Goodbye leads to hello

The end of an academic career is not always a clear-cut end point. Han Meyer gave what he called his fake farewell speech on Friday, December 9, 2016, since Peter Russell, Dean of the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment (BK), said he won’t be able to rest yet as he moves to a next career stage at the faculty.

Meyer will stay on part-time to set up a new chair of Delta Urbanism at BK. He retires as an expert in the highly relevant field studying urbanisation in rich but vulnerable river deltas, where prosperous human settlements are the engines of national economies.

“Climate change is making these delta cities more vulnerable,” he said, “but more important is how they have been developed and used.” Too often, short-sighted urbanisation is undermining natural conditions of prosperity, so the challenge is to balance both man-made and natural systems at these sites to enhance one another.

Reflecting his own approach rooted in historical awareness, Meyer surveyed his more than 25 years as professor of Urban Compositions. He considered it a transition period in a changing context. At the start, modernist functional urban planning was mistrusted and challenged in times of de-industrialisation, the prevalence of neoliberalism and changes in political culture.

He assisted the reinvention of urbanism with the aim of creating diverse, flexible urbane environments with attractive public spaces, paying attention to long term elements better related to the surrounding territory. These would allow cities to maintain a degree of permanence, absorbing changing societal dynamics and avoid the old pitfalls of functional planning and zoning.

Then climate change impacts, explosive urban growth and increasing social inequality upped the ante requiring cities to be even more shock resistant. Meyer said future cities should be more societally inclusive and in balance with their territory and tools are needed to handle the larger mega city, itself the scene for the new economy.

Since urban designers cannot know and solve everything, he proposes future urbanism should enhance design capacity as an exploratory tool and binder between disciplines to do this in a communicative and collaborative setting. The experiences so far in delta projects in the Netherlands, New Orleans, New York, Houston, and San Francisco show the value of this inclusive, multifaceted design approach as the motor of the whole process.

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