The cultural and social vibrancy of a city can often be measured in inverse proportion to the scale of its skyscrapers. While such gleaming glass towers broadcast prosperity to the outside world, they do little to enrich the lives of their citizens. The surroundings improve as you reach the sky, with little thought to what’s developed on the ground. But a growing number of cities are increasingly focused on creating more livable landscapes, even in regions such as the Middle East. They are incorporating water and greenery into developments to channel cooling breezes and alleviate the oppressive summer heat. Instead of wide blocks that are built to support trophy buildings, developers are focused on creating a finer urban grain with tight, lively streetscapes and ground-level commerce.
The motivation is less aesthetic than economic. As property prices in London and New York demonstrate, urban dwellers will pay a premium to live in neighbourhoods that offer creative workspace and a pleasant lifestyle. They want parks, beautified waterfronts, cultural attractions, cafes, high-speed networks, and sights that delight the senses. Highways are hardly a plus to those who lack a car and live near their work. An area’s economic vitality is increasingly linked to its spatial vitality and ability to woo the creative class.
It no longer makes sense to develop precincts that concentrate retail and industry. Why drive to the mall for a brand you can buy online at home? In a networked era, what people crave is community and an authentic local experience close to home.
- Mixed use real estate and local commerce give neighbourhoods a downtown feel.
- Continuous active street frontages and more green space development along waterways.
- Mid-scale buildings of about five to six storeys offer enough density to fuel commerce and enough frontage to create some enclosure of the public realm.
Vanke Kunming Caohai, China
The Caohai integrated master plan in Caohai contains five townships located around the water body. Commercial and mixed-use development sits adjacent to residential housing and cultural facilities that are spread around the lake frontage. Each element is designed to enhance the other, bringing a liveliness and social vitality to the area. A broad network of parks, bike paths, and waterfront is designed to boost the environment and the health of local residents, creating a benchmark for other communities in Kunming.