AN URBAN DESIGN VISION FOR SUDBURY
The COVID-19 pandemic has ignited new conversations globally around the role that dense, concentrated settlements should play in human society. Historical¬ly, Sudbury has been a pioneer in mining, healthcare, timber, education, and greening. Given the 'new normal' of social distancing and concerns related to infec¬tion, we present here a vision for the city to once again rise to international prominence by designing its urban core with health and well-being at the forefront.
Much of today's discourse around density has focused on the threat that places like Downtown Sudbury present to health. Our vision flips that story and shows how redesigning the city's urban core, drawing on the latest research in psychology, neuroscience, and infectious diseases, will generate positive health outcomes for residents, workers, students, and visitors. Starting with health, this vision promises a bright future for the city's urban core, the veritable heart of Greater Sudbury. The focus of this vision is on Seven Elemental Projects: 1) Place des Arts, 2) The Junction, 3) Affordable Housing Strategy, 4) Brewer Lofts, 5) Sudbury Affordable Living Housing Project, 6) Reclaiming Canadian Pacific (CP) Rail Yard, and 7) Arena/Event Centre.
This vision for downtown is unlike previous urban designs and plans because it builds on an emerging new understanding of the human experience of place: that people react to their environments largely through subliminal processes. This autonomic reaction has been studied and well understood by scientists for generations. Freud famously wrote in 1915 that the mind is like an iceberg, with our consciousness only aware of the tip peaking above the surface. Our face-to-face interactions with one another are critical to maintaining emotional regulation and promoting positive psychological well-being (Goldhagen 2017), as is our exposure to beauty in the built and natural environments (Kellert 1995; Ruggles 2018). Over the last decade, this science has been translated for architects, urban designers, and planners and our vision reflects this paradigm-shifting outlook (Goldhagen 2017; Ellard 2015; Sussman & Hollander 2015; Hollander & Sussman 2020; Ruggles 2018; Zeisel 2006).
We believe that the entire building and real estate industry is on the verge of being transformed by this approach, providing an opportunity for Sudbury to be an innovation leader (Allen & Macomber 2020). Businesses are increasingly recognizing that meeting people's biological and psychological needs enhances pro¬ductivity and human health, resulting in economic development and growth (Allen & Macomber 2020). Some researchers are even using biometrics to evaluate how successfully places are meeting these human health requirements, and employing their findings to redesign buildings and places. By focusing on the human subliminal experience we will maximize the biological and social benefits of being in Downtown Sudbury.
1. Create Walkable Streets
The historic urban form of Downtown Sudbury consists of streets with excellent edge conditions and buildings that are pedestrian-oriented, just as leading research suggests our bodies and brains require to feel calm and comfortable (Ellard 2015). However, the whole of the urban core does not have such features. The seven elemental development projects described below are all opportunities to make revisions to the streetscape and pedestrian landscape to reduce people's stress and anxiety, which will prompt them to be more engaged, happier and healthier. Predictive biometrics will be employed to show how such reconfigurations can improve human health and well-being. The city's GOVA bus network can be reconfigured to better support walking as the main mode of transportation in the urban core.
2. Street-level Design Standards
Just as scientists have demonstrated the power of high-quality edges to impact human health and well-being, so too do the designs of building façades matter. Bilateral symmetry, curves, fractals, and face-like arrangements of fenestration all promote a welcoming, memorable, and health-oriented environment for pass¬ersby. The health benefits of being near natural materials, such as wood, has also been demonstrated, which provides the rationale for requiring the use of local¬ly-sourced wood in more construction projects. Ruggles' (2018) focus on street-level design strategies for using beauty to enhance approachability and limiting avoidance provides a key template for a holistic vision of the Seven Elemental projects in Downtown Sudbury. Through the use of biometrics, these standards can be implemented for each of the seven elemental projects; transforming the built form of Downtown Sudbury and setting the tone for additional renovation and development projects throughout the city.
3. Biophilia Heals
The healing power of plants has been understood since many of the First Nations communities first inhabited Sudbury thousands of years ago and Sudbury leaders have known the importance of being surrounded by greenery for a generation. In recent years, empirical proof of the potency of being surrounded by plants for human health has exploded (see, for example, Kellert 1995; Hollander & Sussman 2020). Looking out a window and seeing trees, walking down a street with hedges, walking across a park's green lawn: these activities are profoundly positive for people's cardiovascular health, for their mental health, and for encouraging physical activity (as well as being linked with numerous other positive health outcomes). It was noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted's work on parks that was described by contemporaries as "the lungs of the city", which allowed people to enjoy nature as part of a broader response to the virulent infectious diseases that ravaged cities of the 19th century (Fisher 2010). Building on Sudbury's regreening programs, our vision seeks to use biometrics and the latest thinking from neuroscience and psychology to expand greening and achieve environmental and climate resilience, as well as emission reduction objectives. Making biophilia a centerpiece of the redesign strategy will impact the future of the region in multiple dimensions of health and productivity.
Our vision is grounded in established science and represents some of the most important ideas emerging in the architecture and planning fields. As with any urban design process, however, public engagement is a critical component. A series of public forums, coupled with extensive web-based outreach and urban so¬cial listening (whereby social media and other digital crumbs are systematically collected from the people of the region) (Hollander, et al. 2016), will prepare the city government to understand citizens' wants and needs, to gauge their reactions to this vision, and to listen to their stories about the past, present, and future of Downtown Sudbury. A successful public process will also contribute to a sense of community by involving citizens and business owners in all decision-making, creating a strong sense of "ownership" regarding the process.
Implementing a Healthy Core Vision
The implementation of our vision will mean that Sudbury's downtown will be a place that people will want to be, a place they will remember, a place they will want to visit again. Rather than abandoning density in the face of COVID-19, this vision embraces a certain kind of density, the kind that key scientific research tells us makes us healthier and happier.
With this vision, Sudbury's inner core will again become a magnet for the region, supporting expanded arts, cultural, entertainment, and economic activities. Existing buildings will be reused, empty spaces will fill up, affordable housing will become available, and communities will reach a better social and environmen¬tal balance. The city will become an international model for urban and environmental regeneration, expanding its status as an economic engine for Northern Ontario.
It is critical that this vision springs from an understanding of our human nature, begins with attention to how our brains and central nervous systems work, and creates those conditions outlined above that will, in time, bring people back to create a dynamic, energized and revitalized Downtown Sudbury.
The inner core has been sick for too long, now is the time for a Healthy Core for Sudbury.
Allen, Joseph G., and John D. Macomber. 2020. Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Ellard, Colin. 2015. Places of the heart: The psychogeography of everyday life. New York: Bellevue literary press.
Fisher, Thomas. 2010. Frederick Law Olmsted and the campaign for public health. Places Journal. November. doi: https://placesjournal.org/article/frederick-law-olmsted-and-the-campaign-for-public-health/
Freud, Sigmund. 1915. The unconscious. Standard Edition. London: Hogarth Press.
Goldhagen, Sarah Williams. 2017. Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives. New York: Harper.
Hollander, Justin B. and Ann Sussman, editors. 2020. Urban experience and design: Contemporary Perspectives on Improving the Public Realm. London / New York: Routledge.
Kellert, Stephen R. 1995. The biophilia hypothesis. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Sussman, Ann and Justin B. Hollander. 2015. Cognitive architecture: Designing for how we respond to the built environment. London / New York: Routledge.
Ruggles, Don. 2018. Beauty, Neuroscience & Architecture. Norman: Oklahoma University Press.
Zeisel, John. 2006. Inquiry by design. Environment/behavior/neuroscience in architecture, interiors, landscape, and planning. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Universi¬ty Press.
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