable cities. Head of design for Braun from 1955 to 1995, Dieter Rams is renowned in creative circles for his Ten Principles of Good Design.  

Speaking at a TEDx event in 2018, Thorne argues that Rams’ criteria can help us identify today’s most appealing conurbations and regenerate the liveable cities of tomorrow.

Martha Thorne, dean of the IE School of Architecture and Design in Madrid, believes the Ten Principles of Good Design should be applied to city planning.

Start with innovation

To start with, cities must be innovative, otherwise they stop functioning properly. Innovation goes hand in hand with technology, making city life easier and allowing people to live more fulfilling lives.

Modern principles of innovation are closely tied to environmentally friendly design and a commitment to preserving old parks, establishing new ones and adding vegetation. It also involves reducing as much pollution as possible, so people go outdoors and breathe in clean air as they enjoy their leisure time.

Liveable cities must also be aesthetically appealing. People who love their cities take care of them. A proven way to foster such connections is to introduce buildings and spaces that closely reflect a city’s culture. As well as beautiful signature buildings, cities need an eye for detail, because their inhabitants care just as much about pavements and school architecture as they do about city hall façades or the appearance of famous monuments.

Consider durability

Another of Rams’ yardsticks is durability. Thorne says that in our modern throwaway economy, a city that cherishes its past and understands its heritage strides confidently into the future. Continuity underlines the importance of protecting a city’s heritage and historical landmarks.

Some of Rams’ more nebulous principles also affect city design. Thorne contends that cities need to be understandable; inhabitants should find it easy and comfortable navigating neighbourhoods and relate to the spaces and buildings they occupy.

As well as good design, cities need honesty. Cities that rebrand just to attract tourists, or certain types of firms or social strata, lose their ability to embrace diversity and cater for everyone. Honest cities respond to all citizens.

*This is an extract of the article “What makes a city liveable”, which appeared in estatements Magazine.

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