The Norman Transcript

April 4, 2013

Conference at OU examines national living solutions

By Caitlin Schudalla
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The University of Oklahoma hosted a day of cutting-edge concepts and inspirational discourse on community planning Wednesday with the 2013 Placemaking Conference presented by the Institute for Quality Communities.

The complimentary conference featured insight from world leaders in urban planning, examining design solutions for problems ranging from sustainability to traffic flow to increasing neighborliness.

Evening keynote speaker Hank Dittmar, chief executive of the UK-based Prince Charles Foundation for Building Community, provided a summary of key factors necessary to well-planned communities, using foundation projects in the UK and abroad as examples.

“My campaign is to actually engage with residents in our project areas to create quality living space,” Dittmar said. “We believe that design is far too important to be left solely to the professionals. We want to create a mutual education process where residents can understand the DNA of building a community and designers can understand what the residents actually want to see.”

Key elements of a successful community design that Dittmar highlighted were designs that are rooted in local culture, connected and accessible, balanced, resilient against weather events and cost effective.

Using an aerial image of the so-called “vertical sprawl,” high-rise contemporary apartments of Shanghai as an example, Dittmar explored the negative trend of standardizing and effectively de-humanizing urban dwellings — lessening culture and quality of life.

“As we look to the future of increased urban population, designers tend to look at it like a storage problem, not a human problem. Our 20th century culture of mass production and internationalism has shaped the way we look at planning and design, and we need a model that focuses on building local identity and what each place has to offer the world based on its uniqueness and not standardization,” Dittmar said.

Positive examples Dittmar used were communities featuring public transportation designed around a city to foster pedestrian traffic and architecture drawing from local taste/tradition.

Particularly innovative were high-density dwellings that blended differently priced units together but had the same curb appearance, therefore avoiding the stigmatization of the area’s lower-income occupants.

“What we’ve tended toward is either customizing everything or standardizing everything, and we ought to be looking for something more in between,” Dittmar said.

Lastly, Dittmar emphasized that these design concepts, though urban-centric, are universally applicable, from urban to rural communities.

“This is just as important in towns or villages as it is in cities,” Dittmar said. “When we talk about urbanization, what we’re talking about is ‘urbanity,’ building places that allow us to meet our neighbor. It’s about recapturing civility and civil discourse, and that is the 21st century.”

For more information on the conference and the Institute for Quality Communities, visit www.iqc.ou.edu.

For more information on The Prince’s Foundation visit www.princes-foundation.org.

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