|Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park is one of Chicago's treasured public spaces. Photo: Mary Newsom|
I’ve just spent three days at a conference encouraging cities to overcome obstacles that keep them from achieving that goal.
The conference was sponsored by a group called 8-80 Cities. The idea behind that name is that cities should be designed for kids of 8 as well as adults of 80. The first group can’t drive and must walk or bicycle; the 80-year-olds may have already lost or be about to lose the ability to drive from hearing, vision, mental acuity or other age-related factors.
As 8-80 Cities executive director Gil Penalosa put it, “We have to stop building cities as if everyone is 30 years old and athletic.”
The 8-80 Cities Forum conference was named “The doable city” to encourage participants to consider the art of the possible in their cities. Co-sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, most participants were from some of the 26 cities where Knight has a special relationship, among them Charlotte; Akron, Ohio; Detroit; Macon, Ga. ; Miami; Philadelphia; Saint Paul, Minn.; and San Jose, Calif. (Disclosure: The Knight Foundation paid my travel expenses.)
|Millennium Park's "Cloud Gate" offers dry space during a rain.|
We were shown numerous examples of efforts in cities from as far away as Melbourne, Australia, Copenhagen, Denmark, and Bogota, Colombia, to as close as Raleigh – events and campaigns and years-long projects to bring more public spaces (read parks and greenways) to cities and to find ways to encourage residents to view their city streets as public spaces, too – which of course they are.
Here’s an apt metaphor: impatiens or orchids? The idea was to encourage activists and public officials at the conference not to try to cultivate orchids, exotic, beautiful and needing expert