Cities, Design, and the Future

Cities, Design, and the Future

In 1999, the Clinton administration proposed the ‘Livable Communities’ initiative and emphasized the quality of life as an urban competitiveness. Cities that are ‘great to live in’ or ‘appealing to live in’ are without a doubt one of the policy priorities of all local governments and citizens. However, compared to the previous practice in which the policies focused on a materialized life in the physical space of a city, the ‘quality of life’ is an abstract concept that is perceived differently by people. Thus, forming policy agenda around the idea may not be so simple. Instead of focusing on the physical concept of a city, drawing attention to residents and understanding communities as a group of people who reside in a city are crucial when it comes to the dialogue on the quality of life in cities. In this sense, it’s important for residents to identify themselves as agents of living and active participants who plan their own lives. 

Cities are made up of many different elements. Urban spaces can be categorized into three types – the space for living where individuals dwell and lead their everyday lives, the space for working where people engage in various productive activities, and the place for relaxation where they can sit back and rest. These spaces that make up cities are organically linked and thus have a mutual influence on one another. A ‘livable community’ needs to understand how its members interact socially and discover a sense of attachment and identity by looking at their individual yet collective behaviors in the spaces for living, working, and relaxation. And throughout the process, it’s important for citizens to serve as both target subjects and agents of urban design.  

Many cities have been taking various initiatives to improve the quality of urban life. Accordingly, the Seoul Design International Forum has been putting a spotlight on the efforts made by the cities and sharing them with citizens. One of the focus areas has been discovering insights by collecting best practices and projects from the perspectives of universal design and social problem-solving design that drive changes across different areas including everyday life, entertainment, safety, and system. Since the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, we have shared initiatives orchestrated by different cities to tackle the pandemic. An online platform to archive and share these projects was launched last year. Such a tool was required for continuous communication with citizens as they’re both subjects and agents of urban design. 

Victor Papnek claimed that ‘design is the conscious effort to impose meaningful order’ (1971). Similarly, many scholars and designers view the act of design as the process of ‘recognizing, defining, and resolving problems’. But Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby regarded this perspective as ‘design’s inherent optimism’ and asserted that an array of problems we’re faced with are difficult tasks and the only solution is for us to change our own values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. The ‘quality of life’ in cities is comprised of numerous unsolvable problems. This is why urban design needs to focus more on changing the values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of citizens and policymakers. To do so, detailed objective setting and practical future prediction are key. 

The theme for the 2022 Seoul Design International Forum was ‘How Does Design Enrich Our Future’. Three rounds of preliminary forums were organized to determine the theme while many experts were invited to present practical cases and future predictions regarding the quality of life for citizens. The Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore showed us how a new design experience for travelers was designed. Another case was about connecting a city and data story based on citizens’ behavior analysis to apply design principles for a long-term vision. Also featured was the design to help parents in the last stage of life and their children find a pleasant closure to their life journeys. The presentations at the forum introduced different perspectives and led to many suggestions and predictions on improving the quality of life. 

This book was put together to summarize the discussions at the forum and share them with citizens, so that we can start the dialogue again. The online platform will also be updated with the forum materials. We hope to listen to feedback from citizens and incorporate them into the design policy of Seoul. We would like to express our gratitude to those who helped us organize the forum as well as the citizens who participated in the event.  

Kim Hyun-suk

Papanek, Victor (1971). Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, New York, Pantheon Books.

Dunne, A., & Raby, F. (2013). Speculative everything: design, fiction, and social dreaming. MIT press.

Category related contents
Hashtag related contents