Designed to Thrive: Creating Vibrant,
Resilient Cities for the 21st Century

When Tom Murphy was elected mayor of Pittsburgh in 1993, the Steel City was reeling. Once a global center for production and manufacturing, steel mills were closing, the population had plummeted 60 percent in 20 years, and the city’s pension system was on its way to junk status.
Recovery, Murphy told a Yale audience this week, would require creative public-private partnerships and high-risk decisions. While many clamored for more police officers, the city bought 1,500 acres of vacant steel mills and worked with private investors to redevelop them. And through strategic partnerships, the city transformed abandoned industrial properties into new commercial, residential, retail, and public uses — including two new sports stadiums and a green-certified convention center.
“Every city in the world now is trying to figure out its place in the world,” he said. “And if they’re not willing to take those risks — to invest in the future — they’re not going to get to the future.”
Murphy, who is now a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute, joined Jonathan F.P. Rose ’74 B.A., an urban planner, author, and president of Jonathan Rose Companies, for a discussion on the challenges of developing vibrant and resilient cities in the 21st century.
Every city in the world now is trying to figure out its place in the world. And if they’re not willing to take those risks — to invest in the future — they’re not going to get to the future.
— Tom Murphy, Urban Land Institute, former Pittsburgh mayor
The event was sponsored by the Yale Center for Business and the Environment and the Hixon Center for Urban Ecology.
During a wide-ranging discussion, Rose and Murphy discussed the economic, environmental, and social challenges facing cities everywhere — from natural resource depletion to income inequality to climate change. And they shared stories of communities, from Denver to Singapore, where innovative strategies have made a difference.
They emphasized the importance of creating and nurturing a vision that reflects the values of the greater community and protects the resources and characteristics that make the community unique.
But developing a vision that improves the overall well-being of a city requires more than simply promoting healthy economic development, says Rose, author of the book “The Well-Tempered City.” It requires systems that balance human needs with nature, and landscapes that promise equal opportunity for all residents.
In Singapore, for instance, community leaders are working toward a target of becoming water independent through an integrated plan that includes policies that protect water reserves, rainwater harvesting, and water conservation, Rose said.
After unflattering reports about the health of their population, Oklahoma City leaders used new taxes and zoning to make the city more “walkable,” including major landscaping improvements and new public parks, a museum, a revitalized riverfront, and a new arts district.
I believe in a much more dynamic, continuous planning process.
— Jonathan Rose, author of “The Well-Tempered City”
Then there’s Salt Lake City, Utah, where a coalition of private citizens and business leaders created a shared vision for long-term development and policy planning by tinkering with a range of possible scenarios on a board — sort of like a large Lego game — during a series of community workshops. The outcomes, which highlighted the need for higher density and mass transit, helped inform policymaking while protecting the region’s natural beauty.
“I believe in a much more dynamic, continuous planning process,” said Rose, whose company is one of the biggest developers of affordable housing in New York City. “Instead of using environmental impact statements — which I think is a very outdated and frustrating and useless process — we can actually use a much more dynamic scenario-planning and evaluation system to actually be looking at the real impacts that are being generated by not only by real estate development but education outcomes …  and use these to guide the co-evolution of all the functions in the city toward our stated goals of wellbeing.”
Rose added, “It takes vision, it takes risk, and it takes guts. But as the leaders of cities, you have to say, ‘What’s my alternative if I don’t? If I don’t take a risk to redefine, to make my city more livable, more attractive, and more transformational for the lives of its residents?”
Watch the discussion
– Kevin Dennehy    203 436-4842
PUBLISHED: February 24, 2017
Note: Yale School of the Environment (YSE) was formerly known as the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). News articles posted prior to July 1, 2020, refer to the School's name at that time.