Barry Wilson is Vice President of the Hong Kong Institute of Urban Design. His practice, Barry Wilson Project Initiatives, have been tackling urbanisation issues in Hong Kong and China for over 20 years. www.initiatives.com.hk
Marta Pozo is Director of renowned Architects MVRDV Asia, and has been located in Shanghai since 2014. A licensed BREEAM assessor and LEED green Associate Marta leads the Sustainability department for MVRDV.
在今年香港城市设计学会“乐活颐年-共融城市设计”会议召开之前，我打算提前找时间跟与会演讲嘉宾进行交流，了解他们的特别关注点和专业领域，并向他们介绍大会主旨。虽然有几位演讲嘉宾对香港都较为陌生，但作为亚洲明星级设计事务所 MVRDV 亚洲区（亚洲区总部设在上海）总监的马韬女士却经常到访本港，因此促成了我们的第一次会面。
马韬女士给我的第一印象是她很高，很高，并且信心十足。从她那件闪闪发光的“荷兰橙色”衬衫中，就能看出她身上散发着的自信光芒，但自信是荷兰人的基本特征，超过10年和 MVRDV 这样公司的合作经验，造就了马韬女士的自信。另外，有趣的是，马韬女士实际上是西班牙人，来自瓦伦西亚镇，先在柏林工作，而后到了鹿特丹，再然后变成“中国人”。因此，我们想谈谈变革。城市的变化和心态的改变。
我们首先讨论的是，马韬女士和我所熟知的欧洲城市设计原则，是否能真正成功地应用在中国？毕竟许多城市都是在鲜有科学数据收集或深入分析的概念基础上进行改造和发展的，而仅仅是基于设计师提供的海外参照图例。 “亚洲的社会元素是不一样的” 马韬女士对此总结道。在荷兰，社会参加与社会支持很普遍。而中国则更加依赖家庭关系来实现社会融合和相互关照。“譬如，当我们为老年人设计时，重要的是要超越城市标准的设计原则（在很多情况下是指技术解决方案），并且关注社会关系以及如何在更广阔的空间发展。”逐渐的，我们——建筑师、城市规划师和设计师——可以通过我们的工作改变人们的思维方式。从这个意义上说，项目可以成为一个模范，它能够塑造用户的思维方式和行为，甚至有希望重塑社会。这既有巨大的潜力，也有重大的责任。”
在世界上荷兰人一直是道路开发的创新者与改革者。荷兰的自行车数量超过其居民人数，在阿姆斯特丹和海牙等城市，由自行车完成的旅程比例高达 70％。同今天的中国一样，在 20 世纪 50 年代和 60 年代，随着荷兰的汽车保有量飙升，道路变得越来越拥挤，骑行者因而无路可走。同样汽车数量的增加导致了死亡人口的大幅增加。作为回应，兴起了“Stop de Kindermoord”（阻止儿童谋杀）的社会运动，要求为儿童提供更安全的骑行环境。 1970 年代的石油危机进一步给荷兰政府造成了压力，从而限制其城镇的机动车辆发展，并对骑行基础设施的优化和其他交通工具进行投资，使荷兰的街道更安全，城镇更人性化、更宜居。
Rotterdam market hall 鹿特丹缤纷市集
Ossip van Duivenbode／摄
“有绿地的安全道路”（生活院子）的发展在整个 70 年代和 80 年代被广泛应用，并且仍然盛行。在法律上和官方上都是优先考虑街道的生活功能，如步行、聊天、玩耍等，街道的生活功能远比交通功能重要，街道的广阔空间用于步行及玩耍。车速在“有绿地的安全道路”上被限制为“步行速度”，15 公里/小时，停车也受到限制。
荷兰道路工程师汉斯•蒙德曼（Hans Monderman）开创了“共享空间”（Shared Space）方法，这是一种将道路使用者模式之间的隔离最小化的城市设计方法，已广泛运用于荷兰的街道。这是通过去除诸如路肩、路面标志、交通标志和交通灯等特征来实现的。在不清楚谁具有优先权的情况下，驾驶员会减速行驶，进而降低车辆的主导地位，减少道路伤亡率，并提升其他道路使用者的安全。
MINDSET THE KEY TO CHANGING CITIES——BARRY INTERVIEWS MARTA POZO
Before this year's Conference of the Hong Kong Institute of Urban Design - “Actions for Active Ageing–Urban Design for All,” I wanted to take some quality time in advance to personally greet the speakers and understand their particular passions and knowledge areas, as well as to brief them on the objectives of the Conference. Whilst several speakers were relatively new to Hong Kong, Marta Pozo Gil, Asia Director of design superstars MVRDV, was a regular local visitor, being based in Shanghai. We meet for the first time.
The first thing that strikes you about Marta is that she is tall, really tall. And confident; her bright, shining ‘dutch-orange’ shirt exudes confidence. But then confidence is a basic Dutch attribute and Marta has been absorbing that confidence in working with a company like MVRDV for more than 10 years. Funnily however, Marta is in fact Spanish, from the town of Valencia, working first in Berlin and then Rotterdam before now turning ‘Chinese’. We want to talk about change. Change in the cities and change in mindset.
PEOPLE AND STREETS
We first wonder if the European urban design principles that Marta and I are familiar with can actually translate successfully into China? Afterall many cities are being transformed and developed on concepts with little scientific data collection or deep analysis, but rather are based on the look of the designer’s overseas reference photographs. “The social component is different in Asia” suggests Marta. In the Netherlands, participation and social support is the normal, society is primarily 'civic minded', contrastingly, China is more heavily reliant on family networks for social inclusion and care of each other. “For instance, when it comes to design for the elderly, it is important to go beyond the standard urban design principles, which in many cases are technical solutions, and focus on the societal relations and how they can be developed in a wider way. Step by step, Architects, urban planners and designers in general, can together change people’s mindset through our work. In this sense, the whole project can become a model that can shape the mindset and behaviour of the users and hopefully a wider society. This has tremendous potential but also big responsibility.”
The Dutch have been world innovators in street development and a ‘changing mindset’. There are more bicycles than residents in The Netherlands and in cities like Amsterdam and The Hague up to 70% of all journeys are made by bike. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, as car ownership rocketed, and much as in China today roads became increasingly congested, cyclists were squeezed off the road. The jump in car numbers caused a huge rise in the number of deaths. In response a social movement arose ‘Stop de Kindermoord’ (Stop the Child Murder), demanding safer cycling conditions for children. The oil crisis of the 1970’s put further pressure on the Dutch government to restrict motor vehicles in its towns and cities and to invest in improved cycling infrastructure and other forms of transport that would make Dutch streets safer, and towns and cities more people-friendly and liveable.
Dutch urban planners smartly diverged from the car-centric road-building policies being pursued throughout the urbanising West. In many cities, cycle paths are completely segregated from motorised traffic. Sometimes, where space is scant and both must share, there are street signs showing an image of a cyclist with a car behind accompanied by the words 'Bike Street: Cars are guests'. At junctions too, it is those using pedal power who have priority, where cars (almost always) wait patiently for you to pass, the idea being that the bike is right.
The development of ‘Woonerf’ (living yard), abundantly applied throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s and still prevalent, legally and officially prioritises the living functions of the street - walking, talking, playing, over and above the traffic function, using the full width of the street space to walk and play. Traffic in a ‘woonerf’ is restricted to walking pace, at 15 km/h and parking is also restricted.
Streets were adapted further with the work of Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman, who pioneered the ‘Shared Space’ method, an urban design approach that minimizes the segregation between modes of road user. This is done by removing features such as kerbs, road surface markings, traffic signs, and traffic lights, making it unclear who has priority, drivers will reduce their speed, in turn reducing the dominance of vehicles, reducing road casualty rates, and improving safety for other road users.
Marta explains how doing things differently implies extended effort, research and detailed work to demonstrate to the client and government than an ‘innovative plan’ can work. Nevertheless progress only comes by challenging the status quo. In China there is a strong willingness to try new approaches rather than the resistance to change that is typical of western culture. However, “where policies, social behaviour and support systems are different, just copying or transferring overseas solutions can’t work” says Marta. “There need to be local solutions to local problems, but bringing in thinkers from different backgrounds is crucial to generate new perspectives and to view things through a different lens. Only then, can change truly come. Again, it’s the process that’s important.”
Ah, the process, but what is the key to this process exactly? “There needs to be an understanding from all parties that the project will be adapted regardless. There are always local ingredients of lifestyle, needs, and aesthetics, that are different and even if you try to strictly follow an overseas example there are codes, laws, systems and guidelines that will adjust the project and localise it. The process shapes the outcome.
A project must address the identified needs of the people who will use it. It’s essential therefore to engage all the stakeholders early in a project, including the urban neighbourhood, and not just carry out physical mapping alone. Success can’t be judged on the quality of the materials used, the way it looks or compliance with technical guidelines or ratings. The programs delivered must be ‘relevant’, not just be the guesses or instincts of the designer, government or officials; the project must function primarily for the end users. In The Netherlands it’s the ‘community’ that are primarily the neighbourhood managers and not the ‘government’, which fundamentally alters the end use objectives of a project. “We must also be guided by density however, where there is more concentration, outcomes resonate more.”
CHANGE IS COMING
Marta is ‘fascinated’ by many things during our discussion but ‘change’ is the main one. “It’s fascinating to see the multiplicity of things that are happening all at the same time, together, in the same place.” “Technology and energy supply will soon change the whole fabric of the city and the way people are going to live. For instance, last century, cities have been designed around the car. As mobility and urban infrastructure develops, there will be massive transitions coming in how we experience the city. It is already happening that larger areas of major cities are being given back to the people and cars are banned. At the same time new ideas are under test: underground hypersonic transportation; urban air transportation; and new ridesharing apps. We are moving forward at high speed and change is all around us.”
“The built environment has a huge influence on how people act out their daily lives, more-so even than the influence of other people,” thinks Marta. One important technology that will facilitate and accelerate change in our cities is big data analytics. With the ability to collect, organise and analyse large amounts of data, we will be able to come up with an accurate understanding on how people uses the city and how they would like to use it, and therefore we can think of better solutions for our communities, at individual and collective level. Nevertheless, big data comes with big challenges in order to create positive changes. “In any change there will always be people who complain, because it requires people to stop doing things that are familiar and start doing things that are new. People need time to adjust. But humans are incredibly adaptable and very soon they will have forgotten how things were before; sometimes just very simple changes can make a huge difference for the better.”
The discussion leads us to consider how China’s development mode is not linear, as in the west, but far more “iterative” or circular. Every project is a pilot project, a first phase, to be improved upon by being a test bed for real time learning. There is no time to plan too carefully and in too much detail, the pace of change is too fast; spend a long thinking and the baseline will have changed, the market will have already moved on. “Speed is good,” thinks Marta. “It promotes change, and change is generally a good thing. What’s more, good changes promote further better changes. However, speed definitely affects people, it puts them under pressure, makes them nervous and less reliable. The pressure of speed can lead to chaos and this to a breakdown in communication. Its then that the quality of expectations aren’t delivered. Problems don’t come from speed, problems come from poor communication.” So high speed can lead to fast learning, but also poor communication, and this is what we have in China.
INCLUSIVITY OR MARGINALISATION?
Marta is also ‘devoted’ to complexity. “We need to move to more social living, we are social animals but at the moment everything is about profit and measured by performance. We have to put social issues to the front, and then balance them with those of economics.” She has just read professor Saskia Sassen’s ‘Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy’ and voices her concerns raised in the book of globally soaring income inequality, displaced populations and accelerating environmental destruction. The book presents how these can be understood as a type of ‘expulsion’ of people from professional livelihood, from living space, even from the very data of existence. “People not contributing to economic data no longer seem to really exist and are excluded from planning and progress. People are either born lucky or not lucky.”
Coming back to the focus of the Conference therefore it seems that the elderly are a group that have all too often been included in the non-productive demographic, leading them to be “expulsed”. However, nobody can escape the age trap; nobody gets lucky in an ageing population, not even the wealthy. Everyone can relate to the elderly in their family, and can understand that they themselves will be in the same position one day. We therefore finish in agreeing that the importance of building inclusive city spaces that don’t marginalize the elderly will be increasingly normalised. “In that sense I’m positive” smiles Pozo.