Social and environmental factors are providing strong stimuli to more sustainable real estate developments, by changing the meaning of shared spaces and aspiring towards a new urban accountability.
"Climate change poses an existential threat to New York City and making buildings more sustainable and efficient is a key part of the solution." With these words, Bill De Blasio, the mayor of New York, announced one of the most far-reaching decisions of his administration: an end to the construction of those impressive buildings that have been the recognized icon of the "Big Apple".
The new legislation passed by the New York City Council makes it possible to block projects that do not comply with the required environmental and emissions-reduction standards.
But rather than an end, this is a new beginning. The high-rise trend in building projects is destined to continue but with ever greater responsibility towards the environment and individual well-being. This transition began in 2008, a year that marked a rupture between profit-driven self-affirmation (including through the race to build "higher"), and attention to sustainability, which has gradually become the norm.
"The crisis has taught us that growth can only exist if it is sustainable," points out Manfredi Catella, founder and CEO of COIMA, "and that projects must be conceived with a view to the long term, paying attention to communities and to future generations."
While on the one hand there is a shift away from having to demonstrate a certain architectural "supremacy" through high-rise buildings, on the other hand there is an increasing need for people who live and work in cities to reclaim public space and benefit from new gathering places.
There are also cultural and social reasons, not just environmental ones, for driving forward more sustainable construction. In fact, people's habits and their way of experiencing recreational and working spaces have altered, with a growing preference for places where benefit is to be gained from sharing. This means that the vertical and hierarchical approach to construction in many cities now leaves more room for a new way of conceiving the urban surround: so-called "Human cities" are beginning to take shape, in which it is social aspects that take pride of place.
Examples of this are the High Line in New York, an elevated pedestrian park, created by the redevelopment of the long disused West Side Line railway, whose linear route takes visitors on a "green" and relaxed walk 25 metres above the chaos of the city, allowing them to enjoy a privileged, almost "zen" view of the West Side of Manhattan; The Tide, a brand new elevated park in London; or the promenade in Milan's Porta Nuova district, a major urban and architectural redevelopment project involving a long walkway along former rail tracks linking the three districts of Varesine, Garibaldi and Isola.
The nerve centre of this "urban triangle" - which makes the most of its open spaces by turning them into experiences - is Piazza Gae Aulenti, named one of the finest squares in the world also in terms of innovation and environmental sustainability. What makes it truly unique is its ability to promote social gathering: a place where people are happy to stop, making it somewhere to meet up and enjoy themselves.
The recent opening of BAM (Biblioteca degli Alberi Milano), the "garden of Porta Nuova", is the culmination of this project: an unenclosed green lung of 90,000 sqm, with a rich variety of vegetation, which will become a location promoting lively and inclusive cultural activity. A new step towards rediscovering the value of the "unconstructed" and the pleasure of being outdoors, of meeting up, socializing, feeling free to experience the city environment and to contribute to its development and improvement.
"The reconnection of green and pedestrian areas is one of the main themes of the Porta Nuova vision. BAM consolidates a pedestrian area of over 160,000 sqm extending beyond the park's borders, merging with the surrounding neighbourhoods and becoming a model of urban planning that can create places of inclusion, of meeting, of exchange, of aggregation; physical places that in the digital age are becoming increasingly important in responsible developments designed with people's needs in mind."
These are urban regenerations that reflect a new "humanizing" architectural concept that is establishing itself globally, based on respect for the environment and for a liveable life, with the aim of enhancing people's lives and meeting their needs.
A city is not gauged by its length and width, but by the broadness of its vision and the height of its dreams.