What makes a city livable? Transport, housing, health. Open space, mobility and the environment. Matters of culture, entrepreneurship, crime and safety. Affordability and access to education. Depending on whose ‘livability index’ you look at, it may include design quality, sustainability and the digital infrastructures of the smart city. Other criteria applied may encompass food access, job opportunities or walkability. Inclusivity and the politics of participation also come into play. Discrimination in all its forms impacts livability and social and political equity.
The past two decades have seen an exponential rise of livability measures. Reflecting increased urbanity globally, they risk making the notion of the city ever more contested. The two cities that host this event are cases in point. The Mercer Livability Ranking takes New York as the datum by which all other cities globally are graded – as better or worse. London, by contrast, measures itself: the London Assembly scoring everything from air quality to indices of deprivation. When we consider the livability of cities then, it is clear we are dealing with a plethora of issues – both isolated and, inevitably, interconnected.
For example, affordable housing is a neighbourhood issue. It is often linked to other questions: walkability, transport access, food deserts, and poor-quality public space. Equally, the ‘Smart City’ can be treated as a technical issue. But it also raises questions of equality of access, surveillance, adaptive computing and human interaction – not to mention creative economies, business innovation and entrepreneurial cities.
The design of our neighborhoods and buildings is connected to health, wellbeing, happiness studies and the ‘economics’ of healthy cities. In its turn, crime and public safety affect design through practices such as defensible space. Infrastructural and eco-system resilience involves considering clean air, water supply, urban cooling and landscape infrastructure. Post-COVID-19 disruptions to work, leisure and commuting methods require the rethinking of business, architectural and infrastructural modes of operation.
LIVABLE CITIES – New York, is the first of two related events. Held in New York, June 2023 it will be followed by LIVABLE CITIES – London in June 2024. In both New York and London we will examine the issues above from various angles. We will examine how we live in cities, and how every issue we encounter morphs with considerations of others, whether housing, architecture, urban planning, health, IT, crime and safety, city management, economics or the environment.
Image: Colton Duke