Bringing Cities to Life with Light

From thisbigcityy Gareth Pearson – contributor to Future Cape Town, a This Big City partner site. 

cape town light

This post is also available in: Chinese (Traditional)

It’s strange to think how dependent we are on our little bit of Earth facing the sun. Every day, as the sun passes beyond the horizon, we flea for safety. A bustling street, full of people during the day, can become a completely different space at night. As soon as people leave (to the suburbs), shops close, and the light vanishes, and a street can become a very uninviting space. In my home city of Cape Town, there are a number of streets that do facilitate the presence of humans at night, most obviously Long Street, but most streets ‘shut down’, leaving no reasons for anyone to use them.

Light has a tremendous ability to transform a place. The use of light as an artistic medium, and a building as a canvas, can change an otherwise dark street in the city into an inviting, mesmerizing place to gather. Cape Town’s Adderley Street is transformed when the festive season lights are turned on every year, and theInfecting the City public arts festival is a notable example as well. The Cape Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance in Church Square, with the National Mutual Life building lit up in the background, or the performance of Ilulwane in the red-lit pool of Long Street Baths, show how light installations can change our perceptions and experience of a place.

There are endless international examples of light being used in some form in public spaces. Berlin’s Festival of Lights (pictured above), groups like Nuit Blanche, the recent Dumbo Arts Festival, and Greyworld’s Trafalgar Sun installation, all manage to drastically change city spaces and attract people to them. People gather like moths around a lightbulb. Even New York City’s Times Square may be used as an example. It’s flickering advertisements alone, attract people from across the world, and now Times Square is becoming a place to showcase artwork. Times Square Moment is a way to showcase artwork on some of the screens a few minutes before midnight. Artwork is even being created with the primary purpose of displaying it in Times Square, and the amount of display time is being increased as well.

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I hated homework – it kept me from getting at eh good stuff that wasn’t on the curriculum like reading tother books like Sci-fi and comics which taught me far more about the world than I ever learned in school – I hated my children’s homework just as much because I could real off the stuff the teachers wanted to them and they could then get on with the dame good stuff that has been instrumental in their future creative pursuits and lifestyle and maybe this shows why!

Mind Bursts

Rethinking Homework By Alfie KohnAfter spending most of the day in school, children are typically given additional assignments to be completed at home. This is a rather curious fact when you stop to think about it, but not as curious as the fact that few people ever stop to think about it. It becomes even more curious, for that matter, in light of three other facts:

1. The negative effects of homework are well known.

They include children’s frustration and exhaustion, lack of time for other activities, and possible loss of interest in learning. Many parents lament the impact of homework on their relationship with their children; they may also resent having to play the role of enforcer and worry that they will be criticized either for not being involved enough with the homework or for becoming too involved.

2. The positive effects of homework are largely mythical.

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To change the world – new actor-worlds have to come into being – the rub is that existing actor-worlds resist the changes – what else is new here?


House Republicans in the United States last week released a report on copyright that was amazing in its understanding of the topic, but also mind-blowing. It was so forward-thinking, the party’s study committee had no choice but to retract it the very next day, likely because of pressure from frothing-mad copyright lobbyists.

But consider the doo-doo stirred. The report suggests some pretty incredible ideas, which are even more incredible given that they’re coming from politicians. As TechDirt noted, the report says current copyright law is anti-competitive and hurting innovation and consumers, so it’s therefore a sin against Capitalism. It goes so far as to suggest that entirely new industries aren’t happening because of the monopolies granted by copyright law.

The report then proposes a few concrete reforms, such as lowering the length of copyright, creating disincentives to renewing it, expanding fair-use principles and punishing false claims.

Whether or not anything…

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Can a hydra live in harmony or should cities retain a certain disharmony in order to survive the destructive influences of absolutism and the corruption of the political?

Somewhat extravagant for pedestrian crossing but beautiful all the same

laud8 -landscape architecture+urban design

The Vancouver Land Bridge reconnects historic Fort Vancouver to the city’s Columbia River waterfront and helps restore the natural landscape continuum from upland prairie to river edge.

This pedestrian bridge, which sweeps across State Route 14 in a simple, elegant arch, also commemorates the confluence of rivers and indigenous people encountered by the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Jones & Jones’s design draws on the cultural significance of the circle, a Native American symbol often used to represent the life cycle. A walking path meanders across the bridge through an interpretive landscape of prairie, grassland and forest native plants, a rain water collection system and artworks created by the design team and native artists.


Project Facts:

40-foot-wide, earthen-covered pedestrian bridge
Federal, state and private funding
Sustainability guidelines established
Rainwater collection system irrigates native plants


Restored landscape continuum
Gateway to the City of Vancouver
Connects the city to its waterfront

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Could Twitter help urban planners improve transport networks?

Could SMS be used for the same purpose – is there enough data if phones are not smart phones? from the Guardian

Data-mapping expert Eric Fischer has used geolocated Tweets to find the most frequently travelled routes in US cities. Could this sort of data be used to plan transit systems in the future?
• Who made these graphics? Eric Fischer
• Where can I find the originals? Here

Fischer British IslesView larger picture

Fischer created this map using data from over one million Tweet-based trips in August 2011. Advocates of HS2 may feel somewhat vindicated.

As far as data analysis is concerned, Twitter is primarily used for retrospective tracking of sentiment and other social data, but could geolocated Tweets be used to plan for the future?

Data-mapping work by Eric Fischer suggests that it could. If the volume of geo-tagged Tweets is used a proxy for traffic levels, urban planners could use this data to fine-tune existing transport networks and establish where new routes are needed.

Fischer took millions of geolocated Tweets from across the world, cross-referenced them with data on known transport nodes, and used the results to plot the most heavily used routes in cities, countries and continents.

He then created what are in effect transit cartograms, with the thickness of a road or other mass transport line corresponding to the volume of Tweets sent along its path.

Below is a selection of the maps he produced. The full series of images can be found here at Fischer’s Flickr account.

British Isles

Fischer British IslesClick for larger imageFischer created this map using data from over one million Tweet-based trips in August 2011. Advocates of HS2 may feel somewhat vindicated.

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African Cities are Walking Cities, but are they Walkable?

From Walkonomics the real deal in African and other developing cities will be to accomplish the transition from walking because people have to, to walking because its the best way to get around, while in most South african cities its not – public transport is not safe, cheap or reliable hence the drive for private cars and use of mini-bus taxis. Does any young city dweller where not want his own car in order to be cool? 

If you’ve ever been in an East African city during rush hour, then you’ll know that African cities are walking cities.  In the rapidly urbanising capitals of Africa, walking is by far and away the most popular form of transport.  For instance over 60% of trips in Addis Ababa are made on foot, while just 9% of trips are made in a car and in Nairobi over 45% of people walk.  These are the kind of walking statistics that developed cities can only dream of: London struggles to get 20% of people to walk and in New York its between 10-20%.

Can a growing city keep people walking?

As a result, the current CO2 emissions of these cities are extremely low, with the vast majority of people either walking or using ‘ad-hoc’ public transport such as the small blue and white minibuses of Addis Ababa.  However most Urban Africans aren’t walking out of choice, but simply because they can’t afford to travel in any other way.  The real challenge facing urban governments in Africa is to maintain these high levels of walking as their cities grow at an incredible rate and Urban Africans start to earn enough to be able to afford to travel differently.

So walking is popular in Africa, but this isn’t because urban African streets are walking-friendly.  In fact quite the opposite: 63% of streets in Addis Ababa lack any pavements or sidewalks and crossings are rare.  Africans walk despite the un-walkable urban environment, not because of it.  Walking isn’t only difficult, its also very dangerous with 67% of road accidents involving pedestrians in Ethiopia’s capital.  Sadly this is the case in many developing countries, where road accidents are a growing epidemic and are expected to be the third biggest killer by 2020.

Walkable urban development

Faced with these huge challenges and opportunities the United Nations have recently pumped over $3 million into a project to kick-start sustainable transport in three African capital cities.  ’Sustainable transport in East African Cities‘ will support and fund improvements to walkability, bikeability and public transport in Nairobi, Addis Ababa and Kampala.  The project is built around creating Bus Rapid Transit systems (BRT) in each city, similar to schemes in Johannesburg andBogata.  BRT are low cost and efficient bus systems with dedicated ‘busways’ and high quality enclosed stations.  They provide the usability and capacity of other Mass Rapid Transit (like trams or subways) but at a fraction of the cost, making BRT an ideal option for developing cities.

As well as establishing BRT systems, the project will create more walkable and bikeable streets in each city, which will form a sustainable transport network. These improvements will include building more sidewalks, signalised crossing and improving road safety. It is hoped that by creating a holistic transport system now, each city can provide a sustainable alternative to the car-dependent development that has caused so many problems in western cities. Perhaps this will also mean that while East African cities continue to develop and grow richer, their citizens will still choose to embrace walking as the best way to move in the city.

Images courtesy of sameffron and carlosfpardo on Flickr.

Do they ever need this!


Rex Law

The federal government and a handful of provinces share a particular fondness for public-private partnerships. Now they are hoping that cities will share the same affection.

The affinity for public-private partnerships (P3s) comes from the benefits that P3s have over traditional procurement methods in the delivery of infrastructure: transferring of key risks to the private sector, project management and the ability to deliver on-budget and on-time, considerations over an asset’s lifecycle costs, and paying for performance only when the private sector has delivered.

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Petrol, chocolate and a sales meeting:Business lounges in service stations

What’s the reality of “walkable cities?” If you are one of the mobile business consultants, salesmen or any one of a large range of contractors, who everyday you spend more than half their time traveling in their car,  truck or van, with no options for using public transport or working over the internet, but having to see people face to face, inspect works or transport their workmen to sites distributed all over  the sprawl. Amongst a series of recent posts and articles on car related themes these caught my attentions and gave me pause to rethink a little about how we see the transition from our present high carbon cities to a lower carbon  “neutral” future?

The first one is this from The Economist, which is appropriately on the growth of facilities catering for this car culture, any of you who have traveled in Britain are aware of these large aglomerations on the freeways, we have our own versions here in South Africa, not yet this extended but with the growth of controversial toll-roads, no doubt soon to get there:

AT 10 o’clock on a mid-week morning, there’s already a goodly queue at the McDonald’s in the Cobham service station. Kingdoms may rise and kingdoms may fall, but mankind’s need for Egg McMuffins and coffee shows no sign of weakening. Elsewhere at the facility, which recently opened on the M25, London’s orbital motorway, drivers and their passengers play other traditional service-station roles, buying petrol, using the loos, shouting at their children, wincing at the sandwich prices. With its Shell garage, Days Inn hotel, Marks & Spencer, WHSmith, McDonalds, KFC, a couple of other restaurants and some slot machines this is a normal, modern motorway stop. Look up on the first floor, though, and you see a more unusual amenity with views out over the service-station floor: a Regus business lounge.

Is nowhere safe from business travellers these days? An ever-expanding army of mobile workers needs an expanding number of places to meet and work. Regus has been opening a lounge a day since early 2011 and now has them in over 500 cities, including in railway stations in France and the Netherlands (in Britain, Network Rail has done a deal with another provider of flexible working spaces, the Office Group). In its efforts to dominate in what it calls “third place” working environments (where the first place is the office and the second is the home) Regus recently decided that motorway service stations were the next battleground. It is running three new operations beside British motorways, as well as several in France. And though the atmosphere of a typical business lounge is rather different from that of most service stations, the two do appear to complement each other.

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We all know our frustration with cell phone/mobile use in cars, texting is especially dangerous and despite the laws against it and the surprising frequency with which we see drivers of large SUV’s with handset to their ears, which I would think should have a handsfree as standard equipment, here is an extreme version of this trend from Things I grab, motley collection :

Click to visit the original post

Forget texting while driving. German police say they nabbed a driver who had wired his Ford station wagon with an entire mobile office.

Saarland state police said Friday the 35-year-old man was pulled over for doing 130 kph (80 mph) in a 100 kph zone while passing a truck Monday.

AP Photo / Saarland State Police

Built on a wooden frame on his passenger seat they found a laptop on a docking station tilted for easy driver access, a printer, router, wireless internet stick, WLAN antenna, and an inverter to power it all.

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All of this is variously blamed on everything from Fordism through neoliberalism to America’s Oil Wars, but as most of us who have one know – we love our cars and even of we have a placebo Toyota Prius like me, we are in love with driving them and we construct our identities with them, this post from URBAN TIMES

The Growth of Car Culture

What is car culture? It is the practice and regular usage of cars in cities around the world. It is the feeling you get when you wake up early in the morning eager to get out of the house to drive. It is a lifestyle built around using cars.

The culture or social behavior of using cars has spread throughout the world. It has become an international social phenomenon attributable to both developed and developing nations.

As Wilfred Owen points out in in Wheels, in 1900 the world had hardly ten thousand automobiles, but eight decades later, there were more than 360 million motor vehicles and their effect on mankind has been enormous.

A personalized version of the cheapest car in the world – the Tata Nano. (Image: vm2827 / Flickr)

John Urrey observes that car-culture is a culture which is presently being followed by the general public although it was primarily consumed by the rich and elite classes in the 20th century.

According to theOICA (automotive issues in world forums), a total of over 50 million cars were produced internationally in the year 2011. Presently, more than 500 million cars are being consumed world-wide and this “figure is expected to double  by 2015“.

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With this culture being actively driven by the automobile and big oil and their differential adaptations to  soliciting customers either through more and more powerful cars – a la TopGear, or through their offerings of alternative smaller, more fuel efficient cars and by undertaking extensive urbanization trends studies such as this one by P-Rex , an MIT research lab

Toyota’s vision: The right vehicle,
at the right place, at the right time

This ambitious project attempts to “take the temperature” of urbanization of the entire U.S.  Conceived of as a Drosscape 2.0, we are collaborating with Toyota to assess and project the urbanization patterns in the metropolitan landscape.  With the echo boomers entering prime house-buying age, we see this as an opportune moment to envision how the basic urbanization will proceed over the next few decades.  We are more metropolitan, more southern and more western as a populous than we  were in the 20th century.  Will these trends hold?  How  will the complex of jobs, housing, and transportation interact with this new metropolitan landscape?  These questions and more will be addressed in this multi-year research contract.

Extract from Toyota Alternative Fuels Presentation

An presentation using some of the initial results is available here; Our Shared, Sustainable Future: Progress and Challenges which clearly highlights whose future it is that Toyota are most concerned with!

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So how does this look in under African Skies; – here is a piece that might let you judge somewhat for yourself:

The first is on the role of the “Black Diamonds” and the growth of South africa’s middle class:

Counting Cars to Measure Africa’s Middle Class  by John Campbell from Africa in Transition

Township residents pose on a luxury car in Soweto's Thokoza Park March 25, 2006. (Antony Kaminju/Courtesy Reuters)Township residents pose on a luxury car in Soweto’s Thokoza Park March 25, 2006. (Antony Kaminju/Courtesy Reuters)

That Africa has a growing middle class has become conventional wisdom, and the prospect of a new and expanding consumer market excites investors. How to define the “middle class,” to say nothing of how big it is remains unclear. Uri Dadush and Shimelse Ali show a way forward in their article, “In Search of the Global Middle Class:  A New Index,” recently published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

They suggest that in developing countries, the number of cars in circulation is indicative of the size of the middle class. Car ownership indicates arrival at an income threshold (around $3400 ppp) where households can begin to afford non-essentials.  Further, they say car statistics are usually reliable. So study of car circulation statistics can indicate how rapidly the middle class in a given country is growing.

Using the “car index” they conclude that of South Africa’s fifty million people, almost nineteen million are middle class. This is significantly larger than this African Development Bank’s  study on the size of middle class (PDF) (but smaller if you add the “floating class”—people living on $2-$4 a day).

Given South Africa’s economic and racial inequality, the purchase of luxury cars can also tell us something about how the wealthy have fared.  Indeed, it appears they have done well. 21.5 percent of automobiles sold in 2010 were “luxury.”  (Of G20 countries, in China, it was 2.8 percent;  in Mexico, 2.8 percent, and in the United States, 9.6 percent. Only Germany at 26.6 percent exceeded South Africa.)

The car index appears to support the view that South Africa’s middle class is growing.  With eighty percent of the population black, most of that growth must come from blacks.  But the high percentage of luxury vehicles sold would imply that the nine percent of the population that is white is also doing well.

Certainly the car index accords with what I saw during two trips to South Africa last spring

Finally, for now, a piece I wrote last year on  No quick fix to save our cities, so we’d better start now