How we can build sustainable, equitable cities after the pandemic | Vishaan Chakrabarti
Hi I'm Elise Hugh. You're listening to Ted talks daily. The world's cities are engines, culture, knowledge, and community these days there at the center of public, health and racial inequity crises at the same time. How could they be built back from these upheavals, but in a better way? How should they be engines for inclusion? Architect with Sean Chakrabarti has some ideas, and it's all about putting people at the center when we design solutions for our cities. He's in conversation at Ted Twenty twenty with Ted Curator Chee Pearlman. Russia Walla host of a new podcast from Ted called pin-drop. Every week you'll travel to a different location around the world. Get lost in a new vibe and tap into a surprising idea. Next to Mexico City a real life superhero who dresses up as a loser door to protect citizens from traffic. That's pin-drop from Ted. Checkout pin-drop Apple podcasts spotify or wherever you listen. So when we launched the build back better interview series, we knew we wanted to take a hard look at how we might build back our cities after the pandemic. Now. We're still in the midst of a health crisis, but our streets are no longer empty canyons. Instead they're filled with protests and the urgency of healing are urban fabric has only been magnified. I'm pretty passionate about cities. I tend to prefer to run I. See them as our engines of. Culture Commerce knowledge. Community, but I also asked. How can they also be our engines of of equality and inclusion, so we have someone here today? WHO's thought about these questions his whole career. v Sean Chakrabarti is an architect, his urbanism. He's an actor and he was the director of Planning in Manhattan in the aftermath of eleven, so he has seen crisis before he's the founder of his own architecture firm, and in just a few weeks he'll be taking the reins as Dean of Berkeley's College of environmental design. So hello welcome the Sean. itchy. Are you good to see you? So happy to see you welcome I imagine you're in deep. Thought about so many things right now, but. Campus, your sense of what we're thinking about. Cities in terms of how they are struggling, and how they might recover from both a health and an equity crisis, said they find ourselves in. Sure. After nine eleven. There are a lot of forecast made about what would happen with cities. People's had cities would be over. Skyscrapers would be over. A lot of those forecasts age very well and so I think rather than forecasting about what cities might be I think we should talk about what cities should be coming out of. These dual challenges of damage on one hand and Standing structural racism on the other hand that the black lives matter movement has really made made so clear to the world. And and if you think about those two challenges, they're interrelated because the impacts of the pandemic have not been equitable and communities of color in particular have suffered disproportionately, and so I think coming out of this in our cities, and I think our cities are everything. You described as these engines. Of Culture Commerce, but I think we need a new narrative a new social contract for the way we think about our cities. And I think you know right now. People are going to naturally tend towards this austerity model. They're gonNA say well. We're going to go broke from all of this. And so we have to pullback in investing in our people and I think that's exactly the wrong thing to do. We need a new narrative of generosity. Not Austerity and I think we need to focus on on the equitable, the sustainable and the attainable. Prior, to this crisis, and these crises that are in right now you know people that we now call essential workers. Communities of color were not having equal outcomes in our cities. Are Cities were? Working very well for the prosperous and not working in all four people in other parts of the economy and really critical parts of our world in our culture. So if we wanted to craft a new urban equity agenda, what would that look like? What would it entail? and I think about three components one is the idea of having equitable health and Housing and we can talk about how those things are interrelated. Sustainable urban mobility, and really changing the way in which we move around our cities, particularly as it relates to climate change, seventy percent of carbon emissions come from buildings and cars often rooted in our cities, and so we can have an extraordinary impacted scale in terms of the environment and climate justice. And then finally the idea of attainable, social and cultural resources, and I think if we focused on those three things, equitable housing and health, sustainable, urban mobility and able social and cultural resources as ideas for policy coming out of these crises that we could craft. Newark, inequity, agenda. That, that's really it's. It sounds like you're thinking on all cylinders all about this, but let's just start with housing because you know cities before the pandemic. Most people could not afford to live. In a decent housing in many of our major urban centers. Housing costs were skyrocketing, and that actually meant that the essential workers that we now recognize we need to have it mixed in with the entire city fabric are living further and further away and the further from their jobs, and I just wonder from your point of view. How do we start reset that balance? Sure it's a critical question. Obviously everyone prior this dual crisis you know spoke about gentrification, and that became a concern across cities globally as cities kind of recovered from the industrial era of the nineteen seventies became more attractive places to live, but then in turn became unaffordable. And I think we're presented with a false choice in terms of this narrative that we are either the impoverished cities of the nineteen seventy s where we have no tax base, and there's horrible crime or so forth or the cities that we just experienced which are kind of bourgeois banality. Where cities would become so prosperous that the very things that made them attractive. Became monocultures and we were not only losing the housing or essential workers and communities of color as you mentioned, but also losing the spirit of what we all love a bit cities in the first place, which is the diversity inclusivity that makes cities interesting, and how positive social friction I think first of all we need to think about. A how could? Housing, policy change in the future now. If remote working becomes something that is much more prevalent, we may, in fact in many of our cities drop in demand for office space, and is that occurs. It very well be has been done in other places like in Lower Manhattan where we can convert older buildings into affordable housing supportive home formerly how? Almost people because we need to break out of is the fact that essential workers you're talking about with leads to homelessness is the fact that most people in cities are redbird, which means they're spending more than a third of their income on housing costs, and so we need an activist government intervene in that. And to be able to say well, maybe some of that older office stock could become housing, and also most cities have brownfield sites real yards other places where we could bill mixed income, affordable, attainable housing, and that will lead to better public health outcomes. Because housing is health, you cannot have a healthy society if people are under housing, stress or have homelessness going on. One of the things that I've been thinking about is we're all talking about how retail is transforming and we're. Maybe we'll see fewer chain stores in cities like New York, and and maybe instead of those chain stores we could use those empty storefronts for educational or social purposes pop up libraries, pop-up, universal, pre-k or classrooms. You know things that still give our streetlife vibrancy and activation, but not without relying on chain stores, and instead relying on social infrastructure and education infrastructure that. That rather than as your question talks about school zoning that we bring them out into Muhammad that we actually distribute a more diffuse way around our cities, the educational infrastructure that people need in their communities, which includes by the way things like vocational training and senior education, so we create a kind of cradle to grave educational system. That's a a kind of street infrastructure across our cities I. think that's possible in a world in which we're GONNA see fewer chain stores. Fish on I mean I think you were talking about something that. We are all very key to. Figure out in our in our world, but if you're speaking about a new urban equity agenda. Are you also speaking about a different kind of budget allocation? Has that get done in how the afford that? Well I think we have to talk you know. financiers talk about equity and debt and I think we need to talk about social equity and social debt. You. We've seen what happens when there is an economic crisis that leads toss Taraji and austerity often just leads to more cycles of hardship, more economic ruination, and that is not the path we should take your, so we probably will need to borrow some more money and actually put deck to good use to billy a infrastructure of opportunity that I'm talking about, but we also need to. acknowledged that our cities are wealthy places when I was. Was Manhattan Planning Director New York City's budget was about forty three billion dollars. The budget passed last year in New York. City was almost double that and that's been pretty much of a global phenomena, and so if you look at whether, it's London, breed in San Francisco or and Hidalgo in Paris, the mayor's around the world are understanding. You have to invest in your people. You cannot have a massive retraction at a time of social need. And so we're going to have to find a way to pay for it both through. Some deficit spending as well as looking at the industries that are thriving and saying whether we can pay higher taxes for some people I know. I could be higher taxes in order to have a more equitable world than I'd gladly do so okay. I wanted to actually switch to the topic of. because that is so much. A part of our infrastructure is also obviously such part of what our cities are. Driven by whether it's the amount of payment have now on our streets the accessibility. To public transportation. I wonder though in the context of all of that. Are we going to see the rise in use of a private car? Because of people going to be fearful about being in that public space well this is a great question. It's a big concern. Many people are concerned that as certain cities recover arena C., wide widespread sheets, widespread use of private automobiles and you know mass transit was not the problem here and I think both. Both, density and mass transit and been painted with a rather negative brushwood comes to the covid up situation because there are places that are quite dense that have survived the covid crisis much better than a lot of the cities in the West have, despite the use of mass transit, and so mass transit can be made to be safe, but I. Think what we really need to do is step back and look at what happened which is? Most of our cities have about thirty percent of full one third of their land committed to roads right, it's a it's a staggering figure of a third of Tokyo or third of New York being committed to roads, and then the majority of that road space is used by private vehicles today and I think we need to completely rethink equation and again in the spirit of equity and ecology. Reap us that public space in terms of XPRESS buses. That could be space so that you had more social distancing on buses while you needed them. Because, you have many more of them. Walking and biking proved to be very effective means of transport in the Cova Environment as long as people are keeping their distance, and I think you know in terms of both the ecology in terms of human connectedness. All of that is so much more possible if we stop using roads solely for cars and especially private cars, because the problem here is not a technological problem, it's a spatial problem if you look at how much. Much space personal heartaches up versus a bicycle reputation I don't care whether the car is autonomous or electric or whatever it is, it just takes up too much space per person, and that's what we need. We have the space in our cities to move around in a much more efficient, ecological timely manner, and in a way that's much more pleasant for people in terms of quality of life, if we simply give more of our streets over to people as opposed to cars. Ishai tell me. What. What are you thinking now? In terms of how dramatically? Will Change. Do you feel like? Things will ever be back to some version of what we used to know or are we really setting course for something near? Well. People are obviously concerned about this. I know that as an architect and you know in my studio. We're itching to get back to the office. We know that there's an opportunity costs to working this way, but at the same time know there may be people who have really difficult commutes. They and their CEO's might have kind of aligned Dole of saying the employer says I don't really want to pay for that cubicle. The employee says I. Don't Really Want Commute. Commute to that cubicle every day, and so I do imagine that over the long term. This is going to reduce some of the commutation, and so I think it will be a mic situation, but I do believe that a lot of industries we still need that face to face serendipitous contact that sparks innovation and sparks creativity, and so I still fully believe in that and fully believe that that will be part of why cities recover from all of this, but. You Know I. Think the other thing to say about that is that I'm in the middle of writing my next book and there's so much interesting history associated with how cities changed in the course of pandemics. Sewer and water infrastructure, light and air standards from between. Cholera to the bubonic plague Spanish flu. It all changed the form of our cities, and this will to, but hopefully for the better, but also in a way that you know. Builds upon our desire for human connectedness. I have just one more question for you, which is you are embarking on now? Your new role as dean of architecture school and I wonder. What is the pedagogy going to look like? How is it changing? It's on my mind constantly obviously as an incoming dean. Berkeley as a big public university, in my undergraduate body, forty one percent of my students are first generation. We have a lot of inclusion. We're going to get a lot more diversity and inclusion I hope in the coming years, and those students will go out and become our future leaders, and it's in those foods I mean. They asked me really tough questions about how we're going to diversify our faculty and diversify our pedagogy, and I think one of the questions that a of students have is. Once their instrumentality all of this. How do they take what they learn? and become planners, landscape architects, architects who really change the narrative and change how we implement policy on the ground you know Berkeley's obviously right next to Oakland and there's just so much to do. In terms of listening to that community and working with that community are our good friend Walter Hood has been doing that for decades and I. Just think that Berkeley is one of these places as a big public. Public University that really gives me hope because of the students and the faculty, and what what impassioned them and I I do think pedagogy will change the consequence of all of this because we have to look at everything through this frame of what is equitable. What is sustainable in what is the table? But I think we do know that unless there is a a different sense of representation in terms of. What. Our government is how our government can. can be reformed in everything from criminal justice reform in terms of how we police our streets. That that none of this can come to pass that we need. Diversity and representation, and also again I think we need to rethink our narratives and not. Constantly fall in the trap of of. What we've been living in the last fifty years and instead think about. How do we get a much broader sense of representation and have the the self-governance that you know that our democracies promised us and I. Think unless you have that. You can't institute the kind of urban. Equity Agenda that we've been talking about. That's that's a lot of new thinking for the architecture fields, but We welcome that Sean. I think you are absolutely in the business of building back better. I think that your ideas. And your initiatives. More needed now than ever thank you. Thank you.