A Not So Suburban Suburbia: Possibilities for Our Urban Future

More on retrofitting suburbia


There are nearly seven billion people on the planet, and more than half of them live in urban areas. Close your eyes and try to picture that. Do you see the towering density of Tokyo or Mumbai? Well, you’re partly right. Megacities with populations topping 10 million are part of the picture, but our urbanization rate also captures lots and lots of areas with populations as small as 2,500 (Instead of Cairo, think Bloomfield, Iowa, for example). What’s more, megacities are groupings of multiple cities and suburbs, and each of these is subject to changing local definitions. As Hania Zlotnik, a population expert from the United Nations, put it earlier this week here at the Aspen Environment Forum, the statistic that we’re more than half urban “hides more than it reveals.”

So if the mostly urban world isn’t going to be a uniform skyscraper forest, is it going to be a sprawling megasuburb with oceans of parking lots? Not necessarily. As Georgia Tech’s Ellen Dunham-Jones shows, there is a growing trend in the United States to retrofit suburbia in ways that incorporate what people like about more traditional urban settings (see video above). Abandoned supermarkets, shopping malls, and big box stores are being sliced and diced into walkable neighborhoods with street grids, mixed uses, and a comfortable feel. Rather than simply spreading out into fertile farmlands, these urban projects are targeting what Dunham-Jones calls “underperforming asphalt” – blank spaces within the urban boundary. As a result, the burbs are getting their own downtowns.

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Interview with Nina-Marie Lister on Ecological Urbanism (via The Dirt)

More from a key academic contributor in the Landscape Urbanism – Landscape Urbanism debate

Interview with Nina-Marie Lister on Ecological Urbanism Nina-Marie Lister, MCIP, RPP, Affiliate ASLA, is Associate Professor of Urban & Regional Planning at Ryerson University, and Visiting Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design (GSD). She is a contributor to "Ecological Urbanism" and co-editor of "The Ecosystem Approach: Complexity, Uncertainty and Managing for Sustainability." Lister recently served as the Professional Advisor to the ARC I … Read More

via The Dirt

How to Design a Bicycle City (via The Dirt)

Can this be done successfully in South African cities – what challenges must we overcome to make this possible?

How to Design a Bicycle City Washington, D.C. has moved from the bottom of the rankings to being a top 10 bicycle-friendly city in just ten years. A group of experts, including Jim Sebastian, Washington, D.C. Department of Transportation, Jennifer Toole, ASLA, Toole Design Group, and Shane Farthing, Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) explained how the city did it at an event at the National Building Museum. The Benefits of Bicycling "Why invest in bicycle infrastru … Read More

via The Dirt

Using Nature to Reinvent Cities (via The Dirt)

Another take on the benefits of urban nature

Using Nature to Reinvent Cities Dan Kaplan, who runs the urban design practice for FXFOWLE, argued for integrating innovative green designs into buildings and streets at a session at the National Building Museum. To reinvent cities, planners, landscape architects, and architects can create "regenerative places" that provide multiple benefits. The two major U.S. development models – Orange County, California, and New York City – present two extremes. In terms of carbon dioxide e … Read More

via The Dirt

The design of your city may be killing you

 Another post on the design of cities and health – how much is the city to blame and how much is the social climate? By Andrew Nusca 

Quite a sensational headline, I know. But Grist’s Sarah Goodyear highlights a new article and   study that claim that poor urban development isn’t just an inconvenience — it’s deadly.

First up: Canada’s Globe and Mailwhich suggests that your life expectancy as an urban dweller has a direct connection to your health.

Lisa Rochon writes:

If, as a newly arrived immigrant, poverty has driven you to the inner or outer suburbs, where you live in a basement apartment or high above the concrete ground in a residential tower, you are far more likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes and its related consequences such as blindness and amputation. Most of Canada’s growth comes from immigrants, but the troubling fact is that Hispanics, blacks and South Asians are genetically predisposed to diabetes. Because of the compounding of these forces, you and your neighbours can expect a lower life expectancy.

A poor diet, high in saturated fat and low on fruits and vegetables, causes excess weight. Once obesity sets in, especially if it develops at a young age, type 2 diabetes usually follows. A sedentary lifestyle fuels the problem. That’s why some medical researchers and health offices are joining forces with urban planners to design neighbourhoods that are more conducive to activity.

Walkability and accessibility no doubt stimulates a resident to get moving. But is this causation, or merely correlation? Continue reading

Jane Jacobs and the Death and Life of American Planning

A in depth review of wether the “Planning Professions” are more than just graffiti on the walls of the city -as it forms itself – is there actually anything we can do to reign in rampant capitalism when socialism ‘s planing aims lie in tatters on the world stage – are any of our “professions” any more relevant or is it only Lawyers, Doctors and now Engineers who have a status and value in modern society?  This essay by THOMAS J. CAMPANELLA from The Design Observer Group
“Construction Potentials: Postwar Prospects and Problems, a Basis for Action,” Architectural Record, 1943; prepared by the F.W. Dodge Corporation Committee on Postwar Construction Markets. [Drawing by Julian Archer]

And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
— T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

During a recent retreat here at Chapel Hill, planning faculty conducted a brainstorming session in which each professor — including me — was asked to list, anonymously, some of the major issues and concerns facing the profession today. These lists were then collected and transcribed on the whiteboard. All the expected themes were there — sustainability and global warming, equity and justice, peak oil, immigration, urban sprawl and public health, retrofitting suburbia, and so on. But also on the board appeared, like a sacrilegious graffito, the words “Trivial Profession.” [1] When we voted to rank the listed items in order of importance, “Trivial Profession” was placed — lo and behold — close to the top. This surprised and alarmed a number of us. Here were members of one of the finest planning faculties in America, at one of the most respected programs in the world, suggesting that their chosen field was minor and irrelevant.  Continue reading

Corner, Hargreaves, and Van Valkenburgh at the Forum for Urban Design

This older post from asladirt i particularly relevant in the light of how urban landscape is equated with parks – so as this is the case we need to revue what a park actually is and what makes them worthwhile to cities:

James Corner, ASLA, George Hargreaves, FASLA, and Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, all leading landscape architects, spoke at a panel organized by the Forum for Urban Design and co-sponsored by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Held at theMuseum of Modern Art’s education center in New York City, the session focused on the 21st century park. Despite concerns that park space will increasingly be viewed as an “extra frill” and be supplanted by ”a virtual cyberworld” as part of a “retreat from public life,” parks are viewed as making a comeback. Some questions that framed the discussion include: Why do new parks have a different tactile feeling? Are new parks as adaptable as parks created in the 20th century? How is the relationship between city and park changing? How do parks relate to democracy? What role will citizens have in the 21st century park? Also, what about park networks in city regions, the next scale up? Continue reading

Book – Campus and the City

A new book on Urban Design for the Knowledge Society attempts to shed light on this elusive concept- with education in formal academic environments struggling to come to grips with the potential  disintegration of its silo-like towers and speciality ‘ ‘ onthe one hand and the distribution of knowledge everywhere enabled by the internet and Google how do we integrate the city throughout its manifest and intangible aspects into education about something which is forming and flowing so fast as to seem unknowable. From UrbanTick

Knowledge is the recourse of our times. In the form of data and information, knowledge is not only the current hype it is the main topic in many areas. The best illustration for this is probably the rise of Google as a company focusing entirely on the management of knowledge or the popularity of Wikipedia an open source project of recording and arguably generating knowledge.

This shift is however, not entirely reflected in the way education of the next generation. In most countries the education system suffers great cuts and reduction of financial support. Education and the gaining of knowledge is increasingly by officials put as something every person is responsible of gaining themselves, probably from Google and Wikipedia. This leaves of course a big gab between services and users and a lot of people without the basic capacity to take part in this beautiful new world, keeping it an exclusive domain for few.

Campus and the City
Image taken from e-architect / Science City is the development vision for the university campus of the 21st century. The board of governors of the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, or ETH Zurich) formulated a strategic vision as the basis for current and future developments. The campus is required to act as an interface between scholarship and society, somewhere the worlds of business, economics, politics and scholarship can interact. The spatial rendering of this vision is a dense fabric of buildings large and small, squares, courtyards and gardens that provide the ideal environment for research, discussion and development. Thanks to its precisely planned connections to the city and other university facilities, the network also extends to the metropolitan level: from Science City to City of Science. This project features in the book in the section ‘Greenfield Campus’.
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Urban planning in South Africa

The issues raised herein this poscast have been repeatedly made by amongst others University of Cape Town’s  Prof. Dave Dewar and Fabio Todeschini and published in a their 2004 book Rethinking Urban Transport after Modernism 
at  are Posted by Arina on  World Landscape Architecture

Existing condition of Cosmo City ext 17 (Lion Park) for the Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality. Provided by Michael Hart.

Do the same urban planning ideas apply everywhere? Hear examples from the interview with Michael Hart at http://bit.ly/

Urban planning ideas are sometimes applied between one region to another without any adjustments to the local culture and climate. The example of such a direct transfer is South Africa, where English planning was implemented. Does it work?

Michael Hart points out that urban planning that focuses on the automobile is not appropriate for South Africa, since car ownership is very low. Nonetheless, existing local standards and guidelines are dictating automobile-driven planning. There are other issues that have been overlooked, such as the availability of the energy and water. Although there are alternative solutions for energy in rural areas, they are too expensive and rarely implemented.

One of the projects worth looking at is the Urban Design Framework for an integrated mixed-use housing development in Cosmo City, Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality. Currently there is an informal settlement in that area, with approximately 7,300 people. There are no roads or infrastructure. Houses are built by owners from available materials. The local municipality is planning to redevelop this area in the future and promises their residents improved housing.
Michael and his team were hired to study existing conditions and develop a framework that could be implemented in that area.

Michael Hart hopes that in the future he will see a lot more sustainable projects in South Africa that will take local culture and environmental constraints into consideration.

Cape Town can save itself – Counter Currents: experiments in sustainability

From the Global Urbanist – a further review of Counter Currents:

Standing in contrast to the ‘doomful narratives and prophecies’ that surround urban development in Cape Town, Edgar Pieterse’s Counter Currents presents a radical project of optimism, bringing into collision the work of architects, planners, scholars, poets and sculptors to explore new possibilities for the city’s self-image.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Counter Currents

“How do we manage and navigate our many unresolved tensions? Between the imperative of practice, of having to intervene in the city to make things better and at the same time being conscious that so much of the knowledge that exists about African cities is so reductionist and instrumentalised that it often adds to the problem.”

–Edgar Pieterse, editor of Counter Currents and director of the African Centre for Cities, London, January 26th.

Counter Currents brings together twenty-seven authors in a colourful and heady tome, somewhat intimidating in its breadth and breathless tone. In Pieterse’s words it is a ‘showcase of bold urban development initiatives by the state and private sector.’ It initially incites suspicion due to the emphatic use of the word ‘sustainable’. However sustainability is delineated early on to refer to economic, social, ecological, physical and political sustainability–urbanity, then–and the book engages critically with its different manifestations. Continue reading