Transportation Systems That Do More Than Move People

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The Metro do Porto in Porto, Portugal, and the Northeastern Urban Integration Project in Medellín, Colombia, just won Harvard University Graduate School of Design’s Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design. The winners are not just transportation systems though. They also “advance social mobility and reinvigorate public spaces.” These projects use new transportation infrastructure to “repair and regenerate” cities. According to the awards jury, both urban designs highlight the potential for “thoughtfully planned and carefully executed mobility infrastructure to transform a city and region.”

The Metro do Porto in Porto, Portugal, was designed by Architect Eduardo Souto de Moura for the local transport authority Metro do Porto. The Northeastern Urban Integration Project in Medellín, Colombia, was sponsored by the City of Medellín and designed by architect Alejandro Echeverri.

Rahul Mehrotra, professor of urban design and planning, Harvard GSD, and jury chair said: “If there are lessons to be drawn for urban design from Medellín and Porto, I think the broader lesson has to do with the disruption of the segregation of the disciplines in the design field. Historically, we have understood that landscape architecture sits in one place, architecture in another, and urban design and planning in another. They have been in constant conflict about their territorial rights. One of the things that is revolutionary about the Medellín project is that distinguishing among the disciplines is no longer possible.”

Metro do Porto, Porto

Metro do Porto (see image above) is comprised of 70 kilometers of new surface and underground track and sixty metro stations, which were created over 10 years in this historic city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The region surrounding Porto includes sixteen municipalities, which have undergone “intense demographic change and socioeconomic restructuring.” The new metro is designed to provide a “future template for a cohesive and resilient regional pattern.”

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Harvard GSD writes: “At the scale of the region, Metro do Porto not only connects residents on the periphery with amenities and services in the historic city, it also forges a collective identity through its negotiation of the region’s unique geography, and the deliberate composition of individual stations in relation to that geography. At the neighborhood scale, new stations become opportunities to connect previously segregated communities while rehabilitating public space to the highest standard. At the architectural or human scale, the experience of each station—as objects within a culturally rich urban landscape, and as interior architectures imbued with civic virtues—is exceptional due to their spatial and material quality.”

Northeastern Urban Integration Project, Medellín

In 2004, Medellín city government officials launched the Northeastern Urban Integration Project (Proyecto Urbano Integral, or PUI) to capture new opportunities from its MetroCable, a cable-car project connecting three “informal” settlements to the local metro system. “In concert with the MetroCable, the PUI has made a significant contribution toward improving the quality of life for approximately 170,000 residents experiencing severe social inequality, poverty, and violence.”

According to Harvard GSD, MetroCable succeeded in integrating marginalized, off-the-grid communities into the mainstream of Medellín. “By reducing travel times to the city center from over an hour to less than ten minutes, the MetroCable has enhanced access to employment opportunities and eroded the boundary between the formal and informal city.”

To further strengthen these transportation systems with a system of open spaces, designers met with the local communities to find out what types of spaces they wanted. What was once just a transportation system became “mobility infrastructure of substantial scale with various civic, commercial, and institutional functions.” Around each cable car station, the city created new parks and playgrounds.

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Streets below the cable car networks were also redesigned to offer more public space.

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The esteemed jury, which was was chaired by Rahul Mehrotra, Professor of Urban Design and Planning and Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design, Harvard GSD, included two Harvard landscape architecture professors: Anita Berrizbeitia, ASLA, and Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA.

The first Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design was given in 1986. Previous recipients include the Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project in Seoul, Korea, by the Seoul Metropolitan Government (2010), which also won an ASLA professional design award; the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, Washington, by Weiss/Manfredi (2007); the Rehabilitation of the Old City of Aleppo, Syria, by the City of Aleppo (2005); and Borneo Sporenburg Residential Waterfront in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, by Adriaan Geuze/West 8 (2002).

Image credits: Harvard University GSD

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