The Urbanist’s Guide to the World

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A compilation of all posts in the “Urbanist’s Guide to…” series from Guardian Cities, “The Urbanist’s Guide to the World” takes readers to cities across the globe. Penned by local bloggers in from Manila to Sao PauloTehran to New Orleans, the vignettes are supported by The Rockefeller Foundation and cover everything from “best” and “worst buildings” to cleanliness, soundscapes, and “the best place for a conversation.” You can view the interactive guide here.

China’s Pearl River Delta Overtakes Tokyo as World’s Largest Urban Area

The ’s urban growth in 1973 and 2003. Image © Flicker CC user NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

China’s Pearl River Delta has surpassed Tokyo in both size and population, making it the largest urban area in the world, according to the World Bank. The colossal megapolis – a conglomerate of several , including Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Foshan and Dongguan – is a central component to China’s manufacturing and trade industries.

It is now home to 42 million – more people than the countries of Canada, Argentina or Australia. And, considering nearly two-thirds of the East Asia region’s population (64%) is still “non-urban,” the area is expected to grow exponentially.

How Americans Get to Work

Interactive: How Americans Get to Work. Image Courtesy of flowingdata.com

In the US, most people drive alone to work. This isn’t surprising, considering car culture has been a staple of American life since the end of World War II. However, with the potential of high speed rails making way in California and the push for public transit in many other states, it will be interesting to see how this map may (or may not) change over the next decade.

This interactive infographic, provided by flowingdata.com, illustrates the work-related usage rates for all varying modes of transportation throughout every county in the US. Click here to see.

Redesigning Los Angeles For Long-Term Drought

Los Angeles River (2013). Image © Flickr CC User Steve Lyon

With many of the world’s cities combating , it is apparent that channeling water away from populated areas with no intended use is not sustainable. are depending on their “precious rain water” more than ever and, as Arid Lands Institute co-founder Hadley Arnold says, “the ace in our species pocket is the ability to innovate.” We need to “build cities like sponges,” starting with permeable hardscape, drought-tolerant landscaping and smarter plumbing. See what NPR has to say about issue of water treatment and Los Angeles, here.

Six Design Trends Reshaping City Life

48 Urban Garden / AK-A. Image © Nikos Alexopoulos

It is expected that by 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in . However, as FastCoDesign points out, it is unlikely that cities will look the same as they do today. In a recent article, the company outlined six major design trends in 2015 that are shaping city life, including restaurants starting to double as living rooms, healthcare become a retail product and smarter transportation systems. Find out all six trends, here.

Mayor Rejects Sou Fujimoto’s Taiwan Tower Over Fears of Soaring Cost

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Taichung Mayor Lin Chia-lung has temporarily “pulled the plug” on Sou Fujimoto’s ambitious Taiwan Tower, saying he would rather pay a penalty for breaking the contract than spend an estimated NT$15 billion to realize the “problematic” project.

The Banyan tree-inspired tower was hoped to become the “Taiwanese version of the Eiffel Tower,” as well as a model for sustainable architecture by achieving LEED Gold with its energy producing features. Its steel superstructure, which proposed to hoist a triangular section of the Gateway Park’s greenbelt 300-meters into the air, intentionally had “no obvious form” and was to be perceived as a natural phenomenon.

Vincent Laforet’s Images of New York From Above Will Take Your Breath Away

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Something he has “dreamed of capturing for decades,” Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Vincent Laforet has released a stunning set of images that captures his hometown of New York in a way that has never before been seen. Taken from a nauseating 7500-feet above the city, Laforet’s “Gotham 7.5K” series reveals the unrelenting, pulsating energy that radiates from the Big Apple’s city grid.

All the images and the making-of video, after the break. 

Renzo Piano On ‘Civic Duty’ In Our Cities

President Giorgio Napolitano and Renzo Piano (2012). Image Courtesy of La Repubblica

In The New Yorker’s latest Postcard from Rome Elizabeth Kolbert talks to Renzo Piano in his Senate Office at the Palazzo Giustiniani, just around the corner from the Pantheon. Piano, who was named a Senator for Life by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano in September 2013 (when he was 75 years of age), immediately “handed over the office, along with his government salary, to six much younger architects.” He then “asked them to come up with ways to improve the periferie - the often run-down neighborhoods that ring Rome and ’s other major .” Kolbert attests to Piano’s belief in the power of museums and libraries and concert halls. For him, ”they become places where people share values [and] where they stay together.” “This is what I call the civic role of architecture.”

Snøhetta’s Illustrated Travel Guide for Oslo

Illustration by Jorunn Sannes via Vogue.com

Sleek, contemporary, and unapologetically eclectic, the work of Norwegian firm Snøhetta is as diverse as it is synonymous with modern Scandinavian design. Spanning everything from architecture and master planning to installation art and product and packaging design, Snøhetta’s projects are characterized by the marriage of efficiency, quirky charm, and an eye for beauty. Offering a broad selection of suggestions for visitors to , Snøhetta’s guide to the nation’s capital is no different. Reflecting the favorite attractions of architects, artists, and brand designers from within the firm, the guide includes a windowless barjazz-punk band, and the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, even encompassing the work of Oslo-based design contemporary, Element Arkitekter, in Lærernes hus. Read the rest of the seven selections here.

Vincent Callebaut’s 2050 Vision of Paris as a “Smart City”

View of the comprehensive city plan. Image Courtesy of Vincent Callebaut Architecture

Addressing Paris’ housing and density issues, French firm Vincent Callebaut Architectures has developed a proposal for multiple high-rise buildings with positive energy output (BEPOS). Comprised of eight multi-use structures inhabiting various locations within Paris, the plan strives to address major problems affecting each district, while providing key functions for the city. 

Social Maps Could Potentially Shape Future City Planning

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What is a city? To technologist Dave Troy, a “city is the sum of the relationships of the people that live there.” By mapping the interests of dwellers in some of the world’s most populated by looking at what they share online, Troy has generated a new and incredibly detailed way to view a city’s diversity beyond race. This rich data, as Troy believes, provides a real opportunity to design that are truly desired.

Oliver Wainwright’s 2015 Wish List for British Cities

The housing crisis facing London has now become the primary concern of the capital’s voters. Image © Flickr CC User mariusz kluzniak

In the UK, urban issues are starting to see something of a renaissance, with problems such as the nation’s housing shortage increasingly being subjected to scrutiny in ever more public arenas – in fact earlier this year housing overtook transport as the biggest concern among London voters. All of this means that 2015 will be “a golden opportunity to fix some of the worst city problems,” according to the Guardian Cities, who have asked their architecture critic Oliver Wainwright to offer up a wishlist of positive changes that could benefit the nation’s urban centres. From councils building more council housing to a tax on empty homes, Wainwright’s four-point list offers straightforward policy advice that could truly transform the lives of British urbanites – and perhaps most promisingly, in three of these cases he explains how there are nascent movements already being made to bring his recommendations to fruition. You can read the full article here.

World’s First Solar Bicycle Lane Opens in Amsterdam

SolaRoad in Krommenie. Image © SolaRoad

A popular bicycle lane and public road that connects the suburbs of Krommenie and Wormerveer has been impregnated with solar panels, making it the world’s first. The 70-meter stretch, serving 2,000 daily cyclists, was embedded with crystalline silicon solar cells encased within concrete and covered with a translucent layer of tempered glass. It is expected to be extended an additional 100-meters in 2016, providing enough energy to power three households. More information, here.

Could Smart Cities Slowly Destroy Democracy?

Songdo, South Korea, was built along the "smart city" template. Image © Wikimedia User G43

Has the concept of the smart city ”crystallised into an image of the city as a vast, efficient robot?” In the age of the “Internet of Things,” where does the citizen fit in? In this article from , journalist Steven Poole takes a critical stance against the purported utopian ideals of smart . Poole delves into the nuances of who the smart city is truly meant to serve, questions the debate over whether it should develop along a top-down or bottom-up approach, and poses the provocative thought: “a vast network of sensors amounting to millions of electronic ears, eyes and noses – also potentially enable(s) the future city to be a vast arena of perfect and permanent surveillance by whomever has access to the data feeds.” Questions of control, virtual reality, free-will, and hierarchies of power, Poole asserts are critical to the discussion of technology’s powerful role in the future. Read the full article to learn more about the possible potential of the smart city to “destroy democracy,” here.

Reconfiguring Urban Spaces To Compensate For “Poisonous” Air

The CCTV Building, Beijing, cloaked by air pollution. Image © Kevin Frayer / Getty Images

In an article for The Guardian, steps “inside Beijing’s apocalypse”: the poisonous, polluted atmosphere that often clings to the Chinese capital. He explores ways in which those who live in this metropolis have started to redefine the spaces they frequent and the ways in which they live. Schools, he notes, are now building inflatable domes over play areas in order to “simulate a normal environment.” The dangers were made clear when ”this year’s Beijing marathon [...] saw many drop out when their face-mask filters turned a shade of grey after just a few kilometres.” Now, in an attempt to improve the living conditions in the city, ecologists and environmental scientists are proposing new methods to filter the air en masse. Read about some of the methods here.

Iwan Baan: Going Up

While you might not recognize him, you know his work; much of today’s most famous buildings are being archived through the lens of Iwan Baan. As the go-to photographer for many of the world’s leading architects, Baan is constantly on the move and exploring new places. And, just as he describes in the NOWNESS video above, he has found that the best way to understand a new city is to “go up” and view it from above.

London Launches Call for Architects to Design Second Pedestrian Bridge

Nine Elms on the South Bank skyline, looking west. Image © St James’ Group

The London Borough of Wandsworth has launched an international call for architects and engineers interested in envisioning what could be the second pedestrian bridge to rise near the Battersea Power Station development. The two-stage ideas competition, whose announcement comes shortly after the recent approval of Thomas Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge, believes that the bridge could potentially become “one of the most expressive and visible landmarks in London.”

Though the competition cannot guarantee that the winning design will be built, partial funding has already been budgeted for the bridge’s future construction and it is hoped that the winning design can be used to attract further interest and funding. Continue reading to learn more.

TED Talk: How Painting Can Transform Communities / Haas&Hahn

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First inspired with a grand vision to transform Rio de Janeiro’s most notorious slum into a community united by color, artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn of Haas&Hahn have found an ingenious and stunning way to empower some of the world’s most impoverished communities through art.

Most of you by now have heard of their initiative, Favela Painting. Using the same improvised logic of growth as the slums themselves, Favela Painting has become a community-driven artistic intervention that has transformed slums and neglected neighborhoods, from Haiti to , into prideful works of art. And, just as Haas&Hahn describe in their TED Talk above, these transformations are impossible without the support of the community. Therefore at the start of each project, the two artists host a neighborhood barbecue, as they have learned that food is the best (and quickest) way to any community’s heart. Watch the TED Talk above to learn just how Haas&Hahn made the seemingly impossible, possible.