Written and Photography by Maille O’Toole
When one first hears the word “threat”, what comes to mind? Danger? Risk? Warning, perhaps? If that were the case, then European cities needs quite the warning. Cities of Tomorrow writes, “The European Model of sustainable urban development is under threat.” The journal writes, “Europe is no longer in a situation of continuous growth,” even going as far as explaining the presence of, “weakening links between economic growth, employment, and social growth.”
Although these accusations are big, bold, daring, what exactly are they cautioning the world of? Corrine Hermant de Callatay, author of Cities of Tomorrow and member of the European Commission, lays out this “European Model” in four points: high degree of social cohesion, large diversity, economic growth, and a green, environmental-conscious core. This proposal is a strong foundation for any platform, covering environmental, social, and economic concerns.
The plan appears to be a perfect mold, yet Europe’s urban centers pose two tribulations to adopting the model that cannot be overlooked. Problem one: social polarization. It is honestly simple—the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. De Callatay stresses the importance of the first issue. “We must redistribute the benefits,” the author pushes. Lessen the gap between social classes, in a nutshell. Problem two: demographic and economic growth. The territorial challenges European cities faces are too severe to merely bypass this matter. The minorities seek work in urban areas, practically the only place where jobs are provided, yet at a minimum wage. This being the case, the poor are practically clumped into cities, nowhere else to escape, struggling to break even by the end of each day.
As dismal as they seem, problems never come in hand without solutions, however. In fact, Cities of Tomorrow suggests of “opportunities to turn major problems into more positive challenges.” De Callatay elaborates on the statement. “Cities need to set their visions for the future,” she clarifies, “They need to be associated with their dreams. What are their dreams? To be green? To have a more diverse society? Then, say, twenty years from now, the cities need to try and achieve those dreams.”
Sights set on the future
There could not be a better example of a city’s epic comeback than Mayor George Ferguson’s Bristol. The once-upon-a-time rundown rustbelt is now a mere weary dream compared to the present thriving, green metropolis. Ferguson, Bristol’s resident architect, knew changes had to be made; acting upon the impulse to make a difference, Ferguson ran for office, eventually elected to mayor and spurring the city towards a brighter future. “What we’re dying for is leadership, and that’s the key to every, every issue.”
But what else is “the key” to changing the face of an old-time industrial city? Clean energy. A green presence in every day lives is necessary towards driving away the neglected façade, Ferguson explains. “(There’s) a need to connect the community,” the Mayor goes on, “(We) can’t be held down by politics.”
Keeping those wise words in mind, the focus is brought a little closer to home. Host of the 2013 Remaking Cities Congress, Pittsburgh was home to over three hundred international delegates. From October 15th to the 18th, architects, engineers, professors, and countless others explored Pittsburgh, stunning and inspiring all who took the time to appreciate the beautiful city. “It’s so bold, I didn’t expect it,” Mayor Ferguson exclaims, yet even the first-time visitors of the striking city know of it’s darker past.
Not so unlike Bristol, Pittsburgh was a steel city. The steel city. The older generation reminisces on times when the air was dark with ash, heavy with the smell of iron. Pittsburgh was a literally living hell. One look at the remarkable city today, no one could guess. But how? How was Pittsburgh basically flipped upside down? It followed its dream. Pittsburgh had a dream of being more than a steel town. Pittsburgh had a dream of being green. Pittsburgh had a dream of being the meeting place, the community gatherer. Pittsburgh had a dream, set it’s sight on the future, and chased that vision; with hard work and a strong neighborhood to pull it all together, Pittsburgh evolved into the city we all know and love today.
Looking for Better Days
In the end, it’s all about the dream. For any city, whether it be Detroit or Manchester, the formula is the same. A failing urban center take a hold of it’s visions, and make them less a wish and more a reality. With proper leadership, green energy, and a strong, connected community, the rest of the equation clicks into place. Bristol proved the fact. Pittsburgh perfected the idea. Less a model, more an actuality. Europe, as well as cities all across the globe, must to take this urban development threat as a dare, a test to see who can wake up and make their dreams a reality.