Lior Steinberg
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I'd like to start off with a question: How many of you have come here today with a bicycle? (Laughter) I love it. OK, more than 90%. And this is really amazing because had I asked this question in any other country, much less people would raise their hands. This is really what makes Groningen and the Netherlands, in general, a pretty amazing place. And when I tell people about this place in the Netherlands, where everybody cycles, they find it hard to believe. Let me try to share my own experience. I grew up here in Tel Aviv, and it's really a wonderful town. But their bicycle infrastructure is not that good, and also the public transit is not decent, and, therefore, you are forced to own a car. And I found myself having a car, driving for hours a day, looking for parking, sitting in traffic jams. And I got pretty frustrated and angry. But then I moved to Berlin and I really tried to cycle. So I bought a bicycle, and I tried to cycle ... and you find yourself cycling in a bike lane that suddenly disappears, and you find yourself in the middle of the road. It's not very safe, right? And therefore also in Berlin, I didn't cycle. And I used mainly tram or the metro, which is a fast way to get around. But that was all before I moved here. Since then, I'm only cycling. I don't own a car, I hardly use public transportation. I even don't walk. I go to the supermarket next to my house with a bicycle, and it's like 100 meters away. (Laughter) You can relate to it, right? Yeah, okay. So, same person, different cities, different behaviors. The reason I'm interested about it is because I'm an urban planner. And urban planners shape the way our cities look, and the way our cities are shaped in, influence the way we behave. And it's not only about cycling. I wouldn't bother you if it was only about cycling; it's much more. Take for instance, this image of a park. Did you know that being exposed to green can reduce your levels of anxiety and pressure? So actually just by looking at this image, we all probably get a little bit calmer and happier. You can thank me later. And ... imagine how it is to live and grow up in a city with a lot of green, and how it is to live in a city with not so much green. This decision about parks in cities is made by urban planners. Or take, for example, designing of streets: I took this image in Groningen. I think it's a wonderful example because you see those children playing. And the only reason they can play on the street is because there are low volumes of traffic. Their parents are not worried that they will get hit by a car. And then they get a chance to go outside play with their friends, see visitors, see strangers, see shop owners. If there would be fast driving cars over here, these children would probably not be allowed to go outside, and they would be faced with two options: stay home and play with their iPad, or go to the edge of the neighborhood, in a fenced playground, with children that look exactly like them and act exactly like them. That's pretty boring. In this sense, urban planners, like educators, have a huge effect on the way people develop. That's a lot of power. But it can also go horribly wrong. Take, for example, this project in Amsterdam, Bijlmermeer. Planned in the 1960s, the idea of urban planners was to create the future city, the perfect cities they would build those big nice apartment, looking at green lawns. And the idea was, basically, that people would drive to work in the city, and then they would come back at the end of the day to their nice beautiful apartments. But it turns out that it doesn't really work. Bijlmermeer became a slum because people don't want to live in beautiful apartments if there is nothing happening outside. Most people don't want to sit hours in traffic just to get to work and get back home. Talking about traffic, the way we are handling traffic is another example of urban planning goes wrong. For generations, we've been trying to solve traffic jams by building more roads and more lanes. But when we build more lanes, more people buy cars. And then traffic jams are just getting bigger. I just heard the other day that the average speed of crossing London with a modern car is exactly as it used to be 150 years ago, with a horse and a carriage. So we've been developing so well, but our cities are just more congested, more polluted, more noisy. And I'm sure now that we all heard it that you also prefer the better option, like the pictures I showed in the beginning. You prefer a nice, happy, health city. And I can promise you that the urban planners want to do the same thing. But it just doesn't work always. If urban planning is affecting everybody's life, shouldn't everybody have a chance to affect their own city? I think so, and that's what I'm trying to do in my work every day. And what I'm trying to do is not just to tell people to go and vote once in four years to your local council. I'm trying to get people involved in the planning process. So, I would like to share one example from another city in the Netherlands, Rotterdam. This is the West-Kruiskade It's a beautiful central street. The only problem: there is a bit too much space for cars. What we wanted to do there is basically turn these streets into a nicer place. We call this project "Happy Streets". We worked together with the local municipality, the university and other great partners, and we came and we asked the community, "Hey, what do you want to have in your street?" Most people said, "Yeah, we want more places for cycling, for walking. We want places to sit, we want more green." And some others, for example, shop owners, were afraid that we would take away parking. They were sure that most of the customers are coming with their car. And if we take away parking and make their road narrow, they will lose customers and customers is money. Now, what most it is we would do in this situation, is spend millions of euros to plan something new. They would hire planners and architects, and will make a new design, and they will implement it without even knowing what the actual effect will be. But we tried to do something different. We tried to work with the community, and we just painted a temporary bike lane. Now, it's a very cheap way to show people the future of the street. Most of the community loved it. They finally had a place to cycle. But the interesting thing was with the people who didn't want the bike lane. They suddenly realized that actually they didn't lose customers. They had different types of customers because people showed up with a bicycle or by foot. Another example is taking away parking spaces. This used to be a car parking, and we took it out and built very quickly a new small micro park. When you take away parking spaces from people, they will get pretty angry. Not you because you have bicycles, but some people have a car and they will get very angry. But if you give something back to the community like sitting places, and green places, you can win. And this is a very democratic way to plan your street. And the most important thing is that we did it together, with the people. That's basically my idea of how we need to change the way of urban planning, but this won't work without you, without us, citizens, residents of cities. It means that first we all need to understand that the way cities are shaped really affect the way we live. It affects our well-being, our health, our happiness. And then once we understand it, we can do things like contact and talk with politicians, asking them, "Hey, please change something." Or think with your colleagues and peer students, about how to solve an issue. I promise you that your local municipality will be happy to hear new and fresh ideas. And it can be something as small as taking out a bench for a few hours outside your house. Speak with your neighbors, be kind to each other. Just create a better community. Because, at the end of the day, and I'm paraphrasing here Jane Jacobs, an urban hero, "Cities can provide something for everybody only if and only because they are made by everybody." Thank you. (Applause)