TED Talks About Cities

Amanda Burden

A collection of 20 minute chats or Ted Talks by a wide cross-section of prominent contemporary figures.

Amanda Burden: How public spaces make cities work (2014)

The New York’s chief city planner under the Bloomberg administration, Amanda Burden led revitalization of some of the city’s most familiar features — from the High Line to the Brooklyn waterfront. More famously she is the partner of public television’s talk show host Charlie Rose, raconteur and hobnobbing reporter with his finger on every pulse. Burden’s message is crystal clear: the spaces between the buildings, the public spaces either make the city a people city, or make it a place you would rather avoid.

Jaime Lerner: Our Future in Cities (2008)

Jaime Lerner, three term mayor of Curitiba, transformed a gridlocked commercial artery into a spacious pedestrian mall over a long weekend—before skeptical merchants had time to finish reading their Monday papers. However, this is the exception rather than the rule. Public consultation and consensus building are really  his A-Game. His dictum that “creativity starts when you cut a zero from your budget” inspired Curitiba to adopt sheltered boarding tubes to raise bus transit on par with subway service; he instigated a garbage-for-food program exchanging bags of trash for bags of groceries; and used sheep for trimming parkland grass. Lerner has twice been elected governor of Parana State in Brazil. Among his many awards he received the United Nations Environmental Award (1990), the Child and Peace Award from UNICEF (1996), and the 2001 World Technology Award for Transportation. Brazil is a member of the BRIC nations—Brazil, Russia, India and China—the fastest growing economies in the globe facing some of the greatest challenges.

Kent Larson: Brilliant designs to fit more people in every city (2012)

Architect Kent Larson has been the director of the MIT House  research consortium in the School of Architecture and Planning since 1998 and is the current director of the MIT Media Lab’s Changing Places group. The 2012 TED talk tilts towards wiz-bang technology, but the message about the need to manage human spaces—both public and private—in new and more responsive and responsible ways hits home.

Don Norman: Good design makes you happy (2003)

Design critic Don Norman turns his incisive eye toward beauty, fun, pleasure and emotion, as he looks at design that makes people happy. He names the three emotional cues that a well-designed product must hit to succeed. Scale is not an issue. These cues operate at the level of the tea cup, the design of a hotel lobby, or the neighborhood.

James Howard Kunstler: The ghastly tragedy of the suburbs

For James Howard Kunstler’s public spaces should be inspired centers of civic life as well as the physical manifestation of the common good. Instead, he argues, Modernism has delivered civic space as places not worth caring about. He calls suburban sprawl “the greatest misallocation of resources the world has ever known.” He bring a new lens to urban development, drawing clear connections between physical spaces and cultural vitality. Geography of Nowhere (1993) presented a grim vision of North American decline — of strip malls, all but abandoned city centers, and dead spaces wrought by the car. The Long Emergency (2005) analyzes energy dependency, arguing for a return to smaller-scale, agrarian-focused communities. His confrontational approach make Kunstler a lightning rod for controversy and critics, yet his critique is underpinned by logic and argument. His books are widely read, particularly by architectural critics and urban planners.

Alex Steffen: The shareable future of cities

In Carbon Zero, Steffen describes cities that create prosperity not climate change, accelerating their economies while reducing harmful emissions to zero. At work on a new book and a television project. “The big open secret about sustainability work,” he recently told Design Observer magazine, “it is not how bad things are. It is how good things can get.” Steffen is an amateurs wading deep into problems in urbanism. Listen to his tent pole density theory and watch carefully to see how much detail—or how much spin—Alex delivers.

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