Urbanist Gil Penalosa on a comfortable city environment

February 2
Parks and pedestrian areas

In 2021, Moscow will continue implementing My District programme that has substantially changed the image of the city in the past few years and made it more comfortable and friendly. The city of Moscow plans to create more places for walks, new modern parks and squares, as well as comfortable streets and centres of attraction in outer neighbourhoods.

The city’s improvements are being watched both by Muscovites and international experts. Improvements in the Russian capital have been repeatedly mentioned in prestigious rankings and discussed at conferences. In 2020, Canadian urbanist, expert on the transformation of parks and city streets, Gil Penalosa, spoke at the online conference of the Moscow Urbanistic Forum “City for All. Wellbeing, Health, Sustainability.” 

He talked to mos.ru about how the capital is changing, why it needs public places and why its residents should take part in their development.

Question: Moscow’s image has changed considerably in the past 10 years due, in part, to the My District project. Its goal is to create comfortable conditions for all Muscovites regardless of their place of residence. You have been to Moscow many times. What changes have you seen?

Gil Penalosa: It is important to create good public spaces all over the city. It is possible to make a model park in any city, but really good cities prefer to have modern parks in every neighbourhood.

I have noticed many positive changes in Moscow in the past decade. It has received many good parks and many people spend their time in public places. I admire that Moscow pays so much attention to public spaces, turning streets for cars into streets for people. I hope this trend will continue.

I also think it’s nice that many streets are well lit. This is especially positive in winter. In addition to improving infrastructure, we need to think about leisure and recreation. A successful park requires both resources and good organisation. Thus, it makes sense not only to create paths but also to organise walking groups.

Question: Why is it necessary to create public spaces? What should they be like in a modern metropolis?

Gil Penalosa: Public spaces are streets, pavements (sidewalks), parks, shopping centres, schools and libraries. Ideally, they should be intertwined physically, mentally and emotionally. These places belong to everyone; this is where the activity is. And they are a social leveler. All people can find a place there, regardless of age or socio-economic status.

Also, it is worth creating public spaces at both the city and district levels. In districts, they must be located within walking distance. So every resident should to be able to reach parks, schools, libraries, public transit stops, grocery stores and pharmacies within 15 minutes. Importantly, this walk should be pleasant and safe.

Question: How does the city benefit from this?

Gil Penalosa: Cities must attract and keep the best people, whether they’re engineers, chefs or artists. Today, they can live wherever they want. It is possible to find comfortable housing anywhere; the only difference is the public spaces. Large cities that do not plan their urban environment are unable to attract new people and cannot keep even their own residents. So, they will lose to the competition.

Question: Should residents be involved in creating public spaces?

Gil Penalosa: I think residents of all ages should take part in urban planning, but there is more to it. They are a source of valuable knowledge. They should be involved in the development of public spaces at all stages. In the process, they will learn how to use these spaces and care for them.

Every district is unique; all parks and streets are different. This is why it is important for the city to listen to the wishes of its residents. District residents should be involved in planning a small public garden. If a Moscow project is at stake, it is important to broaden the dialogue and include more people in it.

Question: What is a comfortable urban environment? What role does public transit play in it?

Gil Penalosa: In a comfortable urban environment, people feel at home regardless of gender, age, ethnic origin or socio-economic status. Public spaces must unite rather than separate people.

Sustainable transit infrastructure is a must for any city. The main role must be allotted to pedestrian areas, pavements (sidewalks) and pedestrian crossings. Each trip starts and ends with walking. All city residents walk to their bikes, cars, bus stops or directly to their destinations. Walking and biking must be safe and comfortable. Bike paths must be separated from motorways for this reason. Public transit must cover the entire city. Buses must be frequent and dedicated transit lanes can help make that possible.

Question: What do you think about the impact of the pandemic on urban life?

Gil Penalosa: I don’t believe it has changed cities fundamentally, but it has compelled us to look more closely at the global issues that must be resolved. I hope that after the pandemic cities will become more comfortable for all social strata and all people will strive for a healthier and happier life. This is realistic.

Due to the health situation, the Moscow Urban Forum was suspended to 2021. It is scheduled to take place in Zaryadye Park on 1-4 July together with the Urban Health Second International Congress. The theme of the anniversary forum is “Superstar Cities. Transforming for Success.” These cities have managed to ensure high standards for their urban environments and have become models to follow for dozens of other cities; they are successful examples of urban transformation.

Considering the global epidemiological challenge that the entire world faced in 2020, a number of events during the Urban Health International Congress will be devoted to the cities that were the best at coping with this challenge and the impact of the pandemic on urban development in various parts of the world.  

Source: mos.ru

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