Greg Lindsay's Blog

September 29, 2019  |  permalink



(Last week, I was fortunate enough to guest curate the 8th annual reSITE festival in Prague — my fourth and likely final appearance, twice as curator. The official press release is below; if you’d prefer to listen in podcast form, Monocle has you covered. Personal highlights included Bianca Wylie laying waste to smart cities; McMansion Hell’s Kate Wagner dissecting sprawl-under-one-roof, and the Sweetwater Foundation’s Emmanuel Pratt on bottom-up regeneration. Video soon!)

In its most diverse edition yet, reSITE 2019 hosted a rich and interdisciplinary conversation about the future of life in cities. Centered on the theme of regeneration, the discussion tackled natural and urban revitalization, our collective power and responsibility as individuals and institutions to organize and solve the problems of climate change and housing affordability, among many. Others discussed the need to regenerate our public spaces to push back against an all-consuming online world. Technology will also play a role in planning for uncertainty, they argued.

“Regeneration has to be a continuous process. And I ask us to be mindful, when we think of regeneration,” Martin Barry opened the 8th global forum hosted by reSITE, which attracted twelve hundred participants from 25 countries to 3 stages, side events and parties.

Lessons learned
When it comes to cities, the whole of urban life is greater than the sum of its parts. As Tech Reset Canada’s Bianca Wylie noted, in the original translation of the phrase, the sum is also different than the whole of its parts. Cities are the sum of designers, developers, artists, citizens, public officials, entrepreneurs, and the displaced, she added, but rarely do each of these constituencies gather in the same room or even speak the same language, and cities suffer for it. “reSITE is literally that room,” guest curator Greg Lindsay noted — the event that frames the future of cities through all of these perspectives and convenes them in one place.  Against the backdrop of the climate crisis and the 20th September global climate strike, Wylie and her fellow speakers called on attendees to remember the collective power we possess as citizens, and architect Chris Precht reminded them that “Our generation asks, what is possible? Not what is profitable.”

What will be remembered from reSITE 2019
Thomas Heatherwick (Heatherwick Studio) disclosed at reSITE a new project to be built in Prague, the regeneration of Savarin complex adjacent to Wenceslas square, by Crestyl. He insisted that we should “keep old buildings and work around them. The blessing of old building is their texture and soulfulness. The places we love tend to be multi-layered.” He explained that his approach is “making something that doesn’t feel like somewhere else that we’ve been.“

Ravi Naidoo, the Founder of Design Indaba, kicked the conference off, asking us all to look introspectively with the question “What’s design for? Is it in service for people? Give it a higher purpose and a more noble service.” He stated that human creativity is the ultimate renewable energy, underlining the importance of technology for regeneration: “In the last century, it was enough to be literate, now you have to be techno-literate.“ and finally reminding us of the immense energy created in all of us coming together, coalescing and making it a force for good.

Chris Precht expressed the voice of his generation. He said that this generation of architects isn’t concerned with theory or concepts. “We’re concerned with the environment, with climate change, with sustainability. Our planet doesn’t care about fictional stories. Today we should build not for fictional stories but for our objective reality.” His practice creates spaces that connect with our senses. We can smell, taste and eat part of our buildings. It creates different city centers, not defined by banks and corporations, but health and vitality.

Bianca Wylie, co-founder of Tech Reset Canada has risen to notoriety through her criticisms of Sidewalk Labs and technology companies involvement in public spaces, arguing that they should not be commoditized. She reminded us all “that participating in all of these spaces very thoughtfully” is of great importance, and to not forget to act collectively: “I want to remind you that you all have power. And you need to start using it. Now. While it’s great to highlight the individual stories and projects, we also need to remember the power and the urgency of the need to operate as a collective.”

On the other side of coin, Marianthi Tatari, UNStudio brought us their practice’s work on the Netherlands’ Brainport Smart District that aims at becoming the smartest neighborhood in the world. She stated that it’s high time for the built environment to catch up with technology - our only tool helping to plan for the uncertainty of the future. She makes the point that “with a productive landscape, we can create a local economy” as well as “the most important part is the human approach and care for the quality of life for every resident,” both being cornerstones for their smart city project taking the data ownership of its residents seriously.

MAD Architects principal partner Yosuke Hayano opened day two of the conference with a presentation exploring the questions “How can we trigger an emotional connection to architecture? How can we make architecture to be urban space so that people feel it is built for them?” Through their design, MAD Architects seek to make a journey for people to meet nature in another way. They care about how the future of the city can be better pressed for the people, from young to old, to come, live and enjoy the space together.

Hailing from the south side of Chicago, USA, Sweetwater Foundation founder — and 2019 MacArthur Fellow — Emmanuel Pratt showcased all the ways in which they work with marginalized communities, drivers of the regeneration that has taken place: “Every community has seeds of their own regeneration, right there,” and “regenerating is an active process, not a passing one like sustainability. Giving people a chance to participate as well as ownership of that regeneration that translates into more than just physical spaces, but regenerates the culture.”

Last, but not least, Christopher Cabaldon, mayor of West Sacramento, has seen his city regenerate itself out of its industrial past over the last two decades into a vibrant, culture filled city in northern California. “If you want to use the city to change the minds of the people, then what is the point? We have to be ready for the city to shape us, not the other way around.” Cabaldon offered some different points of view on how to approach managing citizens opinions of urban planning in ways that embody what reSITE stands for - pushing the boundaries and testing our convictions on city making through discussion.

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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is the director of applied research at NewCities and director of strategy at its mobility offshoot CoMotion.  He is also a partner at FutureMap, a geo-strategic advisory firm based in Singapore, a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative, and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.

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