Designing the Sustainable City

For the past two awful, busy, stressful weeks, the bane of my existence has been an unshakable, disgusting cold. I wake up on a Monday morning after a restless night of sleep and quickly snatch up the Kleenex that is littering my bedroom floor. I look at myself in the mirror. My stuffy, red nose and my bloodshot eyes are making me feel even less like dragging myself into public for several hours of lecture and an evening in the library working on assignments. I feel unhealthy, gross, tired, depressed, defeated, and anxiety ridden. So what do I do?

I shower. I put on nylons, a skirt, a nice top and a cardigan. I blow dry my hair, do my makeup, and put on my favorite earrings. Instantly, I feel uplifted. I take pride in myself. I feel healthier and ready to conquer my day.

Although perhaps a bit of a far removed metaphor, a similar concept comes into play when concerning physical space. When a space is designed to have ambiance, people will be drawn to it, take pride in it, and feel the desire to take care of it.  We define physical space in cities with quality and character by the use of buildings. A city that is sustainable is one that is aesthetically pleasing with social offerings and openness – a vibrant public realm ignited with pedestrian activity rather than the throughput of automobiles. Places like these are filled with people who have an emotional connection with their community. This lends to happiness, low stress levels, higher productivity, and an increased GDP.

A conference called Creating Tomorrow’s Livable Cities was held on January 19th, 2011 in London. This conference brought together designers, urban planners, and influential thinkers in a wide variety of fields from architecture to psychology in order to stimulate ideas and thinking about the future development of cities in the UK. Architect Yan Gehl, who has had great influence in new urban design in both Copenhagen and New York delivered a great talk at this conference on creating cities for people.

Check it out here:


Here are a couple photos from these places illustrating many of the concepts Mr. Gehl talks about in his speech.  The first is of the Latin quarter in Copenhagen, showing the cities widespread adoption of the bike lane system, and the second of a pedestrian and bike only section of Broadway in New York:

I experienced many of these sustainable design concepts first- hand while studying French and living in Montreal this past summer. The Montreal city center (emphasis on center) is an excellent example of sustainable urban design. I fell head over heels for the city this summer and plan on returning as soon as I can. When attempting to describe why I had such affection for the city to my family and friends back home, I couldn’t ever quite nail the reason down until now. I told them that I loved how I could just walk everywhere, and how the interaction between people was so open and friendly. I made more friends by exploring the city this summer than I have made in Saskatoon throughout my entire life. Even though the city is huge, I would run into the same people in the same places all of the time. I felt a huge sense of community and culture.  Montreal is famous for its “patio culture”, describing how all of the restaurants, bars, and coffee shops spill out on to the sidewalk. This creates an inviting atmosphere where people want to hang out. It is also compact, with most homes connected and above businesses.  My brother lives downtown above an art gallery, another friend lives above a pet shop, and yet another lives above a family run Italian coffee shop and bakery. Places designed like this are places with character, places where people want to hang out, places that encourage you to get out and walk or bike wherever you are going and interact with others.  Places like these are places people care about, places worth protecting.

Photos: Kelsey Rochefort


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