CITIES OF LOVE
Building dreams, shaping the future
Farming Model A
City Model with transport
A childhood preoccupation with fanciful drawings and assemblies of constructive wooden blocks gave birth to my dream of being an architect. 25 years later, I still seek to improve the world’s physical environment as a responsible professional. This, I have found, is no longer the only way.
Climate change has caused us to realise that time is of the essence. A solution to sustain and therefore secure the future of our world is of utmost importance. This solution must surpass any generation, outlive any industry and supersede any political system. This solution must be birthed outside the confines of race, language, religion and systems. This solution can be found within the occupants of our world. This compelling and propelling factor is in fact love, that which comes from within the individuals who live in this world.
The places we live in shape our future. This remains uncontested so long as the environment we live in is an ideal one. In an inferior environment, however, the majority of the occupants are resigned to the environments they live in and have become well acquainted with. A person’s ability to adapt sometimes works against his or her quest for improvement unless driven to a point of no return, resulting in the belief that nothing can be done to change his or her environment. More alarmingly, we may not be aware of the problems and lasting negative effects that our environments have on us. One of these environments, rising like a devouring beast in our lives, is the City.
We wrote Cities of Love to urge, persuade and provoke our fellow citizens of this earth to collectively shape our cities rather than be shaped by them.
In December 2015, I attended the COP21 opening meetings in the Blue Zone as an observer. This moment of agreement is a joyful one for the negotiators and we should certainly celebrate along. Yet the lack of clear signs of easy progress in the sustainability movement troubles me. With all efforts being made to tackle the issues from political, technical and financial viewpoints, the tasks ahead seem too great and immense for anyone to achieve meaningful, quantifiable results.
We have spent much time thinking about how we might have a more effective way of enhancing our world. To put feet to the plans charted at these summits, we need to unpack the challenges we are facing in ways that can be easily understood. This understanding should provoke a multi-national awakening. Is this possible?
Here, we attempt to encourage the mind to search for answers — with a book. A book tells a story — a story about a world that is not as big as we think. In this world, there are positive decisions made by people of cities and there are negative ones as well. Good decisions are gladly embraced and enjoyed. Ironically, bad decisions are also sometimes embraced without much questioning. Being creatures of habit, we may keep doing the things the same way without considering the rationale behind our actions. Over a prolonged period of time, relevance to present times and circumstances cease to factor in our decision-making processes. Blind-spots like these are inevitable but must be acknowledged before corrective action can be taken.
We want to focus on the city as a place for initiating change. If a city is full of love and people who love their cities, we have a fighting chance at building a bright and better tomorrow.
When confronted with the topic of climate change, we all concur that we must do something. However, when we ask, " Who is going to do something?”, we believe that most people will feel that this is the incumbent government’s responsibility. A common sentiment would be to vote in another government should their expectations be unmet.
This paradigm remains today. Governing bodies alone cannot bring effective climate improvements. Since the inception of COP in 1992, it has been unable to achieve its collective agreement and targets although these bear noble initiatives.
We do agree to some extent that government is predominantly responsible for change and this should not be shouldered by ordinary citizens alone. However, we submit that cities and their unique concentration of people present the world with an exclusive rare opportunity to usher in major change. If the collective power of people in a single location can result in serious damage to our earth, surely the same collective power could be re-directed for the better.
The question is: "Have we harnessed this power? If not, what's stopping us?"
There is a noticeable positive revolution that mankind has witnessed in facing climate change. This revolution against a clear and present threat challenges us to put the power to act back into the hands of ordinary folks. We would like to suggest the following:
. Realise the power of change in the people
. Address collective blind spots
. Make collective and decisive shifts in the right direction
Let us arise and act now!
starting a movement
We have been studying major movements for some time: any major shifts in mindset require a tripartite approach - public, private and people sectors. It’s not rocket science. Countries rise and fall because of the tripartite movement. To help us further understand, let us define the sectors.
Public - typically a governmental level, with the least in number but carrying the greatest influence. This sector is usually the one which initiates change but prefers predictability.
Private - typically an industry level with moderate influence representing economic power. This sector may initiate some changes.
People - typically citizen and grassroots level with highest numbers but carrying the least influence, except during election. This sector is not usually an initiator of change.
In most cities, a two party collaboration involving Public and People sectors to bring positive changes is more common than one that involves all three parties.
What is the best way of effecting change?
If the public sector is enlightened to improve cities and the private sector is supportive, it is paramount to realise that a fundamental shift towards creating great and sustainable cities must involve waking up the giant - the people sector. The people have colossal influence and this sector is our final missing hero in bringing about constructive, affirmative change to alter climate conditions.
When it comes to people power, there have been more negative media portrayals than positive ones. However, there are definitely a few shining lights that we can identify. Here, We would like to devote a segment to share one such example which caught my attention recently. This is a city well-known to all for its beauty but what it does to include people in its transformation is amazing…
unlocking the obstacles of change
Those of you who drive would have been taught to watch out for your blind spots. While we may associate this with the ineffective design of side mirrors, it is in fact due to a “defect” in all human beings: the blind-spots of our eyes.
The structure of the eye ball is filled with visual sensory cells except for one spot where the optic nerve is connected to the brain. This spot causes human beings to miss ‘seeing’ a spot. We all have a blind spot, try the test for yourself if you need further proof! We have previously asked my audiences to see for themselves - many have been surprised upon discovering that they suffered momentary loss of vision.
What a reminder that we carry many blind-spots in our everyday life. Throughout human history one can see how a single blind spot could spark a war! Recognising and acknowledging the existence of blind spots is certainly a step forward for change.
“The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a classic children’s fairytale reminds us of the same. Written by Hans Christian Anderson in 1837, it tells the story of two tailors who promised the emperor a beautiful garment. They convince the emperor that this masterpiece will remain invisible to stupid people, tricking him into paying for a garment that does not exist. In wanting to appear wise, everyone pretends that they could see the garment until a young boy inadvertently remarks that the emperor is naked. The unscrupulous tailors get away with their ill-begotten fee leaving the king and his subjects poorer.
In real life, we all have moments like this. Often some time has lapsed before we realised the extent of the damage that has been done. When a group of people share a collective blind spot like the emperor and his subjects, infectious habits and beliefs can percolate over a long time. Possessing the decisive courage to admit publicly that one’s perception or decision is flawed may be painful but necessary.
One of our biggest collective blind spots may be the assumption that everyone from ordinary citizens to the governors loves the city they live in. This could not be further from the truth. Ask anyone on the street and you will find myriad of reasons why they choose to live in the city. I’m guessing that only 1 to 2 out of 10 will declare their love for every inch of their city.
Do people really love their cities? If they say they do, what does it mean?
Honestly, we think most people may not love their cities as much as they think they do. Let me illustrate. Let’s use love between two persons as an example. If you say you love someone, you will give him or her gifts in various forms. Do we give gifts to our cities? We pay taxes but we do not really give to our cities. Let’s find another example. If you say you love someone, you will take care of his or her needs. Do we care for the needs of our cities, their spaces and cleanliness? We are sure most of us are happy to leave this to our governments. This is proof that we do not really love our cities.
This, is a huge blind spot because we adopt the idea that the care for a city lies squarely in the hands of the government. Relieved of that responsibility, it is easy for the minds of inhabitants to be clouded by apathy. It may be true that ordinary citizens do not have the means to build massive infrastructure. However, is it plausible that there is nothing else we can do for our cities? Can we not foster a constructive environment together?
An undisguised review is long overdue. It is time we re-address areas of city living that have been neglected because of blind spots inherited from generations before.
There are also positive elements of societal progress but we wish to highlight several collective blind spots so that we can make even more headway. These may be embarrassing because we not only choose to ignore our blindness like in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” or refer to these as constraints or best-case scenarios.
We can collectively change the world if we do our part to overcome one blind spot at a time.
This is probably the most important part of Cities of Love. We have searched our memories on cities and assimilated them into 12 ingredients that we feel are the most important in creating a city of love that we can cherish.
Through these ingredients, we believe that social, economical and environmental sustainability can be achieved to a significant extent. Again, we remind you that it has to be a public, private and people sector collaboration that will see the greatest results. We have listed down the 12 ingredients below, starting with that which we feel will have the greatest instant impact on societies.
1. Family Oriented City
2. Less Car City
3. Garden City
4. Interactive City
5. Innovation City
6. Shopping City
7. Sports & Healthy City
8. Edible City
9. Smart Device City
10. Happy City
11. City of Hope & Honour
12. City of Love
In this book, we addressed some blind spots and provide insights on each of these ingredients as well as suggest possible models for implementation. There are other ingredients that we have in mind but we feel that these 12 are the most relevant and pertinent right now. These are meant to be applied accordingly to different extents as each city has its own specific contexts.
We hope this inspires you to do something to show your love for your city.
This article is a collation of writings taken from the book Cities of Love authored by Tai Lee Siang and Valerie Ang