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Densification to promote safety, urban cohesion

Densification to promote safety, urban cohesion

Aug 4, 2014

By Kathy Gibson at #UIA2014durban

Contrary to popular wisdom, increasing densification would create safer and more integrated cities. This is the word from architecture critic Trevor Boddy, speaking at today’s symposium on architecture for a better future being held at the UIA 2014 World Congress of Architecture being held in Durban this week.

“I have been surprised at how low density and suburban South African cities are,” he says. “The informal settlements are also surprisingly low density. This argues that there is an issue of sprawl and non-containment of urban borders,” he says.

Boddy says Vancouver’s development holds some important lessons in creating safer cities that South Africa could learn from. Like Vancouver, Durban could be a portal city, he adds. Portal cities are gateways in terms of accessibility, digital economy and people. “There is a new class of city emerging worldwide, based on quality of life and education. They include Hong Kong, Miami, Vancouver, Panama and Dubai.

“I think Durban has enormous potential, if it plays its cards right, to emerge as a portal city. It has the largest expatriate Indian population in the world. As Indian economy rises, Durban should as well.”

Key to the success of Vancouver, Boddy says, is densification, which has enabled a city with world class amenities and safety. Importantly, amenities and facilities are paid for by private companies, which do so in return for the privilege of high density urbanism.

“What could be interesting for Durban is the Vancouverisation of the downtown city,” he says.

In Vancouver, housing tends to be in tall, thin towers on continuous bases or podia of townhouses lining the streets.

“This has transformed the streets,” Boddy says. “They are much safer now. I have been astonished and appalled at the fear and lack of occupation on Durban’s streets, even n the middle of the day. South Africa tends to obsess about politics, but I think there is an urban reason for the fear, and it is a lack of density. We can solve that.”

Integration can also be achieved through architecture and planning, Boddy says. In Vancouver, a public library offers a safe place for residents from all social and ethnic backgrounds to mix with one another.

“An issue in every South African city is how to link nodes,” he says. “A public library is a terrific way to integrate the social classes. Public spaces and institutions can transform a fearful and separate population. Safe public spaces can do much to heal wounds.”
Vancouverisation is a meme that has spread from the Canadian city to many of the portal cities of the world.

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