Posts tagged with "Infrastructure":
Location: Chicago Design consultants: PORT Urbanism Decorative stone: Lake Street Supply Crushed granite pathway: Kafka Granite Planters: Planterworx Custom cubbies: Landscape Forms Light boxes: Landscape Forms Fixtures and fittings: Studio 431
PORT Urbanism designed Chicago’s Lakeview Low-Line to be a community art space. When the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce drafted its master plan in 2012, among its top priorities was developing the underutilized right-of-way and Chicago Transit Authority maintenance path along the city’s “L” tracks between the Southport and Paulina stations on the Brown Line. Working with the manufacturer Landscape Forms’ Studio 431, PORT created a series of bright yellow rectangular boxes, or “cubbies,” as a new take on public furnishing.
The carved-out forms of the Low-Line’s cubbies take cues from the interiors of the “L” train cars and the shape of the tracks overhead. The transit system had more than just an aesthetic influence; the cubbies needed to be movable for track repair and the possibility of excavation to rebuild the train structure’s column footings. The custom furniture rethinks durability, access, and comfort while accommodating a range of programs.
The Low-Line was designed to create a lively place for commuters, residents, and tourists to enjoy public art. It includes a picnic table, a vendor booth-cum-bar, and two cantilevered cubbies that frame the entry made of powder-coated steel exteriors and slatted ipe wood interiors. Power is integrated into the cubbies for controlled access by vendors and musicians. Studio 431 also manufactured easily replaceable panels and tamper-resistant fasteners to account for wear and tear. The first phase of the half-mile-long art walk and garden opened to the public in 2018 as a celebration of the neighborhood’s culture and is part of a larger project that aims to encourage use of the L and other mass transit lines as a sustainable alternative to driving.
In addition to the more infamous killing and pillaging conducted by its various hordes, the Mongol Empire, first led by Genghis Khan and later by his grandson Kublai, brought nearly all of Asia, much of the Middle East, and some of Europe under a unified system of trade and commerce in the 13th century. Consolidating ancient Silk Road mercantile connections, it brought currency into widespread use and generally sought win-win trade deals with conquered territories. While that empire faded by the mid-14th century, it gave the world a precursor to the modern-day state of China, which has embarked on its own ambitious—and, to some, unsettling—quest to link a considerable portion of the world through trade.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched in 2013 by Chinese president Xi Jinping, includes hundreds of infrastructure projects financed and constructed in part or in whole by Chinese entities in lands far beyond China’s borders. Projects include ports, airports, rail lines, utilities, industrial centers, highways, and even entire new cities and urban sectors. “Belt” refers to roads and railways while, paradoxically, “road” refers to sea-lanes; together they aim for nothing less than the unification of almost all of Asia and Africa.
The initiative segments the globe into “corridors” and involves differing levels of participation from host countries. There is no official count of participating countries, but estimates range from 60—covering nearly all of Asia—to well over one hundred. The BRI’s six main economic corridors include the New Eurasian Land Bridge, the China-Central Asia–West Asia Economic Corridor, the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Bangladesh–China–Myanmar Economic Corridor, the China–Mongolia–Russia Economic Corridor, and the China–Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor.
Analysts estimate that trade generated by the BRI reached $117 billion last year. The total estimated cost, by 2027: up to $1.3 trillion. Whether that investment will pay off for China remains to be seen. Chinese banks and companies hope to profit from loan payments and contracts; the Chinese state hopes to benefit by opening markets and gaining influence. The World Bank estimates that the BRI could reduce transportation times on many corridors by 12 percent, increase trade between 2.7 percent and 9.7 percent, increase income by up to 3.4 percent, and lift 7.6 million people from extreme poverty.
Consisting largely of heavy infrastructure, these projects are unlikely to result in lavish Xanadus to stoke the architectural imagination. With the exception of some impressive new cities and city districts, such as Port City in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and some choice high-speed rail stations, BRI projects include workaday structures like cargo terminals, highway bridges, and the odd potash plant. The BRI recalls past geopolitical initiatives, like the Marshall Plan, by which the United States revived, and benefited from, Europe’s economy after World War II. But the BRI dwarfs the Marshall Plan, which comprised $13 billion of investment, or around $100 billion in today’s dollars—much less than BRI’s trillion-dollar scope.
As arguably the biggest collection of construction projects in human history, the BRI offers ample opportunities for architects, contractors, engineers, and other designers. Many, if not most, of the firms involved are Chinese concerns with close ties to the state. They include state-owned enterprises like China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) and China State Construction Engineering Corporation, the world’s third-largest shipping company and largest construction company, respectively. Both are massive enterprises with numerous subsidiaries, and though they are publicly traded, they ultimately answer to the Chinese Communist Party.
In many ways, this effort to build soft power through hard infrastructure extends a domestic development strategy that China has followed for the past two decades. Itself a developing nation not long ago, China has built up its own ports, roads, and railroads in order to unify its national economy and give its manufacturing sector—which comprises 20 percent of the world’s output of goods—access to global markets.
The Chinese government optimistically refers to the BRI as a 21st-century Silk Road, one that harmoniously links economies and increases prosperity for dozens of countries and billions of people, representing up to 60 percent of the world’s economic output. China pitches these projects to host countries as tools of economic development. Analysts say that success, for China and BRI partners alike, depends on far more than concrete and steel. The onus falls on host countries to make use of China’s largesse. Efficient trade relies on everything from effective local governance to the mobility of workers to the mitigation of environmental impacts. In the case of partners like Belarus (sometimes referred to as Europe’s last dictatorship) whose governments are unstable, corrupt, or underdeveloped, reforms may pose greater challenges than does the development of megaprojects.
In many cases, benefits to host countries have not materialized. Many projects use little local expertise or labor; rather, they are boons for Chinese engineering firms, construction companies, and suppliers such as steel and concrete manufacturers. Once built, they take on a nearly colonial tenor, moving raw materials out of host countries and moving Chinese goods into them. And no matter how economists feel about BRI projects, the initiative has already alarmed environmentalists. The number and physical size of projects promise to remake urban landscapes, alter—and destroy—natural landscapes, and consume untold millions of tons of natural resources, building materials, and fossil fuels. Chinese environmental laws and practices are also notoriously lax compared to those in the U.S. and Europe. In 2017 the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) issued a report documenting BRI projects’ numerous incursions into sensitive habitats. WWF identified “high impacts” throughout nearly all of Southeast Asia and “moderate impacts” in BRI corridors in Central Asia. BRI projects have also been associated with increases in the use of coal for power production in many host countries.
Beyond environmental effects, even when host countries own their assets, they are indebted to Chinese financiers. Reports indicate that many countries cannot pay off construction loans, leaving them indebted to China indefinitely. Many projects have turned into white elephants. Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Sri Lanka was designed to accommodate one million passengers per year. Though fully operational, Mattala currently serves zero passengers, while also servicing $190 million in debt to Chinese banks. Having been a relatively poor, developing country so recently, China likely understands the pressure points of the Myanmars and Mozambiques of the world better than any other global power does.
The Center for Global Development estimates that as many as eight countries involved with the BRI are already at risk of debt distress. Some countries are in debt to China by a factor of as much as 20 percent of their GDPs. Others are now approaching BRI proposals more gingerly than they might have when the program launched. Malaysia recently canceled $22 billion in BRI projects; other countries, particularly Kenya and Mozambique, are pushing back against proposals and renegotiating deals. Ultimately, economic domination via financing may not be a great strategy—flush with cash though they may be, Chinese banks want returns on their investments no less than Western banks do. Then again, even if they aren’t repaid, the Chinese state might still get what it wants in the form of global influence.
In other words, the BRI is as much a geopolitical experiment as it is an economic development strategy.
Josh Stephens is contributing editor to The California Planning & Development Report and author of the forthcoming The Urban Mystique: Notes on Los Angeles, California, and Beyond.
Cut off from surrounding land by the ten-lane expanse of Route 101, Southern California’s Santa Monica Mountains are a challenging habitat for indigenous wildlife. Ecologists have long insisted that the freeway poses a serious threat to the genetic health of certain animal populations, including bobcats, coyotes, deer, fence lizards, and mountain lions. The mountain lions are particularly at risk, with some experts suggesting that the local population could be extinct within 15 years if individuals are not given access to mating partners in other parts of the region.
Fortunately, California state authorities are working to implement a solution that has proven effective in other parts of North America and Western Europe. Officials are currently in the final stages of design development for a 200-foot-wide wildlife crossing, which will be the largest animal bridge in the world upon completion. The bridge will span a portion of the 101 in Liberty Canyon, approximately 35 miles northwest of central Los Angeles, making this the first example of a wildlife crossing in such close proximity to a major urban center.
The wildlife crossing will thus operate essentially as an overpass for a wide variety of animals, providing a strip of native landscaping that connects each side of the freeway. In addition to native plantings, the crossings will be equipped with sound barriers to mitigate the negative effects of vehicular noise on animal comfort. Wildlife fencing, which is designed to prevent native animals from crossing into dangerous roads, will line both sides of Route 101 so that creatures are guided towards the overpass. Beyond protecting native fauna from deadly accidents and population decline, the overpass will likely reduce emergency response and repair costs from vehicle-on-wildlife collisions.
Bridges like the one proposed for the Santa Monica Mountains require an immense amount of behavioral research to ensure effectiveness, including studies of which types of plant life and overall environmental factors are preferred by certain species. As existing examples have shown, some animals take longer than others to become accustomed to artificial crossings. Coyotes and deer, which have comparatively high levels of contact with human infrastructure and settlements, tend to use bridges almost immediately after completion, whereas more isolated species like cougars and bears can take years to gain confidence in the structures.
Wildlife overpasses are already in use in Wyoming, where endangered pronghorn herds cross designated bridges during regular migrations, and in Temecula, north of San Diego. Washington State is investing $900 million in an effort to criss-cross Interstate 90 in the Cascades region with two dozen animal overpasses, the first of which was finished this year. The most famous—and perhaps one of the most successful—examples of wildlife crossing infrastructure is located in Alberta, Canada’s Banff National Park, where 6 overpasses and 38 underpasses enable animals to cross the sprawling Trans-Canada Highway. A report prepared jointly by Canadian and American researchers showed that the project reduced costs from vehicle-animal collisions by 90%.
The final design proposal for the bridge in Liberty Canyon has yet to be released by the California Department of Transportation, but several initial renderings have been released by regional nonprofits and agencies in recent years. According to the Associated Press, the final product will cost a total of $87 million, 80 percent of which will be gathered from private sources. Organizers have already raised $13.5 million in private funding. Concerns have been raised over the cost of the project but the overpass has received overwhelming public support, with almost all of the 9,000 comments on the draft environmental impact document being positive.
Construction on the wildlife crossing is slated to begin in 2021 and finish in 2023, a timeframe that ecologists hope will allow native mountain lions to breed outside the Santa Monica Mountains before it’s too late. In general, the project has raised hopes among many wildlife enthusiasts that similar investments will continue to take root across the state and country.