URBAN ASCENSION 

- fostering sustainable urban development through participative design- 

ABOUT
The aim of Urban Ascension is to contribute to a sustainable development of urban settlements. This will be realized by redeveloping urban areas (especially small and medium public areas; and Brownfield sites) using sustainable urban design solutions that are discussed and decided upon together with the local community. I have named this participative process 'Co-Urban' development, because it combines characteristics from cohousing communities and urban sustainability. These will be detailed below.


I) The concept of cohousing

'The cohousing concept appeared during the 70s in Denmark; now being widespread throughout North Western Europe, North America, and Australia. It consists of developing small communities (mini-neighbourhoods) that offer their residents an enhanced sense of community, while allowing them to keep their personal privacy as well. Cohousing communities emerged following the rising social isolation felt by many residents of large Western urban agglomerations during the last decades (e.g. Sullivan-Catlin, 1998). 
 
The future residents are involved throughout the whole design and development process of the community. This means that the emerging community corresponds to the needs and desires of its residents. Following the construction process, they become responsible for certain aspects related to the maintenance, organisation, and development of the community. 
 
Studies (e.g. Meltzer, 2005; Williams, 2005a; Poley, 2007; Markle, 2013; Sundberg, 2014; Cojan, 2017) have shown that such a form of development can bring benefits consistent with the tree axes of sustainable development: the social, the environmental, and the economic one.



II) Applying the concept for a larger scale
 
The key concepts underpinning the development of cohousing communities are currently used as part of some urban development projects in Sweden and Denmark. The research of the author (Cojan, 2013; Cojan, 2017) confirms this trend, revealing a number of common characteristics between cohousing communities and one of the few sustainable neighbourhoods in Europe: the French quarter in Tübingen, Germany. The latter represents an example of sustainable urban development at a scale much larger than that of cohousing communities. Among these characteristics, we can list: 
 
- the involvement of the residents in the development and design process; 
- a site design that encourages social interactions among the residents, while also allowing them to have privacy; 
- spatial solutions that reduce the dependence on motorised transport vehicles; thus encouraging pedestrianisation and cycling, and enhancing the safety of children and adults alike; 
- local facilities devised to suit the needs of the locals, that become part of their responsibility; 
- developing closer bonds among neighbours; which results in a higher sense of community and more involvement from the part of the locals.


III) The emergence of 'Co-Urban development'

Considering the potential benefits associated with cohousing communities, but also the possibility to adapt their key characteristics for a larger scale, I propose the concept of 'Co-Urban' development that combines cohousing and urban sustainability charactersitics.

Therefore, the Co-Urban concept is based on a participatory design approach, involving interested residents in the (re-) development process of a specific urban area. Various sustainable spatial solutions will be proposed, discussed, and decided upon together with the residents. Techniques used during this participative process include: group working based on certain themes; interactive three-dimensional visualisations of proposed solutions; mockups for 'hands-on' adjustments of the proposed solutions; presentations and discussions/mediation techniques aimed at reaching a consensus of solutions.

The final product will be represented by architectural plans that will reflect the results of this Co-Urban process; and that will be used for the physical development of the site. As such, this approach leads to the redevelopment of urban areas through sustainable solutions discussed and decided upon together with the local community. 
About me:

My name is Horatiu-Cristian Cojan (Hori); and I am the founder of the Urban Ascension NGO. I have studied and done research in the fields of Architecture; Sustainable Development; Spatial and Environmental planning; and North-West European cohousing. 


For the past five years, I had the chance to conduct research at Radboud University (Nijmegen) and Cardiff's Metropolitan University. For the purpose of my Master's dissertation, I researched the key characteristics of a neighbourhood widely considered as sustainable (the French neighbourhood in Tübingen, Germany); comparing it with a similar, traditional (non-sustainable) development. Following a comparative visual analysis, the findings revealed that the sustainable neighbourhood scores better than the traditional one for 16 urban sustainability indicators (out of a total of 21 indicators used for the analysis). This important difference is largely due to seven categories of innovative methods used during the development of the sustainable neighbourhood. 

 
As part of my PhD study, I visited and researched 16 cohousing communities across four North West European countries (Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom), and undertook in-depth interviews with almost 50 residents from these communities. The findings reveal 16 important factors that contribute to the cohesiveness and continuity of the studied cohousing communities: the motivation of residents for participating in cohousing; the development process; the physical design of the site; the environmental sustainability of communities; and interactions between residents. 


My aim is to combine my passions and do a work that is not only rewarding for myself, but also for the ones around me, and for the surrounding environment. This is why I have decided to use my knowledge and develop the concept of Co-Urban development. It is focused on the involvement of people in the design process, and on the use of creative solutions from the three spheres of sustainability for the sustainable (re-) development of a specific urban site.
Benefits

"There is a central quality which is the root criterion of  life and spirit in a man, a town, a building, or a wilderness. This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named [...]. It is not possible to make great buildings, or great towns, beautiful places, places where you feel yourself, places where you  feel alive, except by following this way"


- Christopher Alexander about the 'Quality without a Name'- 



In accordance with Alexander's view about creating places that have a 'quality without a name', the Co-Urban process represents a holistic approach to urban deveopment that yields benefits on the three axes of sustainability: 

- in terms of social sustainability, it helps: develop solutions for more functional communities adapted to the needs of their residents; develop spatial solutions that encourage social interactions among neighbours; develop a higher sense of belonging to the local community, also combating social isolation through the participative process; diminish social-cultural barriers by also involving vulnerable categories and minorities in the process; and educate participants about sustainable development;

- in terms of environmental sustainability, it helps: develop spatial solutions aimed at encouraging non-motorized transport modes; develop spatial solutions that increase the proportion and use of green areas; develop solutions that encourage recycling, composting and sustainable practices; for a better understanding of active and passive sustainable systems, and of their potential for the discussed area; 

- in terms of economic sustainability, it helps determine the possibility for the development of some 'mini community centres' that would be available for the local residents and would encompass functions desired by them. Furthermore, it supports the local economy and increases the value of the surrounding area.
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