2 schools' goal: more 'human' cities

Updated: 2016-02-05 12:26

By Lia Zhu in San Francisco(China Daily USA)

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Modern urban challenges like air pollution and traffic have connected a Stanford University program with Tsinghua University to take a cross-cultural and community approach to designing cities "for people and with people".

By 2050, more than 70 percent of the world's population will live in cities, according to the World Health Organization. Rapid, unplanned and unsustainable patterns of urban development are making developing cities focal points for many emerging environmental and health hazards.

"Our mission is to promote a more human-centered approach to urban development. We focus on how to build cities to address cultural continuity and social equity along with environmental and economic sustainability," said Deland Chan, co-founder of the recently launched Stanford Human Cities Initiative.

The new program is a result of three years' interdisciplinary efforts of the university's Urban Studies Program and a collaborative project with the Tsinghua University Academy of Arts and Design's International Urbanization Seminar.

Since 2014, the project has been bringing together American and Chinese students from interdisciplinary backgrounds such as international policy studies, urban studies,design, computer science and civil engineering. Forty students from both sides made up last year's class.

"We plan to continue the collaboration again for the fourth year," Chan said. "We will be bringing Stanford students to Beijing in September 2016, then teaching a joint course over 10 weeks during fall semester, followed by Tsinghua students traveling to Stanford to present their final projects alongside Stanford students at the Human Cities Expo.

"Our next step is to organize a 'Human Cities @China' event in Beijing in May 2016," she added.

China and the US are the largest economies in the world and the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, so the challenge of engaging in sustainable development would be particularly relevant with China as the fieldwork site, Chan explained.

By engaging with the people and environment of Beijing, the students will explore the city from a humanistic and technological perspective with the aim of developing a deeper understanding for the process of urban development and working meaningfully with local communities, Chan said.

The cross-cultural collaboration between students and community partners has led to a public campaign addressing the impact of air pollution on senior citizens, energy and transit in a historic Beijing neighborhood. A digital archive on the evolution of Beijing's infrastructure network also was created.

In the Beijing hutong (alley) neighborhood project, the students focused on energy impact and transportation efficiency.

The team conducted 30 interviews in the neighborhood and created prototypes to address traffic congestion and energy. To prevent congested streets from becoming worse, the team created a prototype of a device to send out a beam of light at night whenever a particular portion of the street became congested.

The beam would alert incoming cars that the street is difficult to navigate and that the driver should consider an alternate route.

The team also visually improved the residents' electricity bills so it's easier to understand. The first is a U-shaped sticker at the top-right corner to help users consolidate bills.

Then users can compare the recent cost with former years' and even their neighbors'. The last is an energy sticker that residents can paste on appliances to better understand the electricity cost per appliance.


 2 schools' goal: more 'human' cities

Deland Chan (center) and Human Cities Initiative students at the Human Cities Expo at Stanford University in December. Provided to China Daily

(China Daily USA 02/05/2016 page2)