It's a question posed by the team at the paints and coatings giant AkzoNobel.
As the planet's cities expand beyond all proportion (by 2050, 70% of the world's 9 billion people will live in our urban environments), the company's Human Cities initiative aims to help find ways of making our cities more inspiring, energizing, vibrant - and ultimately, more human.
Can a city be made more human?
I posed this and other questions to the man at AkzoNobel who has one of the greatest jobs on the planet: Per Nimer, who spends his time playing around with colours and designing palettes.
Working up some ghost-written op-eds for Per (one of which appeared here), I was keen to explore how colour can actually alleviate some of our biggest social problems. Despite a lack of empirical evidence, it is clear that colours have the power to create a lasting impact on mind, body and emotions. They can make us feel happy or sad. They can make us hungry. They can make us relax. They can affect our energy levels.
Fascinated by colour: AkzoNobel's Per Nimer
And because color stirs up human emotions, it allows us an opinion; we all know which colors we like and don’t like, and most of us have a favourite one (mine's yellow if you're interested).
The picture at the top of this post is of the town of Sortland in the north of Norway - a project close to Per's heart. Keen to encourage more Northern Lights-seeking tourists to stop over and spend money on their way out to the northern peninsula, the town’s public authority and local companies came up with a novel way of drumming up business. They decided to paint their town’s buildings blue. And Per was drafted in to work on a colour scheme.
Today, Sortland is world famous. People stop to buy t-shirts and beer. It worked.
As Per told me, "creating places that people want to visit is not all about creating more colorful spaces. Often, it’s about emulating the endless color variations that occur in nature. Think of leaves on a tree, or a rolling river.
"There is no material in nature that has just one colour. The same effect can be applied on our city streets."
He points to examples where colour techniques can be used to reduce crime and improve safety. In Stockholm’s architecturally-famous Stortorget Square, Per designed a colour scheme that would offer a new lease of life to a space commonly littered with drugs and homelessness. "Crime is down and the drugs are almost gone.
"Even thugs have a problem with ruining things that are beautiful," he told me.
Having spent a life with colour – a life that began with summer vacations working in his grandad's paint shop – Per's still amazed by its power to alter the senses and influence our feelings. "Why do we love to walk the Champs-Élysées in Paris? Why do we adore traversing the cobblestones of Florence? Or wandering the harbour in Portofino? Yes, the architecture, the city layout, the food, the art and the smells play a role.
"But it is the color that makes us keep coming back."
You can find out more about the AkzoNobel Human Cities initiative, here.
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