New year resolutions your city could make

Our world is becoming more urban. Most of us now live in cities. In Australia, notwithstanding our heritage of the land and the sunburnt country, we overwhelmingly do. Cities compete to attract people and business, new ideas and the creativity to turn those ideas into the future of city economies and communities. 

So making cities places that people who already live there want to remain and invest in, and others want to visit, live and/or invest in, is important to their future too. 

So on New Year’s Eve, I thought I’d offer some ideas for new year resolutions your city could make to create the urbane, urban environments that make them successful. It’s not intended to be an exhaustive list, and contributions about things to add to it are welcome. 

1. Place people as the focus of your transport system

This means changing the balance of your transport away from car dominance to transit, walking and cycling. This involves more public transport of course, but also to pull freeways down (or don’t build them in the first place), and invest seriously in infrastructure for pedestrians, bikes, and public transport, rather than cars. It can also involve initiatives like separated bike lanes, green bridges, shared streets, using road space differently,  understanding that we have been over providing car parking, and most of all, realising that cities can’t road build their way out of congestion. 


Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne

2. Invest in the quality of your public realm

A city’s road, parks, squares, waterfronts and public spaces are their heartbeat and when designed for people are a big contributor to their livability,  attractiveness and equity. Traffic dominated areas in cities have the opposite effect.

Millenium Park Chicago


3. Invite your citizens to help shape your city. 

Things like tactical urbanism, pop up services and entertainment, and programs like Sunday streets, Cyclista etc 


Image via Sutainable Cities Collective

4. Create great streets

Ideas like using quality street furniture, public art, parklets, imagination and activity. As Rob Adams says, if you build great streets, you build a great city.


Embarcadero, San Francisco: a freeway pulled down, a great street built.

5. Bring nature back into your urban environments
Through parks of all sizes, green roofs and walls, and street trees. It’s about thinking of all this as their “urban forest” that needs careful nurturing.


6. Integrate agriculture back into urban environments

Encouraging things like community gardens, roof top agriculture, and use of green verges and front yards for more than grass.


7. Value urban design excellence. 

Podiums, buildings that relate well to their city and street, climate appropriate design,  mixed use, shop top housing, precincts of mixed use, a mix of legibility and surprises, grand scale and intimate fine grain places like laneways…


Melbourne laneways

8. Encourage intensity of activity around transit.  
I wrote about that here.

Hammarby Sjostad, Stockholm

9. Have car share and bike share schemes. 

A piece of the transport and urbanity puzzle.


10. Create places where people can congregate, socialise and people watch

Parklets, footpath dining, coffee culture, brewpub culture, great squares.


South Bank, Brisbane

11. Value and use roof tops. 

For bars,  urban agriculture, striking additions to the cityscape. Use your imagination.


12. Have and encourage an engaged citizenry

People who live in a city care about its future and actively contribute to on an going discussion about things that it is doing, proposing or not doing. And the city actively encourages that ongoing conversation.

Auckland’s city conversations

13. Care about history, culture and diversity

Heritage protection for a start, but also protecting landscapes, and celebrating the cultures and diversity of its population.

That’ll do for starters. I hope it can be a handy check list for your city’s new year. What do you think? Anything to add?

Greg Vann

31 December 2015


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  1. Elise O'Ryan says:

    Great article Greg. Linked to your last point ‘Care about history, culture and diversity’ – cities should definitely celebrate the diversity of its population, but also identify and enhance the diversity of its places, neighborhoods and villages that physically represent parts of those cultures, as well as sub-cultures day-to-day. New York, Sydney and Melbourne do this really well, where the CBD is just one of many distinctive destinations.

  2. Keith Conlon says: