55% of the world’s population lives in urban cities and this has put undue pressure on the urban environment. We no longer have an abundance of open spaces for playgrounds, gardens and parks. We all know how precious these spaces are. These are the only few remaining spaces where we can play sports, celebrate culture, and escape the congested cityscapes and still have a sky above us. And, these spaces are also vital from a sustainability point of view. Today, although we do have a few bastions of open spaces left in cities we need them to do much more than just act as venues for sports and culture. Now, more than ever, with whatever we are left with, we must ensure these open spaces help us make life more sustainable. This is a concept that we are tackling at ThinkPhi on a daily basis.
Utilizing Limited Spaces to do more
Open spaces such as parks, gardens, streets, and other public spaces can do much more than their primary purpose. But, we need to plan things out with that very objective – preserving open spaces for sustainability. With adequate planning, we can maximize space efficiency and design newer structures within these open spaces with a more sustainable approach, while also ensuring the greater community also benefits. After all, the whole premise of ‘open spaces for sustainability’ must also have tangible worth for the community at large. We observe the same principle working wonders in those Parklets of San Francisco where underutilised space on streets was converted into public spaces, complete with extended sidewalks, room for benches, space for art display, improvements in landscaping, and additional space for bike parking.
Taking a Multi-Functional Approach to Devices
Many think a garden as a space that has really limited utility. Don’t get us wrong, we all love the whole concept of gardens, and they’re wonderful value-additions to an urban landscape. Regardless, it still can’t be denied that they have limited scope in terms of utility. But, the same can’t be said of ‘Rain gardens’, which is perhaps the prime endorsement of ‘open spaces for sustainability’. Not only do rain gardens work as an aesthetic enhancement, but they also work to capture rainwater and direct them to storm drains. In the process, we limit erosion and we curb water pollution while ensuring that we have a lush, green open space in the middle of a big city. Oregon’s rain garden in Portland is a prime example of rain gardens’ success story.
Using Good Design to Inspire Sustainability
Commercial spaces such as parking lots, driveways, and walkways, while qualifying as ‘open spaces’, are rendered useless beyond their primary function, a bit like gardens. This is a question that we asked ourselves too.
The answer lies in our “Smart Canopy” creation. The Canopy is not just designed well and adds aesthetic value to the surroundings but also has added functionality. If you look closely at its design, you can practically see rainwater drip through the central mast. This rainwater is collected and harvested. Also, when the sun sets, you would notice how the Canopy illuminates its surroundings through the solar energy it collects, all this without an external source of energy. Our smart canopy simply allows people to see sustainability in action.
Sustainability is also about ensuring our communities enjoy improved liveability. And, since our communities have de-facto ownership of public spaces, it makes all the more sense that our public spaces are converted to ensure that they provide maximum value to our communities. This is an on-going practice and is popularly known as ‘placemaking’, which is a collaborative process that inspires the general public to reinvent their public spaces.
Through placemaking, urban public spaces such as waterfronts, parks, streets, plazas, downtowns, and buildings are redesigned and transformed. All it takes is the addition of local, culturally significant, and socially relevant elements of symbolism, architecture, and design. For example, implementing innovative placemaking ideas of parklet, Open Street Days, and Street Art, San Francisco changed the way people interacted with the city.
Open spaces can be much more than they are today. They can be sustainable and they can contribute to the healthy living of people. This is one of the core objectives of ThinkPhi. We want to help cities around the world make their limited spaces sustainable.