Kaid Benfield Archive


Simple ideas for healthy, livable cities

Kaid Benfield

Posted March 1, 2011 at 1:29PM

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Above is a short video presenting one of the concepts for urban improvement that have been selected as finalists for the Philips Livable Cities Award.

It has been very interesting over the last couple of years to watch international technology companies start to get ahead of the curve on sustainability, developing programs, initiatives, and advertising designed to position themselves as leaders.  Siemens, Cisco, IBM and now Philips have all come into my recent view on the “making cities better” radar screen, and I’m sure there are others.

In the case of Netherlands-based electronics giant Philips, the company’s web site explains the rationale:

“As a global health and well-being company, we firmly believe that the challenges around the health and well-being of our planet offer substantial business opportunities, creating value for our company as well as society at large. Through sustainable products and services, we contribute to a better and higher quality of life for everyone on the planet.”

Under the banner “because better cities make better lives,” the company last year established the Philips Livable Cities Award to generate practical, achievable ideas “for improving the health and well-being of people living in cities.”  Individuals, NGOs and businesses were invited to submit ideas for simple solutions that would improve urban dwellers’ health and well-being.  Three grants totaling €125,000 will be awarded in three categories:  independent living for the elderly; “well-being outdoors,” especially in public spaces; and healthy lifestyle.  The award process is supervised by an international panel of experts, chaired by Richard Florida.

Below are the eight finalists, chosen from some 450 concepts submitted from 29 countries.  Each is accompanied by a video posted on the contest website:

  • Using flat rooftops and storage tanks in Sana’a, Yemen to capture, filter and store water during rainy periods for later use during periods of scarcity;
  • Health education for deaf children in Embu, Kenya, using Kenyan sign language;
  • “Plaza Movil Street Park,” which would close Buenos Aires’ streets to traffic during weekends and public holidays, and use portable playground equipment and benches to convert them into recreational spaces;
  • A “Design Your Own Park” competition (video above) uses neglected urban spaces in Binghamton, New York for city parks;
  • Posting health information and education inside 45 new “Shade Stands,” similar to bus shelters, across Uganda’s capital, Kampala, that will provide relief against both the hot sun and torrential rain;
  • Using modular solar or wind-powered streetlights, connected to a “smart grid,” in New York City to light outdoor recreational facilities;
  • A “Neighborhood Network Scheme” to help elderly citizens in Abeokuta, Nigeria access welfare services.
  • Education in digital media for elderly in Edinburgh, Scotland.

There is also a description of the finalists, again with the videos, on the Architecture Daily site

For many of us, these concepts won’t seem radical; some have already been introduced here and there (e.g., a Philadelphia program to create small parks out of blighted city spaces).  But, by design, these are not big ideas but simple ones.  Especially for the parts of the world where some of them are proposed, they could make a difference, and it’s great to engage the public on these issues in the way that Philips has done. 

Among the criteria for selecting the winners is a poll on the contest’s website, which you can use to watch the videos and vote, here.  (As of today, the Neighborhood Network scheme in Nigeria is a clear favorite among the voters.)  I think my own favorite is the rainwater capture system proposed for Yemen:


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