No more solutions please!

The other night I facilitated an RSA organised discussion in Edinburgh with David Sim of Gehl Architects who have been closely involved in the transformation of Copenhagen into one of the world’s most people friendly cities.

The sell-out event attracted professionals and activists interested in discussing how Edinburgh might be different and better if planners, designers and others put people first – instead of [cars / tourists / developers / other – delete as applicable].

Discussion was lively – contentious issues and some ‘strong’ personalities!

If I came away with one overwhelming thought it was how easily we leap towards solutions, which just create adverse reaction with people citing real or perceived problems: Pedestrian streets (No! Mixed use with pedestrian priority!); Pavement cafes (No! too much noise for residents); Replace cars with trees in George Street (No! doesn’t fit the character of the place); more/less buses/trams/bicycles (No!…) – you get the idea.

David politely illustrated the issues from their experience and then said, again and again in different ways: you have to understand the problem before you apply solutions.

How true, not just in urban design, but in almost every aspect of life and work. As a former mentor and grand old man of human ecology Ulrich Leoning so often puts it: “If X [insert topic of the day – GM crops; carbon rationing; geo-engineering; etc] is the answer, what’s the question?”