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Archive for the ‘Cities’ Category

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Avenida Chapultepec / FR-EE, FRENTE arquitectura, RVDG, and Mario Schjetnan GDU

Mexico City, one of the world’s great megalopolises, with more than 20 million people, is struggling to create more green space for its ever-expanding population. Estimates put the amount of green space in the city at just a few percent. To remedy this problem, a team of architects, landscape architects, planners, and urban designers with Mexican firms FR-EE, FRENTE arquitectura, RVDG, and Mario Schjetnan GDU will transform Avenida Chapultepec, one of the city’s oldest and busiest streets, into an elevated, 1.3-kilometer-long “cultural corridor” expected to open by 2017. The project will overhaul a 10-lane highway that runs west to east between Chapultepec Park and the center of the city.

This new elevated promenade will help reduce traffic accidents along one of the most dangerous and polluted stretches in the city, writes Designboom. While the lower level will still enable cars to move through, the goal is to create a highly walkable zone in the middle of the city.

Fernando Romero, the lead designer with FR-EE, explains his thinking: “The term ‘Complete Street’ means to reshape the traffic flow and the public spaces. This project inverts the numbers: if nowadays, 70 percent of the area belongs to cars, and 30 percent to the pedestrians, the cultural corridor chapultepec is going to change these numbers by generating a new space in order to have 70 percent belong to the pedestrians and the remaining 30 percent for the organization of the traffic space.”

Heading east to the west, the elevation will gradually increase, as new pedestrian-only features eventually merge, inviting people up onto the elevated promenade.

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Avenida Chapultepec / FR-EE, FRENTE arquitectura, RVDG, and Mario Schjetnan GDU

At street level on the far eastern end, the point closest to Chapultepec Park, hundreds of street trees will be added, along with separate dedicated bus and bicycle lanes, wide pedestrian promenades, and striking linear troughs filled with water.

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Avenida Chapultepec / FR-EE, FRENTE arquitectura, RVDG, and Mario Schjetnan GDU

As people head further west, there are a set of ramps and stairs that will lead people up to the upper level, which will be a tree-lined promenade, with distinct lanes for both pedestrians and bicyclists.

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Avenida Chapultepec / FR-EE, FRENTE arquitectura, RVDG, and Mario Schjetnan GDU

This upper level will also feature shops and cafes.

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Avenida Chapultepec / FR-EE, FRENTE arquitectura, RVDG, and Mario Schjetnan GDU

At the far western end of the avenue, all the way at the end of the linear park, there will be an open-air amphitheater for movies and events. The new avenue is designed to create a sense of discovery, pulling people through to enjoy the safe passage to the views, trees, and public spaces.

This video clearly shows the progression:

While some will say Mexico City is creating a variation on the High Line, the elevated railway park in Chelsea, Manhattan, Romero thinks a closer analogue is Seoul’s transformation of the buried ChonGae Canal, once a busy transportation channel, into a open linear park. Seoul, another of the world’s most mega cities, has created vibrant public spaces with multiple levels along its revitalized waterway. A prime example is Mikyoung Kim’s ChonGae Canal Point Source Park, which leads visitors down to the canal’s edge. Romero says: “Seoul has undertaken many projects with the idea of creating public space, while respecting the existing, often-difficult-to-manipulate infrastructure.”

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Charlotte, North Carolina street trees / Kenny Craft on Pinterest

The science is increasingly clear: trees are central to healthy, livable cities. New studies are only adding to this understanding. For example, recent research published in the prestigious journal Nature found that having 10 more trees on your block, on average, improves the perception of your own health in ways comparable to an increase in annual income of $10,000 or being 7 years younger. However, according to Cene Ketcham, a graduate student in urban forestry at Virginia Tech, the benefits of urban trees are rarely experienced equally across a city.

“We know trees have a lot of benefits. And if we know that having trees in our cities is important for our health, the converse must also be true — a lack of trees hurts your health,” Ketcham said at a conference organized by Casey Trees in Washington, D.C.

Ketcham noted that a lower tree canopy is often correlated with lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color – “areas that have historically been disproportionately impacted.” While non-profit and city-led tree planting programs are poised to bridge this gap, most are not designed with environmental justice goals in mind. The groups leading these urban tree-planting programs are increasingly aware of this problem, but what specific strategies are most effective for getting urban trees into the areas that need them the most?

Ketcham studied 11 different programs in six cities: Austin, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Denver, Colorado; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Portland, Oregon; and Sacramento, California. Each of these programs have a different planting plan that accounts for inequalities. In Charlotte, for example, race and income are tightly tied together, so improving tree cover in underserved neighborhoods did not require a city-wide effort to make an impact in these communities. “But, of course, the closer you get to planting trees all over an entire city, the better off you’ll be,” Ketcham added.

The programs Ketcham identified as the most successful at getting trees into underserved neighborhoods are NeighborWoods in Charlotte, Neighborhood Trees in Portland, and CityShade in Austin. Based on the success of these programs, Ketcham identified four strategies city government and non-profit tree planting organizations can implement to make sure trees are planted where they are most needed:

Target Planting Areas

Successful tree planting programs use outreach efforts and highly targeted planting. “Portland canvassers go door to door in low-income neighborhoods advertising the benefits of trees. A lot of effort goes toward getting trees in where people want them,” Ketcham said. Of course, city-wide tree cover is the goal, but in larger cities where trees are disproportionately benefiting some neighborhoods, targeted tree-planting efforts can go a long way.

Urban forestry volunteers in Portland, OR / City of Portland

Urban forestry volunteers in Portland, OR / City of Portland

Build Strong Municipal and Non-Profit Partnerships

“It’s not just somebody some throwing labor in, it’s a tightly integrated collaboration,” Ketcham said. Programs that have been successful bring together public and private organizations. “Maybe the city buys the trees, while the non-profit runs the program.” In any case, it’s important that both groups take ownership of the tree-planting program.

For example, Treefolk’s CityShade program in Austin works very closely with Austin’s urban forestry department. From October 2014 through March 2015, the program worked with the city to plant 350 large-container trees and mulch existing trees in seven parks and greenbelts in Austin. According to CityShade, the organization also planted native trees to beautify, and provide shade and wildlife habitat in some of Austin’s lowest-income neighborhoods.

Volunteers plant trees along a highway in Austin, Texas / TreeFolks

Volunteers plant trees along a highway in Austin, Texas / TreeFolks

Reduce Property Owner Responsibility

Particularly in low-income neighborhoods, it’s important to reduce the pressure on individual property owners to plant trees. Not only are people in these areas struggling to overcome challenges bigger than increasing the tree canopy, but residents in these areas are more likely to be renters. “If you’re in an area with a lot of renters you’re not going to want to work on improving your landlord’s property. And the landlord might not even want the trees if it will change the property value,” Ketcham said. Instead, successful programs rely on volunteers and contractors to plant the trees, rather than giving trees to neighborhood residents.

However, some successful programs do provide help and guidance to residents who want trees on their own properties. Friends of Trees in Portland makes it easy for someone to plant a tree at their home with this step-by-step video.

Priotize Public Spaces

While most programs focus on getting trees onto residential properties, successful programs work on “improving tree cover, not just in residential areas but also in public spaces.” Planting trees in public spaces can provide neighborhood-wide health and environmental benefits.

For example, CityShade in Austin partnered with Austin’s watershed protection division and urban forestry department to plant thousands of small, native, tree seedlings in public areas in order to conserve water and improve water quality in Austin’s waterways. Though mainly focused on residential plantings, Charlotte’s NeighborWoods program will also help provide trees for homeowner association’s common areas when appropriate, so that everyone in the neighborhood can benefit from increased access to nature.

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The Los Angeles River / The Architect's Newspaper

The Los Angeles River / The Architect’s Newspaper

Red Rocks, Conservation Corps Camp Named National Historic Landmark The Denver Post, 8/4/15
“Red Rocks Park and the camp that housed the men who built its world-famous amphitheater have been awarded national historic landmark status.”

Brooklyn Sites Get $2.6 Million to Undo Hurricane Sandy’s Toll ­– The New York Times, 8/5/15
“Hurricane Sandy isn’t over yet. Historical sites around New York City are among the many places where — nearly three years later — damage caused by the storm has yet to be fixed or cleared.”

Architect Frank Gehry is Helping L.A. With Its Los Angeles River Master Plan, But Secrecy Troubles SomeThe Los Angeles Times, 8/7/15
“Architect Frank Gehry is working with city officials to draft a new master plan for the redevelopment of the Los Angeles River, bringing the avant-garde sensibilities of one of the world’s best-known artistic celebrities to the struggle to remake 51 miles of the Los Angeles Basin’s largely desolate central waterway.”

150 Years Ago, Olmsted Released His Historic Yosemite ReportWBUR, 8/7/15
“Sunday marks the 150th anniversary of the first reading of Olmsted’s historic report, “Yosemite and the Mariposa Grove.” It’s largely credited with providing the basis for the creation of Yosemite National Park.”

Frank Gehry Agreed to Make Over the L.A. River — With One Big Condition – The Los Angeles Times, 8/9/15
“Frank Gehry and the Los Angeles River: It’s a combination that makes zero sense (if you’re looking strictly at Gehry’s resume) and follows a natural logic (if you think about the interest the architect’s work has long shown in L.A.’s linear infrastructure and its overlooked, harder-to-love corners).”

Frank Gehry, Not a Landscape Architect, Will Help Re-Work L.A. River. Why? – The Los Angeles Times, 8/11/15
“While Frank Gehry, who will draft the master plan for the redevelopment of the Los Angeles River, is certainly one of the most talented and revolutionary architects of our time, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s comparison of him to the greatest landscape architect in North America — and yes, this is a separate credentialed profession — is nearsighted.”

Into the Current The Architect’s Newspaper, 8/12/15
“News that Gehry Partners is at work on a new master plan of the Los Angeles River took Angelenos by surprise late last week. While some had heard rumors for weeks, others were caught off guard by the somewhat strange combination.”

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AUB Landscape Society celebrates Park(ing) Day / outlookaub.com

AUB Landscape Society celebrates Park(ing) Day / outlookaub.com

Founded in 2005 by landscape architect John Bela, ASLA, a founding principal of Rebar, PARK(ing) Day is September 18 this year. PARK(ing) Day is a global, open-source phenomenon in which landscape architects and other designers transform metered parking spaces into temporary mini-parks, or parklets. The event helps the public visualize just how much of our public realm is given over to cars and all the other potential ways these spaces could be used by communities.

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) encourages its professional and student members to lead the design and installation of parklets and show the public how surprising designed parklets can be.

Rebar's original PARK(ing) Day in San Francisco, 2005 / parkingday.org

Rebar’s original PARK(ing) Day in San Francisco, 2005 / parkingday.org

Whether it’s simply a new place to sit and relax, or play a game, parklets will draw a crowd.

HBB Landscape Architecture / Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce

HBB Landscape Architecture parklet / Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce

SWA Group Landscape Architecture teamed up with the Bentley Reserve to set up a pop-up bocce ball court

SWA Group Landscape Architecture teamed up with the Bentley Reserve to set up a pop-up bocce ball court

PARK(ing) Day is an excellent opportunity to teach the public about landscape architecture. Parklets offer a glimpse of what landscape architects or designers can do, and the value design adds to public spaces. People passing-by will stop to check out your parklet and learn about its designers.

Happy PARK(ing) Day / The Penn Stater

Happy PARK(ing) Day / The Penn Stater

PARK(ing) Day can earn you plenty of local attention, but ASLA wants to show you and your parklet to the world. On September 18, post a picture of your parklet with #ASLAPD on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and ASLA will share it. We’ll put our favorite student and professional-designed parklets in an ad in Landscape Architecture Magazine.

If you would like to participate in the event, visit ASLA’s PARK(ing) Day site to get started and learn about local permitting and insurance. For inspiration for your parklet, read our PARK(ing) Day 2014 recap or contact your local ASLA Chapter. Have questions? Send them to jtaylor@asla.org.

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Conservation for Cities: How to Plan & Build Natural Infrastructure by Robert McDonald / Island Press

Conservation for Cities: How to Plan & Build Natural Infrastructure by Robert McDonald / Island Press

In my first year studying for a landscape architecture degree, our textbook for a course on environmental resources was thick, heavy, and weighed down in page upon page of extraneous jargon that obscured the portions that were legitimately interesting and useful. It’s too bad Conservation for Cities: How to Plan & Build Natural Infrastructure, by Robert McDonald, wasn’t around. Even at a quarter the length, it provides exponentially more value – not only for professionals and students in landscape architecture, engineering, planning, and the like, but also city officials, community leaders, and anyone interested in the benefits of integrating natural infrastructure into our cities.

“The twenty-first century will be the fastest period of urban growth in human history,” says McDonald, who is also senior scientist for sustainable land use at the Nature Conservancy. Will this lead to a dystopian end of nature, as predicted by some conservationists? Or will we build cities that exist in co-harmony with nature? “If the city’s plans [to integrate natural infrastructure] are conducted, what is the cumulative effect? What will the city look like? What will it feel like to live in this greener, more resilient city?”

While these are some questions we can only fully answer in the future, McDonald gives us a practical manual for getting there. McDonald’s approach – using conservation for cities – is the product of a framework rooted in the concept of ecosystem services, the many benefits nature can provide us. This is in contrast to conservation in cities, which refers to protecting biodiversity in areas or urban growth; and conservation by cities, the act of making cities more efficient in resource-use and expenditure. Conservation for cities “aims to figure out how to use nature to make the lives of those in cities better. Rather than focusing on how to protect nature from cities, this book is about how to protect nature for cities.”

Approaches to conservation - in, by, and for cities / Island Press

Approaches to conservation – in, by, and for cities / Island Press

City leaders make decisions based on qualitative and quantitative assessments and then implement strategies, which then must be tracked for success or failure. McDonald spends the core of the book going over mapping, valuation, assessment, implementation, and monitoring methods for ten key areas of ecosystem benefits, each with its own chapter: drinking water protection; stormwater; floodwater; coastal protection; shade; air purification; aesthetic value; recreation value and physical health; parks and mental health; and the value of biodiversity in cities.

When possible, McDonald refers to specific formulas, models, software, and other tools that have proven the most successful. For the more casual reader, these technical details are easy to skim. For the professional looking for practical approaches, these details will likely be useful. It’s also worth noting here that the graphics in this pre-publication proof are somewhat sparse, and tend towards the schematic. Additional footnotes, photographs, and illustrations may be included in the finished book.

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Schematic illustrations demonstrate evapotranspiration with and without natural infrastucture / Island Press

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 Beach profiles for sandy shores in a temperate climates versus coastal mangroves in tropical habitats, and the effect on tides and storm surge  / Island Press

Despite the proficient use of market valuation processes, economic indicators, and the like for assessing ecosystem services, McDonald also understands that the value of nature is simply beyond human measures. While professionals and advocates for natural infrastructure are also likely to appreciate the inherent value of nature, that value is difficult to use as an argument against grey infrastructure approaches. Value is calculated in fairly strict black and white economic terms these days.

McDonald uses the “dry and academic” term ecosystem services “because it is standard in the field now, and it makes clear the economic value of nature’s benefits. But [he hopes that] the reader haven’t lost sight of the fact that always behind ecosystem services are people’s lives.”

It’s McDonald’s hope that “rather than completely bending nature to our will, we could bend our will to match nature’s pathways, at least a little bit. The science of ecosystem services gives us some of the crucial tools to follow these other pathways, if we have the love to follow them.”

For those who feel the love, Conservation for Cities offers a compelling trail head to these pathways of the future. I kept thinking I might use that old environmental resources textbook as a resource one day. This year, I finally donated it to make room on the shelf for other books. Conservation for Cities, however, is likely to stay there for quite some time.

Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is the founder of Mitsui Design and director of the Jewish outdoor, food, and environmental education fellowship at Hazon, the country’s leading Jewish environmental organization. 

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Plan rendering of the core area of the new Alexandria Waterfront Plan / OLIN

A new master plan for Old Town, the historic center of Alexandria, Virginia, just a few miles from Washington, D.C. which has been in the works for more than five years, is now well underway, as the city opens bidding on the plan’s flood mitigation improvements. The plan will transform one of the last “undeveloped” major urban waterfronts in the D.C. area. The $120 million project, designed by landscape architecture firm OLIN, will add 5.5 acres of public open space; develop a new signature plaza at the foot of King Street, the main thoroughfare through Old town; expand the marina; create walkable connections for the length of the waterfront; and incorporate flood mitigation measures. Three new mixed-use developments have also been proposed along the waterfront, including a plan to transform Robinson Terminal North. These plans come for approval by the local planning commission and city council in September.

Phase one of the project, which will not be completed until at least 2026, will focus on core utility, roadway, and other infrastructure construction required to support the subsequent street-level improvements, followed by attention to the flood mitigation elements, one of the more controversial elements of the project, according to The Alexandria Times. At a recent talk at the National Building Museum, “Alexandria’s New Front Door: Implementing the Waterfront Plan,” it became clear that the discussion on flood mitigation illuminates the key challenge in re-envisioning Alexandria’s waterfront: how to maintain the character of one of the U.S.’s most historic cities while protecting this architectural treasure-chest from the threat of increased flooding.

Old Town Alexandria was hit hard during Hurricane Isabel in 2003. According to The Washington Post, flooding from the Potomac River swamped the historic Torpedo Factory and many areas around King Street. Along Alexandria’s waterfront, streets were navigated by canoe and kayak, as water levels reached nearly 9 feet above sea level. More recent storms, such as Hurricane Irene in 2011, were also devastating. Long-term, Alexandria’s Potomac waterfront will experience sea level rises of more than 2.3 to 5.2 feet by 2100 — according to the Waterfront Small Area Plan — and certain areas of the city now flood at least once a month, so OLIN made flood mitigation a high priority in the master plan.

Old Dominion Boat Club Manager John Sterling rows a canoe on flooded King Street after Hurricane Isabel / Getty Images by Alex Wong

Old Dominion Boat Club Manager John Sterling rows a canoe on flooded King Street after Hurricane Isabel / Getty Images by Alex Wong

Based on a 2010 flood mitigation study commissioned by the Alexandria city government, OLIN proposed a comprehensive plan that balances mitigation, cost, and maintaining views. The waterfront plan will protect against nuisance flooding at 6 feet higher than sea level through drainage improvements, a combined sea wall and pedestrian walkway, and the use of green infrastructure techniques such as swales and rain gardens. Not only will this protect Old Town against the majority of flooding, this level of protection was found to be the most cost-effective and least visually intrusive for the majority of flooding events, according to a 107-slide presentation by OLIN.

However, the historic character of the city may still be at risk during major storms. “The level was set at 6 feet so it would not destroy the character of the viewshed or the city’s historic character, but this flood mitigation will be overtopped eventually,” said Tony Gammon, acting deputy director of the department of project implementation for Alexandria, at the National Building Museum. “It won’t be a surprise to us.”

Water levels on the Old Town Waterfront / City of Alexandria

Water levels on the Old Town Waterfront / City of Alexandria

Other elements of the waterfront project, which were decided based on extensive community input, strike a balance between preserving character and improving function quite well. According to the small area plan, “throughout the planning process, Alexandrians asked for more ‘things to do’ on the waterfront.” Once a working waterfront bustling with commercial activity, Old Town’s current attractions are now primarily located in-land. The new plan aims to bring a high level of activity back to the waterfront in a new form. A public boardwalk along the water’s edge will improve access to the river, while new public spaces, including a large public park called Fitzgerald Square, will bring people to parts of Old Town that were formerly industry-dominated. Old buildings will be memorialized, views to the river from King Street will be opened up, and three derelict sites will get new mixed-use development.

Existing site of Fitzgerald Square / OLIN studios

Existing site of Fitzgerald Square / OLIN

The new Fitzgerald Square park with a reflecting pool / OLIN studios

The new Fitzgerald Square park with a reflecting pool / OLIN studios

According to Robert M. Kerns, development division chief for Alexandria, who spoke on the National Building Museum panel, the crowning achievement of the project has been its ability “to balance new development with the city’s historic patterns.” Preserving historic character was not only a consideration for the flood mitigation strategies, but also for the city’s new promenades and public spaces. For example, the proposed Prince Street promenade, which will end at riverfront, will have a series of formal gardens that complement the scale of the surrounding structures. “Ensuring an historic scale was important to city identity, as was following the pattern of existing buildings,” Kerns said about the proposed promenade.

The existing view of the waterfront at the end of Prince Street / OLIN studios

The existing view of the waterfront at the end of Prince Street / OLIN

Rendering of the new proposal for the end of the Prince Street promenade / OLIN studios

Rendering of the new proposal for the end of the Prince Street promenade / OLIN

But do the character-conscious flood mitigation strategies go far enough to protect Old Town from the next super storm? While Alexandria is unique due to historic character, the careful approach to flood mitigation provides a contrast to cities like New York City and Boston, which have recently held design competitions that have yielded ambitious waterfront resiliency plans in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The projects that have come out of Living with Water in Boston and Rebuild by Design in NYC will be designed to withstand catastrophic storm events, far more than a 6 foot nuisance flood. While New York and Boston are bigger cities, and arguably at greater risk from sea level rise than Old Town, the effort in Old Town raises questions about the depth of resilience being planned and designed.

After years of debate over the Old Town waterfront, there is now some consensus on how to upgrade this historic place with new parks, better access to the waterfront, and improved flood mitigation. However, the project, which will be in the works for the next decade, ultimately proves just how much “new” residents of one of the country’s oldest cities are willing to accept. Continued flooding may be the price.

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Peter Schaudt / http://www.hoerrschaudt.com/

Peter Schaudt / hoerrschaudt.com

In Seattle, Framing Mount RainierThe Huffington Post, 7/16/15
“Gustafson Guthrie Nichol was called in to create a ‘fountain to mountain’ walking experience called Rainier Vista. It’s now a half-mile-long pedestrian mall that visually connects Red Square to Mount Rainier through the iconic Drumheller Fountain at the heart of the campus.”

Landscape Architecture Comes to the Fore in ChicagoThe Chicago Tribune, 7/18/15
“Given its preeminent role in the birth of the skyscraper, Chicago is often called a laboratory of modern architecture. This summer, the city has put on new mantle: It has become a nationally significant testing ground for public space.”

Peter Schaudt, Distinguished Landscape Architect, Dies at 56 – The Chicago Tribune, 7/20/15
“Chicago landscape architect Peter Schaudt, whose creative and collaborative approach burnished everything from iconic Midwestern football stadiums to outdoor plazas in downtown Chicago, died Sunday at 56 of a heart attack at his Villa Park home, according to his wife, Janet.”

Rotterdam Considers Piloting Environmentally-friendly Road Made From Recycled Plastic BottlesThe Architect’s Newspaper, 7/20/15
“Always an early adopter of innovative sustainability methods, the city of Rotterdam is considering piloting roads fabricated from recycled plastic. The creators of PlasticRoad wooed the city council with their proposal of an all-plastic road that is quicker to lay and requires less maintenance than asphalt.”

A Sad Goodbye to Peter Lindsay Schaudt – Planetizen, 7/22/15
“To say he will be missed hardly begins to cover the impact his loss will have on his family, friends, colleagues, clients, the city of Chicago, and the profession of landscape architecture. He was an amazing person, a good friend, and a terrific designer.”

Jackie Kennedy’s Handmade Scrapbook Offers a Rare Glimpse of Rose Garden’s Birth The Washington Post, 7/28/15
“A new exhibit at the White House Historical Association uncovers some insights into the iconic Rose Garden just outside the Oval Office.”

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"Roads Were Not Built for Cars" by Carlton Reid / Island Press

“Roads Were Not Built for Cars” by Carlton Reid / Island Press

Many people assume roads became the way they are today because of the rise of automobiles. In Roads Were Not Built for Cars, Carlton Reid explains that infrastructure for bicycles, tricycles, and more were the precursors to the later transportation system dominated by automobiles. Cycling enthusiasts will enjoy learning about the influence of early cyclists on roadway development. But while Reid spends much of his time on cycling, he is also careful to examine the history of roads as thoroughfares, transportation networks, public spaces, as well as the roles they have played in broader trends.

For the typical reader, though, Reid’s arguments would be more usefully condensed into a long-form article in, say, The Atlantic or The New Yorker. Even for someone like me — who is more interested than the average bear in cycling, infrastructure, and urban planning — the amount of detail became tedious. Unless you’re a cycling history and policy aficionado, you probably won’t be sitting down to read this book cover to cover. For students, researchers, practitioners, and those interested in the history of infrastructure, however, it’s a worthwhile reference. Many will recognize historical figures like Carl Benz and Henry Ford among the automobile makers who, to varying degrees, got their start in the world of cycling. Others who are technically-minded will appreciate learning the difference between streets made of cobble and sett, asphalt and tarmac, tar and bitumen.
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Carl Benz’s first automobile factory used technology and manufacturing processes adapted directly from cycle manufacturing / Island Press

Early automobile technology utilized cycle tech like the knuckle hinge, allowing for better steering and handling / Island Press

Early automobile technology used cycle tech like the knuckle hinge, allowing for better steering and handling / Island Press

Reid being a Londoner, the book is biased towards London, with parallel sections examining historical developments in the U.S. But his explanation of how roadways first started out as public space but then began to be carved in spaces that are “mine” or “yours” and how this process led to unproductive roadway behaviors, laws, and planning and design resonates anywhere. “Roads were not built for cars,” writes Reid. “Nor were they built for bicycles. They were not built for sulkies, or steam engines, or any form of wheeled vehicle. Roads were not built for horses, either. Roads were built for pedestrians.” You know, people.
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Early illustrations already showed conflict zones between cyclists and motorists / Island Press

Early cyclists came mostly from the upper class / Island Press

Early cyclists came mostly from the upper class / Island Press

Not that those with power wanted it that way. Reid notes how wide roads were not built just for cars, but to increase the ability to “control” social gatherings and protests. “Air circulation for health [was important] but crowd control was a major impetus. Narrow roads can be used for throwing up barricades. The use of compacted crushed stone instead of setts, or tarred-wooden blocks, reduced the availability of ready-made missiles and fire starters.”

It’s fascinating to read about how the public associated independence with cycles and, later, automobiles, while railways were viewed as faster but restrictive. “Cyclists and, later, motorists would complain about the fixed schedules of railways, citing a lack of independence.” Reid doesn’t mention Russia much, but, for what’s it’s worth, this sentiment was shared by Russian thinkers as well. For example, Tolstoy had a deep discomfort with trains, feeling they brought an unwanted pre-destinationism (see Anna Karenina which, spoiler alert, involves a train and doesn’t end well).

Contrast this with a passage quoted from a 1896 New York Evening Post editorial on bicycles: “As a social revolutionizer, it has never had an equal. It has changed completely many of the most ordinary processes and methods of social life. It is the great leveler, for not till all Americans got on bicycles was the great American principle that every man is just as good as any other man, and generally a little better, fully realized. All are on equal terms, all are happier than ever before.”

Early debates about whether to merge all traffic into one system of streets, or separate them out mirror the debate today: “The widest and grandest path of them all — the Coney Island Cycle Path in New York — was loved by many cyclists, but not all. Some refused to ride on it, believing that such dedicated routes, while superior to the rutted roads of the day, would become the only ways open to cyclists. They feared being restricted to a small number of recreational bicycle ways, and banned from all other roads. Many in the wider Good Roads movement wanted cyclists to keep fighting for the improvement of all roads, and not be diverted by improvements to just part of the highway.”

Separate cycle paths or fully integrate them with roadways" The debate continues . . . / Island Press

“Coo, look — There’s a cyclist!” Separate cycle paths or fully integrate them with roadways?” The debate continues / Island Press

And anti-cyclists like The Washington Post‘s Courtland Milloy, whose 2014 tirade against “bicyclist bullies” is also mentioned in the book, might find solace in knowing that “scorchers, cyclists with arched backs and grim ‘bicycle faces,’ who treated the Queen’s Highway as their own — and woe betide anyone who got in their way” — were as much a problem a century and a half ago as they can be today.

There are other interesting tidbits. For example, Broadway in New York City was originally the “Wickquasgeck Trail,” stamped into the brush of Mannahatta by Native American tribes people. US Highway 12 began as the Great Sauk Trail, named after the Sauk people’s hunting trail, originally trodden down by buffalo, with paleontological evidence that it was first blazed by migrating mastodons. And “motorists driving today between Washington, D.C. and Detroit are following a route padded out 10,000 year ago by now-extinct megafauna.”

In the end, the big takeaway is that with the resurgence of cycling and changes in public perception about our auto-centric lifestyles, cars are not the way of the future, especially for dense cities. “Motor cars came to dominate our lives not by design but by stealth. Few predicted the motor car’s eventual dominance and it’s reasonable to assume that the same inability to accurately predict the future afflicts us, too. Cars ‘will become redundant in cities,’ something that’s already ‘happening organically’ because cars ‘cannot be fully enjoyed or used to potential'”, says Britain’s Automobile Association. As Reid notes, “Today, cars in ‘rush hour’ London creep along at 9 miles per hour, an average speed not much greater than capable of horse-drawn carriages in the 19th century. Some progress!”

What new, fascinating future for public roadways might await us just around the bend?

Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is the founder of Mitsui Design and director of the Jewish outdoor, food, and environmental education fellowship at Hazon, the country’s leading Jewish environmental organization. 

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Cities Safer by Design, a report by the World Resources Institute

Cities Safer by Design, a report by the World Resources Institute / WRI

Globally, 1.24 million people are killed in traffic accidents every year, with more than 90 percent of these deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries. Traffic-related incidents are the eighth-leading cause of death worldwide, and the number-one leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15-29. A response to the United Nations’ declaration to create a “Decade of Action” on improving traffic safety, Cities Safer by Design, a new report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, offers urban design best practices and real-world case studies both developed and developing world cities can use to put an end to traffic deaths and injuries.

Cities Safer by Design presents five basic urban design elements that create safer travel environments: block size, connectivity, lane width, access, and population density.

Block Size

Safe urban design is about reducing motor vehicle speeds. The faster a driver goes, the more difficult it is for him or her to avoid hitting a pedestrian in their path. Due to less frequent interruptions, larger blocks allow vehicles to accelerate more freely. More junctions mean more places where cars must stop and pedestrians can cross. According to the report, to improve safety and walkability, blocks should be 75-150 meters long. If blocks are any larger than 200 meters, mid-block pass-throughs with signals or raised crossings should be added every 100-150 meters.

Smaller block sizes have been successfully implemented in central areas of Shanghai, such as Xin Tian Di, to create more walkable neighborhoods. More Chinese cities that had mistakenly built “super blocks” are starting to apply the same approach.

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A street for pedestrians in Shanghai / Jamie Sinz

Connectivity

The report recommends increasing connectivity to multiples modes of transit in order to decrease travel distances and improve access to destinations. Creating multiple routes for pedestrians and cyclists also helps disperse traffic, discourage car use, and reduce travel time.

Mexico City has also created walkable urban landscapes around its Metrobús bus rapid transit (BRT) system that enables safe bicycle and pedestrian access.

Bikers and BRT passengers outside of the Mexico City Metrobus / EMBARQ by  Alejandro Luna

Bikers and BRT passengers outside of the Mexico City Metrobus / EMBARQ by Alejandro Luna

Vehicle Lane Width

The amount of a street devoted to vehicles shapes the amount of street available for pedestrian crossings, bike lanes, parking lanes, and landscape curb extensions. Reducing street widths creates a safer pedestrian experience because they shorten pedestrian crossing distance and exposure to cars and also slow traffic by “increasing drivers’ perception of impediments.” Again, slower traffic mitigates the potential severity of crashes.

According to the report, evidence from Mexico City shows that as the maximum pedestrian crossing distance at an intersection increases by 1 meter, the frequency of pedestrian crashes increase by up to 3 percent. Other studies highlighted in the report show the most significant relationship to injury crashes is street width and street curvature. As street width widens, crashes per mile per year increase exponentially.

Access to Destinations

Neighborhoods should be designed to include transit, parks, schools, and stores within walking distance, which is defined as 0.5-kilometers. Having a variety of destinations in neighborhood clusters encourages people to meet close to home, decreasing the need for vehicular travel and improving overall safety.

In the Coyoacan neighborhood of Mexico City, the prevalence of shops and public spaces encourage walking while discouraging vehicular traffic. Recalling an earlier area before sprawl took over the city, Coyoacan’s cobbled streets lead to garden plazas where street vendors gather.

Santa Catalina Plaza and Church located on Avenida Sosa in the Coyoacan borough of Mexico City / Thelmadatter

Santa Catalina Plaza and Church located on Avenida Sosa in the Coyoacan borough of Mexico City / Thelmadatter

Population Density

A 2009 study cited in the report found that for an increase in density of 100 persons per square mile, there was a 6 percent reduction in injurious crashes and a 5 percent reduction in all crashes after controlling for vehicle miles traveled, street connectivity, and land use. In contrast to more sprawling cities, high-density cities not only reduce the need for vehicle travel, but also reduce the need for their associated infrastructure, such as roads and sewers.

Tokyo has successfully developed high-density mixed-use neighborhoods near rail and bus stations. According to the report, Tokyo has a traffic fatality rate of 1.3 per 100,000 residents. Compare this rate to Atlanta, Georgia, one of the most sprawled-out cities in the U.S., which has 9.7 traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents.

Street in Jiyugaoka,Tokyo

Street in Jiyugaoka, Tokyo / Cozyroom_mimi (Flickr)

With the percentage of the world’s population living in cities expected to hit 70 percent by 2030, reducing traffic fatalities from unsafe streets should be a priority. Safer streets also increase the quality of life for urbanites, particularly for those in developing countries. WRI’s report shows policymakers, urban designers and planners, and landscape architects what works: designing for pedestrian safety means improving urban health and sustainability overall.

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User ratings for Park Row, New York, NY / Liz Camuti

User ratings for Park Row, New York, NY / Liz Camuti

Most smartphone map apps give you several direct routes to get from Point A to Point B, but the quickest or most convenient path isn’t always the most enjoyable. Those interested in finding the most beautiful, walkable route to their destination can now try Walkonomics. The app, created by United Kingdom programmer Adam Davies, allows users to find more beautiful paths through seven cities across the globe using both open and crowd-sourced city data.

Walkability-related data and apps have existed for a number of years. Websites like Walk Score rate individual addresses based on a number between 0 and 100, telling you how walkable or car-dependent an area is. But according to CityLab, Walk Score has yet to incorporate “more fine-grained and diverse data about the quality of the pedestrian experience.”

Walkonomics attempts to provide just that. Not only does this free iOS and Android app allow people to check the pedestrian-friendliness of most streets in Central London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Buenos Aires, and Glasgow, but it also allows them to chose either the quickest or most beautiful routes between destinations in these cities.

The app provides star rankings for eight different categories of pedestrian-friendliness: road safety; easy to cross; pavement/sidewalk; hilliness; navigation; fear of crime; “smart & beautiful;” and “fun & relaxing.” These ratings are generated from open data including street widths, traffic levels, crime statistics, pedestrian accidents, and even how many trees are on each street. Visitors and  residents can provide additional ratings for each of these criteria as they walk down streets in their neighborhood, as well as geo-referenced photos.

As I tested the app, I found that certain elements are not as user-friendly as existing ones in Google Maps. For example, typing in the name of a location rather than a specific address, which typically works pretty accurately in other mapping apps, is a bit of a struggle with Walkonomics, which requires your location or a very specific address if you’re not navigating to a famous landmark.

Though I am not a native New Yorker, I also found it strange that the most beautiful route between two New York City locations took me around Central Park, while the fastest route took me almost directly through the park. Is a stroll down a tree-lined street truly more beautiful than a walk through a park? This raises the question: how does Walkonomics actually quantify the most beautiful route, when what makes something beautiful is subjective. Furthermore, it’s unclear how Walkonomics, which is intended for urban streets, incorporates parks. Perhaps, the app could benefit from more crowd-sourcing and input from people who really know these streets (Most streets in New York only have one user rating). Davies said he also has plans to provide more options, like the safest and cleanest routes, which are more easily quantified.

The most beautiful route from 186 W 80th Street to the Plaza Hotel as determined by the Walkonomics app  / Liz Camuti

The most beautiful route from 186 W 80th Street to the Plaza Hotel as determined by the Walkonomics app / Liz Camuti

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The fastest route from 186 W 80th Street to the Plaza Hotel as determined by the Walkonomics app / Liz Camuti

Despite the app’s shortcomings, Davies has certainly tapped into a real demand for walkable places. Also, studies have shown that walkable streets can boost retail sales by up to 80 percent. Research indicates walkable neighborhoods reduce obesity levels, carbon emissions, and crime, among other benefits. In fact, the benefits of walkable cities have become so widely known that many big businesses are choosing to move their headquarters back to more walkable locations.

If you live in one of the seven cities available on the app and have an extra five minutes in the morning, take Walkonomics for a spin. Not only could you end up feeling less stressed at the beginning of your workday, but you’ll have the opportunity to add to a growing data source designed to make cities a little bit more livable. And, hopefully, Walkonomics will in turn open up its own data, as it could be really useful to landscape architects, urban planners, and health researchers trying to figure out what makes one route more appealing than another.

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