During the the last century urban planners in North America built cities for cars instead of people. The 21st century is literally paying the costs of their misjudgement. Efforts to make streets for people we gaining popularity over the last couple of decades and the pandemic pushed that further.
We’ve seen cities close streets to cars, open new green space, and overall make the urban experience better. Modern urban planners are calling on everycity to not only keep the people-friendly infrastructure but to accelerate the development of more.
Our urban parks, streets, and various semi-public and private spaces—from balconies to backyards and roof tops—are critical to maintaining mental, physical, and civic health during quarantine. After the pandemic subsides, I doubt we will readily part from them. Beyond our rekindled love of parks, there is a thirst for a radically expanded and verdant public realm, from living streets to sky gardens. Exciting possibilities are emerging in the overlap of urban design, architecture, landscape architecture, and horticulture.
In the capital of France, the new Clichy-Batignolles development demonstrates how a city can have a carbon-neutral footprint while providing modern living. The development itself is built on old industrial lands and includes community housing, a theatre, and many other important features of a city including a massive park. The neighbourhood focusses on sustainable buildings and sustainable transit; the developer specifically designed the spaces to be walkable and ensuring that there is no need for a car.
All buildings are being constructed to the demanding Passivhaus standard, meaning that the energy consumption required for heating is just 15 kilowatt-hours a square metre of floor space per year, and the overall energy consumption is under 50kWh asqm of floor space per year.
The buildings are south-facing and super insulated, capturing and retaining the sun’s heat and warmth given off by their occupants and technology. Buildings are composed of renewable materials while other materials such as PVC are banned.
The area will contain 40,000 sq m of solar photovoltaic roofs that will eventually generate around 4500-megawatt-hours a year to supply 85 per cent of the remaining energy needs, while deep geothermal energy will provide 83 per cent of the space heating and domestic hot water, so that the entire site will have a carbon neutral footprint.
Most people think living off the grid means living the countryside with your own well, reenable energy, and food source. The truth is that style of off the grid requires massive space to work (for example, a well needs a large area to collect water from), so that rural off the grid doesn’t work for everyone.
What is a person living in the city to do to get off the grid though?
Back in the 90s there was a competition throughout Canada to figure that out. One winner is still living in his house that is off the grid in Toronto.
“We promised to make the house self-sufficient and not use any non-renewable fuel,” Paloheimo said.
“Despite the home’s high-tech appearance, most of the products and systems are simple and straightforward,” said Chris Ives, CMHC project manager, said in a Toronto Healthy House report published after the house was built.
“Off-grid houses do not necessarily require hours of labour for upkeep. In fact, everything in the house is easy to maintain and available in today’s marketplace.”
It’s often thought that cities are buys bustling places where nobody slows down. Sure, the streets are busier and there is more activity, but the city is a slow place for living. Arizona State University researchers looked into the lifestyles of urban dwellers and discovered that they are slower than people who live elsewhere. The slowness is all about when people hit particular moments of life and how they think about the future.
“Our findings are contrary to the notion that crowded places are chaotic and socially problematic,” said Oliver Sng, who led the research while a doctoral student at ASU and who now is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan. “People who live in dense places seem to plan for the future more, prefer long-term romantic relationships, get married later in life, have fewer children and invest a lot in each child. They generally adopt an approach to life that values quality over quantity.”
Sng, with ASU Foundation Professor Steven Neuberg and ASU psychology professors Douglas Kenrick and Michael Varnum, used data from nations around the world and the 50 U.S. states to show that population density naturally correlates with these slow life strategies. Then, in a series of experiments (e.g., in which people read about increasing crowdedness or heard sounds of a crowded environment), they found that perceptions of crowdedness cause people to delay gratification and prefer slower, more long-term mating and parenting behaviors.
Obviously public transit is great for getting people around cities and is a very scalable traffic solution. One spinoff of a good public transit system is that the streets get safer. In Canada he number of collisions increases every year with the vast majority of these collisions the result of driver error. With public transit something else is happening and it’s thanks to the driver training and supportive infrastructure.
Instead of driving yourself, take transit. It might save your life.
Commuter trains, buses, streetcars, and subway trains are all safer forms of transit with much lower rates of injury and death than automobiles; they are heavier and stronger vehicles, they are larger and more visible, they often travel in their own right-of-ways, and (perhaps most importantly) they are operated by highly trained drivers.
All of these factors produce a much stronger safety record: these vehicles are less likely to be in a collision, and in the rare occasion that they are, their passengers are less likely to get hurt.
A September 2016 report from the American Public Transportation Association [PDF] argues that we need to start thinking about the role public transit can play in public safety.