What gives a city character? The scale and height of its buildings or the people who inhabit its spaces? Maybe, it is in fact a bit of both. "we form the cities then the cities form us". Architecture immerses itself in the interactions between the built form and life. Take away these interactions, and all that's left will be merely beautiful sculpture. As we enter a new urban age, many emerging economies and nations are ambitious and look forward to nurturing grand cities. A problem of several such emergent cities today is that their built forms are sculpture like, detached from the realities surrounding them.
Over the decades, political policies have continued to facilitate the adoption of the skyscraper in many cities. Urban renewal projects nearly always emphasize the construction of gleaming new office or apartment towers to demonstrate the "turn around" of the city. It appears we are a generation accustomed to architecture as object being the norm. The nodes in between these buildings, or "nooks and crannies" are left to emerge unplanned, and all the unpleasantness associated with these terms then dominate human interactions and the shared spaces between us. Gates and fences, sidewalks and driveways, outdoor parks and parking lots - these ordinary features have an important bearing on civic life and the livability of cities. Today, these are mainly employed in ways that exclude from rather than enhance the social fabric.
What might be this century's most challenging and underappreciated urban problem is "the empty, lifeless spaces between buildings". Cities are becoming less empathetic places with urban residents building more fences, gates, and other barriers that make spaces even less welcoming.These barriers are also being deployed in ways that reduce civic engagement and social trust while they also promote community conflict as well as hyper competition.
Common spaces are spaces of shared meaning. Shared meaning emphasizes the commonalities that bind people together. Architecture and social projects now have to integrate diverse people and civic needs that may be contradictory at times. In essence, they must embrace the view of public spaces as representations of individuals, social groups, ideologies, values and culture. A realm where commonalities and differences are negotiated, recognizing that without a collective action platform we would all be poorly positioned for community development.
There is no simple answer to designing inclusive spaces where different "publics" can cohabit, but nonetheless it is most vital for the healthy life of cities. There are numerous possibilities that emerge from the diverse nature of society: from the different forms of mutual help and support to social mobility through the acceptance of otherness. For theoretical support to our approach at creating inclusive spaces through Weurban, we rely on Broome who in 1991 suggested that an intercultural shared meaning can develop through “relational empathy”(i.e. culture not built through similarity, but in common understanding). This collective form of meaning can provide an underlying element of commonality within a community that binds it together. Through our brand, we plan to create activity spaces that utilize outdoor enclosures, squares, parks, markets,and stadiums. Through these spaces we will help nurture relational empathy and the integration of hyper diverse societies.
The problem of badly utilized space is especially acute in African cities. In a mega city like Lagos, we find public space is used only for access to work from home and back. In places like this, public spaces are sites of flows and not intense interaction. These cities lag behind in recognizing the social, economic and ecological problems posed by empty spaces.
To confront this problem, We Urban concerns itself with the state of activity areas such as parks and playgrounds in these cities. We look to support the creation of quality places for leisure and learning. It is important for us that people are able to interact in welcoming environments. Places for exercise and education that accommodate child and adults needs alike, places to dance without self consciousness like a child, or to hold workshops, places to play on a merry go round or play chess. In sum, we want to encourage the creation of the community living room. It's the small things that count, such micro interventions that we foster may later spur communal macro investments, like new housing and extension of mass transit routes.
We would like to see developing cities begin to embrace the importance of their public spaces, enabling many more people to enjoy greener, more enjoyable lives. At we Urban, we think about our cities as people first. Through our clothing line and people engagement at shared open spaces, we hope to foster community building and the enjoyment of our shared humanity. These we firmly believe help to connect the built urban space to people's life engendering sentient or perceptive architecture.