Designing Resilient Cities

A proposal for multipliCity
Designing Resilient Cities

Map courtesy of Harvard Map Collection, Harvard Library

This proposal was submitted to the Urban Design Forum’s Gallery of Urban Ideas, a suite of creative reflections and proposals that will inspire New York City to work towards a safe, equitable, and dynamic recovery. Explore the proposal, within the gallery here.

Designing Resilient Cities 1

With the rise of remote work and the fact that now, many of us have the flexibility to work from anywhere, what role does the city play? The pandemic has left us questioning density and considering alternatives. We live in a world with unprecedented choice. We have greater options for mobility and communication, we have advanced systems that enable us to work and play from anywhere. We have greater access to goods and services than ever before, all without having to leave our homes. The pandemic has further precipitated an acceleration of the infrastructures that make these choices possible. The world has changed, and technology has offered us the choice of whether we wish to return to the city. At a time when urban density is under assault, the model of the city will survive only if it accommodates, adapts, and most of all, delights.

Designing Resilient Cities 2

The concept of multipliCity proposes robust physical design ideas for the city, where buildings and spaces are designed together to extend and enhance the life of the city.

In our proposal to Urban Design Forum, we apply this concept to a small microcosm of New York City, Madison Square ‘Gardens’, to showcase how:

  • the city offers complete, safe, convenient, and one-of-a-kind experiences that are distinct and different from the suburbs
  • the city builds resiliency, adaptability, redundancy, and flexibility into its fabric
  • the city extends, enhances, enriches, and updates the public realm to reflect our new realities and lifestyles
  • the city provides an architecture that delights and stimulates the soul
  • the city unifies buildings and spaces into a cohesive urban realm for maximum impact
  • the city designs and curates journeys that are as important as the destinations

Designing Resilient Cities 3


Multiply Experiences

Cities are experienced as a continuum — full and empty, at different times and in different seasons, in stillness and in chaos, through booms, recessions, celebrations, and crises — and everywhere in between.

They are experienced as a collective that is greater than the sum of their buildings, streets, and public spaces. Cities must be purposefully designed to fully integrate architecture within the public realm. One cannot exist without the other. The neighborhood is a microcosm of the city. Multiplying the experience of the city through all its neighborhoods is the most equitable way for each citizen to partake in it.

Multiply Resiliency

Redundancy is resiliency. Cities must be embedded with fail-safe mechanisms that allow them to operate in more ways than one.

The city must be designed to be nimble. If public transit poses risks, citizens must be able to walk or bicycle to their workplaces. If the physical office become obsolete, downtowns must be able to convert to other functions. If open space falls short of social distancing demands, streets must become an extension of the public realm. If food supply chains are disrupted, green space must double up as urban farmland. Duplicating these infrastructures of resiliency across the entire city is the surest way to ensure its sustainability and survival.

Multiply Spaces

Streets provide the most accessible extra open space in a post-pandemic world.

Many cities, including New York, are temporarily opening up more and more of their streets to pedestrians. This is only the first step. From boulevards to promenades, streets have had a long history of functioning as platforms for appreciating the city’s architecture and conducting public life. It was only America’s rapid embrace of the automobile that saw the street regress into a mere conduit for car-centric transportation.

The contemporary street must be redefined as not just infrastructure, but architecture. It must be designed richly, with deliberation and purpose. It must be tightly integrated with all that flanks it. And it must then be propagated across the city in this renewed and equitable format for the benefit and enjoyment of all.

Multiply Choices

In many dense cities such as New York, people lack access to private open space in the form of patios, balconies, and backyards. The city then becomes an extension of one’s domestic space — it is what we rely on to unwind, socialize, entertain, and increasingly, to work.

The public realm as an extension of one’s own backyard, or lack thereof, is not a new concept. The Dutch term woonerf, or shared street, literally translates to residential (woon) property (erf).

This pandemic has underscored the limitations of centralized open spaces. For the city to become a truly democratic extension of the domestic, its public realm must be decentralized, multiplied, and brought within reach of every home in every neighborhood.

Multiply Journies

The resurgence of pedestrian space is central to making cities more desirable.

In contrast to suburban life, which is all about the destination and getting there as efficiently as possible, the city offers an opportunity for the journey to take center stage. The acts of strolling and walking allow us to forge appreciation for and connect with the architecture of our cities. The promenade (or the trail, the esplanade, the mall, the processional walk) is critical to the activation of the city. It allows for the vantage point of the observer to constantly change, which is essential to experiencing great architecture. It must be revived and thought of as both a physical space and purposeful activity, where the goal is the journey itself and not the destination. The promenade is not just a way to reduce conflict between cars and pedestrians — it is a reminder of the strong design link between buildings and public place. It is the center of a specific design viewpoint that is based upon the human experience.

multiply Opportunity

COVID-19 doesn’t have to be a setback. Pandemics of the past have transformed the trajectory of cities, often for the better. This is an opportunity to recalibrate the city and bring it in line, through design and policy, with the demands of a changed world.