All eyes are on US infrastructure and its role in promoting more diverse transportation choice, greater economic opportunity, more ecological living, and better quality of life.
CARMEL, INDIANA - In two weeks, this suburb of Indianapolis will host one of the first international conferences on cities to resume in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Famous for its roundabouts, Carmel offers many other detailed lessons about how to transform a declining suburb into a thriving walkable, diverse town. Among its many innovations are a new bike highway, several new mixed use neighborhoods, numerous new green energy projects, and lively new public spaces adorned with public art.
The city’s accomplishments have lured the Lennard Institute for Livable Cities, host of the International Making Cities Livable (IMCL) conference series, to locate its 57th conference in this laboratory of suburban livability. Carmel and its mayor already won the IMCL’s Joseph P. Riley Award for Leadership in 2013. Michael Mehaffy, Executive Director of the Lennard Institute, says that “It’s important to gather and share the concrete lessons of what has been so successful in transforming this and other suburbs, where such a high percentage of the population now lives.”
This year, all eyes are on US infrastructure and its role in promoting more diverse transportation choice, greater economic opportunity, more ecological living, and better quality of life. The role of infrastructure in livability will certainly be a major topic of examination at the IMCL conference too, along with the specifics of implementation.
Vikas Mehta, a keynote speaker at the IMCL conference and a professor of urbanism at the University of Cincinnati, recently met with Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss infrastructure and livability, and especially the key role of public spaces. Mehta noted that good quality public space “has become very critical in the time of the pandemic… thinking about the public space immediately in our neighborhoods is a public health need. What is the condition of our sidewalks and streets? We need those to walk, to exercise, to socialize. But they are also part of the transit network.”
Vice President Harris strongly agreed. “The point that you have made, Professor, about public spaces -- I think is so important,” she told Mehta. Streets and other public spaces, she said, “create a quality of life that every person should be entitled to receive.”
IMCL keynote speaker Christopher Leinberger, a professor at George Washington University and an expert on new urban financing and implementation strategies, has been working with the Biden administration on ways to leverage infrastructure finance to improve walkability, mobility, health and well-being – and of course, jobs and the economy. “The goal of any transportation system is not to move people,” he told the Washington Post. “The goal is economic development.”
Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson, also keynoters at the IMCL conference, are authors of the new book Case Studies in Retrofitting Suburbia, and professors at Georgia Tech and City University of New York, respectively. They point out that suburbs are not the homogenous middle class enclaves they once were, and today they have more of the diversity of big cities – and more of their challenges too. "Since 2005, more Americans in poverty have lived in the suburbs than have lived in cities,” Dunham-Jones recently told the New York Times. “So there’s a great need to improve opportunities for the very poor and disadvantaged.”
Co-author June Williamson added, "One of our main challenges [is] retrofitting to improve public health. And that’s something we learned more about since the first book — all of the interesting research that links the built environment to North Americans’ chronic levels of obesity and diabetes, and their lack of physical activity. Those are some of the complicating conditions that make this pandemic so much more risky and deadly....Investing in planning, design and community processes early on costs little and can have really significant benefits further down the line.”
The IMCL was founded in 1985 by Henry L. Lennard, Ph.D., Professor of Medical Sociology and Social Psychology at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco, and Suzanne H. Crowhurst Lennard, Ph.D.(Arch.), Professor of Social Aspects of Architecture and Urban Design, University of California, Berkeley. The conferences have been held annually in Europe and the United States.
To learn more or to register, visit https://www.livable-cities.org/
The IMCL 2021 host city of Carmel, Indiana, a laboratory of effective tools and strategies to transform a declining car-dependent suburb into a successful walkable, mixed, livable town.