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The Space In Between is What Matters

"By thinking beyond the boundaries of the building, you are thinking of the cities residents at large, not just the building users, and that provides a much more substantial benefit," said Paul Finch.

The World Cities Forum, held June 15 to 17 in London was the first event of its kind sponsored by the Urban Land Institute (ULI). An international gathering of more than 250 distinguished individuals shared their expertise in creating a global urban agenda to improve the quality of life in large and small cities around the world experiencing various stages of growth.

The overriding theme of the discussion was that the public realm serves a critical function as a uniting feature for cities, and this infrastructure must be designed in a way that fosters an atmosphere of inclusivity, of “classlessness,” that gives all residents a sense of ownership and a shared stake in their cities.

According to Lord Norman Foster, director of Foster and Partners, London, the connection between the buildings is more important than the buildings themselves. “When I think of exciting cities, I think of infrastructure, not architecture. The essence of the city is (captured in) the connections provided by public space. The value of architecture “is about what it contributes to the public domain.”

"If we think of public space as connecting...with humanity, and that providing great public spaces will draw people to cities, we will have been successful," said ULI Chairman Marilyn Taylor.

A. Eugene Kohn of Kohn Pederson Fox Associates, New York City, concurred, citing several public spaces in New York—the plaza at Rockefeller Center, recently revitalized Bryant Park, and Central Park—as key contributors to the welfare of that city’s residents. “The reality is that the quality of the city fabric is what is important. Icons are not what cities are,” he said.

Paul Finch, editor of the Architectural Review, pointed to the irony of public space as being a key contributor to a city’s success. Although its value cannot be increased through real estate development, “psychologically, it (well-designed public space) is a city’s greatest asset … start with a park or water, and you will find your city,” he noted.

“For me, the essence of the city is the quality of life contained in the public space,” Jean Nouvel, Atelier Jean Nouvel, Paris, said. Open space, he said, is the key defining characteristic signifying the extent to which a city values all its residents.

The individual discussions resulting from each topic are being synthesized into a workable urban blueprint “that cities around the world can use to improve their prospects for success,” explained ULI Chairman and World Cities Forum Co-Chairman Harry H. Frampton, III.

According to ULI Trustee and World Cities Forum Co-Chairman Sir Stuart Lipton, preservation of the civic landscape will be a key part of the urban agenda resulting from the event. “The civic landscape is at the roots of our society, part of our humanity. It is both a real and symbolic space where we reflect and exercise our civil liberty. We have to put quality into the ordinary. The totality of civic space is what matters, not just a few good buildings,” he said.

For more information on the forum, visit

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December 7, 2019, 3:39 am PDT

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