Human City: Design For People - September 2014

Beijing-based workshop between Stanford University and Tsinghua University

The twenty-first century represents a critical moment in the sustainable development of cities, offering immense opportunities and daunting challenges. In September 2014, Deland Chan and Kevin Hsu led a dozen Stanford students to Beijing to join "The Human City: Design for People" workshop with an equal number of students from China’s premier university, Tsinghua University. Chan and Hsu created and executed the curriculum in collaboration with Zhiyong Fu of Tsinghua University.

Funded through the Stanford Revs Program, Haas Center for Public Service, and the Program on Urban Studies, the goal of the workshop was to bring together an interdisciplinary group of students to explore a holistic understanding of the city as the nexus of the environment, built infrastructure, and human communities. Two dozen participants from Stanford and Tsinghua hailed from a wide range of backgrounds, including urban studies, information art and design, international relations, computer science, and civil and environmental engineering.

Multinational teams made use of Beijing as an urban laboratory to enhance sustainability and improve residents’ quality of life. Projects investigated issues such as food systems, residential energy use, transportation and bicycle livelihoods, and the pairing of land use with local amenities.

During the workshop, the cohort of budding urban thinkers met with local and international sustainability experts; visited numerous neighborhoods on foot, on bike, and by public transit; and interacted with people in Beijing to understand their life circumstances. They honed their observation skills, employing strategies pioneered by urban sociologist William Whyte, and architect and urban designer Jan Gehl, to decipher city life. The workshop participants also applied design thinking, such as need-finding and empathy mapping, all customized for the local Beijing context.

Many of the students will continue on to a 10-week collaborative course, the International Urbanization Seminar, where urban sustainability projects will be developed with community partner organizations based in Beijing.

By refocusing the discussion of urbanization through the lens of “the human city” and connecting creative urban thinkers and actors, we aim to shift the discourse of sustainable development toward a human-centered approach that draws upon both the wisdom of the past, as well as modern science, and that prioritizes human beings, communities, and their relationship with the environment.

Human City workshop participants exhibited their work at the Smart City Expo, part of Beijing Design Week, which bills itself as China's biggest design event) from September 25-30, hosted at the China Millennium Monument Museum of Digital Arts. The exhibit will travel to Stanford University and be part of the Urban Sustainability Expo and Design Showcase in December 2014.

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