How to Build People Focused Communities

A sustainable world is a walkable city. Over at the Sustainable City Show they talked to two people engaged in making cities walkable, car-free, and down right pleasant to live in. The mayor of Heidelberg and urban designer Chris Shears talked about their efforts to green their cities while also ensuring that old, backwards-looking, individuals understand that good urban living means people can get where they want when they want. The best design approach for cities is to ensure that all people can get where they need to go, and that they don’t need to go far.

The city is attractive. Downtown city is attractive. It has a future vision and now, it pays out what you have implemented, but you have to be fair. It was not the brutal story we tell them at the beginning. So, we were talking about green space, living attractive, downtown is wonderful to stay there with kids. So, you have space, you’re secure. If the kids go to school, they don’t have to fear that the kids were hit by a truck or whatever. If this is the message, it’s not against cars or against anybody. It’s for the future, and this is always a story because otherwise, you’re just working with environmentalists together and this is 50 percent, maybe 20 percent, but it’s not the — also not in the city council, the majority. So, that’s my clear mission. We have to go in this direction, but always create the feeling that this is a better city, a greener city, it’s more livable and so on.

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Building Superblocks Can Save Cities

Good Street from Streetmix

Barcelona’s urban layout of “superblocks” has proven to be a great way to make cities liveable, efficient, and environmentally friendly. We’ve looked at the brilliant design in Barcelona before, and now the question is how to take this urban design to other cities. Can car-focussed cities like Atlanta, Toronto, and Sydney benefit from the person-focussed approach in Barcelona? Of course they can, and so can other places like Mexico City and Zurich. The question how to implement the design approach and at what scale.

We’re all one step closer to living in a 15-minute city.

“Density is important, as the superblock model focuses on districts where many people live to allow active street life,” says Eggimann. Having enough people in one area also makes public transportation efficient, he says, and good public transportation is part of what makes the superblock possible. The design doesn’t work well in sprawling neighborhoods that only have single-family homes—even if those neighborhoods have a perfect street grid, as is the case in Atlanta and many other American cities.

While cities are taking a variety of approaches to rethinking traffic on streets, Eggimann thinks that superblocks can be especially useful. “I think the superblock model is particularly interesting as it strives for combined tackling of multiple challenges neighborhoods and cities are faced with—mobility, noise, walkability, urban green space—and that it is a model which envisions city-scale wide and broad transformation, going beyond single street transformation,” Eggimann says.

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The Transformation of Paris from Traffic Jams to Quick Movement

fog

Paris once had a reputation for horrible traffic, long queues of cars and taxing journeys via cars. When you have a problem stemming from one element sometimes it’s best to just get rid of it. That’s exactly what Paris is doing. By getting rid of the car traffic jams are going away and travel times for everyone are decreasing. By adding more mobility options people are able to navigate the city faster, easier, and are reliant on only one mode of transport. They have the freedom to choose how to get around.

OK, quickly: At the start of the 20th century, in the ’20s, ’30s, the car asserts itself as a travel mode in urban centers, which are transformed. Paris is clearly an old city with many centuries of history with an urban fabric. Even though it was transformed by Haussmann in the 19th century, it has an extremely dense urban fabric with a lot of small streets and a configuration a priori not adapted to the auto. When the car arrives, we transform what we can call public space, and this public space becomes automobile space, with the logical system of the car imposing itself in Paris. And public space is completely devoured, eaten away, and in a certain way privatized to one single, unique use.

Very quickly we see the limits of “total car” in Paris, even in the ’60s and ’70s. We try to say, “How can we preserve this city?” Well, by putting cars underground. So we construct parking, even whole highways, under Paris. But there’s opposition to the highway on the Seine. There were protests. When we did the parking under Notre-Dame, there was a lot of opposition, because they were going to graze the crypt underneath.

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Cities of the Future Act as Sponges

When it rains cities should hold all the water. In the 20th century that idea would have been laughed out of the room; today, we know better. Urban water management is vital to a healthy city, ecosystem, and flood mediation. The old idea of building giant channels of concrete to force water out of their natural areas (the best example of this is in L.A.) is thankfully being replaced with better ideas.

One of those better water management ideas is to just soak it all up. Make the city a sponge.

It tries to do it in three areas. The first is at the source, where just like a sponge with many holes, a city tries to contain water with many ponds.

The second is through the flow, where instead of trying to channel water away quickly in straight lines, meandering rivers with vegetation or wetlands slow water down – just like in the creek that saved his life.

This has the added benefit of creating green spaces, parks and animal habitats, and purifying the surface run-off with plants removing polluting toxins and nutrients.

The third is the sink, where the water empties out to a river, lake or sea. Prof Yu advocates relinquishing this land and avoiding construction in low-lying areas. “You cannot fight the water, you have to let it go,” he says.

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How Cities Deal with More Intense Heat Waves

Global warming is bringing more intense heat waves to our urban environments which means cities will need to adapt to the new temperatures. Indeed, regular readers will recognize a lot of ways cities can mitigate extreme heat from painting roads white to regulating green roofs. Over at Arch Daily they have compiled a neat list of good ways cities are exploring to stay cool.

In an attempt to combat the urban heat island effect that affected Sydney’s suburbs, the city has made light-coloured roofs mandatory for all new houses. At the same time, the authorities require residential lots to feature at least one mature tree, as the canopy cover in some neighbourhoods is only 1 per cent. The new regulations will initially be applied in the suburb of WiltonSydney’s current climate strategy intends to further address urban heat by growing the city’s canopy cover by 50% by 2030 and implement cool pavements.

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