Designing Future Cities for Wellbeing: A Summary of Implications for Design

How Do We Design for Millions of Individuals?

In the introduction to this book, it was illustrated why wellbeing is important and why we need to design cities for wellbeing, that is, to ensure future generations are able to ‘do well, feel good, do good and feel well’. The evidence suggests that, in general, we are simply designing our cities to cope with demand, rather than actively and consciously improving wellbeing and quality of life for citizens. A few, leading cities are trying to take a long-term approach yet with wellbeing measured across a wide range of variables and often a factor of underlying systems of governance, tax and so forth, it is not straightforward to identify those which are exemplars and can be easily compared to other cities. This is a challenging process, however, as it requires us not only to understand the multiple perspectives from which to address wellbeing, but also to project our thinking into the far future. The next generation of young people are calling us to task. We know that action must be taken on the way in which we live to save both humanity and the planet. So, when we think of ourselves, we must also think about our neighbours, locally and globally. And we need to consider the wider world in which we live, particularly the legacy of our cities, for that will support and enable the lives of subsequent generations to flourish.

Designing places that are prosperous, sustainable, resilient, liveable and healthy over the long term is a massive challenge, not least since cities are collectives of individuals with different aspirations and values, which may be competing with one another. This raises the first, key challenge, as it is important to understand what we mean by a future city. The diversity of urban environments around the world suggests the current manner in which terminology is applied does not account for such differences, and being able to better understand the granularity of future cities is crucial. This will provide us with the necessary insights to design and develop those aspects that are transferable across contexts whilst being cognisant of those that have specific requirements. Such a process will be successful if it is able to integrate the high-level principles of a city, designed for its people, with local knowledge to articulate the essential perspectives that inform place and its future. Understanding the way in which design can direct, or at least inform, our behaviours is key to unlocking the potential for wellbeing in future cities.

The second, important challenge concerns our ability to explore futures, especially radical ones that may appear very different from existing path dependencies. Most people are not comfortable with imagining alternative futures, yet many do when they are planning new infrastructure that can have significant impacts on the environment and the people that use it or are excluded from it. In such developments as transport or built form, imagination typically does not go much beyond the artefact itself, rarely considering the socio-cultural dimensions and behavioural changes it may bring about, intentionally or otherwise. Before we can fully explore radical alternatives for future cities, we need a better understanding of the multi-dimensional factors that underpin their design so we can identify key principles and practices.

The preceding chapters illustrate many of the intervening variables in the design of a city that have an impact on our wellbeing. In order to develop more holistic and appropriate solutions, the design of places must address the future through multiple lenses. To a certain extent, professional designers are trained to do this. However, when creating places, we are all designers. Many people who have an influence on how a city looks and functions are often brought together by accident, rather than on purpose. They include elected leaders, government officials, local people in business, public, cultural and leisure services and local residents of all ages and social status. It is this collective that must work in partnership to design our cities for future wellbeing. In this final chapter, we draw on a wide range of knowledge set out in the book so far to illustrate the breadth of perspectives on wellbeing in the city and consider the implications for how we should design future cities for wellbeing. We also draw on a research programme through which we attempted to draw this knowledge together, the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council-funded Liveable Cities project, which connected designers with social scientists and physical scientists between 2012 and 2017 to address the multiple aspects of four cities in the UK (Birmingham, Lancaster, London and Southampton) through social, environmental, economic and technological lenses.

First, looking at the various city perspectives, we can identify the criticality of three domains: the physical and technological structures in a city; the services and affordances provided by the place; and the human lens in relation to living in a place throughout the life course.

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