Making Cities Livable: Q&A

The International Making Cities Livable Council is an interdisciplinary, international network of individuals and cities dedicated to making our cities and communities more livable. Board member, Suzanne Lennard, Ph.D. (Arch), is one of the co-founders of the International Making Cities Livable Conference and has held many academic posts from University of California, Berkley all the way to Brookes University in Oxford, England.  Through her vision, the IMCL Conferences pay special attention to the indispensable role of public spaces for connecting the city’s inhabitants and developing community. These Conferences are organized around the idea that we must make our cities “not only ecologically sound, but also socially sustainable.”

Following the recent 49th IMCL Conference in Portland, Oregon, Lennard provided us with critical context on just what makes a city livable, and some of the contextual history on how our nation’s cities and suburbs strayed from livability—and what we can learn from other counties in getting back to healthy, livable places to live, learn and play.

In talking about achieving sustainability for communities in all forms – environmental and social – Lennard said she believes it is the environment communities create for younger generations that enable them to continue to thrive.

“Social development really requires the ability to spend time with friends, learning how to make friends, meeting friends, arranging to do things together, having secret places to go, inventing games, and then also developing skills in interacting with different kinds of people,” she said.

“They really ideally need an environment that is at least within the walking distance, more urban than they’re getting in suburban sprawl, so that they have all of these opportunities.”

She finds it is important to focus on youth development in public spaces and healthy environments in order to invest in community growth. These environments would benefit from being connected to nature, according to Lennard, due to the wide range of opportunities the natural world presents.

Lennard pointed out the fact that “there are more words associated with describing nature than any other field and so this is the best model for children to learn vocabulary.  They need access to nature, as Richard Louv has pointed out very, very clearly.”

Creating communities where the children can thrive and interact with nature ultimately becomes a critical component in building sustainable and livable communities for the long term, Lennard pointed out.

“When you understand what children need growing up, then you know what a community, a neighborhood needs to provide in order for the children to grow up to the best capacity to become caring community members and caring people …passing down these values and skills and understanding of the world to their next generation.  So it’s the children who are the connection for sustainability.”