A Case for Imperfect Cities: Greater Impact with Purposeful Chaos

Fact 现实

More than one billion people are expected to move to cities in the next few decades. In China, two-thirds of the population already lives in cities. As the populations shifts to these urban habitats, we have to make sure they are livable, sustainable, and truly smart.

预计未来几十年,将有超过10亿人迁往城市居住。在中国,总人口的三分之二已经居住在城市中。 随着人口迁徙到城市环境,我们必须确保城市是宜居,可持续的并且实现真正的智能化。

Opportunity 机遇

People, and their ability to connect, are at the center of innovation, growth, and prosperity. Cities enhance that ability by connecting people at a massive scale — and their influence on productivity reflects that: according to the World Bank, more than 80% of the global GDP is generated in cities today. At the workplace scale, 100% of the top performing companies recognize the value of connecting people and are actively deploying strategies to maximize knowledge sharing every day.


Paradigm Shift 规则的改变

As we consider the future of cities, we must also be cognizant of the forces of change that will impact how we design and plan for connectivity between people. Among them are: the gig and sharing economies, resource scarcity, aging societies, climate change, and the fourth industrial revolution.

在我们思考城市的未来时,我们还必须认识到影响我们如何设计和规划人与人之间联系的变革性力量, 其中包括:零工和共享经济、资源稀缺、老龄化社会、气候变化以及第四次工业革命。

The rise of autonomous vehicles is the most top-of-mind potential disrupter for many people. With our historically auto-centric approach to cities, we have clearly done the opposite of people-first design. Autonomous vehicles may be the catalyst that help us shift the focus back to human experience, but we must also be careful to design with an eye toward a future that will be impacted by further advances in technology and the new ways of inhabiting and moving about our cities that come with them.


The Efficiency Trap 效率陷阱

We must establish a set of first principles at the very onset that align with these objectives: to create great urban experiences for people, to connect people in order that they may do great things, and to have enriched people’s lives in all respects. If we don’t establish these first principals, we cede those decisions to less people-centric functions like vehicular infrastructure or utility rights of way.


By the time the broader design and real estate community — the advocates for individuals — join the discussion, those foundational elements are set. There is often very little we can do given their scale and the energy required for alterations.


The Pro Forma Pitfall 财务陷阱

The infrastructure phase is usually followed by a Pro Forma phase — another potential misstep in the name of efficiency. This is particularly true in new cities that give us wide-open opportunities to make impressive, but sometimes banal, places that stakeholders love because they are “pro forma perfect” and seemingly low-risk with “predictable” returns that are based on yesterday’s impressions.


If we evaluated everything solely on economics, there are many incredible and rewarding places that would never have had a business case to be built. We should not let expediency and certainty short circuit our aspirations and deny us the impactful results we seek.


In other words, we have to balance economy of scale, clean, and efficient with customized, messy, and purposefully chaotic. To do this would be to resist a financial climate that is pressing for higher returns.


The Harder Road Less Travelled 难走的路

By consciously making things easier, we are also giving ourselves a pass to be less creative and perhaps less interesting. Some keys to great placemaking in cities include diversity, culture, community, authenticity, and the opportunity to encounter something unexpected. There’s nothing more exciting than discovering a quality experience. While some great moments are skillfully orchestrated, many have been borne out of constraints either natural or contextual. In the green-fields of new worlds, we can’t have “boring” or worse… “soulless.”

在选择那条’更容易走的路‘的同时,我们也给自己颁发了一个‘减少创造力‘的通行证。在城市中进行’场所塑造‘的一些关键因素,包括多样性、文化性、社区性、原创性以及不期而遇的惊喜。没有什么比发现高品质体验更令人兴奋。巧妙地精心策划精彩的瞬间,需要跳脱出自然或环境的限制。 在新世界的待开发地带,“无聊”或更糟......“没有灵魂”,这些词汇是不会被允许的。

Iteration 城市迭代

This is a particular challenge today where we see whole cities or new districts being designed at once, without the benefit of organic growth over time. Organic growth provides new opportunities to evaluate prior decisions and make adjustments that can lead to memorable moments of creative rule-breaking and unexpected results.


Sensible Solutions 解决方案

This is not a call for the return of ego-driven architecture. It is a plea to put more burden on infrastructure planning and depart from the rigidity of the pro forma. Rather than adhering to a prescribed set of principles, we have an opportunity to embrace real data about the ways in which people use successful spaces — allowing us to make informed decisions and predictable impacts without limiting the creative and random aspects.


This is particularly relevant to people-centric design. The Gensler Experience Index helps to quantify the key attributes of successful spaces — ranging from public spaces at the city scale to specific user environments, such as retail stores. The Experience Index provides designers, developers, and stakeholders valuable understanding on what key elements to utilize for maximum effect.


New Outcomes 城市出品

For sure, it is attractive to avoid the angst of a challenging process, or the risk of uncertainty. But through research and the skilled application of that research, we can make informed decisions as opposed to guesswork.


Therefore, we must have the willingness to seek more person-to-person connections through compelling urban experiences. Being responsibly efficient shouldn’t trump taking an informed leap of faith in order to transform our city outputs from waste, pollution, and urban sprawl to energy, knowledge, and skills. These are the byproducts of a truly “people first” city.


Peter Weingarten
Peter is a Developer Leader for Gensler’s Northwest region. His leadership in commercial development and urban design reflects a passion for sustainability and intelligent architecture that performs for its owners while inspiring its users. He is based in San Francisco. Contact him at .