Of the 7 billion human beings on the planet, more than half live in cities. It is expected that the number of people living in cities will increase to 5.5 billion people by 2035, with an average increase of more than 200,000 people per day.
With more than 600 metropolises of 1 million or more around the world, the challenge of how to plan for their ongoing growth and expansion is a sizeable one. A framework for planning the development of urban areas is needed and the task of urban planners worldwide is to address the issues presented by the continued growth of cities.
Mr Pedro Ortiz a senior urban planner at the World Bank addresses these issues and more in his recent book ‘The Art of Shaping the Metropolis’. The book expands on a methodology for metropolitan planning developed by Ortiz during his time as director of the Strategic Plan for Madrid. The Metro-Matrix method provides a framework for the creation of metropolitan plans and offers a progression in metropolitan planning thought and the planning and development of major cities.
Ortiz envisages a new city form that moves from the dominant monocentric model, with a Central Business District surrounded by concentric rings (a bit like the layers of an onion), to polycentric cities, based on mass public transport, with a reticular grid pattern. If developed and designed well, each centre will have its own character, enhanced by designers of public space to create centres with a sense of place blending culture, heritage and modernity.
The challenge for many cities, particularly those that are rapidly expanding is how to structure the urban edge and the expanding metropolitan form. The Metro-Matrix method provides a common set of rules for dealing with these issues and provides a framework for dealing with the complexities involved in metropolitan planning, including competing priorities, short election cycles and disparate interests. Moving to a different model for metropolitan planning, involves a change in mindset in regards to governance, from centralised decision-making, to democratic and shared decision making.
Ortiz’s book explores the origins of the rectangular model for city planning versus the circular (monocentric) model and notes that wealth drives metropolitan expansion as much or more than population increases. He identifies that for metropolitan planning to succeed it is important to reach a social consensus. In this way the Plan does not need to be approved but becomes a way of thinking in that metropolis.
The transition to a reticular matrix approach to planning metropolises can be described by the analogy of a chessboard. The matrix creates the grid pattern of a chess board, but what is important is each chess piece in the square and how it operates. Once you have the framework offered by the metro matrix method, you are ready to play chess and guide the direction of the metropolis, its’ centres and functions effectively. This is likened to moving from a dart board approach to planning where development is focused on the city centre and is ad hoc and uncoordinated between different functions, to a strategic approach where institutional policies (such as economic efficiency, social equity and spatial development) work together in a coordinated manner.
Tellingly, Ortiz comments in his book that
“the most powerful elements of society often lack the vision or interest to accept the emerging change and fail to foster the optimal development path, to shape a new paradigm.”
Clearly with the rapid urbanisation of nations throughout the world, a new framework for dealing with this growth is needed. Ortiz offers a compelling case for consideration and implementation of the Metro-Matrix method and places this in the context of urban planning history, the recent experience of developing cities and a theoretical base for decision-making and governance.