The City is Fundamentally About People

by gumilangra

In the earlier phase as a psychology student, I never had any greater aspiration than having a good job that will pay me well without having me restrained in the tiny cubicle. But now, I believe that I could do more than that. The world is constantly changing—it can be better or worse, and the ones that have a great impact on how and where the changes head are the bold ideas of the people.

3c2a59226d875122598f0fc0b4ca9af4e7d928eb_1600x1200Amanda Burden, Principal of Bloomberg Associates (image source is here)

It’s Amanda Burden, one of those people who inspired me with their ideas and changed my outlook of life. Now she’s the Principal at Bloomberg Associates, an international consulting service which founded as philanthropic venture to help city governments improve the quality of life of their citizens. Before that, she was the director of the New York City Department of City Planning and Chair of the City Planning Commission under Mayor Michael Bloomberg from 2002 to 2013. Within her decade as someone who played a big part in shaping NYC—the most populous city and the cultural and financial capital of the world, she was able to claim and develop public spaces in the city at the outset for public use, and I think that it’s a terrific achievement. It might sound simple, but there’s always a great fight between common good and commercial use which she had to handle in the process. Months of daily negotiation has to be faced to win citizen’s rights over what-so-called money for the city. She also walked around city, block to block for years, trying to understand what the citizens really need from their city. Such dedication she had, which seems to be almost lost in the governments around the world, really put me in awe and inspired me. Then I realized that while the struggle for common good can be really hard, the result will always worth it and we shouldn’t give up on it.


The High Line (image source is here)

The High Line park is one the public space that successfully saved for public use. It was an elevated railway, and when the train stopped running, it became a self-seeded landscape, a kind of a garden in the sky, Burden said. But not all the people see the beauty. Some of them try to demolish it, and the others just see it as the source of money by adding shops along the way—which make it no difference than any other mall. But, she makes the city take a long view, a view for common good. Through another long-struggle, High Line becomes a monumental achievement dedicated for people in the city.


Another view of High Line (image source is here)

Besides all the achievement she has made, I think the most amazing part about her is that she’s an animal behaviorist, and she uses the skills she has to study how people in cities use city public spaces. She has the basic idea that city is fundamentally about people. So to build a city which fit best for the people, we have to learn about people—the human. To know what the best is for people, we don’t tap into our design expertise. We tap into our humanity. Eventually, I learned that I can use my knowledge about human behavior—psychology—for common good in the much broader perspective. Amanda Burden shows me that there’s no limitation to contribute something for other people, and there’s no need to limit ourselves in the typical job from our field of expertise. Yet I think there’s a responsibility for us: psychology academicians, to make sure that our knowledge be beneficiary to enhance people’s well being through any possible way. The one I’m interested to is about how to implement psychological assessments, researches, and theories into city planning and policy making—which is still rarely considered here. The good news is, my campus’ faculty has been oriented towards urban psychology, and that could be a great start. So, let’s tap into our humanity and build a more humane city! :)

The last, I’ll quote another powerful lines from Amanda Burden: “No matter how popular and successful a public space may be, it can never be taken for granted. Public spaces always—this is it saved—public spaces always need vigilant champions, not only to claim them at the outset for public use, but to design them for the people that use them, then to maintain them to ensure that they are for everyone, that they are not violated, invaded, abandoned or ignored. If there is any one lesson that I have learned in my life as a city planner, it is that public spaces have power. It’s not just the number of people using them, it’s the even greater number of people who feel better about their city just knowing that they are there. Public space can change how you live in a city, how you feel about a city, whether you choose one city over another, and public space is one of the most important reasons why you stay in a city.”