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Topics will include the latest developments in walkability, bikability and and street design, code reform and ending exclusionary zoning, climate-friendly planning, urban resilience, affordability, equity, placemaking and livability, housing policy and land use law, ecological development, and much more.


Above, Newport's historic Thames Street, near the IMCL conference venue.

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NEWPORT, RI USA: The initial listing of plenary speakers has just been announced for the 60th International Making Cities Livable (IMCL) conference here April 26-28, on "Making Cities Livable: Research Into Communication, and ACTION."


Invited keynote speakers are renowned researchers and thought leaders in city planning, anthropology, environmental psychology, sociology, law, health, and other fields. Setha Low is Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Psychology at City University in New York, and author of many books including Why Public Space Matters. She leads the Public Space Research Group at the Graduate School of CUNY. Emily Talen is Professor of Urbanism at the University of Chicago, and author of Our Urban Future: An Active Learning Guide to Sustainable Cities, and Design for Social Diversity. Vikas Mehta is Fruth/Gemini Chair in Urban Design at the University of Cincinnati, and a widely published scholar on street design and public space. David Brain is Professor of Sociology at New College of Florida. Patrick Condon is Professor of Urban Design at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.


Other plenary speakers are leaders at major global NGOs. José Chong is Leader of the Global Public Space Programme for UN-Habitat. Ben Bolgar is Senior Director at The King's Foundation (formerly The Prince's Foundation), which is active in the Commonwealth Association of Planners and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. The Commonwealth includes many Global South countries (the King is its head). Mallory Baches is President of the Congress for the New Urbanism, a globally influential proponent of walkable mixed use and new urbanism.


The Call for Abstracts was also closed on January 31, and 46 abstracts were selected, featuring research papers, case studies and workshops. Topics include urban resilience, affordability, equity, walkability and transportation reform, placemaking and livability, housing policy and land use law, and sustainable development. The speakers represent an international, cross-sector gathering of researchers, city leaders, practitioners and NGO heads, drawn from every continent except Antarctica.


The International Making Cities Livable (IMCL) conference series was begun in 1985 by Suzanne Lennard, a British architectural and urban scholar, and Henry Lennard, a Viennese medical sociologist. The Lennards were passionate about sharing the best evidence-based lessons of great cities and towns to improve the quality of life for all. To do it, they brought together many of the world’s most innovative and successful mayors, planners, economic development specialists, designers, developers, NGO officials, and researchers and scholars. In the years since its founding, the IMCL has become a unique peer-to-peer gathering of city leaders and researchers, typically hosted in beautiful, intimate and instructive case-study locales.


The 60th IMCL conference will be held in the beautiful Bois Doré estate in Newport, through the generous hosting of Fairfax and Sammons Architects. Partners include The Congress for the New Urbanism, The King's Foundation (formerly The Prince's Foundation), UN-Habitat, HealthBridge Canada, the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism (INTBAU), PlacemakingX, the Urban Guild, and other leading international NGOs and universities.


The conference runs through Saturday and Sunday, with a reception on Friday evening, and optional tours on Friday and Monday. More information is at https://www.imcl.online/2024-newport.


Plenary speakers include (partial list):



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A rich variety of topics will include urban resilience, affordability, equity, walkability and transportation reform, placemaking and livability, housing policy and land use law, sustainable development, and much more; some invited keynoters are also announced.


Above, several of the keynote presenters slated to participate in the 60th International Making Cities Livable conference.


NEWPORT, RI USA: Preparations continue for the 60th International Making Cities Livable (IMCL) conference here April 26-28, on "Making Cities Livable: Research Into Communication, and ACTION." Partners include The King's Foundation (formerly The Prince's Foundation), UN-Habitat, the Congress for the New Urbanism, HealthBridge Canada, the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism (INTBAU), PlacemakingX, the Urban Guild, and other leading international NGOs and universities.


The Call for Abstracts was closed on January 31, and 46 abstracts were selected, featuring research papers, case studies and workshops. Topics include urban resilience, affordability, equity, walkability and transportation reform, placemaking and livability, housing policy and land use law, and sustainable development. The presenters represent an international and cross-sector gathering of researchers, city leaders, practitioners and NGO heads, drawn from every continent except Antarctica.


Invited keynote speakers are also renowned researchers and thought leaders in city planning, anthropology, environmental psychology, sociology, law, health, and other fields. For example, Setha Low is Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Psychology at City University in New York, and author of many books including Why Public Space Matters. She leads the Public Space Research Group at the Graduate School of CUNY. Vikas Mehta is Fruth/Gemini Chair in Urban Design at the University of Cincinnati, and a widely published scholar on street design and public space. David Brain is Professor of Sociology at New College of Florida. Patrick Condon is Professor of Urban Design at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.


Other plenary speakers are leaders at major global NGOs. José Chong is Leader of the Global Public Space Programme for UN-Habitat. Ben Bolgar is Senior Director at The King's Foundation (formerly The Prince's Foundation), which is active in the Commonwealth Association of Planners and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. The Commonwealth includes many Global South countries (the King is its head). Mallory Baches is President of the Congress for the New Urbanism, a globally influential proponent of walkable mixed use or new urbanism.


The International Making Cities Livable (IMCL) conference series was begun in 1985 by Suzanne Lennard, a British architectural and urban scholar, and Henry Lennard, a Viennese medical sociologist. The Lennards were passionate about sharing the best evidence-based lessons of great cities and towns to improve the quality of life for all. To do it, they brought together many of the world’s most innovative and successful mayors, planners, economic development specialists, designers, developers, NGO officials, and researchers and scholars. In the years since its founding, the IMCL has become a unique peer-to-peer gathering of city leaders and researchers, typically hosted in beautiful, intimate and instructive case-study locales.


The 60th IMCL conference will be held in the beautiful Bois Doré estate in Newport, through the generous hosting of Fairfax and Sammons Architects. The conference runs through Saturday and Sunday, with a reception on Friday evening, and optional tours on Friday and Monday. More information is at https://www.imcl.online/2024-newport.


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The human project may depend on getting this relationship back into balance.



EDITOR'S NOTE: This post is one of a series meant to contribute to the discussion at our upcoming 60th International Making Cities Livable (IMCL) conference in Newport, RI USA (for more information: https://www.imcl.online/2024-newport)


Consider the lowly dandelion seed. Its genetic code is made of just four molecules – the same four molecules that make up your genetic code, and mine, and that of every other living thing.  The dandelion also puts out vast numbers of these seeds, as any child can tell you who has blown on a dandelion seed ball.

 

The vast quantities of seeds provide an economy of scale for the dandelion, as it uses an efficient and well-honed molecular mechanism to pump out millions of them routinely.  Its use of the same four molecules also provides a great economy of standardization, as is true for all other organisms.


Martin Cooper, inventor of an early cell phone, compares it with a newer phone.

We humans are also very good at exploiting economies of scale and standardization – especially in the “modern” era of about the last 200 years. We pump out vast numbers of efficiently standardized products, gaining enormous efficiencies as well from the sheer scale of production.  Consider that the first cell phones were cumbersome brick-like objects that cost thousands, and yet had little coverage or capability. Today’s phones cost a fraction of that, and yet they pack vast capabilities and processing power.

 

However, the dandelion doesn’t stop there. In addition to economies of scale and standardization, it – like all other organisms – also exploits economies of place and differentiation. That turns out to be key to their vast complexity, beauty, resilience and durability.

 

By comparison, it seems we humans still have some things to learn…

 

Consider what happens to a dandelion seed as it falls to the ground. It may or may not be well-adapted to that spot, the soil quality, moisture, and other factors. If it is well-adapted to the place, it will thrive, but if not, it will likely perish. Meanwhile, the dandelion has sent out vast numbers of other seeds, each slightly differentiated from the others. Some of these will be better-adapted, and will be more likely to thrive. They in turn will grow up to send out ever more seeds, gradually becoming more efficiently adapted to their place, and the advantages it confers.

 

These are the economies of place and differentiation, and they are crucial companions to the economies of scale and standardization. The well-adapted seeds find an economy in being in the right place, and being differentiated appropriately to it. The plant itself will also gradually differentiate, and colonize many other places to which they are increasingly well-adapted.

 

The sum total of this activity is the growth of ecological complexity, not only between the dandelions and their places, but between myriad other organisms and their interactions. Certain differentiated insects are well-adapted to eat the dandelion leaves, if they too are in the right place. Certain other differentiated microbes are well-adapted to live inside the insects... Certain locally differentiated birds thrive by eating the insects… And so on, and so on, all forming the interlocking web-network that is a vastly complex ecological system.

 

And the ecology thrives because there are economies of place and differentiation, as well as economies of scale and standardization.

 

It seems that individual cells also exploit these economies of place and differentiation, as well as scale and standardization. The reason a liver cell becomes a liver cell is not that it receives a centralized command, but that it senses its specific place within the evolving embryo, and it differentiates itself accordingly. It does this along with vast numbers of other cells, of course, operating at vast scales, and also all using standardized genetic components.

 

Consider now the way that we humans have been building our environments over the last century. Where we once adapted components to a place, and differentiated them according to climate, terrain, local culture and other factors, we now build identical buildings around the world, designed by (or influenced by) a handful of famous global “starchitects”. Or we develop nearly identical “tract house” subdivisions, using standardized “cookie-cutter” building plans, components, and financial mechanisms. 

 

It follows from this discussion that the problem is not the use of standardized components per se, or the construction of vast quantities per se. It is the failure to integrate the adaptation to place, or the ability to differentiate as needed. Indeed, economies of standardization and scale are invaluable aids to efficient and cost-effective building, just as they are to efficient and resource-conserving organisms and ecologies.

 

There was a great advantage to a Sears kit house, for example, arriving on a truck with its standardized parts – one of many that the company sent out via mail-order, and at attractive prices. The Sears houses still allowed the local builders and homeowners to select some of the materials, and make adaptations to their own unique needs (say, adding a dormer or bedroom). In fact, these buildings tended to evolve and adapt over time, becoming uniquely differentiated to their place and their users’ needs. (This was discussed very insightfully in Stewart Brand's excellent book, How Buildings Learn.)

 

There are similar combinations of economies in other sectors today. “Mass customization” allows products to become uniquely differentiated. Children can get Cabbage Patch dolls with uniquely differentiated facial features. Where once Henry Ford said that car buyers could get “any color so long as it’s black,” customers can now custom-order large numbers of car features, including colors, interiors, and other features.

 

These are modest innovations, to be sure – but they are a start. Yet in the case of buildings, we still seem to be getting the worst of both worlds – expensive custom-designed and built structures that still look the same everywhere. Innovations are coming, but painfully slowly.

 

Partly the problem is the entrenched ideology of the architectural profession, owing to a fateful embrace of mechanized, standardized architecture shortly after the turn of the 20th century. Instead of an architecture of place, we would have an architecture of time, and the future. Instead of an architecture of local differentiation, we would have the “International Style” – a globalized, homogenized environment that was meant to be more rational and cost-effective, more widely available for ordinary people, and therefore more humane.

 

Today, we can hardly call that project a success. But it’s important now to recognize the specific failures – and specifically, the failure to understand the economies of place and differentiation, alongside the economies of scale and standardization.  And it’s important now to accelerate the reforms, to build according to these insights, and according to a more ecological approach.

 

There is one more aspect to this discussion worth mentioning. Biological and ecological systems, combining economies of place and differentiation with economies of scale and standardization, are also wonderfully good at conserving and even renewing resources. Not only does the dandelion not deplete the soil on which it depends, but it – along with the insects, birds, microbes and other constituents of that ecosystem – actually builds up and improves that soil over time.

 

This is the secret to sustainability in biological systems, and the ability of ecosystems to persist for many thousands of years. They not only persist, they grow richer, more complex and more diverse – and often much more beautiful.       

 

Perhaps we too can learn this lesson.  Perhaps, instead of a “depletion economy” – one that depends upon digging, burning, consuming, contaminating and destroying – we can find a path to what we might call a “repletion economy” – one that is capable of regenerating, and even enriching, our natural and human resources.

 

Perhaps instead of degrading our built environment, our air and water quality, our climate, our soil, and our other critical resources, we can build a richer, more durable, more beautiful world. Perhaps that is the real wealth we should aim for, and the actual renaissance we may achieve. These natural systems give us important lessons in how to do so.  

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