Book Review

Urban Acupuncture

Celebrating Pinpricks of Change that Enrich City Life
Jaime Lerner

This slim volume takes the readers through many parts of the world where street life abounds and urban designers have pursued doable solutions for urban ills. Lerner's dual role as designer and politician gave him the opportunity to put into practice his ideas of how to make his city, Curitiba, more sustainable. It was a particular challenge to shift people from their cars to public transport in a city with a dominant car industry, and so his ingenious rapid transit system has been copied in many other places. However, such gains can be short-lived and the reversal from 70 per cent car users to 70 per cent public transport riders waned, which meant continuous integrated innovation - improving buses, using bio-fuel, adding digital information and a metro system.

This step-by-step approach underlies the examples which Lerner experienced in the developing world, the USA and Europe. For him, sustainable development encompasses far more than transportation; it applies to ways of life, such as rescuing 24-hour shopkeeping in New York, creating the 24-hour use of parks in Santiago de Cali, Columbia, revitalising old movie theatres for contemporary uses in Morrete, Brazil, and connecting indoor activities like markets with outdoor spaces for slow movement and lingering. Sometimes 'doing almost nothing' can prevent the irremediable destruction of useful urban infrastructure, like the public lift in Lisbon or space for bicycles in the centre of modernising Beijing. Acupuncture interventions are small scale, and always in dialogue with users: encouraging diverse uses of the public realm for street musicians in Rome and tango dancers in Buenos Aires, revitalising tree-lined thoroughfares in Beijing, an abandoned river with public art in Seoul, pop-up stalls and places for quiet contemplation everywhere, improving the urban environment with visuals or sound. All of this is done at a fine grain, working with what is there and not being afraid of sheer embellishment, playing with light on buildings and bridges in Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and Curitiba, or using water for 'aqua-puncture' interventions. His world is all about sustainable change for the better.

Lerner’s approach to urban design is a far cry from grand masterplans with skyscrapers and windy streets. Potentially convivial urban spaces exist everywhere, he says, it is a matter of discovering and nurturing them. His is not a plea against modern interventions, be it buildings or transportation, but a case of creating synergy by enriching the existing with the new, as so vividly illustrated in the photographs in the book and his concluding poem.

URBAN DESIGN 138 Spring 2016 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 138 Spring 2016

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Urban Acupuncture Publication Urban Design Group
Island Press
Reviewed By
Judith Ryser, researcher, journalist, writer and urban affairs consultant to Fundacion Metropoli, Madrid