Toward improved towns

Thurdsay's conference on landscape architecture looks at ways to achieve 'Well-Being in the Urban Space'.

Modiin 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Modiin 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
How is a city's quality of life improved with architectural design and urban planning? How can landscape architects specifically and planners in general create and aim for qualities in design beyond provision of a framework for living, work and movement? Recent declarations in Israel regarding "green cities" or "healthy cities" usually refer to improvements in conventional environmental criteria. Clean air, encouraging use of public transportation, advancing judicious use of resources (water, energy), recycling, renewable energy, etc. - whether by the individual or the authorities - is considered the "sum" of sustainability. But how does one assess the creation of spaces that facilitate and encourage social interaction and improve the well-being of the individual and the community in the city itself? London, a city with a population of more than 7 million and a density of approximately 4,500 residents per square kilometer, made a deliberate decision to improve the quality of life for its inhabitants and visitors. Peter Bishop, director of Design for London, an interdisciplinary group answering directly to the mayor, will be guest speaker at this year's annual conference on landscape architecture, taking place in Bat Yam and entitled Well Being in the Urban Space. "Inspiring, well-managed public spaces that everyone can use, from pavements to parks" is part of his vision, and continued commitment to development based on this vision has made London the role model it is today. IN ISRAEL it is also unanimously accepted that the quality of the open and public spaces is a defining factor affecting a city's quality of life. In conjunction with the policy to increase density of the population in cities - which in some cases is much higher than in London (in Bat Yam and Givatayim, both secular cities, the density is more than 15,000 people per sq. km.) - planning authorities are working toward improvement of the development of public spaces via interdisciplinary guidelines. Though design intentions are commendable, the manuals regarding the extent of open spaces and their quality are not always understood, in consensus, or applicable in existing cities. For the most, constraints due to infrastructure, building rights and boundaries, and traffic movement have priority over recommendations for physical improvement and upgrading of the public space, and the city is left with narrow sidewalks strewn with obstacles, trees that do not contribute to improvement of the city climate or reach full development, etc., and the quality of design and life in the city is sorely compromised. In addition, the numerous rules and regulations regarding improvement of the urban space add to an already complex bureaucracy. Even when a project is managed in a sustainable manner with green building codes, that is not sufficient in itself to improve a city's quality of life. Examination of the open public space as a whole, as well as in particular streets and sidewalks, is required, along with with unconventional thinking. THURSDAY'S CONFERENCE is a continuation of the first exhibition of the international biennale on landscape urbanism held here in April. The biennale showed the potential for improvement via urban action and unconventional design solutions. Similar to work in a laboratory, various issues were examined: the relationship between the local authority, citizens and planners (landscape architects, architects, engineers, education professionals, etc.); the rights and responsibility of the individual in the public zone; the cost and effectiveness of catering for different communities' needs and inclusion of other uses such as urban agriculture and nature. The biennale proved that alternative, inexpensive methods do exist, as does the willingness to continue to explore the issues. The conference will end with a guest lecture by Jeppe Aagaard Andersen, a celebrated landscape architect and artist from Denmark. Andersen's unique attitude to design, especially in the urban realm, involves the participation of the public it is meant to serve. The Israel Association of Landscape Architects hopes that the conference will contribute to the understanding of what comprises well-being in the city, and that labels such as "green city" and "sustainable city" will be more than a communications gimmick. Tamar Darel-Fossfeld is president of the Israel Association of Landscape Architects; Prof. Yael Moria-Klain is a landscape architect teaching at the Technion; Sigal Barnir is a culture & architecture theoretician at the Bezalel Academy. Conference registration at or Galit: (09) 768-7684.