Art and science

The Art of City-Making privileges the word 'art' over 'science'. It acknowledges, though, that we can still be scientific in the proce dures of how we approach city issues. As in the natural sciences, we can define questions, gather information and resources, form hypotheses, analyse facts and data and on occasion perform experiments, and certainly interpret things and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypotheses. But given the array of things in a city to consider, different forms of insight are needed, and these change all the time, for example from the hard science of engineering to the soft science of environmental psychology. Adhering to methodologies is inappropriate. Science assumes a predictability that the human ecologies that are cities cannot provide.

The phrase 'the art of' in itself implies judgements of value. We are in the realm of the subjective. It implies there is a profound understanding of each city-making area, but also, in addition, the ability to grasp the essence of other subjects, to be interdisciplinary. The methods used to gain insight and knowledge are broad-ranging, from simple listening to more formalized comparative methods and understanding how intangible issues like image can help urban competitiveness. These arts are in fact skills acquired by experience and acute observation, requiring deep knowledge, the use of imagination and discipline.

Fine judgement is key to city-making. What works in one situation, even when the factors seem the same, may not work in another. For example, to launch the long-term image and self-perception campaign in Leicester, posters declaring 'Leicester is boring' worked positively because there was enough resilience in the city to both understand the nuggets of truth embodied in the campaign and to respond actively to the criticism and to appreciate irony. The steering groups involved decided prior to the campaign that this was an appropriate approach for Leicester. However, a similar, 'negative' approach in neighbouring Derby, for example, may have been deemed culturally insensitive, ineffectual or just plain unsuitable. Knowledge of local cultural particularities and context is therefore always paramount. But while specialized judgement in particular cases is key, there are also principles that tend to work across particularities, such as going with, rather than against, the grain of peoples' cultural backgrounds in implementing projects.

The compound city-making is preferred to city-building, since the latter implies that the city is only that which the built environment professions have physically constructed. Yet what gives a city life, meaning and purpose are the acts people perform on the physical stage. The stage set is not the play. The physical things are only the accoutrements, helpful instruments and devices. But the aim here is to shift the balance, to increase the credibility and status of the scriptwriters, the directors and performers. Countless skills come to mind. The core professions, beyond the built environment people, include environmental and social occupations such as conservation advisers or care professionals, economic development specialists, the IT community, community professions and volunteers, and 'cross-cutting' people such as urban regeneration experts. There are also historians, anthropologists, people who understand popular culture, geographers, psychologists and many other specialists. And there is a still wider group - including educators, the police, health workers, local businesses and the media - that makes a city tick. Then there is the wider public itself, the glue that ties things together. Within all these groups, there is a need for visionaries who can pinpoint what each city's prospects are and where it might be going. Unless all these people are part of the urban story, the physical remains an empty shell.

Yet too often we rely on the priesthood of those concerned with the physical, and it is they, perhaps more than others, who are responsible for the cities we have. Acerbically we might ask: Do they understand people and their emotions? Do some of them even like people?

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment