city planning

  • What would a soft city feel like?

    Gardens by the Bay futuristic park in Singapore
    Singapore softens space in its Gardens by the Bay (Photo by Carles Rabada)

    What if soft were good?

    It is if we are talking about pillows or grass, but what if we’re talking about a soft city? What if we’re talking about the politicians who run them? Do they like to be seen as soft? Do we like our cities soft?

    Well, in fact we do — in spirit. Cities that are ideological soft — soft on difference, soft on people who stand out, who think differently, who look different, who act differently — are the most sought after on Earth. And if they couple that with some soft nature — green space, clean air, clean water — even better.

    What we know is that the 21st century will be urban. Not only is industrialisation making that unstoppable (the urban population of the planet exceeded the rural in the late 2000s), but ecologically it is actually necessary (the carbon footprint of a city dweller was calculated as on average lower than that of a rural dweller by the International Institute for Environment and Development, a London think-tank, in 2009).

    So maybe we need to think even softer?

    What if we reconceived the city entirely? What if concrete jungles, so famously hard physically and mentally, were made soft? Made to match our actual human need? What if the fabric of our cities became soft, replicating the way we once lived as rural dwellers — softer building materials, softer pathway and pavement materials, softer edges everywhere?

    We know that hard landscaping our gardens is bad news for the environment, but what about making our pavements and roads more porous? The technology is there to create substances that are not only durable but also porous. And what effect might a more porous surface have on our bodies, giving us a more natural walking gait, less pressure on bone joints and freer movement? Even our homes and offices could become less permanent, more malleable.

    What would the city of tomorrow feel like if it were as soft physically as the best cities of today are soft ideologically? Would that be refreshing?

    While we’re on the subject: read my blog on why we build cities where we do here