human-needsSustainability could be defined as the ability of something to sustain itself and also as the capacity to conserve an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources. According to this definition, people are most likely to be seen as consumers, and sometimes even destroyers, than as intangible assets. But what if, by understanding their needs, we could start thinking of people as one more of the planet´s resources?

The Principles of Intelligent Urbanism (PIU) is a theory of urban planning comprising ten axioms which are directed to the formulation of city plans and urban designs. One of those axioms is Placemaking, which is a multidisciplinary approach to the design of public spaces. It focuses on taking advantage of local community assets in order to create healthy and positive public spaces that promote people’s wellbeing. If we take the time to analyze this concept, we could infer that cities, and not only public spaces, should be created following that premise.

Cities could be defined as permanent human settlements that facilitate reciprocal action between people and businesses through the concentration of development. Public spaces, on the other hand, are social areas accessible to people. If we take a closer look to these definitions, we could infer that the two concepts have something in common: they both promote the interaction of people. By uncovering the ways to encourage human communication and cooperation, we could be taking the first step towards the transformation of the city making process.

In a time of global chaos, changes need to be made. We have to start doing things differently if we want to obtain different results. And the simplest, most direct approach to major change is to rethink what has been proven to work well and adapt it to other areas. So, would it be possible to approach city making as planners approach placemaking? I believe it is feasible, and, by doing so in a sustainable way, we could initiate the creative process by analyzing the assets of the place, of its people, which, over time, could result in positive solutions tailored to them and their environment, that could grant them wellbeing and health.

However, I think we should go further. The changes we need to make should involve everything about the design process, including the research techniques. I believe the key to producing sustainable, human-centered designs is to start being active. We cannot create cities just by sitting in front of our computers. Research must go beyond the internet and printed data. We need to take our actions beyond our cloistered environments and study the possibility of beginning the creation process with physical activity. Planners should go out into the streets and observe what is going on around them in order to analyze the existing reality so they can improve it. They must work with what the communities already have in order to enhance their localities and turn them into sustainable cities instead of just wiping out all existing buildings and starting from scratch.

If we think of the design process as the reconfiguration and rearrangement of the built environment instead of approaching it as we do a blank paper when creating a piece of art, we could provoke substantive changes in humanity based on our reality and needs rather than just dealing with superficial challenges.