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Posts Tagged ‘city planning’

TEDxHarlem, hosted by Majora Carter and two others, will be held on March 27th at the Apollo Theater, and one of the topic areas is built environment. I like this line from the event website (even though its construction needs work):

There is a unique, historical richness in communities steeped in culture, art and innovation and the human spirit’s capacity to hope and dream.

John Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, is one of the speakers. You may have seen Fetterman profiled in Rolling Stone or featured in the New York Times (Mayor of Rust).  At 6-foot-8 with a linebacker’s build, bald head, and arms tattooed with Braddock’s zip code and dates when murders occurred there, he’s … noticeable. His public policy degree from Harvard perhaps lends something to the elevated profile of Fetterman’s work in Braddock. But tapping into the “human spirit’s capacity to hope and dream” does seem to be what Fetterman’s goal is, not unlike many leaders in Rust Belt towns. You can get a sense of what John and his fellow urban pioneers are doing by checking out the 15104 website.

From Harvard"s Kennedy School Magazine

And from the Times:

In contrast to urban planners caught up in political wrangling, budget constraints and bureaucratic shambling, Fetterman embraces a do-it-yourself aesthetic and a tendency to put up his own money to move things along. He has turned a 13-block town into a sampling of urban renewal trends: land-banking (replacing vacant buildings with green space, as in Cleveland); urban agriculture (Detroit); championing the creative class to bring new energy to old places (an approach popularized by Richard Florida); “greening” the economy as a path out of poverty (as Majora Carter has worked to do in the South Bronx); embracing depopulation (like nearby Pittsburgh). Thrust into the national spotlight, Fetterman has become something of a folk hero, a Paul Bunyan of hipster urban revival, with his own Shepard Fairey block print — the Fetterman mien with the word “mayor” underneath. This, the poster suggests, is what a mayor should be.

The article is worth reading, as it describes both our hopes for a place like Braddock and the difficulties of turning it around. Ideas worth sharing, yes. And hard work and sacrifices worth making if ideas are to be transformed into reality.

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Khayelitsha Township via The Guardian

How can designers improve the quality of life for residents of the poorest and most dangerous parts of cities? It is a daunting problem, and the temptation is either to say that the problem is too big or that a huge infusion of cash is needed to even get started. What if some of the problems of the poorest and dangerous places could be ameliorated, at least, by design that does not cost a fortune? The figure for total world population living in cities by 2050, cited in the Gary Hustwit film, Urbanized, is 75%! And 1/3 of those people will be living in slums. It’s time for creative thinking!

One of the many interviews with Gary Hustwit on Urbanized is found in Urban Omnibus. Hustwit describes a project in a township outside of Cape Town, South Africa that is striking in its success, both as participatory design and as a well-conceived, modestly priced solution to improving quality of life for area residents. In Hustwit’s words:

the idea of participatory design — of using the public as a design compass instead of just getting a reaction to projects that are already proposed — is not being employed as much as it might. It’s really inspiring when you see it happening and working, like the VPUU (which stands for Violence Prevention by Urban Upgrading) project in Khayelitsha in Cape Town.

And on the process:

They spent two years talking to residents before they even started thinking about their first plan. They trained volunteers to go out into the community and talk to people about the problems they face. The biggest priority turned out to be pedestrian walkways, which were where most crime was happening. Khayelitsha has a series of stormwater overflow channels that run through the settlement that were just undeveloped, garbage-strewn land. They weren’t lit, and harbored gang activity and all kinds of criminal activity. But those stormwater floodways were also the informal pedestrian route between the train station and the township. So what VPUU did was formalize the informal pedestrian paths, or desire lines, by paving and lighting the barren channels and turning them into these amazing walkways and public spaces. People are now turning their homes to face these routes because they’re so well designed, and that increases passive surveillance, puts more eyes on the spaces. The murder rate has dropped by 40%. It has become a great pilot program, which they’re now expanding into other townships and to other areas in South Africa. Also, they have trained the people who live in the area to maintain and program it. The project is still evolving. They didn’t just say, “here you go, we built a path, see you later” and step away from it.

 For more on Hustwit’s thoughts, check out Urban Omnibus – or see the film!

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Gary Hustwit via The Atlantic

On Thursday, I watched Gary Hustwit’s film, Urbanized. It is now available from iTunes, and I highly recommend it! There is much to comment on, but I’m limiting myself to three things.

  1. The power of imagining something differently. Hustwit’s film allows the audience to imagine cities differently, and Hustwit suggests that Candy Chung’s I Wish This Was project invited New Orleans residents to imagine their neighborhoods differently, something that urban residents are not often called to do. “The idea of imagining something differently is the kernel is what I think of as design,” Hustwit says in this Urban Omnibus interview.
  2. A balance between top-down planning and bottom-up, grassroots initiatives is possible with participatory design. In the online journal, Places, Hustwit describes the relationship in this way: “It’s the top mining the bottom for ideas, and really using those ideas to drive development, as opposed to a top-down planning model, where planners get feedback from the people who are actually going to be living in the city, but only after the ideas are already formed.” He also says, “I don’t think DIY interventions are enough to change our cities. I think they are a great compass for governments and professionals to look at to see the types of interventions that people are coming up with on their own when government isn’t doing anything. You have citizens stepping in to try to change their cities on their own. The next step is for governments to use those projects as a model but then formalize them.”
  3. The promise of digital communication for addressing the future needs of cities is tremendous, but the exchange of ideas between mayors, designers, planners, and activists in different cities is just beginning. The film itself makes this point subtly in that we see ourselves in the vignettes from around the globe. Several quotes from interviews with Hustwit elaborate on the point. (more…)

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The Atlantic Cities and the Landscape + Urbanism blog note the release of this 1959 video as part of the Urban Land Institute‘s 75th anniversary. It seems that everyone is surprised by different things in this video. I’m surprised that the National Association of Home Builders would co-produce anything critical of home building, perhaps especially over 50 years ago. Granted, it was the pattern of home building that was of concern. I’m also surprised at how I think that 1959 was not really that long ago! Tracking the rise and fall of growth worries (aka rampant growth, sprawl) is as easy as tracking recessions over time. The current big slump is likely to make growth controls unpopular for the next decade (?).

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Second Phase of The High Line

Suspended animation, with some promising stirrings of change. That is my assessment of the past year. Expectant waiting, but little change overall in the U.S. economy. In the coming year, there will be a U.S. presidential election, meaning that any significant new action (economic, environmental) is at least a year away. New economic uncertainties have arisen in countries around the globe. The planning and design professions do not exist apart from these circumstances. Four years into the Great Recession, what does seem to be changing is interest in activism, highlighted in the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) demonstrations this past fall. Activism in planning and design circles means community empowerment, innovative, insurgent urban design, and continued attention to all things local, including food systems, infrastructure, and alternative transportation. These stirrings of change portend exciting developments in 2012, I think, but not the scale of excitement seen in the bubble years. That could be a very good thing, really.

The short 160-year or so history of landscape architecture doesn’t appear to be much of a guide to the present, although there are some parallels. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, some landscape architects continued to plan gardens for the owners of great estates (the 1% of that time), while others planned and carried out New Deal programs, finding employment with the federal government. To date, there have been no new New Deal initiatives in the U.S., although our aging infrastructure begs for investment. Perhaps after the election…  Meanwhile, some landscape architects and land planners serve the global elite, while others serve local communities in a host of ways, often with nonprofit organizations as government jobs at all levels continue to be cut.

An emerging trend is the latter – design that serves the public good (admittedly, a loaded phrase) – an impulse that is closely aligned with the fall’s significant uprising, OWS. The website, Archinect, reflects this in its top 10 design milestones of 2011 and top 10 design initiatives to watch in 2012. Local is big, and getting bigger. The New York Times made the case this week, as it tracked major changes in environmental organizations, many of which are shifting their activism toward local issues as a means of survival. People have little faith in the big aims these days, like cap-and-trade or new New Deals, so they are focusing more on creating change in their own communities, something that seems much more tangible. Urban agriculture and tactical urbanism are manifestations of this urge to take matters into one’s own hands (individually and collectively) and make change happen.

A scan of other top 10 lists and year-in-review posts reveals the following causes for optimism: (more…)

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The Urban Land Institute released an important report today on real estate trends to 2020, asking the question that is on everyone’s mind – what’s next? The report is tied to the 75th anniversary of ULI. Two years ago, prognosticators were looking for green shoots. Today, organizations like ULI are finally acknowledging the effects of the Great Recession/Lesser Depression as “fundamental societal change.” The major findings of ULI are summarized as:

  • Technology will reshape work places. Office tenants will decrease space per employee, and new office environments will need to promote interaction and dialogue. Offices will be transforming into meeting places more than work places, with an emphasis on conference rooms, break areas and open configurations. Developers will craft attractive environments to attract young, talented workers.
  • Major companies will value space that enables innovation. They will continue to pay more for space in a global gateway served by a major international airport, or in 24-hour urban centers. Hard-to-reach suburban work places will be less in demand.
  • The influx of Generation Y, now in their teens through early thirties, will change housing demand. They are comfortable with smaller homes and will happily trade living space for an easier commute and better lifestyle. They will drive up the number of single households and prompt a surge in demand for rentals, causing rents to escalate.
  • For most people, finances will still be constrained, leading to more shared housing and multi-generational households. Immigration will support that trend, as many immigrants come from places where it is common for extended families to share housing. This may be the one group that continues to drive demand for large, suburban homes.
  • The senior population will grow fastest, but financial constraints could limit demand for adult housing developments. Many will age in place or move in with relatives to conserve money. Developers may want to recast retirement communities into amenity-laden “age friendly” residences. Homes near hospitals and medical offices will be popular, especially if integrated into mixed-use neighborhoods with shops, restaurants and services.
  • Energy and infrastructure take on greater importance. Businesses cannot afford to have their network connections down, and more will consider self-generated power or onsite generator capacity. Developers, owners and investors are realizing that the slightly higher costs of energy- and water-saving technologies can pay for themselves quickly, creating more marketable and valuable assets. Ignoring sustainability issues speeds property obsolescence.

On Asia and Europe:

  • Nearly all Asian countries are going through a radical urban transformation, and many believe that the next decade of Asian urbanization will drive the global economy. By 2020, China alone will have 400 cities with populations over 1 million. Asia’s surging middle class is projected to reach an amazing 1.7 billion in 2020. Water availability—and the maturation of real estate capital markets—will be major issues.
  • In Europe, the global financial crisis has made investment capital increasingly hard to obtain. Resilient cities, those with a strong city government and high degree of market trust with investors and businesses, will be most attractive to investors. With companies operating in increasingly global markets and citizens expressing a desire to reduce their commute times, European cities must place an even greater emphasis on effective, state-of-the-art transportation systems.
And the effects on urban planning and design?

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A new series in the Chicago Tribune is shining a spotlight on a problem found in many large cities: the uneven distribution of parkland across the city and the general absence of open space in poor neighborhoods. The first article in the series does a great job of describing the overall problem and also, very importantly, making the argument tangible by giving a detailed example of a particular neighborhood. It will be interesting to see how the series unfolds, especially because Chicago’s new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, included the park allocation issue in his transition plan and because action on the problem will be challenging in this fiscal environment. The central argument in the article:

Despite former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s much-ballyhooed push for new parks and playgrounds, one-half of Chicago’s 2.7 million people still live in community areas that fail to meet the city’s own modest standard: For every 1,000 people, there should be 2 acres of open space, an area roughly the size of Soldier Field’s entire playing surface.

Many of these areas have so little parkland that it is no exaggeration to call them “park deserts,” a name that suggests a similarity to “food deserts,” where healthy, affordable food is hard to obtain.

Indeed, the park deserts extract a comparable human toll, denying children and adults a place to exercise, cutting them off from contact with nature, and robbing them of a chance to form bonds of community.

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