How do we investigate, develop, and maintain Human Cities? / by Kevin Hsu

We previously introduced a working definition of what constitutes a "Human City." A closely-linked question is how we can actively investigate, develop, and, importantly, maintain Human Cities in urban centers around the world?

First, we urge taking a comparative approach to the question of sustainable Human Cities, as urbanism is increasingly understood in an international context. Furthermore, in unpacking and describing these urban developments, we must investigate trade-offs and choices regarding land use, energy, transportation, and water resources.

An overarching framework for sustainability is centered on four pillars: environmental quality, economic vitality, social equity, and cultural identity. We will expound upon each of these pillars in later posts, but we believe that each component is vital to a Human City.

Returning to the question of strategy, to facilitate the phenomenon of Human Cities in the real world, we must identify the distinct challenges of urbanization at different stages of development and devise technological and policy innovations, urban interventions at the city and neighborhood scale, and design strategies that effectively address those challenges.

There are roles for individuals from diverse backgrounds—scholars, practitioners, activists—to become advocates for a more humanistic approach to development and to see this concept developed and maintained in real-world settings.

Some strategies for developing the concept of Human Cities and then putting these concepts into practice include the following:

1. Thought Leadership and Research
Forward-thinking cities around the world are experimenting with new approaches to human-centered urbanization. To lead and support these efforts, scholars can adapt global concepts and tools for specific local contexts. We will collect case studies of cities from different regions and consider how localities can successfully tackle human-centered sustainable development. We will synthesize innovative ideas and publish original scholarship to advance our framework of sustainability. We aim to develop a research, design, and development ethic that is interdisciplinary and that involves community stakeholders through participatory, community-based research.

2. Education with an Innovative Curriculum
We must craft educational experiences that inspire the next generation of urban thinkers, planners, designers, and engineers and that cultivates an ethic of environmental stewardship and humanism in how we approach the development of cities and urban spaces. In developing these educational offerings, we believe a set of methodological approaches focusing on community-engaged scholarship, cross-cultural collaboration, and human-centered design serves this goal well.

3. Implement Concepts in Real-world Settings
We believe universities are poised to reinvigorate engagement with cities and serve as a common platform and good-faith actor. Institutions of higher education can link industry, governments, and residents together to jointly develop and maintain human communities. Simultaneously, students and faculty can test, refine, and ultimately advance a more humanistic understanding of sustainable development by incorporating concepts into new and existing projects, in consultation with the communities these projects are meant to serve. These partnerships highlight the challenges, opportunities, and ethics of how we engage diverse communities, using participatory design strategies.

4. Build a Broad Network of Advocates and Practitioners
We encourage dialogue and building connections among design firms, developers, local governments, and educational institutions to advance a more humanistic approach to the sustainable development of cities. This network will create more opportunities for real-world projects and support the dissemination of ideas generated among many nodes of creativity, implementation, and lived experience.

Evolving Human Cities

Truly sustainable cities require culturally-appropriate solutions that incorporate international practices, but remain sensitive to local needs and sensibilities. We believe the approach of developing and maintaining human cities provides a way forward that connects key stakeholders, advances our understanding of sustainable development, and empowers societies to meet present and future challenges.