ESOF 2014 Conference

David Page contributed to the 2014 ESOF conference in Copenhagen under the theme urbanisation, design and liveability. 'ESOF is an interdisciplinary, pan-European meeting, held under the auspices of Euroscience, which aims to: Showcase the latest advances in science and technology; Promote a dialogue on the role of science and technology in society and public policy;' In a session led by Julie Sommerlund Associate Dean for External Relations at the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Copenhagen, presentations by Jan Gehl, Carl Sundberg, Martha Karrebaek and David Page explored the theme of liveability assessments of cities.

The presentation and subsequent discussions broadly divided into two groups - body and mind. The former pursued through Jan Gehl's 50 year advocacy of liveable sustainable and healthy cities focused on pedestrian and cycle provision. Carl Sundberg’s specific focus on health measures, documented how many of the medical disorders in contemporary urban society that reduce life expectancy can be in part tackled by focusing on fitness activity of the population, the easiest being simply more walking and cycling.

On the other hand Martha Sif Karrebaek's perceptive analysis identified how the local dialects of Denmark were being smothered by a metropolitan uniformity emanating from the dominance in Danish Culture of Copenhagen. She argued that this was in part due to an inadvertent intolerance of difference, a quality she saw as essential for any society. Her argument echoed David Page's warning that urban planning was suffering from a tendency towards everywhere being the same. The need to support dialect difference in communities and find ways to ensure places remain differentiated, might be a quality of liveability.

Common to each of the approaches was, as identified by Jan Riise from the audience, the issue of learning: how to support the health and well being of a society in indirect but influential ways, and to acknowledge that what makes us richer is a society that is tolerant, and celebrates mutual acceptance of difference.

A balance of measures were desirable to show this, measures of liveability were a nice to have, but measures of unliveability might provoke public policy.

One such measure identified by Jan Gehl was the number of children seen on the streets, a simple measure that reflected parents attitudes to safety. Such a measure could be one indicator of the liveability of a city. However the lack of children on the street would on the other hand be a measure of the unliveability of the environment, highlighting the need for policy action.