Creating human-centered cities

Stanford Humanities Center international visitor Andrea Jany urges urban planners to consult communities when planning housing. She calls this “participatory planning.”

Jany is both a researcher and practitioner in her field. She is a PhD candidate in the School of Architecture at Graz University of Technology in Austria and a co-founder of the Institute of Housing Research, where she is a senior researcher in public housing. For almost a decade, she has also managed several affordable housing projects in the state of Styria in Austria. Currently, she is a global collaborator of the Stanford Human Cities Initiative as well as a managing board member of Forum Wohn.Bau.Politik in Vienna. She has presented research results at the European conference Forum Alpbach in Austria and at the think tank Re:think | Housing.

Q. What is the focus of your research?

The questions I attempt to answer with my research are: “What are the housing requirements based on the worldwide growth of urban population?” and “Can participatory planning be a way to solve these problems?”

My work aims to verify that participatory planning leads to higher resident satisfaction compared to housing that has been conventionally designed and realized with no resident input. Overall, I want to identify current and future accommodation requirements in order to develop human-centered cities for tomorrow. I am convinced that participatory planning can be part of a solution.

Q. What drew you to your topic?

During the design process, and even after project completion, I never met or spoke in person with any future resident. How could I know that the floor plan and the whole complex would meet their needs if I had no contact with potential residents? Do the apartments fulfill their accommodation requirements? Are current residents satisfied? Those questions led to my decision to do research on housing requirements.

Q. How do you conduct your research?

In addition to staying abreast of current research on participatory planning, I do a lot of face-to-face interviews, workshops, prototyping, questionnaires, and observations. It’s the most important part of my research to meet long-term residents and learn about their housing experiences after almost 40 years of living in the projects. The findings are truly amazing and insightful. I also work with real estate management organizations to articulate the current and future needs of the residents. It creates a new type of knowledge about and among the residents.

Q. What would people be surprised to learn about your research?

Amazing housing projects are created when future residents are involved during the planning phase. The way housing projects are created can be more inclusive than the current mainstream model which is “build and move in.” Housing planning for urban areas needs to be redefined in order to enable a good balance of workplaces, traffic, and housing locations.

A good example is Terrassenhaussiedlung in Graz, Austria. It was designed for 2,000 inhabitants in 1965 by the architect group Werkgruppe-Graz. The building, with more than 500 units, was completed in 1978. The residents had a say in the design of their own apartment and the community areas within the complex.

Drawing every blue print by hand, the architects personally tailored apartments for the residents. Remember, this was back in the 1960s and 1970s without any computers. It was a comprehensive and holistic approach to bring single-family housing with a high density to urban areas. The complex is like a village, or even a small city, within the city. You can find 24 different types of apartments with features such as roof gardens, car-free zones, and parks.

It was not only a utopian project but also a model for many upcoming housing estates in Styria. The result was high satisfaction and a low vacancy rate until today. After 40 years of use, the Terrassenhaussiedlung requires an upgrade. Therefore, we have secured funding by the Austrian government to define scopes and limits for a modernization of the estate. During that research process we are again using the method of participatory planning to involve the residents. Recently we offered a workshop for residents, which was co-created and co-led by Deland Chan, from Stanford’s Urban Studies Program, and me. We apply research to real-life problems by suggesting prototypes and creating questionnaires to capture opinions.

Q. Why is it valuable to study your topic of interest?

Everyone is affected by architecture and especially by housing. Silicon Valley is not the only area to face rising population and soaring housing prices: this is a global phenomenon that must be addressed. Participatory planning leads to higher satisfaction and social sustainability while increasing housing density for urban areas. The aim is to create livable, human-centered, and sustainable cities with affordable housing for everyone.



This article is culled from daily press coverage from around the world. It is posted on the Urban Gateway by way of keeping all users informed about matters of interest. The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and in no way reflects the opinion of UN-Habitat.