Moving Forward through Nature

Let's break it up

Amanda Burden, principal of Urban Planning at Bloomberg Associates, is in charge of the most extensive planning effort in New York City since 1961. She and Andreas Kipar are looking into the future of the urban landscape.


We have to be more radical.

Andreas Kipar

Amanda Burden, photo David Eustace

Amanda Burden, photo David Eustace

Small Steps and New Challenges

AB: Small steps can achieve big results, like opening up the New York waterfront to public use, an effort begun in 2002, when Michael Bloomberg took office. Now, people cherish their waterfront; once fenced off and dangerous, it is our largest public open space!

Rising sea levels are one of New York City’s most difficult challenges. The city is particularly vulnerable, as it is an archipelago whose boroughs are islands, with 520 miles of very diverse shoreline that must be handled differently. Acting as a sponge, this cleans the water, creates habitat, and slows down the waves. We added elevated walkways so people can experience the new natural world within the harbor. At Staten Island, which faces the Atlantic Ocean and is the first to be hit by storms, we built a breakwater, a reef to stop the surge. We got creative and built a living reef with sea grass and nooks and crannies that will become a habitat for oyster colonies.

Learning from New York

AK: We learned from NY, getting inspiration for our Green Rays. First of all, the actions we took there caused the shift in perception that psychologist James Hillman talks about. Secondly, we understood the power of iconic design in transition phases. Third, all our problems offer opportunities to move ahead with joy and can help us move forward to Nature and our human nature.

This is a new kind of aesthetics: natural aesthetics. We go to the edges where different parts of Nature meet, and we develop a unique biodiversity strategy there. We feel the urgency of bringing Nature back to the people, which means we have to be more radical. We have to do more. People want to step outside and be in Nature.

The City and the Countryside

AK: We have to create a network that connects densely populated cities to the surrounding regions, with the goal of expanding the metropolis to create a new urban landscape that stitches cities to their suburbs. Paris’ idea of the 15-minute-city is about creating smaller cities within the metropolis, where we can relate better to our surroundings and build relationships with others to experience our environment. None of this is possible on the XXL scale. We need short distances. With an urban landscape, it’s easier for us to accept growing cities.

All our problems offer opportunities to move ahead with joy forward to nature.

Andreas Kipar

Andreas Kipar, photo Ralph Ritcher

Andreas Kipar, photo Ralph Ritcher

Take Pressure off – bring Nature in 

AB: Paris is a great example of how to prevent urban sprawl. To follow the example of Paris, I advocate for node subcities within larger cities: subcenters with their own jobs, industry, infrastructure and different types of housing. In between those “nodes,” we make sure to preserve Nature, Nature nodes, so you preserve Nature, and you take the pressure off the city center by bringing Nature in and around node subcities.

AK: Like a chamomile tea after a heavy lunch, this is “chamomile for cities.” Take the pressure off – bring Nature in.

AB: A region with node subcities is the opposite of sprawl.

Wellbeing – Healthy Cities 

AK: A city of wellbeing needs the right mix, the right balance. It’s not only about hard facts, but also soft facts: perception, security, ability to meet, sharing opportunities, and relations with others.

Landscape is an Asset, but Valuable Green Spaces don’t happen by Accident

AB: There are public spaces that work and public spaces that don’t work. People want comfortable, green, friendly public spaces. Those spaces are successful. But they don’t happen by accident. Public space must be fought for from the start. We need champions to design them for the people that use them, and people to care for and maintain them.

Green Parks and Public Spaces may not be enough for our Wellbeing

AK: We need to extend the concept of public space into buildings. We need vertical and horizontal green, so people can fully enjoy the landscape around us. Nature can be used as a space-filler on different levels, bringing us joy, beauty and health. It’s a real asset for developers and public administrations, as new city residents are taxpayers!

A New Relationship with Nature

AK: Reconnecting people with Nature means that we have to break up sealed urban surfaces. We have to come back to a new relationship with our urban soil. I have a dream: breaking up lines in our cities to reveal the life under the concrete. Artists, not architects, are allowed to provoke. For example, through his Cultivator artwork, Thomas Schönauer breaks up the soil in the city. Art becomes urban acupuncture and triggers a discussion, because people accept being provoked by art, even if they don’t understand it.



Successful public spaces do not happen by accident.

Amanda Burden

Bringing the Public into the Design Process 

AB: Through public participation, we can better reflect the culture of users, their desires and needs. That takes more time and is more complicated, but planning public spaces with a long view of the public good means building consensus. We need to be listeners and step back with our strong opinions. The key to success is putting people first and giving them a sense of ownership. This requires creativity, and landscape designers have very innovative ideas. To help people understand what it’s about, you may need to develop a temporary concept, as happened at Times Square. You need a budget to ensure there’s enough time to refine and improve the project. Through temporary use, we initiate a more inclusive process.

Meanwhile uses and Participatory Process

AK: Through meanwhile uses, we initiate and contribute to changes in our project. While waiting for something else, we can observe how the intervention is perceived, through a dynamic participatory process that can create living spaces, healthy cities, and physical and mental wellbeing.

Landscape architects are naturally social moderators because we know we are part of a bigger process of change. The best we can do is to just listen and promote people’s imagination, not merely offer proposals to choose from.

AB: The designer must be a bit of everything: a navigator, a moderator, a consensus builder, a listener, and a doer. The city is the canvas for creation and will be enriched by the results of this iterative and creative public process.

Bloomberg Associates is an international consulting service founded by Michael Bloomberg as a philanthropic venture to help city governments improve the quality of life of their citizens.

Text: Christiane Bürklein

The city is the canvas for creation.

Amanda Burden

Bloomberg Citylab

Amsterdam, NL, 2022

Let’s Break it up for New Urban Landscapes!

At the Bloomberg CityLab, the preeminent global cities summit organized by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Aspen Institute, Amanda, Andreas and Nuala McGovern, Broadcaster at BBC News, engaged in an inspiring dialogue on immersive Nature in Cities.

You can actually change a city by a small stroke.

Amanda Burden

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