How to build neighborhoods we actually like

How to build neighborhoods we actually like

7 minutes, 40 seconds Read

Because this is what we have done all over the planet. – In a city, you’re packed in by buildings and infrastructure. In a suburb, everything is pretty spread out. Either of these can leave people feeling isolated and void of something cozy or communal. You know, like a neighborhood.

– Neighborhood isn’t a place. Neighborhood is a state of mind. A real place, you’d not only see it, you’d smell it, you know, you’d touch it. There’s something about our brains that say, “Hang on a second, wooh. This is nice.

” It empowers us to have much more fulfilling and much more pleasant lives.

– Why does this matter? Well, the neighborhood you live in affects just about every aspect of your health and happiness. – The optimal environment, I think, combines the best of human civilization and culture, and creativity, and all these incredible things that we have generated. – David and Mayra are architects at Gehl, a design firm that helps design cities that are better for humans.

So, how do you build the ideal neighborhood? This is Hard Reset, a series about rebuilding our world from scratch. This is David Sim. He’s an architect at Gehl, and starts his design process by using Legos. Right now, he’s showing us if you have a clean slate, the key features that make a perfect neighborhood like how tall should the buildings be?

– The ideal height of a building is four stories.

How our senses work, up to the fourth floor, our eyes can still read the street. We can see people, we can see expression. Our voices are strong enough that we can shout out to someone. It’s also like, our hearing distance that we can hear what people are saying.

Because if you go above four stories, you lose connection. If we can make a physical structure which at least invites the possibility that different kinds of people might live in the same place, there are huge personal benefits.

But of course, in societal terms, it’s a two-way relationship always. It can make for a better community, a better society, a better neighborhood. – And once you have the buildings, there’s this little innovation called a balcony, which is more impactful than you might think.

– For so many urban dwellers and for so many people who are less wealthy, living in apartments, its been really, really awful. You’re stuck inside. You can maybe open a window, but the magic of having a balcony- now it’s a concrete slab and a metal rail, a metal or wooden rail. This is not an expensive piece of technology, but it’s an extra room. It becomes just a breathing space.

Step outside, get some air, maybe get some rays. Uh, spread out. Have a tomato plant. That’s an amazing start. – And in the city, you want to create a separation between where the city stops and your home begins.

– You place an object in space. If you could have put them together, we’d take up less space.

But if you build this enclosure, it creates two spaces because you’ve got outside and inside. And it’s very, very clear kind of structure. Okay, this is the street.

Kind of, it’s noisy, you can drive your car. You can scream. You know, this is where you open a store because there are people walking past. You go into the courtyard. Well okay, I’m in the courtyard.

I’ll need to be a little bit quiet now because now there’s kids sleeping. And so, by having just two different kinds of worlds juxtaposed, that makes such a significant difference in the environments.

We have many different properties, different kinds of ownership. There’s social housing, private housing, cooperative, but in the middle, they’ve created this common space. You get this beautiful, sacred, quiet, safe space in the middle of the city for free.

It’s as simple as that. Good for nature and good for people. – Okay, that’s great, but what if there isn’t a blank sheet of paper for a neighborhood? What if you have to work within an existing structure? – You want me to go into thenature of the work of what I do?

– Yeah, so what do you do? – Yeah, so what do you do? – Uh. – You know, that’s a difficult one. – Actually, don’t worry about it Mayra, we’re just gonna summarize it with voiceover.

Like David, Mayra helps cities by making recommendations for how they can improve the lives of their residents through design. One of the projects she helped with was here, in the western part of Buenos Aires, a community known as Barrio 31. Barrio 31 is what we’d call an informal settlement, meaning it was built by the people, kind of like a favela.

It didn’t have all the infrastructure and smooth roads and the construction wasn’t exactly to code, but it did have a sense of community. – We started working on the streets of Villa 31, we’re seeing the people using their streets as a lounge.

Kids are playing soccer, neighbors are pulling theirchairs out of their home, into the street, and having conversations with each other. Streets were incredibly full of social activity. – A lot of people might see a favela like this and want to start over. And listen, this show is called “Hard Reset,” but even I know a bulldozer isn’t the answer to every problem. And while this neighborhood had a lot of challenges, it had also gotten a lot of things right.

Mostly, the Gehl team made suggestions about how Buenos Aires could improve improve the access, safety, the access, safety, andinfrastructure in Barrio 31 without losing the local innovations or character. – There’s a fair amount of arrogance in the architecture because there’s this idea that the architect is an expert and the architect knows more. And when the design isn’t working, they see it as an error on the user. At Gehl, we flip that around, and we think that if people are not using something the way you thought, you were wrong in how you designed it. And we don’t want to be fighting human nature, we want to be responding to human nature.

Let people make and customize their homes so that they love their homes. That, I would want. Our goal is to align a human desire and a human inclination with something that is good for society and for the environment.

– You might be skeptical that you can imbue more of a community feel into your neighborhood, but sometimes its about taking a guerrilla approach. – Welcome to West Oakland, California.

This is, humbly, my backyard. – These are four homes in Oakland, California. Each of the neighbors decided to tear down sections of their fence to create a shared backyard. They created literal common ground for the greater good of their community. And it’s pretty cool.

– We got a lot of friends and family that come by.

Fire pit to kind of give it like a, you know, a little, just a nice vibe. Just a lot of plants. Japanese maple, another one of my favorites. These are, as well, our neighbor’s yard.

Video game. Over on this side, we have some planter boxes, a lotta garden beds. – In the United States, there’s this idea that everyone needs their own yard and their own little picnic table and their pool and all these things which is incredibly inefficient and incredibly lonely. – This is our neighbor, Dave. This is one of my best friends goin’ on and we’re kind of the ones who linked up and kinda got our spaces together.

Some intent, but not planned out. – This idea of the shared amenities while still maintaining your own home, is a model that there isn’t enough of.

– So, what if more citizens took more control of the spaces that make up their neighborhoods? What if they collaborated to share resources and create more common areas for interacting with one another? We might lose some of the privacy that we’re used to in the suburbs, or the anonymity we’re used to in the city.

But we might also feel more connected and familial, instead.

– We shouldn’t be making people have to choose between what they want to do and what they should do. That is why we see ourselves in the industry of changing behavior, not by penalizing but by making the good behavior really desirable. Let’s make walking and biking really desirable. Let’s make dense, urban living very desirable.

– We’ve got these little islands, so every courtyard belongs an island. So we can connect these different islands of lovely gardens. And suddenly, you’ve got this unlimited system. So all of these things go together to make an ecosystem where it’s great for families. And it’s about this gentle exposure to difference by living in the city, which I think makes us, potentially, maybe into better human beings.

– Come back next time foranother episode of Hard Reset. Subscribe to Freethink towatch our other original series and documentaries about technology and people that are changing our world.

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