Streets Drive Our Cities – Follow up to a talk by Aaron Naparstek

Change has its merits. It also ignites resistance. October 14 2014: In his interesting talk at Robson Square, Aaron Naparstek presented examples of change. Among them on the large scale front was the removal of the freeway in Seoul, South Korea and park(ing) day on the small-turned-global-scale. With a lot of appreciation to the way Vancouver has developed ways of implementing livability, he had some interesting points worth attention.


On both sides of society, those who oppose change and those who advocate for it, elements of truth exist. So it’s only natural that times of change generate arguments to the point of confrontation. The documented crises in history show us that sometimes change helps societies advance their quality of life and sometimes not.

It would have been great to have direct connections between urban groups interested in change around the world. Many big cities have similar issues that could benefit from an ongoing on-line exchange of information. Free flowing information could facilitate quick responses to barriers such as legal actions and strict law enforcement.

However, insights from processes of urban change are almost naturally unique to the change they are related to. As much as urban dwellers around the world have similar, sometimes identical experiences, in times of change the timing is a major factor.

Before change happens, the uncertainties involved require attention to action and problem solving. Documentation is a lower priority in most cases. Funding is always a challenge so dedicated assignment of funds would tend to skip documentation intended for sharing.

A talk like this one, brought by the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at UBC is therefore not only interesting. It is significant and important. Some of the points below are worth a much broader discussion so they are brought here as glimpses into future elaborations.

Success requires succession:

The Bogotá bus system introduced by mayor Enrique Peñalosa in the year 2000, became so successful in terms of usage, that overcrowding invoked complaints to the point of riots.

Having a dedicated media channel:

In advocacy, your public/online presence is also a place to go to. People are looking for an anchor to hook their interests onto. The platform from which you voice your vision and share your insights, becomes that anchor. The exchange between you and your audience helps in forming and strengthening the community.

Physical presence:

Crucial for maintaining support, advocates of livable urban change must show up to events. Occasions where change was in the interest of many, failed to yield the desired results because of insufficient physical engagement. People rely heavily on useful Internet tools to generate interest and support. However, for action to actually happen, showing up sends a strong message to other groups who might be opposed to the change.

This is definitely a core challenge for change makers. In most cases the hard work required to facilitate, engage in and inspire change is done by volunteers. The volunteering platform is inherently underfunded. Sufficient funding, direct or indirect, helps in efficient organization and management of complex urban processes.

Even advocates of change aspire to reach a state of permanence whenever their goals are reached. So it’s not only an effort to move society from one reality to another. A successful process of change requires a transfer from crisis to policy. Could this be a clue to what makes resistance to change so fierce at times?


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