Urban design meeting the unique needs of all residents
With more than 4.2 billion people – or about 55 per cent of the world’s population – living in the world’s urban centres, city life today often means crowded spaces, expensive housing, constant traffic and relatively higher rates of crime.
Imagine what cities could be like three decades from now, when close to seven billion people are expected to co-exist in these busy centres, according to a study by the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
As the world’s population keeps growing – reaching almost 10 billion in 2050 – and as people continue to gravitate towards urban centres, almost 70 per cent of the population will be concentrated in cities, says a recent UN report. This trend will give rise to even more megacities, which are defined by the UN as cities with populations of more than 10 million people.
“That’s a large portion of the world’s population living in cities,” says Dr. Mohamed Lachemi, president and vice-chancellor at Ryerson University in Toronto. “There’s pressure now for all of us to find better ways for people to live and thrive in cities.”
Through a number of urban-focused institutes and research hubs – such as the new Centre for Urban Innovation, the Ryerson Institute for Infrastructure Innovation, and the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development – the university is addressing the challenges faced by the cities of today and tomorrow, and identifying opportunities to create a better quality of life in cities.
“Being at the centre of a world-class city, Ryerson has always defined itself as a city builder,” says Dr. Lachemi. “It’s part of our DNA, and it’s extremely important for our researchers, our students and for Ryerson to play an active role in building livable cities of the future.”
The university’s efforts cover key factors that shape city life, including environmental sustainability, immigration and inclusion, affordable housing, smart infrastructures – particularly ones that support autonomous vehicles – and democratic engagement. One project, for instance, features a building design that harnesses solar energy and uses flooring made from ash trees that needed to be cut down because they had an infection.
But the work at Ryerson goes beyond bricks-and-mortar structures. One project, called Vote PopUp, gives community organizations and civic leaders a toolkit for simulating a polling place, which they can use to educate citizens. Dr. Lachemi says this innovation, which has been adopted by Elections Canada, Elections Ontario and Elections B.C., is relevant to the building of smart cities because it helps to build democratic and civic engagement, which in turn creates more dynamic and effective cities.
Another project, called ShapeLab, challenged Ryerson students to come up with art installations and designs to create interactive experiences on a busy stretch of King Street. Like all other urban-focused projects at Ryerson, ShapeLab was a collaborative effort, says Dr. Lachemi.
“Our approach to projects is very holistic, based on partnerships between stakeholders such as government, other organizations and academic institutions, the public in general, and also between the different disciplines at Ryerson,” he says. “We have people from our architecture department working with people from business, engineering, environmental science, urban planning, politics and public administration, the arts – collaboration truly is key.”
With the year 2050 just three decades away, citizens in every country need to start working on building their smart cities, says Dr. Lachemi. While each city’s design will be based on the unique needs of its residents, all urban centres should use innovative technology to address common needs such as the efficient movement of people and cars, affordable accommodations and minimizing environmental impact.
“It’s time to find solutions to the issues we face and will continue to face as our cities grow,” says Dr. Lachemi. “It’s time to think about smart cities.”
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