Planning cities is not only the work of urbanists stuck in an office deciding how everyone else should live in their cities. Designing neighborhoods, determining localization of transportation, public services, commerce, squares or green spaces it’s a mission that will only work if projected together with communities. “Specialists must return to the earth and get involved in real problems, in the difficulties and needs of its inhabitants” defends Nidihi Gulati, director of program at Projects for Public Spaces, an NGO that since 1975 supports neighborhoods of New York in the planning of sustainable spaces.
Inclusive cities is what Gulati has been defending over the years in order to avoid big metropolitan areas becoming a powder keg about to explode. Knowing which social, economic racial and gender realities are present, interfere in the way public spaces are lived, and the alternative is to build urban centers capable of integrating the different backgrounds that could proportion well-being between different communities: “What we need is villages in our cities” concluded the Indian architect.
Reducing the scale is one path and it goes through remembering that, more than living in an urban center, what matters is “to live in a human center”, with commerce, services or places for conviviality not further than 10 to 15 minute walk. “When we start building these villages, we will have to think about everybody”. And everybody includes the marginalized, reminds Nidhi Gulati.
Therefore we need to know the history, the needs and to be capable of looking at different realities that coexist in cities. Therefore, to plan it’s not only a matter of building habitation, roads and parks. “Much less colossal buildings that represent political power, less shopping malls covered with white marble that become muddy in rainy days” What this Indian architect proposes it’s a dialogue between all sciences – urbanism, economy, sociology, geography, since all these disciplines cross paths in the planning of cities, which should reflect the cultural diversity in order to include communities, promote civic participation and avoid radicalization phenomena.
Mobility as it’s designed now, it doesn’t even take into account the needs of women, warns the director of Projects for Public Spaces. In the US, for example, public transportations is projected to go from the center to the suburbs, “serving the typical male mobility”.
But women’s typical life style it’s everything but linear. She must drop off her children at school in point A, shop in point B and go work in point C, or run to the laundry at lunch time in point D: “Therefore there isn’t a public transportation system that is prepared for women” says the specialist, adding that this can be the reason why more than 50% of car drivers are women. And this without counting that the security systems in cars are thought for the male body, being much more risky for women in case of an accident. “The joke that women are bad drivers can have much more tragic reasons”.
All mobility must be rethought and there is nothing more current than Covid-19 to take the opportunity. “The way we travel must change in order to protect populations from other pandemics that, with climate change will be more and more frequent”. Traveling less, going shorter distances and to adopt a more sustainable transportation means will have to enter in the new paradigm, defends the architect. Giving back to local economies is another main issue in order to reduce distances between origin and destination of goods and at the same time reducing carbon footprint.
Stepping cars aside from cities is something that “we need to do right now” before everyone goes back to the “old normal”. This should be the way for streets to become what they were supposed to be, says Nidhi Gulati, stepping back from the center of the stage in order to show images that she selected to close her intervention. We saw pictures of streets where children are walking to school, older folks are napping at the door of their little stores, kids are playing basketball, dogs are enjoying the end of the day sun, university students are drinking a beer, and people are coming back home. “The streets are the people” raps up the architect.