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Chris Stewart

Collective Architecture's Chris Stewart discusses his overlapping roles as architect and member of the Scottish Ecological Design Association in promoting green design to a wider audience.

Cities of Small Distances

June 6th, 2022

I have always loved this phrase, it slips into the magically realistic world of Italo Calvino and Invisible Cities. Imagine then to discover this was a real world, a bona fide urban planning concept.

A compact city, which keeps homes in close proximity to everything they need for daily living, including shopping, recreation, education, and work. Commute times are reduced, cycling and walking with their health benefits multiplied, fossil fuel usage and pollution decreased. Opportunities for social interaction is encouraged creating a feeling of safety in numbers providing "eyes on the street”. Care is required to ensure that the mixed use density required includes green space however this is the way forward.

My work has led me to help Glasgow City Council with Liveable Neighbourhoods, their vision of Cities of Small Distances, grounded in the Scottish Governments proposals for the 20 Minute Neighbourhood. Putting aside that 20 minutes walking means something quite different to each person, it is welcome to see this concept of urban development becoming imbedded in the minds of place makers, politicians and future planning policy such as NPF4.

Our focus has been the inner South West and inner North East of Glasgow working with communities to discover grass root ideas and projects which can bolster local town centres, encourage everyday journeys and create streets for people. When thinking about these resilient communities I am reminded of Jane Jacobs and her book the Death and Life of American Cities published in 1961. Her battle to save Greenwich Village from the developer Robert Moses and his Freeway through Washington Square Park makes me think what many Glasgow communities may have been like without the M8.

Exist though the M8 does and even though Death and Life in Great American Cities was published before the construction of the M8, there is lot to take from this important book. Jane’s observation that communities by their own devices create vital environments and the understanding of human scale with its active street life and diverse economy are lessons we keep having to learn. 

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