Note — Sep 01, 2019

Do You Live in a ‘Soft City’? Here’s Why You Probably Want To

According to this article on the new book of the same name, it seems I live in a “soft city.” Well, a soft part of a city becoming softer elsewhere. Cities made for people, where services are close by, people walk and bike around, there are shared space, and you feel safe. The piece also briefly covers the concept for layered buildings, which is quite interesting and, in some ways, parallels something I’ve mentioned in various places before; There needs to be a variety of uses. Some of the streets having problems with high(ish) vacancy rates in Montréal only have shops and restaurants at street level. With competition from ecommerce and a multiplication of neighbourhoods with their own local shops, I don’t see how commercial-only streets can go on, except for rare downtown exceptions, and even then… (Sadly, I don’t know about the book but the article doesn’t mention income levels and various aspects of diversity.)

Rather than thinking about cities as a collection of buildings and impressive developments, designers like Sim thinks about them as a series of relationships: between people and place, people and planet, and people and other people. “The starting point is not a big, architectural urban idea—it’s about being a little human being, and how can you connect that human being to as many experiences as possible,” he says. […]

As it turns out, “softness” can comprise quite a bit. But the easiest way to think about it is to consider the idea of the boundaries that you feel as you move about the city, and how they can start to come down. […]

Sim cites the Spektrum building in Gothenburg, Sweden, which has a bowling alley in the basement, a restaurant and shops on the ground floor, a school on a few of the middle floors, and and coworking and office spaces scattered throughout. To someone used to these amenities being housed in distinct structures, this may seem disorganized or random, but Sim illustrates how highly functional it is, and how it fosters relationship-building across generations and contexts. […]

If resources are assembled in a way that a person leaving their home can access everything they need by walking, biking, or taking transit, it frees up space for streets to also be layered to support these different modes.