Design the good city, now

News of unrest continues to arrive from Turkey, where fury was sparked by an innocuous sounding proposal to redevelop an urban park. News also continues to reach us of Britain’s rather more subdued resistance to urban planning and design.

OK, these are not perhaps political stories about the same thing, but they have something in common. They show us the political importance of the solid and everyday-real elements of the city.

And, by the way, it really, really matters to us whether we in Helsinki live in the shadow of 33 floors of international investment-financed hotel or of a smaller-scale and more locally accountable architecture, as this letter by outraged activists shows. Helsinki folk are not venturing out into the streets or setting out political platforms – yet – on the issue of designing the future city, but we are  getting plenty of news about proposals, developments and emerging conflicts every day. Now, of course, they aren’t about our being World Design Capital – the city just is designing because it is expanding.

Meanwhile the small Danish city of Kolding about 2 hours train ride from Copenhagen is seriously trying to develop the promises of design for a better urban future. It has the independent Kolding School of Design, a regeneration scheme based on design, and, under the auspices of the University of Southern Denmark, a university department of design.Castle in Kolding

And for all that it is much like any Northern European small city. Pretty in bits (see right), rather quiet (bordering on empty) and yet a pleasant enough place for the comfortable style of life that so many Northern Europeans came to think of as normal in the twentieth century.

Mostly well designed buildings. Well designed education. Well designed door handles. All fit for purpose and quite calming to behold.

So this is where an interesting conversation was launched last month by the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Professor Guy Julier. The topic? Design Citizenship.

I asked him what that was. We spent a day discussing it. I’m not sure we found THE answer, but we certainly established the point that “the socio-material engagement that is design citizenship” is creating new demands of municipal leaders as well as ordinary people. Guy’s interesting write-up here.

Who designs what, how and for whom is top of the agenda now. Or it should be. I’m keeping an eye out now for obvious ways to link political life and urban design. Send us any links or info you have.

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