Participation and Urban Open Space. TNOC Podcast Episode 001

David Maddox, New York. 
9 January 2015

Many voices. Greener cities. Better cities.

Also available at iTunes.

SmartCityExpoStory notes: The Nature of Cities was invited to create a session at the 2014 Smart Cities Expo in Barcelona:Participation and the Role of Green and Open Space in Cities”. This Episode is a back stage conversation among the panelists after the presentations. The session, led by The Nature of Cities Founder and Editor-in-Chief David Maddox, was concerned with engaging communities for the beneficial expression of nature and open space in cities. Diverse points of view are essential and the session included multiple design and scientific disciplines: David Maddox (an ecologist and composer), P.K. Das (an architect-activist, Mumbai), Jayne Engle (an urban planner and National Curator of Cities for People, Montreal), Eric Sanderson (a landscape ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, New York), and Ton Borsboom (Senior Director at Philips Design, The Netherlands). The key messages of the conversation were these: public open and green space is critical to resilient, sustainable, and livable cities; today’s cities struggle with a lack of such spaces; yet tools and expanding movements exist to reclaim cities for people and create more open space for the good of nature and urban populations. It is crucial that people are involved in inclusive, not exclusive ways. We need to be better about helping people become not just consumers of their cities, but producers of them.

ParticipationCities4People2Public open and green spaces are declining daily in the world’s cities, largely due to population and development pressures. Yet there is broad evidence of the social, population health, and ecological benefits of open space, and a clear desire among urban populations for such space. The need for thoughtful creation of open space is critical now, as thousands of new cities will be built in the coming decades. Decisions about land use in cities—where the building, roads, and open spaces go—tend to become fixed for decades or even centuries. It is critical to get these decisions correct right from the start. David Maddox spoke about the need to articulate the attributes of the cities that we desire, and that how such cities are built is fundamentally about values—what do we think is important? P.K. Das spoke of building movements, such as Open Mumbai, around the public’s desire for more democratically created open space. Jayne Engle described a collaborative initiative in Canada, Cities for People, which was founded to experiment with advancing a movement to create more resilient and livable cities, including tests of new public engagement methods for communities and public space. Ton Borsboom presented a project in which technology facilitates information flow and dialog among the community and police to create safer public areas. Eric Sanderson illuminated a simulation model,, in which people can re-design and share concepts for the built and natural infrastructure of New York City and see how their designs perform in terms of of housing and jobs, carbon emissions and energy use, water consumption and stormwater management, and green space and biodiversity.Mannahatta2409

David Maddox

About the Writer:
David Maddox

David loves urban spaces and nature. He loves creativity and collaboration. He loves theatre and music. In his life and work he has practiced in all of these as, in various moments, a scientist, a climate change researcher, a land steward, an ecological practitioner, composer, a playwright, a musician, an actor, and a theatre director.

David Maddox

David Maddox

David loves urban spaces and nature. He loves creativity and collaboration. He loves theatre and music. In his life and work he has practiced in all of these. He is committed to the creation of sustainable, resilient, livable, and just cities, and after a PhD in ecology and statistics at Cornell he spent 10 years with first the Maryland state government and then The Nature Conservancy working on climate change and environmental stewardship. In 2012, David founded The Nature of Cities and remains its Executive Director. TNOC is a transdisciplinary essay and discussion site—with 800+ writers from around the world, from scientists to activists, designers to artists—on cities as ecosystems of people, nature, and infrastructure. He has pubished over 60 journal articles and books chapters, and has edited four books. David is also a composer, musician, playwright. As a theatre artist he has created various recordings and eight produced works of musical theatre, three published by Dramatic Pubishing and with commissions for new work from organizations such as the Kennedy Center, Signature Theatre, and George Mason University. David has created sound designs and scores to over 100 productions around the U.S., and have worked in dance, museum design, and documentary film. He has received various awards for my work in theater, including 13 Helen Hayes Award nominations (and one win), and various other awards. He lives in New York City.

One thought on “Participation and Urban Open Space. TNOC Podcast Episode 001

  1. Loved this podcast! Thank you for creating and sharing it. Great diversity of perspectives and views.

    I especially related to the commentary on public engagement as both a planning need and a planning challenge. Meaningful public participation in planning processes is fundamental to the design of good cities that work for the people who inhabit them, yet our planning processes are not geared to empower everyday citizens.

    As Jayne commented, there is momentum building – especially amongst young people – to get active and involved. I think we need to harness this energy and get a lot more creative about how we engage people.

    Developing multiple pathways for participation, meeting people where they’re at – literally (i.e. not holding meetings in government institutions, but in well-used public spaces), relying on a community’s social networks in addition to adverts to get the word out, and having strong follow up processes that communicate outcomes are some simple steps we can start taking to this end.

    We’re working on a web platform to engage Torontonians in city-building and network connections at

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