Impressions from reSITE 2015

Impressions from reSITE 2015

This year’s reSITE conference in Prague, devoted to architecture, urban planning and urban development, bore the subtitle “Shared City”.  The title is timely considering that by 2030 the world population is predicted to increase by 2.7 billion people, half of whom will live in cities. Cities will thus increasingly become large centers of economic growth and innovation. As Martin Barry, founder and director of reSITE said, “the Shared City is somewhat synonymous with the sharing economy in that it shall leverage technology, citizens, data and design to make the connections between people, goods and services more efficient.”

“The Shared City is somewhat synonymous with the sharing economy in that it shall leverage technology, citizens, data and design to make the connections between people, goods and services more efficient” – Martin Barry, founder and director of reSITE.

The event welcomed leading architects, urbanists, developers and politicians  from the Czech Republic and abroad to discuss intersections between space, capital, people and future city development. Among the most interesting foreign speakers were architects and urbanists James Corner and Michael Sorkin; research fellow and advisor Greg Clark; co-founder of Urban Think Tank Alfredo Brillembourg and popular ex-mayor of Reyjkavík Jón Gnarr. Below is our pick of five key takeaways from their discussions of the threats and opportunities in sustainable urban development.

  • GREG CLARK, Research fellow at The Brookings Institution, Urban Land Institute/ advisor and advocate on cities and businesses

Clark spoke about the similarities between cities and business in responding to challenges in the context of rapid and continuing globalization, and the growing importance of collaborative leadership.

“In order for the city to become competitive, it is necessary to tackle complex decisions and actively respond to the interaction of all interest groups. Good leadership and mutual cooperation of representatives, investors, architects and the public can help. Shared leadership is the path that produces a functional city,” he said.

“Shared leadership is the path that produces a functional city.” – Greg Clark

This cooperative spirit brings innovation, reurbanization, and new opportunities for trade and change in the density of urban areas, giving rise to shared services like Airbnb and Uber, whose principles of business make better use of urban space.

Greg Clark o růstu měst
Greg Clark speaking about the future of cities


  • MICHAEL SORKIN, Professor of architecture at City College of New York / Principal of Michael Sorkin Studio /advocate of sustainable urban development

“The planet cannot sustain the pace of growth. More than a billion people have trouble getting  water; on the other hand, the average American has an ecological footprint that would need four planets. Globalization is a fact. The question is how to defend it.” Students in an ecological footprint exercise led by Sorkin were surprised how much of the planet’s surface is needed in order to make a Big Mac or jeans. Together they began to explore the possibilities of sustainable cities, measured inputs and outputs of processes, and using tables and maps created a totally self-sufficient utopian model for New York (see more details here).

Sorkin’s key message was that even citizens should look for how they can contribute value. All should live more responsibly and consciously, which is captured in the sentence: “More Jane Jacobs, less Marc Jacobs.”

“More Jane Jacobs, less Marc Jacobs.” – Michael Sorkin

“Architects are not the hegemony of further development. Cities belong to the citizens and architects must understand the real meaning of social life, because it does not create a public space, but the space serves multiple public players. Cities are no longer cumulative infrastructure elements, but the scene for the emergence of a new model. Nobody knows the future of cities.”

  • ALFREDO BRILLEMBOURG, co-founder of urban Think Tank / director of the document Torre David

Alfredo Brillembourg a Michael Sorkin v provokativní diskuzu po premiéře dokumentu Torre David
Alfredo Brillembourg and Michael Sorkin in a provocative discussion after the premiere of a documentary film about Torre David

Brillembourg spoke about the Torre David project, an unfinished skyscraper in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, whose construction began in 1990, but was never completed due to the Venezuelan banking crisis. He presented the project as an example of the potential for innovation and experimentation in helping make architecture and design smarter and more equitable, and the future more sustainable.

40% of people in Caracas live in slums, so the abandoned tower has become a magnet for squatters. Those living there have created a self-organizing community that has withstood the most diverse challenges. Its dwellers have proved their determination and resourcefulness to make a ruined development into a home, against all odds. The 750 families who live there thus create the highest vertical slum in the world and prove that when a modern city does not adapt to people, people will adapt to the city.

  • JÓN GNARR, human rights advocate / comedian, actor, writer / former mayor of Reykjavík

Jón Gnarr’s fascinating personal story of taxi driver/comedian turned politician further highlights the theme of the importance of civic involvement in urban development. Feeling unsatisfied with the political situation in his city of Reykjavik, he decided to found his own party, which he named the “Best Party”. “Politics seems to me insanely boring and uninteresting, but I love my city and its inhabitants,” he explained to the audience.

“Politics seems to me insanely boring and uninteresting, but I love my city and its inhabitants,” – Jón Gnarr

Through Facebook and text messages he recruited friends to participate in the next elections. Together they created a totally bizarre but compelling website and video, and then overwhelmingly won municipal elections. Even though their campaign was comedic, it possessed what others lacked: reality. Gnarr became mayor, created a political stability that began to implement changes that previous mayors were not able to fulfill.

He admitted that without love and empathy for people, nothing would happen. “Love is not a word, not a feeling, love is action.” Perhaps thanks to this mentality, he is being discussed as a future candidate for Iceland’s presidency.

  • JAMES CORNER, a leading landscape architect, founding director of Field Operations /creator of the acclaimed High Line project in New York

Corner, the architect behind New York City’s famous High Line, discussed how the project demonstrates how collaborative re-urbanization projects can transform the face of a city.

Originally a railway line, the High Line passes through Manhattan and was connected directly to factories and warehouses so that trains could load and unload cargo inside of buildings. Goods could be transported without disrupting traffic on the streets. The 1950s saw the growth of interstate trucking, resulting in a decline in railway transportation in the country, and thus the track fell into disrepair. Residents perceived the abandoned railway track negatively. “Everybody thought it was just derelict infrastructure. Nobody knew that there hides a beautiful park!”

“Everybody thought it was just derelict infrastructure. Nobody knew that there hides a beautiful park!” James Corner on the New York High Line

However, without massive investment (the High Line cost the city USD 150 million), and the support of then Mayor Michael Bloomberg, completion of the project would not have been possible. Bloomberg saw the huge business potential of the project because he knew there was great interest among private developers to increase the market value of the surrounding land.

“Of course we too saw the conceptual questions of why should people go there? Will people like it? And how do we make it beautiful, functional and effective? Public space is the most important component of any democracy. It is a place where you have friction, tension and joy and life. These areas are very important, but they are also dangerous (fear of public space, unwanted and unwelcome visitors, and maintenance costs). Fortunately, it all turned out successfully in the end. The Highline has become an example of effective adaptive re-urbanization of the area, which turned an abandoned track into one of the most popular green spaces in New York.”

Search “sustainable architecture” on our site for some sustainable options in Prague!

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