New London Architecture

Five minutes with...Camilla Siggaard Andersen

Monday 09 August 2021

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

David Taylor  
Hi, Camilla  
 
Camilla Siggaard Andersen
Hello!
 
David Taylor
What are you up to at the moment? Your title is to do with global urban resilience research at Hassell. Could you unpack that a little bit and put it in layman's terms as to what your day-to-day work entails?
 
Camilla Siggaard Andersen  
Yeah, of course. And thank you for having me. So, as we know, the built environment has a massive effect on people's quality of life, people's sense of wellbeing and their ability to live healthy lives. And the built environment also has a big impact on the wider environment, and especially in relation to climate change, both in terms of exacerbating climate change, but also very much in terms of mitigating the effects of climate change that we're seeing. And so the research that I'm doing with Hassell is really looking to understand these connections a lot better, so that we can make sure that the projects that we do that have to do with urban design, environment, communities, and transport, can contribute to making the world a better place – and making it a more enjoyable place for people to live in and a more sustainable place from a planetary and a climate point of view.
 
David Taylor  
And vis à vis London, compared to other world cities, how are we doing, resilience-wise? Big question (laughs)
 
Camilla Siggaard Andersen  
I think that is a big question! (laughs), and generally, globally, we're not doing incredibly well. A lot of what gets built still falls into the status quo category. That is only going to make our problems bigger or push the solutions further down the line. We're slowly beginning to see a change. But it's a small step change. And we need to become a lot more radical, I think, in our approaches to climate adaptation. But what's really interesting from the research that I'm doing is trying to figure out how we make all of that stack up within economic systems that we have to operate within and the legal systems and with the timelines that the construction industry also has to adhere to.  It is not an easy challenge. But it's so important that we get better and better at showcasing the value of a more holistic design approach. So we can start to really instigate change.
 
David Taylor  
And are you optimistic on all of those fronts? 
 
Camilla Siggaard Andersen  
(Pause) Yeah? (laughs)
 
David Taylor  
That's a qualified yes! (laughs)
 
Camilla Siggaard Andersen  
(Laughs) I'm tentatively optimistic. I'm optimistic that there are a lot of smart people out there with the best of intentions for making the world a better place. But I'm also a bit cautiously optimistic because a lot of what we're talking about is going to come with a lot of personal trade-offs – or what are going to seem like personal trade-offs. And change is never easy. I think zooming in from how an individual perceives the world to how the world needs individuals and zooming out to how the world needs individuals to live - it's not just industry change, but it's down to a personal level of behavioural change. I don't know that there's anyone at the moment that has the skills to look at all of that holistically. And tackle all of that together. But if we don't tackle it all together, you get good initiatives being blocked by people feeling that that's interfering with their quality of life, or you get individuals making personal lifestyle choices that then don't escalate up to systemic change.
 
David Taylor  
 I think some of your work is looking at indicators, or at least measuring success of cities across the world, isn't it? Could you lift the lid on a little bit of that?
 
Camilla Siggaard Andersen  
Yes. So, one thing we're looking at is exactly that, which is how you then measure the success of a place. And how do you do it in a way that captures these multifaceted outcomes that we have to strive to achieve? And how do you understand both emotionally, but also in numerical terms, the impact that a design is going to have on a place and on a population and community that inhabits that place? So globally, we're looking at drawing together an overarching framework of the qualities that tend to make successful places across the social, environmental, and economic sectors. And tying that in with the spatial indicators. We're building that framework based on best practice from around the world. So, there's snippets of cities around the world – it's mostly cities leading these initiatives in a practical way. We're looking at snippets of what cities are doing around the world and trying to draw that all together in a way that we can also go out and evaluate our own projects, so that we can say with certainty, when we're working with a client, that an investment in a certain aspect of design is going to give them these wider outcomes. That, hopefully, they also are interested in achieving.
 
David Taylor  
Lastly, because our five minutes is approaching, is there an exemplar city out there at the moment that's leading the way on all of this? I'm tempted to think you might answer Copenhagen because I think that is your birthplace (laughs) but is there somewhere that's pushing the boundaries on all of this and, and resilience too?
 
Camilla Siggaard Andersen  
So, there are three cities I'll mention, and they're all over the world – Melbourne, San Francisco, and Copenhagen. You're right about Copenhagen! (laughs) I think in Copenhagen, they've been leading the way on measuring what matters for decades and have reaped the rewards in the sense that they're now topping all the liveability lists that you see come out. They go out and they ask their citizens: are you satisfied with the amount of bike parking that you have in the city? And that's an indicator of success that the city uses, which is a quantitative indicator that becomes qualitative. And it becomes as important as: how many bike stands does the GIS portal say that we have. They also ask us about their satisfaction with the green spaces. And so, they're quite connected to what the citizens want. But then, once they have that data, it's very much on the city to instigate change. Whereas, in San Francisco, they also take quite a people-centred approach to evaluating public space, but they have created a series of programs empowering people to actually go out and change their own spaces. So, if a community group can prove that there's a case for turning a parking space into a mini park, they can apply to the city to do that, and they'll get the support from the city, but they will then take ownership of that space. Which obviously helps the city deal with floods because they'll have more green space and it'll create greater social cohesion, and we begin to get all these additional health benefits from that. And then Melbourne is kind of a blend of the two. Melbourne has looked to Copenhagen quite a bit, historically, in terms of measuring pedestrian activity and activity in public spaces. But they’re an interesting case of sitting a little bit between San Francisco and Copenhagen in the sense that they're also very much embedded in their communities and the approach that they're taking. And they don't have the social constructs that Copenhagen has. They've got a bit more sprawl to deal with, which gives them more space to work with as well. And then they have a completely different climate as well, of course, and I think that they're putting out quite a lot of interesting work on how to pull that together. I love their assets strategy, for example, which is something that looks at all of the city's assets holistically, and how those can work together to unlock exciting outcomes for the population. So. Long answer!
 
David Taylor  
So those are the ones that London needs look to, in order to implement change?
 
Camilla Siggaard Andersen  
Yeah, I think London can learn a lot from these places. Also, in terms of governance, I guess. London's governance system, as everyone knows, is quite convoluted, with lots of local authorities and the GLA, and it's difficult to do anything at a significant scale. A lot of planning decisions are steered by elected officials who might be swayed by the short term, personal experiences that people have that I started out by talking about. That's a big challenge for our city here - that the planning of our environment has become so politicized. It's politicized and its fragmented, which makes it really hard to implement proper resiliency strategies at scale.
 
David Taylor  
Well, that doesn't sound like you're massively optimistic! You said you were optimistic before, but that sounds slightly less optimistic, to overcome hurdles like that. They sound quite built-in.
 
Camilla Siggaard Andersen  
Er. Yeah! Maybe. But at the same time, though, sometimes it's like the floodgates need to open. We're still a little bit hesitant in London on that front. But we saw in New York a few years ago - and say what you will about Bloomberg, but under the Bloomberg administration, they just went for it with rolling out shared bicycle systems and bicycle lanes all over the city and pedestrianizing Times Square, and so on. And it took a few powerful people with strong missions to get that done. And so, in London, I think I'm just waiting to see who those people are going to be that are going to step up. And will that start catalysing change across the entire city?
 
David Taylor  
Paris is another one, of course, which has latterly done a similar thing in terms of Hidalgo leading massive change.
 
Camilla Siggaard Andersen  
Absolutely! Yeah, the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo has been a really good example of a city leader doing what I personally think is right from the perspective of making a more sustainable and resilient city. Despite the detractors. And you can discuss whether it's a vocal minority or whether it's a vocal half (laughs) or more than half of the population. But you have to start somewhere with these things. And unfortunately, when you've got a system that's set up to prioritize one kind of activities in the change to prioritizing another kind of activities, there is going to be some friction. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to make that push.
 
David Taylor  
Well, thank you for your time on this. It sounds like there's a lot to do and a lot to measure. (laughs) So I'll leave you to get back to your excellent research and I look forward to seeing those indicators when they come out.
 
Camilla Siggaard Andersen  
Yeah, well, thank you, David. Thank you for having me. 
 
David Taylor  
Cheers. Thank you. Bye!

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly


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