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How can we build inclusive cities?



As part of SIX’s Unusual Suspects Festival, the Social Innovation Community got together a diverse range of panelists to talk about what an inclusive city meant to them, which certainly worked to provide some unique and unusual conversations…

In an increasingly polarized and divided world, we wanted to address the question of ‘How can we continue to build more inclusive cities?’. In order to achieve this we brought together diverse local perspectives, case studies and expertise and discussed solutions to some of the most complex urban challenges.

We were joined by Francesca Rizzo from the University of Bologna, Lilian Hunt from the Crick Institute, Kieron Toms from Create Streets, and representatives from Seoul Metropolitan Government. Peter Ramsden from Urbact mediated the event, providing a range of excellent insights as well as beautifully tying and weaving all of the case studies together.

Lilian began by giving us an personal and honest account of her move to London as a gay woman. She described her journey to engage the LGBT community and her personal sense of belonging and feeling welcomed within the city. She spoke about the initiatives that the Crick has undertaken to reach out, connect with and include the local community in Camden. Being a scientist in a room full of geographers, architects, artists and social innovators, Lilian elaborated on the necessity for in science, and the importance of promoting gender equality in science through public engagement.

Francesca Rizzo then asked, ‘can cities truly be inclusive for everyone?’. To consider the variety of the urban dweller is overwhelming; is it possible that we can design cities to incorporate every user? Francesca is an expert in service design and innovation, and called for a new ecosystem of actors. Her theory is that there is a need for change and a cultural shift in authority bodies. Most importantly, that we should be building on what people have rather than what they don’t have. She asked, ‘have we lost our social bonds and ability to share?’ and answered by calling for more sharing platforms and a way of creating ties between the people.

Kieran provided a number of case studies and examples of inclusivity within the city. He drew on the example of Robert Ulrich, who conducted a study of a hospital in Pennsylvania in the 1980’s. Ulrich discovered that patients who could see greenery from their sick beds recovered quicker than patients who couldn’t. Since then, greenery has been used more and more frequently in urban design, working to enhance the aesthetics of a city, but to also make it safer. It has been proven that planting trees along busy roads, for example, works to slow cars down and to reduce temperatures in cities.

As a researcher and urban designer, Kieran’s perspective was that of someone working to provide inclusivity by physical design. But he was also able to look at the conversation and ask, who should be leading when it comes to regeneration? Is it the user? The designer? The council?

Jiyeong Kim is a project manager at Seoul City government. She was asked ‘How do you include those people who are more introverted and make sure their opinions are heard?’. Seoul city, often regarded as one of the most innovative cities in the world, has a wealth of brilliant practices that are inclusive for everyone, and strives to have everyone opinion heard of all citizens. For instance, they have installed a giant red ear designed by artist Yang-Soo, that anyone can go to anytime, speak into it, and get their opinions heard. The sound is recorded and transmitted inside the City Hall, where it's broadcast through citizens' affairs bureau over loudspeakers. Special sensors attached to the speakers register how many people are listening closely when a specific comment is played. They keep the audio that attracts the largest audience and use the remaining audio as ambient music played throughout City Hall. There is a clear connection here between making citizens feel like they are, not only listened to, but also empowered to have a say in the transformation of their city.



This session encapsulated, in a lot of ways, what the Unusual Suspects Festival aims to achieve. At its core, the festival emphasises the fact that despite, linguistic, cultural and geographic boundaries; the challenges that we face are the same. Consequently, the solutions to these problems are often similar and can be exchanged, despite these apparent differences. This event was indicative of this. The content of each speaker mirrored closely what others had outlined. Arguably the biggest shared conclusion was that inclusivity is not only about creating community and communication, but genuinely listening to others and caring about their perspective. This goes beyond language and cultural differences.