Posts tagged with "urban planning":

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City in China Disappears Overnight

Chaohu city in China has been canceled. It wasn’t a small city. In fact the population of more than 4 million is comparable to Los Angeles, the Phoenix metro area, and the whole of South Carolina, but that is now irrelevant data, since Chaohu's official city status was annihilated on August 22. Although buildings and inhabitants remain as proof of a once-coherent city plan and living organism, the land has since been divided into three parts and absorbed by its neighbors, Hefei, Wuhu and Ma'anshan. Situated in eastern China’s Anhui province, about 200 miles west of Shanghai, the idea was to strip the dead wood and make the surrounding cities more competitive, which, unlike the former Chaohu, are rapidly industrializing and urbanizing. In a recent interview for NPR, economics professor Jiang Sanliang from Anhui University explained: "Chaohu's development hasn't been good, but Hefei … needs land, so absorbing Chaohu will benefit Hefei. The government hopes that redistributing the land will improve the entire province's GDP," he says. It turns out, according to this report, Hefei’s average growth of 17 percent was enough of a reason to dissolve an entire city. Though it is an unusual scenario, there are some benefits to the new divisions. For years the city’s namesake, Lake Chaohu, has been undergoing an intensive clean-up effort to meet the countrywide agenda to cleanse its badly polluted lakes. In the new arrangement the lake falls under Hefei’s administration and has more chance of getting the funding it needs to meet the Government’s 2030 deadline. However, there is no doubt that the move is at odds with other city-planning approaches in China; in August we reported on a new kind of utopia in Chengdu. Designed by a New York architect and local developer, it was one that aimed to foster connections and strengthen communities rather than amalgamate and alienate them. Indeed, instead of public consultation and even public announcement many inhabitants of the former Chaohu learnt about its abolishment from local news on the morning it happened; the striking off happened overnight. No ceremony. No funeral. No Chaohu.
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Help! Only Two Votes Needed To Fix California’s Infill Policy

Okay, let's take advantage of this Democracy thing, folks... Today you have the rare opportunity to shape urban planning policy in California by convincing a few swing voters in the state's Senate to support AB 710, the Infill Development and Sustainable Community Act of 2011. Apparently the bill is two votes shy of passage. If passed it would do a number of things to improve the state's sprawling urban development policy, including... The  bill would encourage development on small lots in urban areas near transit corridors; it would require planning agencies to adopt regional transportation plans aimed at achieving balanced, coordinated, and planet-friendly transit systems; and it would prohibit cities and counties from requiring a minimum parking standard greater than one parking space per 1,000 square feet of nonresidential improvements. So write to the following assembly-people and tell them to vote YES: Senator Alex PadillaCurren PriceCarol Liu, Kevin de Leon, Fran Pavley and Ron Calderon. Don't just sit there, start emailing!
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QUICK CLICKS> Model Cities, Food Deserts, McMansion Decline, Green Infill

  Toy Cities. Our friends at Planetizen tell us that Avondale, AZ had urban planner James Rojas over for a playdate of sorts. Citizens who took part in this re-visioning session got to use pipecleaners, Legos, blocks, and other assorted toys to build their ideal version of the city. According to Rojas, this bottom-up community planning method breaks down barriers and allows people to exercise a degree of creativity not often found at the typical charrette. Food Oases. Streetsblog questions the much hyped notion of the "food desert":  is it media myth or reality?  It seems that urban areas aren't always as lacking in food stores as they seem, at least depending on your definition of supermarket. Even the USDA, who recently debuted their new food desert locator, might be a bit confused about what constitutes a food desert. (In fact, the web application says that a part of Dedham, MA is a food desert. Maybe they don't count the Star Market that's right near that Census tract...) Suburban Swan Song. Slate's architecture columnist Witold Rybczynski has penned an obit of sorts to that symbol of suburban sprawl, the McMansion. He posits that when the recession is over people will be in the mood to buy homes again, but that they may be hesitant to purchase a behemoth of a building that costs a lot to heat and cool. Green Alert. Inhabitat takes a look at the latest in the green roof trend in the form of sloping roofs on townhomes in the City of Brotherly Love. It seems that the historic Center City has a new (and almost LEED certified) infill development called Bancroft Green. The high-end homes here sport some nifty plant covered roofs as well as geothermal heating and herb gardens that capture storm runoff and spaces designed specifically for bicycle storage.  
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The Best Urban Planning Books Of 2010

Move over NY Times Holiday Guide... Our friends at Planetizen have come out with something wonkier: their annual top 10 list of books in urban planning, design and development. The winners were based on a combination of editorial reviews, popularity, reader nominations, sales figures, recommendations from experts and books' potential impact. Some of our favorites include Los Angeles In Maps, a visual history of maps in LA that makes sense of the city's crazy grids and charts development over the years; What We See: Advancing The Observations of Jane Jacobs, a collection of essays putting a fresh perspective on Jacobs' views on topics like preservation and urban planning; and Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st Century, which suggests shifting automobiles to "Ultra Small Vehicles," which could mean far less gas use and even automated driving. Any of these would be a perfect gift for anyone who knows what FOR, CEQA, or TOD stand for..
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Urban Planning as a Psychoactive Drug

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta points out a University of Michigan, Ann Arbor study suggesting that city dwellers harbor more stress than their suburban counterparts, but says access to parks could be the cure. Researchers have found that spending time in parks or park-like settings can help reduce cognitive effort and promote relaxation. Data seems to suggest that urban planning and the design of park space into our built environment can have a much more profound effect on our individual behavior and psychology than we might think. Parks, researchers suggest, are the best medicine for a chaotic world. Here's the problem from Dr. Gupta:
The problem seems to be "attention," or more specifically, the lack of it. With so many different distractions -- from a flashing neon sign, to the cell phone conversation of a nearby passenger on a bus, a city dweller starts to practice something known as "controlled perception." That toggling back and forth between competing stimuli can be mentally exhausting.
Researchers asked different groups of students to spend a day in the city and in the suburbs and then evaluated their mood and attention.  While the suburbs have their own unique stress points compared to the city (who enjoys the road-rage inducing commute on the choked interstate or the banal asphalt lots fronting endless shopping centers?), there's much more green within sight that soothes our brains. To be fair, there are many different types of urban experiences - many replete with green space. While a walk through the crowded, neon-flashing streets of Times Square with its hustle and bustle could undoubtedly strain the most focused individual, a stroll through the shady, tree-lined streets of the West Village, steps from where Jane Jacobs once lived, can offer a thoroughly relaxing experience. But increasing the amount of nature in cities can't be a bad thing. Even a little green can go a long way. From the Boston Globe:
Studies have demonstrated, for instance, that hospital patients recover more quickly when they can see trees from their windows, and that women living in public housing are better able to focus when their apartment overlooks a grassy courtyard. Even these fleeting glimpses of nature improve brain performance, it seems, because they provide a mental break from the urban roil.
It looks like urban planners are a little like the doctors of the city. But what's your experience in cities, suburbs, or even in the park? Does the city stress you out? Can more parks save us from a world of stress? Share your insights in the comments below.
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Design for the Younger Set

Perhaps one explanation for why there's so much mediocre architecture and planning in this country is that we were never taught anything about it as youngsters. In fact most kids don't even have access to an art history class until they reach college; and don't even try asking them who their favorite architect is. But a few new kids architecture books could help change that, or at least inspire younger people to start appreciating the built world around them. Where Things Are From Near To Far (Planetizen Press), by Tim Halbur and Chris Steins (with illustrations by David Ryan) introduces very young kids to basic concepts of urban planning, giving them an appreciation for the changing, dynamic urban environment. The colorful book follows the path of a young boy, Hugo, as he makes his way with his mom through six different environments; from a dense urban core all the way to the countryside.  The progression is based on the "urban-to-rural transect," developed by New Urbanist Andrés Duany, which divides cities into six different zones, and at its end introduces kids to the person who decides how all of this will be created: a smiling urban planner. Another, The Modern Architecture Pop Up Book (Rizzoli), by David Sokol and Anton Radevsky, includes pop-ups, fold-overs, and slide-outs (and short descriptions) of most of the best-known Modern architecture produced over the last 125 years or so. That includes London’s Crystal Palace; the Brooklyn Bridge; the Eiffel Tower; New York’s Flatiron Building; Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, Chicago; Reitveld’s Schroeder House; Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye; Saarinen’s TWA terminal; Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao; Calatrava’s Milwaukee Art Museum; and Foster’s 30 St. Mary Axe, a.k.a. the "Gherkin." A few of the moving parts don't work completely right, but overall the book is an engaging way to explore not only modern architectural history, but also to get a feel for the dynamic shapes of today's architecture. Indeed with its moving parts and easily grasped visual concepts, the pop-up architecture book might be the most accessible way into the field for kids. Several more have been released recently. They include Frank Gehry in Pop-Up (Thunder Bay Press), Architectural Wonders: A Pop-Up Gallery of the World's Most Amazing Marvels (Thunder Bay),  Architecture Pop-Up Book (Universe), California Missions Pop-Up (Geomancy), and Frank Lloyd Wright in Pop-Up (Thunder Bay).