Posts tagged with "city planning":

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MIT approves new degree combining urban planning and computer science

If you think that urban planning and computer science go hand in hand, MIT’s new degree may just be the subject for you. The MIT faculty just approved the bachelor of science in urban science and planning with computer science at its May 16 meeting, which will be available to all undergraduates starting from the fall 2018 semester. The new major is offered jointly by the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. According to a press release, it will combine “urban planning and public policy, design and visualization, data analysis, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, pervasive sensor technology, robotics and other aspects of both computer science and city planning.” Other inventive and multi-disciplinary methods include ethics and geospatial analysis. “The new joint major will provide important and unique opportunities for MIT students to engage deeply in developing the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to be more effective scientists, planners, and policy makers,” says Eran Ben-Joseph, head of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. “It will incorporate STEM education and research with a humanistic attitude, societal impact, social innovation, and policy change — a novel model for decision making to enable systemic positive change and create a better world. This is really unexplored, fertile new ground for research, education, and practice.” Students will spend time in the urban science synthesis lab, which will be a required component of the degree. Advanced technological tools will become an integral aspect of the exciting learning process.
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What role do architects have in a driverless future?

The rise of autonomous vehicles (AVs) is inevitable and—depending on who you ask—they’ll either eliminate car crashes and save the environment, or muscle out pedestrians from the street, steal our personal data, and create biblical levels of gridlock in our cities. But despite the divide over how the technology should be implemented, the common thread that runs between apostles and bashers alike is the belief that cities, planners, and architects are woefully unprepared for the changes self-driving cars will bring. In November 2017, the AIA held an event centered on the topic, "Anticipating the Driverless City,” and the furor seems justified following the death of a pedestrian at the grille of an autonomous Uber car. “Planners think in 30-year increments, and autonomous vehicles are already hitting the streets today,” Nico Larco, co-director of the Sustainable Cities Initiative at the University of Oregon, said. “Urban planners should be terrified.” Larco’s not wrong. Only a few states even have regulations for driverless cars, let alone ideas for designing a future without parking. With Ford launching self-delivering pizzas in Miami, Google’s Waymo rolling out an autonomous ridesharing service in Arizona, and driverless taxis making inroads in cities all over the world, architects and planners will either need to look ahead or be stuck in triage mode. Sam Schwartz, former New York City Traffic Commissioner from 1982 to 1986 and founder of his eponymous traffic and transportation planning and engineering firm, has categorized the potential futures as “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” The “good” A utopic self-driving car scenario would have driverless cars constantly circulating and on the prowl for riders, while providing “first mile, last mile” access to and from souped-up mass-transit corridors. If AVs truly take off and replace a sizable portion of manned cars on the street, then parking lots, garages, and driveways—not to mention thousands of square feet of on-street parking per block—would sit vacant. Walking, cycling, and autonomous (electric) buses would feature heavily in a multi-modal transit mix, and streets would narrow as bioswales and strips of public parks replaced parking spots. There has been movement on designing for that future; FXCollaborative, HOK, Arup, KPF, and other prominent firms have all put forward scalable designs for reclaiming the urban fabric. Speculation has already forced public officials in Pittsburgh to put together plans for integrating self-driving cars into the city’s fabric by 2030, and developers in New York are building flexible parking garages that can easily be converted for other uses. However, the key to actually enacting any of these schemes lies in large-scale government intervention. Without a concerted top-down reclamation and conversion of unused streets, AV-centric zoning policies, or renewed investment in mass-transportation options, cities will never be able to integrate AVs into their infrastructure. The largest hurdle to achieving the “good” future isn’t technological, it’s political; even self-driving evangelists have conceded that a laissez-faire approach might result in increased traffic on the road. The “bad” Uber, Lyft, Google, and a raft of competitors are already jostling to bring self-driving taxis to market so that these companies won’t have to pay human drivers. Under the guise of preventing traffic fatalities—there were nearly 40,000 lives lost in the U.S. alone in 2017—the big players are lobbying all levels of government to allow their AVs on the street. If vehicle miles traveled per person in AVs were allowed to increase without intervention, society could slide into an ugly scenario. This dystopic outcome would see mass transit hollowed out by a lack of funding and pedestrians shunted out of the streets in the name of safety. Studies have already shown that existing ridesharing services increase congestion and cause bus services to deteriorate, and if commuters get fed up with slow commutes and turn to ridesharing services, mass transit options could be sent into death spirals due to decreased revenue. Driverless cars are often touted as being spatially efficient, especially as they can join each other to form road trains—tightly packed groups of vehicles moving along optimized routes. But considering how much space on the road 40 bicycles or 40 commuters in a bus would take up, the flaw in that thinking becomes self-evident. Even if artificial intelligence can route traffic more effectively than a human, putting more cars on the road offsets the gains in speed by decreasing the amount of space available. Although computers might be great at coordinating with each other, the external human element will remain a wild card no matter what. Well-planned cities that prioritize walkability and ground-level experience would place pedestrians over passengers, but a worst-case scenario could see cyclists and walkers forced to wear locator beacons so that AVs could “see” them better, while hemmed in behind fencing. The “ugly” The worst driverless car scenarios take Le Corbusier’s famous claim that “the city built for speed is the city built for success” to heart. The high-speed arterial thoroughfares Corbusier envisioned in The Radiant City were realized in the destructive city planning policies of the 1950s and '60s, but municipalities have spent heavily to correct their mistakes 50 years later. Much in the same way that widening roads actually worsens traffic, if planners and architects ignore or give deference to driverless cars and continue to prioritize car culture in their decisions, congestion, gridlock, and withered public transit systems are sure to follow. The adoption of self-driving technology will likely birth new building typologies with unique needs, from centralized hubs where the cars park themselves to AV repair shops. As futurist Jeff Tumlin, principal and director of strategy at Nelson/Nygaard, points out, self-driving cars aren’t a new concept. Their lineage can be directly traced to ideas introduced by GE at the 1939 World’s Fair, but this is the first time that the technology has caught up with the vision. Planners and politicians have had 80 years to grapple with solutions; they can’t afford to take any longer.

Reimagine the Canals: Competition

The New York Power Authority and the New York State Canal Corporation launched a competition seeking ideas to shape the future of the New York State Canal System, a 524-mile network composed of the Erie Canal, the Oswego Canal, the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, and the Champlain Canal. Selected ideas will be awarded a total of $2.5 million toward their implementation. The New York State Canal System is one of the most transformative public works projects in American history. The entire system was listed as a National Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014 and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2017 for its role in shaping the American economy and urban development. Despite its past success, vessel traffic on the Canal System has steadily declined over the last century. Deindustrialization and competition from rail, pipelines, roadways and the St. Lawrence Seaway, put the Canals at a disadvantage in transporting freight. Pleasure boating activity levels have likewise fallen and are today only half what they once were. In contrast to the decreasing maritime activity on the Canal System, recreational uses along it – from hiking and bicycling in spring, summer, and fall to cross-country skiing and ice fishing in winter – have grown in popularity. The 750-mile Empire State Trail, which will run from New York City to Canada and from Albany to Buffalo, is expected to be completed in 2020. It will further enhance opportunities for recreation along portions of the Canal System. To date, however, much of the Canal System’s potential to stimulate tourism and economic activity in the communities along its corridor remains untapped. To address the challenges and opportunities facing the Canal System, the Competition seeks visionary ideas for physical infrastructure projects as well as programming initiatives that promote:
  • the Canal System as a tourist destination and recreational asset
  • sustainable economic development along the canals and beyond
  • the heritage and historic values of the Canal System
  • the long-term financial sustainability of the Canal System
The two-stage Competition is open to individuals, businesses, non-profits and municipalities. Respondents are encouraged to form multidisciplinary teams. These could include, for example, urban designers and architects, planning and community specialists, hydrologists, infrastructure engineers, artists and curators, development economists, real estate developers, local officials and financing partners. Submissions from both domestic and international teams are welcome. Submission deadline is January 5, 2018. More details about the Competition structure, timeline, and submission guidelines can be found on the website.
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A new documentary—now being crowdfunded—explores the fate of a British “New Town” utopia

The word "Basildon" does little to conjure  thoughts of paradise. For those who know it as a town in Essex, England, this association could only seem ridiculous. Fifty years ago, however, Basildon—a state-built "new town"—was synonymous with the utopian dreams among planner and architects. "Are we a product of our environment... or is it a product of us?" Christopher Ian Smith asks in a preview of his documentary film. Titled New Town Utopia, his exploration of Basildon's fate—four years in the making—now needs $21,000 for post-production, marketing, and distribution requirements. The feature film aims to examine British social history through the lens of Basildon's architecture, planning, and its creative residents. By way of some background, "New towns" were the product of the U.K. government, which aimed to fix a nationwide housing shortage after WWII. In 1946, the "New towns act" was passed to create ten new towns. Eighth in-line was Basildon, being officially designated as such on January 4th, 1949. "Here is a journey through populated ruins," narrates Smith, who's been filmmaking for some years. "It's the story of the grand dreams of the new town... compared to harsh concrete realities." Smith spoke to The Architect's Newspaper (AN) about his motivations for the film and his experiences while shooting Basildon. Now living in London, Smith said how growing up in the town was an inspiration. "It felt different," he explained. "I enjoyed the art, architecture, sculpture, and especially the high street. I've succumbed to loving the aesthetic of midcentury brutalism and the ambitions behind it. The utopian ideals behind planning and architecture at the time were considered progressive. In the 1950s and 60s, risks were taken. The spirit of '45, with nationalization and the National Health Service, lived on."
However, Smith acknowledged that these radical ideas—when attempted on an architectural and planning scale in Basildon—have wilted significantly over time. "The place has a terrible reputation, both locally and nationally," he said. Local civic pride, according to Smith, appears to be dwindling. With his film, Smith hopes to spark a "debate of the state of our towns" and "not just new towns." When filming parts of the high street and Basil Spence's Brooke House—both architecturally-prominent landmarks within Basildon—Smith recalled being asked: "Why are you filming that? Are you going to knock it down?" No one even goes to Basildon on holiday. In the 1970s, Basildon was dubbed as "little Moscow-on-Thames," Smith described. A decade later, the phrase "Basildon Man" had surfaced. That image was of the well-to-do working-class Conservative voter—a far cry of the leftist ideologies of the past and its architecture. This was cemented when Tory MP David Amess won the Basildon constituency seat in 1983 and was able to hold it for 14 years. In his conversation with AN, Smith concluded that in the end, "top-down planning" was endemic to its failure. In the process of collating more than 400 hours of footage of the town, Smith goes so far as to argue that few—if any—would ever visit Basildon for fun.  His Kickstarter campaign has until September 26 this year to have funding finalized. The film, if realized, will be complete by March 2017.
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State of the City

The fabric of New York—from shoreline to skyline—is getting a thread-count upgrade, much of it due to the success of ongoing projects like Vision Zero, coastal resiliency efforts, and a spate of new public ventures coming down the pike. In his annual State of the City address in early February, Mayor Bill de Blasio championed accomplishments from 2015 and shed light on what’s to come: New Yorkers will see projects and policies that could facilitate new commutes, provide civic and green spaces in the outer boroughs, and reshape neighborhood density via rezoning. Streets and Shores
Two large-scale, controversial rezoning proposals, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning For Quality and Affordability (ZQA), reached the City Council early February. Councilmembers heard public testimony for and against the measures, which are intended to increase the amount of affordable housing and create more interesting streetscapes in exchange for increased density in special districts. The full Council will vote on the proposals—the most sweeping zoning changes since 1961—in March.
Rezoning may change the look of the streets, and it’s almost guaranteed more pedestrians would be around to see it. Since the launch of Vision Zero three years ago, traffic fatalities have fallen annually, with a drop of almost nine percent between last year and 2014. (Although City Hall may not want readers to know that traffic-related injuries spiked by more than 2,000 incidents in the same period.)
The initiative is New York City’s version of an international campaign to end traffic-related deaths through better street design and harsher penalties for traffic offenders, and it has a record-setting $115 million budget for 2016. More than a quarter of that money (plus $8.8 million from the NYC Department of Transportation’s capital budget) will go to road improvements in Hunters Point in Long Island City, Queens, especially at busy nodes along main thoroughfares Vernon Boulevard and Jackson Avenue.
The low-lying neighborhoods are some of many flood-prone areas that will benefit from the $20 billion in climate-change-resiliency measures that launched following Hurricane Sandy. Included in that figure is a massive project coming out of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design competition to protect Manhattan from rising seas. The City has selected AECOM to lead the design and build of these coastal resiliency measures, formerly known as the Dryline (and before that, BIG U). The project team includes Dewberry, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and ONE Architecture. BIG and ONE provided the original vision for the 10-mile-long project, and are now working on Phase One, the $335 million East Side Coastal Resiliency Project. That phase, which should go into constriction next year, deploys a series of berms and floodwalls from East 23rd Street to Montgomery Street on the island’s Lower East Side. Phase Two extends the project from Montgomery Street around the tip of Manhattan up to Harrison Street in Tribeca. Although those ten miles of coastline could be safer, the other 510 would still have a lot to fear from global warming. Fortunately, the Department of Design and Construction’s Build It Back RFP is having an immediate impact on those who lost homes to Sandy. By last October, the program, which rebuilds homes ravaged in the 2012 hurricane, broke ground on around 1,900 projects and finished construction on 1,200 others.
Targeted Reinvestment The recovery impetus extends beyond the property line and out into neighborhoods. In his speech, the mayor singled out three outer-borough neighborhoods—Ocean Hill–Brownsville, the South Bronx, and Far Rockaway—for targeted reinvestment. Civic architecture often heralds or spurs financial interest, and these neighborhoods happen to be the sites of three public projects by well-known architects in plan or under construction. Studio Gang is designing a 20,000-square-foot Fire Department of New York station and training facility in Ocean Hill–Brownsville in Brooklyn, while BIG is designing a new NYPD station house in Melrose in the Bronx. In Queens, far-out Far Rockaway, battered by Sandy and isolated from the rest of the city by a long ride on the A train, is anticipating both a $90.3 million, Snøhetta-designed public library and $91 million in capital funds for improvements in its downtown on main commercial roads like Beach 20th Street. On and Beyond the Waterfront In New York, a trip to the “city” is a trip to Manhattan. This idea, however, doesn’t reflect how New Yorkers traverse the city today: Older, Manhattan-centric commuting patterns at the hub are becoming outmoded as development intensifies in the outer boroughs. It’s estimated that this year bike-sharing service Citi Bike will have 10 million rides. The system is adding 2,500 bikes in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens to accommodate the increased ridership. The East River ferry service will begin this year, knitting the Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan waterfronts together in patterns not seen since the 1800s. Along the same waterway, the project that’s raised the most wonder (and ire) is the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), a streetcar line that would link 12 waterfront neighborhoods from Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to Astoria, Queens. The project proposal comes from a new nonprofit, Friends of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (FBQX), which first surfaced in January of this year. Its founders include the heads of transportation advocacy and policy groups Regional Plan Association and Transportation Alternatives; directors of neighborhood development groups; and real estate professionals like venture capitalist Fred Wilson and Helena Durst of the Durst Organization. The full plan, commissioned by FBQX and put together by consultants at New York–based engineering and transportation firm Sam Schwartz, is not available to the public, although the company’s eponymous president and CEO shed some light on the plan with AN. “Within an area that has so many [transit] connections, what we are addressing is transit that goes north–south,” explained Schwartz. His firm’s plan calls for a 17-mile route that roughly parallels the coastline, dipping inland to link up to hubs like Atlantic Terminal and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. At a projected cost of $1.7 billion, why not choose the bus, or bus rapid transit (BRT)? The team considered five other options before deciding on the streetcar, Schwartz explained. “The projected ridership is over 50,000 [passengers] per day, while ridership for the bus and BRT maxes out at 35,000 to 40,000 per day.” Streetcars, Schwartz elaborated, can make fine turns on narrow streets, reducing the risk for accidents. They will travel at 12 miles per hour in lanes separate from other traffic, and, to minimize aesthetic offense and flood-damage risk, overhead catenaries will not be used.
Although sources tell AN that the city has a copy of the plan, City Hall spokesperson Wiley Norvell denied any relationship between de Blasio’s streetcar proposal and the plan commissioned by FBQX. (Although it’s not unusual for the city to consider the recommendations put forth by outside groups: In 2014, the city adopted many of the Vision Zero recommendations created by Transportation Alternatives.)
Norvell stated that the city’s plan calls for a $2.5 billion, 16-mile corridor that will be financed outside of the auspices of the (state-funded and perpetually cash-strapped) Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) using a value-capture model. The streetcar line’s success, essentially, is predicated on its ability to raise surrounding property values. The increased tax revenues, he explained, could be plowed back into a local development corporation, which would then use the funds to capitalize the project. Critics wonder why the streetcar is being privileged over other initiatives, such as the Triboro RX proposal, a Utica Avenue subway extension, and the not-completely-funded Second Avenue subway, that would serve more straphangers. Though a fare-sharing system could be brokered with the MTA to enhance multimodal connectivity, critics point out that the streetcar line’s proposed stops are up to a half mile from subway stations, bypassing vital connections between the J/M/Z and L. The Hills on Governors Island Are Alive and Ahead of Schedule With a growing population and growing need for more parks, the city is looking to develop underutilized green space within its borders. The Hills, a landscape on Governors Island designed by West 8 and Mathews Nielsen, is set to finish nearly one year ahead of schedule. The news coincided with the mayor’s announcement that the island, a former military base and U.S. Coast Guard station, will now be open to the public year-round. The city has invested $307 million in capital improvements to ready 150 acres of the island for its full public debut. Forty-eight new acres of parkland (including the Hills) will open this year. The Innovation Cluster, a 33-acre business incubator and educational facility that builds on the example of Cornell University’s campus extension on Roosevelt Island, will bring several million new square feet of educational, commercial, cultural, research, and retail space to the island’s south side. The Trust for Governors Island, a nonprofit dedicated to stewarding and capitalizing on the island’s assets, will release an RFP to develop the vacant land and historic district by the end of this year, and construction could begin as early as 2019.
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The long history of a tall sidewalk: How elevated skywalks have failed cities in the United States

Skywalks, or elevated sidewalks, continually resurface as an urban solution to alleviate pedestrian traffic, provide additional retail space, and offer a safe alternative to sharing space with automobiles. However, each time a skywalk is actually realized, problems abound. The original elevated sidewalks are in Chester, England, and are believed to have been built in at least one iteration in the 13th century. Historians are unsure if the elevated sidewalks were implemented for retail opportunities or as flooding precaution, or both. Protected as a heritage site today, the Chester Rows inspired several master plans in the United States, particularly at the turn of the 20th century. In 1913, Scientific American published “The Elevated Sidewalk: How it Will Solve City Transportation Problems,” which made the logical claim that humans and cars shouldn’t be in the same place. Imposing traffic regulations would slow cars down, and having people and cars sharing the streets is dangerous. The proposal was to make Manhattan a “city of bridges” with pedestrians moving safely above ground while cars sped underneath. Yet this never happened in lieu of the signs and traffic regulations we use today. In the '60s, the idea of the elevated sidewalk resurged in nearly two dozen towns, including rather unlikely places such as Cincinnati, Ohio, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Morristown, Tennessee. The Minneapolis Skyway system was built in 1962 and had the added benefit of providing a climate-controlled path through the city in intense weather. For that same reason, St. Paul also implemented a similar Skyway. However, the pros are offset by some solid drawbacks—property disputes mean that it is often confusing as to who is responsible for maintaining the skywalks and a lack of commercial real estate along the walkways renders them desolate and perceived by the public as dangerous and crime-filled. Poor planning means that the sidewalks can be confusing and require maps; one example in particular is the “skyway to nowhere” on Wabasha Street in Minneapolis, which doesn’t connect to anything at all. Inspired by Minneapolis, the city of Cincinnati created its own robust skywalk system that opened in 1971 to help downtown retailers compete with enclosed malls and make it easier to navigate the downtown area. More segments were added well through the '90s, and for awhile, appear to be used quite regularly. But by 2002, the skywalks were falling into disrepair and the city’s “2002 Center City Plan” found that they actually were causing downtown economic activity to decline. The plan reported that when pedestrians bypassed the street, it made the downtown look abandoned and thus, a less desirable place to linger and spend money. In 2005, then-mayor Charlie Luken told The New York Times that the Skywalk is "ugly" and the space underneath is "yucky." The skyway is slowly being dismantled one chunk at a time. Morristown is particularly fraught over its elevated skywalk system, called the SkyMart, that was built in 1962 after the downtown was flooded and the commercial district was nearly wiped out. As was commonly the case around the country, the walkway system did not succeed in competing with malls, proved to be expensive to maintain, and, overall, did not live up to the expectations of the civic leaders. In one camp, supporters believe it is unique to the city and a “national treasure.” The other side deems it to be a hindrance to progress, unnecessarily expensive, and underused. It was submitted to the National Register of Historic Places in the early 1990s, but it was denied. Recently, the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance posted an article on Facebook in support of the SkyMart. Comments in response offer insight into the local’s perspective. “Oh, are there businesses on the second level?” asked a commenter. “Yes! Downtown Crossroads Association’s office is on the skywalk,” responded another. “One?” the original commenter replied. There was no response. This seems to be the wide sweeping problem in all cities with elevated skywalks. Instead of bustling hubs of commerce and safe, weather-protected passageways through cities, they are deserted, confusing, and/or dangerous. Similar issues arise in tunnel systems built in cities like Dallas and Houston. "It was the worst urban planning decision that Dallas has ever made. They thought it was hip and groovy to create an underground community, but it was a death knell," Dallas Mayor Laura Miller told The New York Times in 2005. It’s a little unclear to us why this seems to be the case over and over again. Successful skywalks exist in Hong Kong, Copenhagen recently installed a popular bike skyway, and Mumbai is currently building out its skywalk system that, while controversial, is actively being used. Population density of American cities versus Asian or European cities or simple human preferences of habit could contribute to their failure. Let AN know: Why do you think skywalks have been unsuccessful? Alternatively, if you know of a successful skywalk, tell us about it in the comments below.
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Could de Blasio Choose Anna Levin as NYC’s Next City Planner?

01-deBlasio-archpaper After a campaign insisting differentiation from his predecessor, New York City Mayor–elect Bill de Blasio (above) is not likely to choose a Bloomberg-elected official as his Chief of the Department of City Planning. The Real Deal reported that three current members of the City’s Planning Commission—Anna Levin, Michelle de la Uz, and Kenneth Knuckles—are speculated as replacements for current commissioner Amanda Burden. Levin, elected by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, is a front-runner. Her previous experiences as a commissioner and Community Board 4 Member give her grassroots appeal backed by political savvy. (Photo: Courtesy NYC Public Advocate)
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John Norquist To Retire from Congress for the New Urbanism

john_norquist_cnu-01 After a decade as CEO and President of the Congress for the New Urbanism, 64-year-old John Norquist has announced he will retire next spring. In 1993, with 16 years of Milwaukee mayoral reign under his belt, Norquist created CNU as an advocate for mixed-use development in city neighborhoods. Since then, the organization has promoted highway removal, re-design of public housing, and increases in public transportation, building its membership count to over 2,500. In June 2014, after the 22nd Annual Congress in Buffalo, Norquist will leave his position, hoping for “time to write and teach.” (Photo: Courtesy CNU)
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“Urban Fold” Paper City Creator Set Puts Twist on Traditional Building Blocks

In a hybrid of LEGO and origami, Paper Punk has created their first boxed set of punch-and-fold, customizable paper building blocks. Urban Fold is the California-based company’s newest creation by founder Grace Hawthorne, a designer, author, and artist from San Francisco who currently teaches at Stanford University’s d.school (Institute of Design). The set gives builders the opportunity to create a paper city in punchy colors and patterns, inspired by Berlin graffiti and the photography of Matthias Heiderich. Urban Fold contains 48 buildable shapes and 697 stickers, an urban planning map, and an idea guide to creating the shapes of the world’s most popular cities. Each paper building block comes in a bright shade and/or a geometric pattern and the stickers can transform triangles into spires, quarter circles into windows, or squares into moveable pedestrians. For Hawthorne, the boldness of the set was key, “I wanted to create an urban-minded build/play experience that was also eye-candy, just impossible to resist because it’s bursting with colors, patterns, cool graphics,” she said in an interview for Mediabistro. These multi-colored blocks can be arranged and stacked with complete creative freedom and, like traditional wood building blocks, can be built up and knocked down for infinite construction and reconstruction. If a builder prefers a minimalist look, the shapes can also be folded inside out to be all white. “I refer it to an open box set because there are so many pieces to it," Hawthorne commented, “What anyone can create with it is only bounded by their imagination.” After 16 months of testing, Paper Punk's imagination brought forth the innovative project, but only with funding can it come to reality. In the same way that her company was launched last year, Hawthorne has taken to a Kickstarter campaign. With a $33 backing pledge, builders of all ages can own a Urban Fold architecture toy set. The funding period ends on December 2nd and the company promises a shipping date in time for the holidays.
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New SimCity “Green Utopias” Offer Futuristic Glimpse of Imagined Cities

In 50 to 75 years, SimCity, the virtual city-building game just about every architect or planner has played around with at some point, imagines an average metropolis taking two routes—a sustainability-based, green utopia or a money-driven, oil-dependent corruption—and gives players the tools to construct these futures. Slated for release in the United States on November 13th, Cities of Tomorrow, the new SimCity expansion pack, allows players to engage in futuristic urban planning using imagined versions of current technology. Elevated Maglev trains transport passengers high above congested vehicle traffic; drones deliver packages and prevent neighborhood crime; high-rise “MegaTowers” become mixed-use complexes with customizable retail, residential, education, and solar energy plant levels. However, PSFK reports that unlike previous editions of the game, the Cities of Tomorrow expansion requires its virtual city planners to consider the tradeoffs of their architecture and urban construction efforts. Source and type of energy for power will determine the government and pollution level of each town and consumerism and lure of cheap labor can overcome clean, sustainable methods for maintenance of each urban environment.
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With Limited Land for Housing, Hong Kong Looks to Grow Underground

The housing problem in Hong Kong is critical. Studies estimate that the city of seven million will have to house another 600,000 people over the course of the next 30 years. With rapidly increasing urbanization rates, leading Chinese metropolises are speculating on fast and intelligent ways to manage population growth by creating additional housing within their existing borders. While some cities are growing taller and others are mulling developing rare and cherished park space, Hong Kong is taking a different approach. Officials and engineers have thought about something else: developing an extensive underground city. The plan calls for building a cross-harbor pedestrian corridor equipped with residences, shops, retail outlets, sports, and entertainment facilities located under Victoria Harbor. As the government is searching for any and all options that could create space for housing, it has already identified fifteen urban areas that could be used for underground development by the end of 2015. In their 2009-2010 Policy Agenda, the city’s Development Bureau released a new initiative to launch strategic plans to develop Hong Kong’s underground space in a sustainable way. The study, entitled Enhanced Use of Underground Space in Hong Kongexplores different techniques that would employ the city’s underground territory for additional housing and long term demographic and economic enhancement. Despite the ambitious nature of the plan, there remains many drawbacks and obstacles preventing its implementation. Experts argue that the development of Hong Kong's underground would be extremely costly, and much more so than surface projects as the costs of construction would be higher. Moreover, the laying out of such plans is extremely lengthy, and the need for housing in the city is pressing. Therefore, potentials of underground space development might not be the immediate answer to an urgent problem.   Still, others continue to push for bulldozing green space in favor of more development. Gordon Wu, chairman developer of Hopewell Holdings Ltd and Vice President of the Real East Developer’s Association, labels people’s attachment to city-parks as “stupid” and not something that Hong Kong should pride itself on. In line with Wu's statement, many city officials find parks to be extremely problematic as over 230,000 residents are on a waiting list for public housing. Another option being explored would be to take over the sea and to create man-made islands which would be in close proximity to the city's center and financial district. The Development Bureau estimates a need to extend the city's built environment by up to ten square miles in order to accommodate residential, commercial, and industrial facilities. This proposal remains opposed by residents who argue that such construction would have a negative impact on the value of water-front apartments, and would hinder the view of the city's famous and breathe-taking panorama. Environmental activists also object to the proposal as they are concerned with the safety and well being of dolphins and other marine animals.
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Will New York’s Bike Lanes Last? Gil Penalosa Addresses the Planning Commission

With only 75 weeks left in New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration, cyclists the city over will inevitably be concerned about the next mayor's stance on bike lanes and street designs lest initiatives put in place under Bloomberg fall from grace. One need only to recall Marty Markowitz's parodic tricycle stunts poking fun at bike lanes or former NYC DOT commissioner Iris Weinshall's efforts to remove a protected bike lane from Brooklyn's Prospect Park West to realize that the concern is not unfounded. At yesterday’s regularly-scheduled City Planning review session, former Bogotá Parks Commissioner Gil Penalosa was invited to give a pep talk, placing a particular emphasis on bike lanes. He warned an audience filled with commissioners and planning staff that as the weeks wind down before the mayor leaves office, they'd better get cracking at PR and permanence: the public needs to become even more familiar with the bike network and the infrastructure needs to become permanent—and striped bike lanes won't cut it! Penalosa now runs the Toronto-based non-profit 8-80 Cities, which espouses the philosophy that if a city is safe for 8-year-olds and 80-year-olds then it will be safe for all citizens. While the philosophy is applied to sidewalks as much as bike lanes, it is particularly interesting when applied to the great strides made in New York's bike network under current DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Take 8th or 9th avenues in recent years as an example. You might not be too concerned if your kid or grandma pedaled along the green-painted, protected bike lanes in Chelsea, where the lanes runs between the sidewalk and a planted median, and is further buffered from car traffic by parked cars. But moving toward Midtown, the street shifts and bike are moved into narrower striped bike lanes or sharrowed streets at the Port Authority Bus Terminal with no separated bike lane at all. Fortunately in this case, the city recently announced that 8th and 9th avenues will be treated with protected bike lanes between 34th Street and Columbus Circle, filling in the missing teeth. Clearly some of Sadik-Khan's surgical approaches to curb traffic, increase safety, and make way for pedestrians and cyclists are working their way toward permanence, with Snøhetta's Times Square redesign being most extraordinary example. But Penalosa warned that an incremental approach to building a bike network is like the city building a soccer field in phases: We'll put up one field goal this year, then part of the field next year, and hopefully we'll get to the other goal before the next administration decides its a waste of money and abandons the plan. And with the city's 10,000-bike-strong Citi Bike bike-share system to be launched as soon as August, a complete bike network will be more important than ever. Penalosa said that the bike network as it stands is a very substantial start that has opened people's eyes. Cities the world over are pointing to New York's plan as an example, and some, like Chicago, are taking it even further. But he noted that without a network of protected bike lanes and lower traffic speeds, bike infrastructure will struggle to reach its full capacity beyond those who are already established cyclists. If the city wants to coax more people into the system, Penalosa said, then they need to feel safe. So, could all of New York's bike lanes be erased? While it seems unlikely today, one only needs to look to Penalosa's home base in Toronto where several pro-environment mayoral candidates on the left couldn't get their act together to protect strides made by former Mayor David Miller. The conservative candidate Rob Ford won the mayoral election promising to end the "war on cars" brought about by increased cycling. "Not even in his wildest nightmares did Miller think that Rob Ford would be elected," Penalosa said by phone from Toronto. "There's a point when the stars are aligned, when you have the right mayor and the right politicians, but you never know if the next mayor is going to be the same."