Healing the Neoliberal Urban Cancer: The 53rd IMCL Conference.

by Stefano Serafini

Following the theme of Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato si’, the 53rd International Making Cities Livable Conference, on Caring for Our Common Home: Sustainable, Healthy, Just Cities and Settlements will take place at the Pontificia Università Urbaniana, in Vatican City, June 13-17.

Neoliberal urban development is cancerous, killing a city’s social, economic and ecological sustainability. “We have seen the growth of cities spiral out of control,” says Suzanne Crowhurst Lennard, Conference Cofounder and Director. “Monstrously tall and misshapen buildings dwarf the healthy urban fabric of traditional cities, destroying local culture and community, and the attractiveness of streets and squares that belong to us all.” “… They are expensive to build,” explains Lennard “and designed solely as luxury investments. Maximizing profits quickly makes a city unaffordable for the middle class”. “This creates unsustainable cities, which” as Lamine Mahdjoubi, Director of the Centre for Architecture and Built Environment Research at the UWE, Bristol UK notes, “are in danger of creating a social inequity time bomb.” “Will we merit gratitude from our grandchildren?” This is the question posed by Richard Jackson, Professor of Public Health at University of California Los Angeles. “The world that today’s young people confront is choking in the detritus of human greed… This generation’s economic systems, both socialist and capitalist, have become totalitarian and destructive in their disregard for the needs of humanity, especially the poor, and of the planet.” “Disordered urban development has been linked to high risk of low birth weight, birth defects, and cancers”, according to Mariano Bizzarri, Professor of Experimental Medicine at the University La Sapienza, in Rome; “as well as to chronic non-communicable disease, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and hypertension” – environmental diseases also documented by Richard Jackson.

Father Alejandro Crosthwaite, Dean of Social Sciences, Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, will explain how Pope Francis’ Laudato si’ relates to city planning.

Mayor James Brainard, Carmel, (Indiana), a Member of the US President’s Climate Task Force, explains that climate change is being driven by current city planning practices. He urges elected officials and planners to adopt more compact, human scale, mixed-use development to minimize destruction of the ecosystem. In China, the Middle East, even Africa, complete high rise cities are being constructed and planned by global corporations – not in order to house a complex, interdependent society unique to that culture and geography, but purely as a way to make vast profits and increase the GDP. But as Bobby Kennedy said, “The GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.” As Stefano Serafini, Research director, International Society of Biourbanism asserts: “A human-centered urban design cannot be market- or ideology-driven.” London is already inundated by high rises, and even Paris has begun to permit “starchitects” to construct high rises close to the historic city. Will Rome be next? Michael Mehaffy, Director of the non-profit Sustasis, in Portland OR, asks “Is this new wave of city-building going to improve human well-being — or is it going to hasten planetary misery?” His talk on “Beyond Habitat III: Lots of talk, but what is the action?” questions whether Habitat III has the willpower to change the dominant global economic development policy. “If we are looking for “sustainable” city planning,” argues Ettore Maria Mazzola, Professor of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame’s Rome Global Gateway, “perhaps we should stop experimenting and reinventing everyday rituals and rather recover virtuous time-tested models, such as those of the ICP of Rome’s early 20th Century housing. This housing sought not only to improve the social and environmental conditions of all those currently forced to live in depersonalizing, degrading and criminogenic realities, but also to put order into the public accounts and to protect the environment.” Professor Lamine Mahdjoubi, urges us to “guard our urban environments from further erosion of opportunities for play, social interaction, and casual leisure that not only have emotional and mental health benefits but are also essential for successful ageing and quality of life.” Philip Stafford, Director of the Center on Aging and Community, Indiana University, Bloomington, reminds us that “The rapid aging of the planet is not a Tsunami so much as an opportunity to capture what may be our only growing natural resource – the assets, labor, and wisdom of elders.” “What happens”, asks Architect Ferdinand Johns, “when each building preaches its own gospel, standing arrogantly aloof from neighbor and place? Do the people who live, work and play there do the same? What happens when the glue of civic space intended to hold buildings and community together dissolves into a mindless blur of automotive cacophony and speed? Do the people escape by retreating into a private electronic world?” Johns outlines relevant principles of design that can create sustainable, equitable and truly livable urban environments worthy of our great heritage amidst the reality of our fast-paced consumerist society. Rather than supporting mega-scale global models of economic development that privatize profit at the expense of the poor, and of the planet, this international colloquium will address the need for more sustainable mixed-use development that heals the wounds in the urban fabric. This interdisciplinary conference will define a universal charter for improving the anthropized environment. The Conference is sponsored by the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture and the Rome Global Gateway. For more information: http://www.livablecities.org/conferences/53rd-conferencerome/speakers



Suzanne H. Crowhurst Lennard: Suzanne.Lennard@LivableCities.org

Ettore Maria Mazzola: archmazzola@gmail.com

Father Alejandro Crosthwaite: decfass@pust.it

Michael Mehaffy: michael.mehaffy@gmail.com

Mariano Bizzarri: mariano.bizzarri@uniroma1.it

Mayor James Brainard: jbrainard@carmel.in.gov

Stefano Serafini: stefano.serafini@biourbanism.org

Richard Jackson: dickjackson@ucla.edu

Ferdinand Johns: oldferdinandj@gmail.com

Lamine Mahdjoubi: lamine.mahdjoubi@uwe.ac.uk


by Stefano Serafini