How do we build the cities of the future? - 28 Oct 2021 12:00 – 13:00

Quality of life and the places we live are inextricably linked. Creating urban environments that put people first is crucial to healthy, safe and sustainable communities.

In this Nesta Talks to..., Kyle Usher, Mission Manager for Scotland working on Nesta’s A Sustainable Future mission, is in conversation with Daisy Narayanan, Senior Manager - Placemaking and Mobility at the City of Edinburgh Council, about how to create more liveable cities.

Narayanan, who describes herself as ‘a relentless optimist’, is passionate about creating cities that put people first and believes that opportunities for transformational change come from harnessing community spirit and engaging people in more constructive conversations. She cites COVID-19 as a great example of how collective resilience and people coming together can lead to big systemic changes and rapid progress in breaking the silos between transport and planning and economic development.

"I think there is something about this moment in time where there is a real kind of desire to move forward, in a way that changes how things used to be, into what things need to be or should be. I think there is a lot of excitement around shaping that together."

The COVID-19 pandemic has also created a growing interest in creating places in which most of people's daily needs, such as supermarkets, schools, health services etc, can be met within a short walk or cycle, an idea known as ‘The 20-minute neighbourhood.’ However, there is no ‘one size fits all’ for a 20-minute neighbourhood; Narayanan believes that the concept provides ‘a real chance for us to really deal with some deep-rooted social issues’, such as making cities more accessible to people with disabilities.

Other cities that have seen quick transformations recently, particularly in their public spaces and asset management, include Milan, Paris, Portland, Barcelona, Kent and Sweden, which is even trialing a ‘five minute city’ model. However, one of the challenges for successful transformation can be ‘toxic discourse’, wading through ‘lots of noise around many things’, as well as a lack of money. So how can local authorities capture peoples’ voices and engage them in conversations, not consultations?

"Discussions need to be done respectfully, evidence-based, data-based and using people's stories and life as the basis for change."

Naranyanan suggests changing the language around ‘consultations’; instead local authorities should have genuine discussions around what it is that people want and use storytelling and clear evidence to explain their decisions and plans. She also believes that they need to be more inclusive, making sure that underrepresented voices are around the table, in order to harness the strength of diverse voices and opinions. In return, people need to give more positive reinforcement to their elected representatives, amplifying the good that is happening already.

For those struggling to think positively, Naranyanan recommends that everyone listens to young people more - look at the city through their eyes and ‘you will find magic in everything’.


Daisy Narayanan

Daisy Narayanan is the Senior Manager - Placemaking and Mobility at the City of Edinburgh Council where she leads on delivering a city-wide integrated approach to transport and placemaking. Daisy is on the Board of Architecture & Design Scotland and a member of the Evidence Group for Scotland’s Climate Assembly. She was on the Active Travel Task Force set up by the Minister for Transport and the Islands and is a member of the Scottish Transport Awards judging panel. Drawing on her previous experience working as an architect and urban designer in India, Singapore, England and Scotland, Daisy believes passionately in the importance of creating places for people: places that reflect and complement the communities that live in them. A music aficionado, a bookworm and a linguist, Daisy spends her time enjoying the Scottish outdoors with her husband and two children.