Designing our future cities

Future Melbourne discussion panel NGV Melbourne Design Week 2019

Caption: Panel of designers for Future Melbourne/ Future Design talk: Host – William Campbell (Victoria Legal Aid), Luke Martin (Tricycle Developments), Dr Kirsten Day (School of Design, University of Swinburne), Kyle Wolf (Planet Innovation), Soren Luckins (Büro North). Image source: Scintilla Design

How can design contribute to creating liveable and sustainable future cities? A panel of 4 designers discussed this as part of Melbourne Design Week 2019.

The concepts of ‘livability’ and ‘growth’ are often heard in the media. But what do they really mean and how should the broader community respond to these ideas?

In the past, conversations have revolved around the necessity for growth (it’s vital for the economy) and the need for ‘liveable’ cities as judged by economic metrics that don’t relate to human well being. Cities should be designed for the people that live in them and support these people in the myriad of activities that they undertake daily.

Here are 3 ways that designers can help shape the future of our cities:

1. Imagine and articulate the future we want

Before we can design the future, we need to know what we want the future to look like! Every city is unique as a result of its diverse mix of people, places and activities. We therefore need a vision that is unique for each city and that captures its true identity as expressed by the people who live there. Once we know what the future should look like, then we can develop the road map for how to get there.

Designers can help craft powerful visions that reflect local values and aspirations, are optimistic and future oriented. Designers typically work across many disciplines with people from diverse backgrounds to uncover and deeply understand people’s concerns, problems and needs. Designers are well suited to working collaboratively with local communities and councils to help capture and articulate the voice of the community due to their skills in the art of observing and listening, reading between the lines, and questioning to uncover meaningful insights. Designers are also big picture thinkers used to managing multiple streams of information and are great at distilling the essence of a message to create powerful visions that unite people.

2. Reframe the problem

It is time to change the conversation and look at the problem of sustainable cities in new ways. Designers are experts at reframing and exploring sticky wicked problems such as growth and liveability. Through the lens of design, we can challenge the notion of “growth” and better understand “liveability”. By reframing the challenge to one of accommodating more people (not growth) and improving people’s well being (not liveability) we can start to explore alternative solutions around densification (not more greenfields development on urban fringes) and connectivity – connection to community, transport, education, services, jobs.

3. Co-create new solutions

Through collaborative design methodologies such as design thinking and design sprints, designers can help facilitate the co-creation of new solutions that harness the collective experiences and knowledge of city planners, local communities and designers. Designers are trained to create solutions that are human centred (not technology driven) first and foremost, and that consider the big picture – the vision of where we want to be, and the road map of how we can get there. Working together, we can develop new solutions to create densely connected sustainable future cities that support our long term well being.