Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Cities’ Category

aerial penn ave

Pennsylvania Avenue today / National Capital Planning Commission

Pennsylvania Avenue has one of the nation’s most famous addresses – The White House, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It forms a physical and symbolic connection between that address, which represents the president and the executive branch, and the people, represented by the U.S. Capitol building. But beyond this, what is the role of the avenue for both the District and nation in the 21st century? What does the avenue say to the rest of the nation and the world?

The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) wanted participants to answer these questions at its first public workshop on the Pennsylvania Avenue Initiative. In partnership with the General Services Administration and the National Park Service, the initiative will “develop a vision for how the avenue can meet local and national needs in a 21st century capital city.”

The workshop began with opening remarks from Elizabeth Miller, FASLA, NCPC. Miller noted the avenue’s dual role as not only a national symbol but also a place where people visit, work, and live. Recognizing and celebrating this dual role is one of the challenges the initiative faces as it crafts a vision to guide the next thirty to forty years.

Sarah Moulton at NCPC then presented some history. In particular, she noted the accomplishments of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation (PADC), which helped turn the avenue around, after its post-WWII decline. PADC was dissolved in 1996.

1962 street car line

1962 was the final year street cars ran up and down Pennsylvania Avenue / National Capital Planning Commission

Without a single voice advocating for the avenue, the street today is in a bit of a slump, showing wear and tear from increased use. It’s aging infrastructure. Its deterioration may have arisen out of the jurisdictional challenges stemming from the multiple agencies responsible for planning, designing, and maintaining various areas along the avenue.

Jurisdiction issues are one of the existing challenges for Pennsylvania Avenue

Jurisdiction issues are one of the existing challenges for Pennsylvania Avenue / National Capital Planning Commission

But change along the avenue is already underway, for good or bad. The old post office is being redeveloped as a Trump conference center and hotel; the FBI is looking into possible relocation; private redevelopment is in the works for E Street; and efforts are underway to redesign historic Pershing Park as a new national WWI memorial.

Following the presentation, participants were invited to visit stations around the room, which included a gallery of posters showing comparably prominent streets in capital cities around the world. Some stations sought participants’ feedback on their visions for the future.

For example, one poster asked, “What is the role of Pennsylvania Avenue in 2040?” Responses included:

  • “The city – one great public space; iconic, walkable, wayfinding (take that tourists!)”
  • “An iconic image of Main Street USA – people, interactivity, heritage”
  • “Should be the horizontal guidepost to the Washington Monument’s vertical”
public workshop big and little ideas

Ideas from the public workshop / National Capital Planning Commission

The initiative intends to address four central issues: operations and maintenance; governance; program and animation; and planning, design, and economic health. This last issue encompasses everything from security for federal buildings to sustainable design practices, from safe transportation routes to the needs of the residential community. At the heart of all of this is ensuring economic vitality, said Moulton.

NCPC is starting a robust public outreach effort, with this initial public workshop just the beginning. To submit your thoughts, e-mail NCPC at PennAve@ncpc.gov; visit their website; or  tweet with the hashtag #MyPennAve.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

Read Full Post »

helsinki

Helsinki / Wikipedia

The Guardian‘s excellent environmental coverage has been supplemented by a new section on cities, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. Here, we learn about an ambitious plan in Helsinki, Finland, to create a revolutionary “mobility on demand” system by 2025. The system would enable all “shared and public transport” to be paid for with a single payment network available via smartphones. People would create their own transportation infrastructure from scratch. This is a complete rethinking of urban mobility for the age of ubiquitous connectivity.

The Guardian writes: “The hope is to furnish riders with an array of options so cheap, flexible, and well-coordinated that it becomes competitive with private car ownership not merely on cost, but on convenience and ease of use.”

Helsinki residents will use a new app to simply indicate start and end points, with perhaps a few preferences for mode of transit. “The app would then function as both journey planner and universal payment platform, knitting everything from driverless cars and nimble little buses to shared bikes and ferries into a single, supple mesh of mobility.” The app would be like Google Maps mated with a public Uber, but across all transportation options.

This city-wide mobility-on-demand system may build off of the Helsinki Regional Transport Authority’s new minibus service, Kutsuplus, which already lets riders indicate their own origins and destinations. With Kutsuplus, “requests are aggregated, and the app calculates an optimal route that most closely satisfies all of them.” Kutsuplus is expected to reduce car ownership, and even Zipcar membership.

The Guardian wonders whether this system can actually work in practice for everyone though. Riders would need a smartphone to be able to buy in. While this may work for upwardly mobile segments of Helsinki, does everyone there actually own a smartphone? What about the elderly, or people with disabilities?

Getting cost right will also be important. As an example, “Kutsuplus costs more than a conventional journey by bus, but less than a taxi fare over the same distance – and Goldilocks-style, that feels just about right.” How much will people pay extra for mobility on demand? And should they even pay extra, if this is to be a publicly-managed service?

Furthermore, could this model actually work elsewhere? The Guardian asks whether mobility on demand will be as effective in the spread-out, low-density suburbs of Helsinki.

And further afield, is this model transferable? Cities in the developing world that don’t have well-established public transportation systems (buses or subways) already rely on a network of private mini-buses and vans to move people around. These form a decentralized network that also responds to supply and demand. Could a Helsinki model be superimposed on such systems? And could it augment recent developments? Many developing world cities are moving towards more a more integrated public transportation network, often with new bus-rapid-transit (BRT) systems as the backbone. According to The City Fix from EMBARQ, 31 million urbanites now use BRT.

App-based urban transportation experiments are underway, perhaps showing the way to a new form of mobility. Almost all major urban transportation systems in the U.S. and Europe have their own apps that enable easy route planning; that’s a new thing. San Francisco is even testing an app to manage supply and demand for parking spaces. Uber and other taxi-on-demand services are now ubiquitous in the developed world, and have even caused widespread protests in Europe. But can an app really kill the car?

Read Full Post »

60

What Makes a City Great? / Sasaki Associates

A new survey commissioned by planning and design firm Sasaki Associates asked 1,000 urbanites in San Francisco, Chicago, Austin, New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. what they love most about their city. The findings, which cover diverse aspects of city life, offer truly fascinating insights for urban planners, landscape architects, and architects. One example: 60 percent of residents of these cities say they will still be in the city five years from now. Here are some other highlights.

What do urbanites love most about their cities? 

More than 40 percent cited the restaurants and food; while 32 percent said local attractions; 24 percent said historic places and landmarks; 21 percent said cultural offerings; 17 percent said parks and public spaces; and 16 percent said fairs and festivals. Some 15 percent said “the people,” while another 10 percent said they like the architecture the most, and 9 percent said the local sports scene.

And when asked, “what would get you out of your neighborhood?,” the findings are largely consistent with preferences listed above: 46 would venture out for a new restaurant; 25 percent would travel for a new store; 24 percent for a new cultural event; while just 18 percent would schlep to check out a new park or green space.

Where do urbanites’ favorite experiences happen?

While only 18 percent will travel across town for a new park, interestingly, a majority of people (65 percent) remember their favorite city experience taking place outdoors — either in a park or on a street. (A minority [just 22 percent] said their favorite experience happened in a building).

Of outdoor spaces, 47 percent say waterfronts are their favorite. Another 31 prefer large open parks, while 14 percent prefer small urban spaces, and 8 percent love their city’s trail system the most.

So where should cities make future investment in parks and open space? “41 percent support investment in making the waterfront more accessible and appealing; 40 percent would like to see more large parks that support both passive and adventurous activities; 37 percent wish their cities would make streets more pedestrian/bike friendly; 36 percent support adding outdoor music and entertainment venues; and 31 percent desire more small urban parks.”

What makes a city’s buildings iconic?

Some 36 percent said the historic nature of the building, while 30 percent said “great architecture,” and another 24 percent said a building’s “unique design.” A majority (57 percent) will stop and look at a historic building, while just 19 percent will do the same for a modern one.

What do urbanites like least about getting around in cities?

More than 40 percent said there’s “too much traffic,” while 23 percent cited the lack of parking. Some 14 percent said public transportation is not up to par, and 9 percent said biking is dangerous. Another 7 percent pointed to things being “too spread out,” while another 7 percent complained that sidewalks are too crowded.

These complaints reveal how Americans, even urbanites, get around: 58 percent use cars frequently, while 29 percent use public transportation. Another 10 percent try to walk everywhere and just 2 percent use bikes.

Surveys like Sasaki’s are important. We need to attract as many people as possible to cities, because urban life is central to a more sustainable future. In cities, per-capita carbon emissions and energy and water use are all much lower. But beyond the metrics, cities can just be great places if they are designed to be livable and beautiful, filled with outdoor spaces, historic buildings, and efficient transportation systems.

In keeping with Sasaki’s multidisciplinary approach, the team who put together the survey is comprised of a planner, landscape architect (Gina Ford, ASLA), and an architect, as it should be when dealing with all things related to our built environment.

Read Full Post »

doctor

Dr. Robert Zarr leads a hike through a park in Washington, D.C. / Diana Bowen and National Park Service

For more LA in the News, check out LAND, ASLA’s newsletter. If you see others you’d like included, please email us at info@asla.org.

The Music City’s New Urbanism: The Nine Projects Leading Nashville’s Transformation – The Architect’s Newspaper, 7/2/14
“New riverfront parks are transforming Nashville’s connection to the Cumberland River, bikeshare docks have appeared around downtown, bus rapid transit is in the works, and the city’s tallest tower is set to rise. And that’s just the start of it. Take a look at the city’s dramatic transformation and a peek at where it’s headed.”

America’s Leading Design Cities – CityLab, 7/8/14
“Where are the key clusters and geographic centers of design in America? Which are its leading design cities?”

How Chinese Urbanism Is Transforming African Cities Metropolis Magazine, 7/8/14
“The factory of the world has a new export: urbanism. More and more Chinese-made buildings, infrastructure, and urban districts are sprouting up across Africa, and this development is changing the face of the continent’s cities.”

To Make Children Healthier, a Doctor Prescribes a Trip to the Park – NPR, 7/14/14
“About 40 percent of Zarr’s young patients are overweight or obese, which has led the doctor to come up with ways to give them very specific recommendations for physical activity. And that has meant mapping out all of the parks in the District of Columbia — 380 parks so far.”

AILA Launches the Program for Australia’s First Landscape Architecture Festival – World Landscape Architecture, 7/15/14
“The festival to be held in Brisbane from 16th to 18th of October to explore, define and forecast Landscape Architecture from differing perspectives. The Festival program includes exhibition, walks, self-guided walks, a research forum and conference.”

Read Full Post »

gielen3

All photographs from the book Ciphers, cropped / Copyright Christoph Gielen

In his compelling new book Ciphers, Christoph Gielen shows us the amazing shapes of suburbs, which he captures while hanging out of a helicopter. Gielen’s goal is to use his aerial photography to show us how “off-kilter” our sprawled-out communities have become. He hopes to “trigger a re-evaluation of our built environment, to ask: what kind of development can be considered sustainable?”

The physical forms of these communities in Florida, Arizona, Texas, and California and overseas in Scotland, Germany, and China are otherworldly in themselves. The photographs titles are equally as abstract, mostly marked as Untitled or perhaps simply the development’s name, like Sterling Ridge or Eden Prairie, which are themselves ironic, given how divorced they are from their environment. The photographs of these places, taken together, truly are ciphers, in that they help us understand the underlying logic, the code that shaped these sprawled-out places.

The photographs show us that when a community is totally detached from its surroundings, all kinds of forms are possible. In his introduction, Geoff Manaugh, long-time editor of BLDGBLOG, says “the suburbs are, in a sense, intensely original settlement patterns tiled over the landscape in ways our species could never have anticipated. We are living amid geometry, post-terrestrial screens between ourselves and the planet we walk upon.”

gielen1
Gielen tells Manaugh that many of these communities, being so separated from their surrounding nature, are “absolutely self-contained.” Many of them are “not changing any more.” In particular, Manaugh describes the Sun Belt suburbs as “static, crystalline, and inorganic.” He adds, “Indeed, many of these streets frame retirement communities: places to move to once you’ve already been what you’ve set out to be. This isn’t sprawl, properly speaking. They are locations in their own right, spatial endpoints of certain journeys.”

gielen2
In another essay in the book, Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris, co-founders of The Canary Project, describe why these places are so bad for the environment. They point to arguments eloquently made by Kongjian Yu, FASLA, president of Turenscape. In an ASLA interview they quote from, Yu says: “We’ve misunderstood what it means to be developed. We need to develop a new system, a new vernacular to express the changing relationship between land and people…It should address the issue of survival, not pleasure making, or ornament. It should be for survival, because we are now, as human beings, at the edge of survival.”

sprawl
According to Sayler and Morris, Yu sees survival-based planning and development as fundamentally based in “ecological awareness and environmental ethics.” Yu begins all of his projects with an aerial analysis. He looks for the “ecological infrastructure that will guide urban development.” Yu defines ecological infrastructure as the “structural landscape network composed of critical landscape elements and spatial patterns.” In other words, Sayler and Morris write, “everything that was ignored in the developments that Gielen highlights in this book.”

Galina Tachieva, a partner at Duany, Plater-Zyberk and author of the Sprawl Repair Manual, says the photos illustrate how we are now stuck using a model that doesn’t work. “Such communities do not live up to the promise of an idyllic suburban alternative to the stress and hardship of dense city life — but have failed economically,  socially, and ecologically. Yet planning practice in the United States continues to promote and subsidize this type of settlement pattern through codes and policies that would make building traditional cities and towns illegal today. These trends are perpetuated despite what we know about more efficient use of land, energy, and water.”

gielen4
Tachieva argues, “the time has come to switch from auto-dependent and single-use monocultures to complete, human-scale communities.” Our only option, she says, is to “repair the worst excesses of sprawl — to find ways to restructure and redefine as much of it as possible into livable and robust neighborhoods.” This can happen by introducing new transit options, reconfiguring suburban blocks into denser ones, transforming dead malls into new town centers, and converting vacant sprawled-out communities back into open spaces and farmland. Sprawled-out places can devolve or shrink back.

Following the lead of developers and elected officials, the urban planning and design professions really enabled these kinds of developments to happen. Solving suburban sprawl — really, fixing the mess we created — will then require a long-term, collective effort. And, for some, these places may not even be seen as a problem. As a recent article from The Washington Post explains, liberals see dense urban environments as the answer, while conservatives are fine with their McMansions set within the endless sprawl.

Explore the book.

Read Full Post »

blue

Blue Urbanism / Island Press

Timothy Beatley, professor of sustainable communities at the University of Virginia, has done it again. His excellent book from a few years ago, Biophilic Cities: Integrating Nature into Urban Design and Planning, has been followed-up by an equally well-written and persuasive new one, Blue Urbanism: Exploring Connections between Cities and Oceans. In this book, Beatley expands his purview beyond the “green urbanism” of Biophilic Cities to the vast oceans that make up 70 percent of the face of the Earth and contain 97 percent of its water. While he still argues that cities must integrate green — really ecological design principles at all levels — into dense urban environments, he cautions that cities can’t ignore oceans and marine environments. He admits that he basically left out oceans in Biophic Cities. He certainly makes up for it in this book, which argues that we also have biophilic connections to the oceanscape, and that connection is essential to building a more “complementary, mutually sustainable relationship between city and ocean.”

It seems much of the inspiration for Blue Urbanism came out of a fortuitous experience Beatley had in Perth, Australia. There, he witnessed how “urbanites, under the right circumstances, can take on ocean conservation.” A real estate developer wanted to build a massive hotel resort along the coast facing the vulnerable Ningaloo Reef. The spot proposed was apparently the “worst location for preserving marine biodiversity.” Beatley was amazed by the collective sense of outrage, manifested in everything from bumper stickers to rallies and letter writing campaigns. Under pressure, the state’s premier (similar to a U.S. governor) shut down the plans. Beatley says “this story has stayed with me as a remarkable example of how urbanites, even those hundreds of kilometers away, can care for and advocate on behalf of the ocean world.”

The trick is turning all those good feelings about oceans — and the charismatic sea creatures we all love: whales, sea turtles, sea stars, to name a few — into real urban policies and plans that protect oceans. Beatley points to a few examples of local governments that have taken the lead, from San Francisco, with its ban on plastic bags; to Hong Kong, with its burgeoning movement to stop the consumption of shark fins; to Wellington, New Zealand, which has forged a deep and sustainable connection with its coastal environment. Still, Beatley thinks most cities can go much further than they are now, creating “blue belts,” to protect ocean spaces in the same way cities create designated “green belts” on land.

The world’s oceans — and their rich coastal zones — are in dire need of protection. While ocean diversity is important in its own right, our protection of it is really self-interested. This is because our “urban future and ocean world are intimately connected in numerous ways.” The world’s oceans are major carbon sinks, soaking up 2 billion tons of CO2 annually. Ocean related jobs total 350 million worldwide. Seafood generates $108 billion in economic value, while eco-tourism to reefs creates another $9 billion alone. We also get energy from the ocean — in the form of undersea oil deposits, and, hopefully, in the future, more offshore wind farms. Beatley says offshore wind farms could provide today’s energy needs four times over, if we were smart. Oceans are also our main transportation channels. But all of these interactions with our oceans must be done in a more considered, sustainable fashion to prevent more of what Beatley calls “ocean sprawl,” which negatively impact the “integrity of ocean ecosystems.”

Ocean sprawl has had terrible impacts. Those huge gyres — garbage patches — will continue to grow for the next 500 years, even if we stop putting any plastic in the ocean right now. Coal-burning power plants send huge amounts of mercury into the oceans. Here’s just one scary stat Beatley cites: “A recently released United Nations Environment Program report documents a doubling of mercury levels in the top 100 meters (300 feet) of ocean water over the past 100 years.” Then, there are events like the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Too many cities don’t understand their connection to oceans. Beatley explains how a number of local non-profits are trying to change that. In Seattle, a group called Beach Naturalists is helping locals understand the magic of their coastline. “The program trains several hundred volunteer naturalists in the ecology and life found in the intertidal zone, and these volunteers patrol the city’s parks to help people understand more about life in tidal pools.” And then there’s the group called LA Waterkeeper, which aims to build awareness of the massive kelp forests just off the coast of Los Angeles. Did anyone know they were there?

Returning to Wellington, New Zealand, Beatley explains how that city has “created a new marine reserve on one of its shores, a marine education center providing children and adults alike the chance to touch and see marine organisms, the world’s first marine bioblitz (engaging the citizens in the recording of marine biodiversity), and a powerful new vision of its ‘blue belt,’ a complement to its historic and prized greenbelt system.” Imagine if New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco — and all the major coastal cities around the world — took their marine environments as seriously as Wellington does, and actually extended the marine world into the city.

seastar

Dive instructor with sea stars in the Wellington harbor / Mark Coote

In a few sections of the book, Beatley dives into what blue urbanism looks like. Of interest to planners, architects, and landscape architects, he outlines how the “redesign of buildings and public spaces to foster resilience to climate change and rising ocean levels” can also extend “urban spatial planning and conservation into marine environments.” He points to innovative examples in Singapore, Rotterdam, Toronto, and Oslo.

wavedeck

ASLA 2009 Professional General Design Honor Award. Spadina Wavedeck, Toronto, Ontario, Canada / West 8 + DTAH

Read Blue Urbanism and check out the review of Beatley’s earlier book, Biophilic Cities.

Read Full Post »

1. Bikes at Intersection

Bikers at intersection / Heb @ Wikimedia Commons

Investing in bicycle infrastructure is good for people and cities

For urban cycling advocates, investing in bicycle infrastructure can help undo the damage of decades of bad decisions, which have left too many places with a car-centric transportation system. The thinking — which was perfectly expressed by Copenhagen bicycle ambassador Mikael Colville-Anderson during his recent TED talk — is: “Bicycling is the most potent medicine we possess … for designing livable cities.”

Advocates say designing for bikes will yield broader benefits, making our cities healthier places to live. Shifting from motor vehicle based transportation to cycling produces multiple wins for cities: reduced greenhouse emissions and traffic congestion, and gains in air quality, fitness, and the economy.

Biking can also be a very efficient mode of transportation, especially in highly dense environments. The You Are Here project  from the Social Computing Group at the MIT Media Lab recently released a series of interactive maps enabling users to determine the best mode of transportation from various locations in eleven cities: walking, bicycling, public transit, or driving. As an example, they looked at Manhattan and found that outside short-range distances, where walking is fastest, biking often wins out for most locations leaving from midtown.

2. Manhattan Transportation

From midtown Manhattan, 49.7% of the city is reached fastest by bike, 33.8% by public transit, and 16.2% by car / You Are Here project via vox.com

Cycling is not without its risks. Good design can help mitigate them.

Bikers face an uneven match with cars and trucks, should an accident occur. The good news is designers and planners have found many ways to mitigate these risks through good design and increased awareness. Best practices, such as those listed in the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, have been implemented across the country with much success. A popular recent video from urban planner and designer Nick Falbo adapts a promising Dutch design solution for the continually sticky issue of intersections – still one of the more dangerous places for cyclists. And, in general, the more cyclists on the road, the safer conditions are for all cyclists. In its first year of operation, with estimated 8.75 million trips, New York City’s Citi Bike bike-share program has seen zero fatalities and just 25 visits to the emergency room. Capital BikeShare in D.C. also has yet to see any fatalities after several years in operation.

3. Protected Intersection

Protected intersection / Nick Falbo

Fewer solutions have been determined for the longer-term risk of increased exposure to air pollution. While the overall health benefits still appear to outweigh the risks, urban cyclists can inhale significant amounts of pollutants from nearby motor vehicles.

Suggestions for decreasing this risk — taking quieter back-routes, biking during off times (especially in the morning since ozone peaks in the afternoon), avoiding intersections, and wearing a respiratory mask — tend to place the burden on cyclists. They are also not much use to urban commuters and portray cycling as niche and unsafe, an issue at the core of Colville-Andersen’s TED talk. The bicycle ambassador, who is opposed to wearing helmets — he claims the science is split on their effectiveness and government mandates on helmet-wearing have tended to suppress rather than increase biking — would almost certainly not approve of the suggestion that cyclists wear face masks. (His arguments on helmets and the culture of fear are interesting and worth a watch).

4. Face Mask

A necessary health precaution? / Totobobo

A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health that compared exposure to air pollution — specifically “black carbon” and nitrogen dioxide — on bike lanes adjacent to traffic versus bike paths separated from traffic may offer guidance for designers, planners, and officials. In Boston, the study found exposure was impacted less by time of day or traffic congestion levels and more by proximity of cyclists to the traffic itself and the presence of greenery. Cyclists on the green bike paths separated from vehicular traffic saw the least exposure, an effect increased both by distance from cars and by the green buffers.

The study’s most significant case study focused on the bike path along Sturrow Drive, a major parkway along the Charles River, 100-feet away from the road and separated by a row of trees. There, fewer intersections reduced exposure, and trees both pushed fumes up and away from the path and collected particulate matter on their leaves.

Green buffers can be easily integrated into the existing urban fabric. Doing so will help keep cyclists safe and healthy, but all citizens will reap the benefits.

5. Protected Bike Path

Protected bike path / Paul Krueger via Flickr

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

Read Full Post »

lot3

Empty lot next to mowed lot, New Orleans / Jared Green

At the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) conference in New Orleans, the focus was on change — and how change will impact cities’ search for social equality. Much of urban infrastructure will need to be bolstered to survive a range of shifts: population booms or busts, economic growth or stagnation, and climate change and increasingly frequent natural disasters. But as cities adapt to these changing social, economic and climatic circumstances, are the most vulnerable being heard? When cities bounce back from all kinds of disasters, are all communities in the city, both rich and poor, equally as resilient?

Jeff Hebert, executive director of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA), said, at its peak in 1960, New Orleans had a population of 630,000. After Hurricane Katrina, the “costliest natural disaster in U.S. history,” the population fell to 220,000. Now, it’s up to 369,000, still way off its peak. “We’ve been losing population for decades. Pre-existing patterns just tend to reinforce themselves in the aftermath of a disaster.” Since 1960, the population has grown in the suburbs while the core has lost density. By 2004, the number of vacant parcels was around 20-30,000. Detroit or Cleveland have a similar amount.

New Orleans is found along the banks of the Mississippi River. Land at the edges of the river is actually highest, as it has slowly accumulated there over thousands of years. Beyond these high points along the river, the city’s geography dips, forming a bowl. The French Quarter and other historic settlements are all found on high ground, meaning they are really just a few feet above sea level. Many low-Income communities like the lower 9th ward are under sea level. These neighborhoods were made possible by a pump system invented by the city. “We started building in swamps, exacerbating other environmental issues. Maybe our ancestors had it right building just on high ground.”

After Katrina struck, some 34 affected coastal parishes and New Orleans began to receive assistance through the federal Road Home Homeowner Assistance Program. As “there was no comprehensive plan, the feds took a piecemeal, local approach.” On a one-by-one basis, people could either come back to their old houses and received funds to rebuild, or got funds to rebuild somewhere else. Some 130,000 people got $8.9 billion in grants through this program. The result: “They left us with a patchwork of land.”

NORA was handed all the leftover, empty lots. They have gotten the inventory down from 5,000 to around half that. “Most of the remaining inventory is on lower ground. Some of those neighborhoods came back and others didn’t.”

So NORA initiated an innovative adaptation program for many low-income areas, with “green infrastructure, lot stabilization, alternative maintenance, and two technical assistance programs: growing green and growing home.” Hebert said these programs are about “connecting with the community about local stormwater and beautifying neighborhoods through great landscape design.”

Getting many locals in the poorer parts of the city to buy into empty lots as stormwater management systems has been tricky. “We have to change what is seen as a black eye into something beautiful that increases the quality of life and property values.” A big part of the campaign is educating many who have been there for generations about hydrology and geology. At least New Orleans is focusing on how everyone must adapt.

Roberta Feldman, an architectural activist and founder of the UIC City Design Center, then discussed how “urban redevelopment screws people,” particularly in cities like Chicago. Cities must be more sensitive to existing populations as they make way for new ones. She said Chicago’s latest housing plan will create “high-density, high-price public housing that is not socially just or cost effective.” Instead of redeveloping existing public housing complexes, the city often just tears them down and asks the poor living there to move into apartments somewhere else in the city or join in a public mixed use development. The problem is their existing community has been dismantled, “and these residents don’t want to move.” These efforts are also not cost-effective, Feldman argued, because creating new housing invariably costs much more per square foot than simply revamping older buildings. If the city had used the money more wisely, more public housing could have been developed. “The housing authority could have renovated 25,000 units for the same price as 9,000 new units.”

Cecilia Martinez, recently head of the UN-Habitat in New York, said “we must blame architects for much of the mess” we face trying to adapt cities to change. “They assume a lot. By World War II, they had initiated the Modern City movement and assumed the car would re-organize the city. Because of the car, we had super-blocks, so no one walks anymore. They said ‘let’s do low density. Let’s put towers in the middle of gardens.'” Graphed on top of this car-based system is a developer-led system, which marginalizes the poor. As a result, “Latin America is either super-highways and super-blocks or slums.” Martinez said this urban model is clearly broken because some 800 million people live in slums without access to public spaces. “While New York City, one of the world’s wealthiest cities, is comprised of some 60 percent public space — when you add in streets, parks, and plazas — the slums in Kenya have maybe 1 percent public space.” To enable everyone to adapt, “we need to focus on walking and biking, public spaces, and mixed social structures.”

“In all of the world’s deltas, large changes are taking place,” said Han Meyer, a professor at Delft University in the Netherlands who offered a broader framework for adaptation. The problem is these deltas and other coastal areas are the site of much of the world’s urbanization. There are multiple dynamics happening at once. “There are the dynamics of the natural environment. One thousand years of land-water relations change. The way deltas carry sediment changes over time. These changes have been caused by climate change since the Ice Age, and the process has been ongoing for a long time. Then, there’s the societal use of the delta. Dynamic land-uses plus nature means a very complex system that will continue to change. We need to be able to adapt both types of environments. They are at different frequencies, rhythms. The problem is nature has a different time scale for change than societies.” So his answer for how to adapt to change: “There can be no final plans. We can only build different scenarios. “

Read Full Post »

queens

Queens Plaza / Margie Ruddick

Design responses to New York City’s tangled infrastructure, both instant and painstaking, were the subject of a conversation between “design patron” Janette Sadik-Kahn and landscape designer Margie Ruddick, ASLA. Sadik-Kahn is best known for her recently completed tenure as commissioner of New York City’s department of transportation (DOT) under Mayor Bloomberg. Ruddick, as designer of a complex re-imagining of New York’s Queens Plaza, has been one of the beneficiaries of that design-conscious administration’s patronage. Both speakers, winners of 2013 National Design Awards from the event’s sponsor, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, turned a retrospective eye on their recent work in urban infrastructure. The last eight or so years, both speakers claimed, marks a sea change in New York City’s infrastructure and design culture, as design innovations marked a turn from privileging cars and drivers to supporting the comfort and mobility of pedestrians and cyclists.

Ruddick focused on the painstaking work of transforming the complex site of Queens Plaza from gateway and transit hub “morass” into a green refuge in a span of ten years (see image above). Ruddick argued that what was radical in 2006 has become mainstream today: the idea that urban infrastructure can operate aesthetically and ecologically is accepted in a way that was unthinkable when the project began.

Sadik-Kahn reviewed a series of pilot programs for city streets that were rapidly implemented and subsequently institutionalized under her tenure. Where previously streets encouraged speeding, visual clutter, and cycling accidents, these interventions have struck a new balance. Sadik-Kahn spoke of the city’s “new vocabulary” of designs for bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, benches, and green infrastructure. After years of “suspended animation,” the DOT showed that it was possible to change the DNA of city streets.

queens1

queens2

Before and After: St Nicholas Ave & Amsterdam Ave / NYC DOT

Looming large over the discussion was the role of patronage and leadership in guiding better design for cities. Now that Bloomberg is gone, what might happen in New York? And who can spearhead similar changes in other cities?

For Ruddick, Queens Plaza, a complex and multi-agency project, was an object lesson in the importance of having a design process and the need to maintain a strong design vision, integrate performance, and avoid design by committee. But the story of her failure to implement a water filtration system across three jurisdictions without talking to the right people demonstrated that politics trumps design. The designer must have a firm hand, but they can’t make the project whole without the “fiat of the person at the top.”

Sadik-Kahn, one of those people at the top, emphasized the necessity of acting quickly, harnessing innovation. And as for the future of sustainable cities, it lies in selling mayors on the value of design as an economic development strategy and hoping for a “global competition of who can be greener.” Citing cities that have followed New York’s example — including Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon and Mexico City — Sadik-Kahn’s new role is to export New York’s “new vocabulary,” as codified in the Urban Street Design Guide, worldwide.

This guest post is by Mariana Mogilevich, PhD, assistant professor, metropolitan studies program, New York University.

Read Full Post »

thames

Thames barrier, London / The Greenwich Phantom

“Urban resilience can be defined as the capacity of the system of cities to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what acute shocks occur,” said Judith Rodin, president of The Rockefeller Foundation at the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia. “There have always been shocks throughout history, but, today, they are different — with globalization, climate change, and the immense scale and pace of shocks.” Rodin said shocks are occurring in cities based in increasingly fragile ecosystems, which puts people at unprecedented risk.

On Medellin, which is increasingly viewed as a model of a sustainable city, Rodin said the city’s ability to innovate and incorporate new ideas about its infrastructure shows that it’s becoming a more resilient city. “Medellin was trapped in a cycle of violence and mass incarceration, but it had the capacity to think differently.” Medellin’s city leadership worked on connecting its poor, isolated communities through new transit, libraries, and parks, bringing them into the mainstream. She said this was critical because the poor and vulnerable are the ones who are always most impacted.

Perhaps Rodin’s central point was that “we can’t always predict or prevent catastrophes, but we can control the physical and spiritual damage. It’s not just about how a city operates on its best days, but whether it can operate on its worst.”

So how can cities become more resilient? They have to make “an up-front investment.” While those up-front investments in resilience can be expensive, they can create jobs and improve social cohesion. Improving resilience is not just a task for the public sector either. “Businesses have self interest in becoming involved, too.” Rodin pointed to a World Bank study that argued 25 percent of all businesses that fail after a major disruption don’t reopen.

New technology may also provide hope. “Look at the advances in 3D-printing, which enable us to print parts when distribution systems break down, or on-site manufacturing of emergency shelters.”

To bolster the ability of cities to adapt to changing circumstances, the Rockefeller Foundation announced it will dedicate $100 million to its new 100 Resilient Cities program. By increasing the focus on resilience among 100 world cities, the foundation hopes to create a market for resilient products and services, so more companies have an incentive to serve this market. Cities can use the foundation’s funds to find chief resilient officers, who will be charged with creating a city-wide resilience strategy.

Other global experts also weighed in on the move towards urban resilience. Katherine Vines, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which includes 40 of the 50 largest cities in the world, said mega-cities face a “huge job adapting to climate change, shocks, and chronic stresses.” A recent report by the group found that 82 percent of C40 cites are already dedicating staff and funds to urban resilience, including early warning systems and emergency preparedness, and green infrastructure systems, like green roofs and permeable pavements, in order to cool cities and deal with flooding.

As an example, she point to Rio de Janeiro, where Mayor Eduardo Paes is implementing a robust resilience strategy, with an emergency response center, long-term climate risk assessment, and actual construction work to improve slope support and drainage. And there’s also a real human component to the efforts: “Part of the emergency warning system will involve training local nurses.” Vines also mentioned an innovative new “rains app” from the city of Sao Paulo, which enables local residents to see their risk of summertime flooding in real time.

And then Stefan Denig, Siemens Sustainable City program, offered some scary data. Due to flooding in the 1950s, London spent $8 billion on its huge Thames barrier. Over the next few decades, London only had use the gates twice. However, in the past decade, the city had use the gates 40 times. It’s expected the city will soon need to use the gates up to 30 times per year.

While heavy infrastructure like London’s Thames barrier are critical, unfortunately, not all cities can afford the expense. Denig said Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam would need a 170-kilometer-long dam to really protect itself but “no one has the money for that,” so they have to use other approaches.

Resilience will then cost money, which is difficult given cities face so many competing demands for limited funds. What costs is creating redundant systems. For example, London’s subway, the tube, has its own power generation system in case the city’s system fails. “This is high cost and used rarely.”

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,062 other followers