A Vision for the Human City: Putting A Vision into Action / by Deland Chan

[deland chan]

If achieving the human city seems like a daunting task, do not despair. We have collected tangible examples of the human city and welcome your contribution to this unfinished story.

From our experience as practitioners and educators over the years, we have noticed a strong inclination among many of us to be outward-facing towards the world and to focus our energies on solving problems that we consider to be immediate and pressing. While this often comes from a place of good intention, it also leads to a bias towards action, rather than a place of thinking strategically and working intentionally.

We encourage those who engage in the work of building human cities to take the opportunity to pause and reflect. What happens if we focus our energy within and self-examine our intentions? First, we might consider whether we are defining the issue in front of us as an appropriate problem. Perhaps we might ask why we want to do this work, or if we are the right person for this undertaking. Perhaps we might discover that such a project should not be undertaken in its current form, or that we may need to assemble a team of interdisciplinary thinkers in order to approach the issue from multiple perspectives.

After you have taken a self-inventory and considered the appropriate team for doing this work, we encourage you to focus on understanding context before jumping to a solution or outcome too quickly. When we approach a new site with our students, we start with an intention of learning. What questions do we have? Who might be the relevant people we should consult to answer these questions? What methods have already been tried and tested in the past? Are there ways that we can leverage existing knowledge and practices and combine these pieces into new ways of thinking and taking action?

From there, what is the appropriate scale and intention for the issue at hand? Are we ensuring that the intervention addresses human needs? How have we devised a process that is inclusive from the beginning and will generate a sense of ownership among the people live in the community? Are we practicing a method of radical inclusion, in which we develop leadership at multiple levels? Are we ensuring that we are giving more than we are taking, by ensuring that we are replenishing rather than depleting resources (e.g., both natural and human capital) that might be available in the community? After we design and test the intervention, are there adequate resources to sustain this work? Do we have an exit strategy such that we are not creating a cycle of dependency but one of  self- sufficiency?

To build a human city takes patience. Asking the right questions is crucial. In writing these words, we hope to inspire the current and future generation of city builders— whether those who are professionally trained in these disciplines or those who are engaged non-expert citizens— to think of cities as more than just technological solutions. Cities are made of people who have dreams, aspirations, and needs. We need a vision beyond what cities should be, but for whom cities should serve. This vision is outlined in these posts: do what you will to resurrect city building as an art form and move humanity forward.