Are Property Developers “Ruining Our Cities”?

Phase 3, Battersea Power Station redevelopment (London). Image Courtesy of Foster + Partners / Gehry Partners

Alongside a number of recent articles that explore the rise of the urban property developer and the subsequent “threat” to the built environment, of The Guardian explores at length how developers are “exploiting planning authorities and ruining our cities.” In discussion with Peter Rees, former Chief Planning Officer for the City of London and responsible for the financial district’s monuments of today, Wainwright discusses the lack of accountability of the vast majority of urban developers. While local councils attempt to secure the next iconic development for their area many planners, authorities and developers are locked in a battle over the built fabric of our cities. Read the article in full here.

What Gentrification Really Is, and How We Can Avoid It

Photo of Noe Valley, a low-density, high-income neighborhood, by Allan Ferguson

is seen as a rising menace in many . The process whereby rich “gentrifiers” move into neighborhoods, driving up property prices and thus driving out those unable to afford those prices, has drawn criticism from activists and planners for years. However, this article by io9 writer Annalee Newitz, first published by io9 as “This is What Gentrification Really Is“, tells us that the issue is not quite the struggle between good and evil that it first appears to be. Gentrification is a process dependent on economy, political climate, and the mercurial nature of urban development itself – and sometimes fighting against it only serves to exacerbate the problem. Find out what we can do in the face of gentrification after the break.

Should China put Design Restrictions on New Developments?

Apartments in Shenzhen. Image © Neville Mars under a CC licence

China may be at a turning point in urban design: a recent article in Australian Financial Review points out that over 50 million apartments in Chinese cities (about 22.5 percent) are unoccupied. This problem springs from the ongoing Chinese construction boom, prompted by developers looking to stimulate urban economic growth as quickly as possible. However, Ma Yansong of MAD Architects believes these empty apartments are a sign that buyers find them unsuited to their needs, and that  should begin to enforce good design principles on these rapidly-constructed complexes. Read the full article here.

Washington D.C. – The Most Walkable City in the US?

Chicago is the fifth most walkable city. Image © Vincent Desjardins via Flickr

new report from Christopher Leinberger and Patrick Lynch at The George Washington University School of Business has unexpectedly named Washington D.C. the most walkable city in the U.S., trumping expected favorites like New York, which ranked second.

Respectively rounding out the top five were Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago. Although a mere 2.8 percent of the population is estimated to walk to work, the report’s authors believe the results are indicative of moving away from automobile dependency and sprawl - an event they consider as significant as Frederick Jackson Turner declaring the “closing of the frontier” in 1893.

Architecture for Humanity Toronto Launches Lecture Series: “Incremental Strategies for Vertical Neighborhoods”

Courtesy of Architecture for Humanity Toronto

According to the most recent national census in Canada, almost half of Toronto residents are immigrants, one-third of whom arrived in the past ten years. To allow the city to adapt to this surging flow of immigrants, Architecture for Humanity Toronto (AFHTO) has called upon students and professionals from various backgrounds to rethink Toronto’s urban fabric – and, in particular, its high-rise developments – by establishing a series of lectures and workshops entitled “Incremental Strategies for Vertical Neighborhoods.”

At the inaugural event a few weeks ago, Filipe Balestra of Urban Nouveau* was invited to speak about his work and contribute to a design charrette inspired by the City of Toronto’s Tower Renewal program. For more on Balestra and the event, keep reading after the break.

The Hudson Yards – New Development, “Smart” Development

’s “Culture Shed” is awaiting approval, but other projects are already underway in the 28 Acre Hudson Yards development. Image Courtesy of and Rockwell Group

The largest private project New York City has seen in over 100 years may also be the smartest. In a recent article on Engadget, Joseph Volpe explores the resilience of high-tech ideas such as clean energy and power during Sandy-style storms. With construction on the platform started, the Culture Shed awaiting approval, and Thomas Heatherwick designing a 75-Million dollar art piece and park – the private project is making incredible headway. But with the technology rapidly evolving, how do investors know the technology won’t become obsolete before its even built?

The Atlanta BeltLine: From Student Thesis to Community Mobilizer

A parade passes through the Eastside Trail of the BeltLine, completed in October 2012. Image © Christopher T. Martin

An abandoned twenty-two mile stretch of derelict railroad and industrial sites used to be a thorn in the Atlanta community’s side. But with one student’s thesis proposal to redevelop these areas into a sustainable network connecting 45 mixed-use neighborhoods, public concern has since turned into excitement. To learn more about the ambitious project, head over to The Atlantic  here.

What Makes a City a City?

The presence of a cathedral meant St David’s in Pembrokeshire had city status with a population of around 2,000. Image Courtesy of Alamy

You probably use the word ‘city’ on a daily basis, but if put on the spot – could you give it a concise definition? Under the rule of Henry VIII, the title of city was given to virtually any settlement in the United Kingdom with a diocesan cathedral. Obviously, times have changed. For Robert Bevan’s thoughts on the title’s past and present meaning, read his article on here.

Ban, Kimmelman, Others Speak at “Cities for Tomorrow”

On April 21st, ArchDaily tweeted about watching keynote speaker Shigeru Ban kick of the Cities for Tomorrow  in New York. In his first appearance since winning the Pritzker Prize, he addressed how we should approach urban planning and development today with architecture critic Michael Kimmelman. To watch more videos – of Ban as well as speakers such as  Vishaan ChakrabatiShaun Donovan, and Janette Sadik-Kahn discussing the future of our cities – click here.

Invasive Aesthetics: A Manifesto for Reviving Architectural Identity in Developing Nations

Dubai. © Daniel Cheong

We have entered an era of ‘modernization’, led by the Western world.  In our times of unprecedented demographic expansion, infrastructural development is racing to meet demand with supply. As architects and designers, we have been pressured to embrace consumerism. has been adopted as a solution to the problem.  Developing countries have equated economic prosperity and success to the adoption of ‘contemporary architecture’ in a bid to demonstrate leadership and innovation. And voila, we have a palette of sleek buildings to meet the population’s needs, as well as to “modernize” our landscape. Surely, mimicking the formula of technologically advanced countries will project us into the public eye.

Well it certainly does, but not necessarily in a positive way. It is creating a global architectural uniformity as designs promoted by Western ‘architectural gurus’ are being replicated around the world. We are neglecting vibrant contextual elements and hence constructing a generic world lacking humane facets of design.  Would it not be a tragedy if , Venice and Barcelona all looked similar? Would we not mourn the vibrancy of Parisian streets around the Eiffel Tower, the romanticism of Venetian waters and the monumental Sagrada Familia that dominates the skies of Barcelona? Do we really want a world that is basically a mirror image of the US?

More after the break…

UN Scientists Identify Sustainable Development Goals to Address the Health of the Environment and Livelihoods

© Flickr user PictureNarrative

“Researchers argue that in the face of increasing pressure on the planet’s ability to support life, adherence to out-dated definitions of sustainable development threaten to reverse progress made in developing countries over past decades.”

In an effort to address the changing priorities of sustainable development, a group of international scientists at the UN identified six goals that achieve a holistic view of the development and nourishment of Earth’s life support systems.  The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) were launched with the intention of addressing problems of environmental as it pertains to poverty eradication, citing that these two problems need to be addressed in unison as they will “increasingly become serious barriers to further human development”, says Professor David Griggs of Monash University (AU) according to the International Council of Scientists.

An Opportunity for Revitalization in Detroit

, ; Courtesy of Flickr User DandeLuca, licensed via Creative Commons

Young entrepreneurs gravitate to places where they can become the founders of a revitalized culture; where land is cheap and available, and innovation is uninhibited by a status quo.  Detroit, Michigan has become one of those places. The media gives us a portrayal of a wasteland, a post apocalyptic landscape of dilapidated homes and infrastructure, but there is plenty opportunity for start-ups to redefine Detroit’s future. That it why young innovators and risk-takers are needed to bring new energy and awaken new markets within the city.  A recent article by Chuck Salter for Fast Company identifies six entrepreneurs who have started businesses in Detroit.  They vary from grassroots campaigns to inform people of opportunities within the city to small scale enterprises that bring retail and infrastructure to the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods.

More after the break.

Video: Bianca Bosker Discusses Architectural Imitation in China

In ’s effort to modernize its cities, it has used architectural mimicry – essentially “copy-cat architecture” as journalist and author Bianca Bosker puts it – to rapidly and substantially “adapt to the market” for urban development.  Watch this video as Bosker describes the atmosphere of imitation that China has  adapted to bring western architectural styles to its housing market. Bianca Bosker is the author of “Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China”, in which she gives a tour of the various towns within major cities that have seen this rapid development.  Cities like Hangzhou has its own imitation of Venice, which includes man-made canals, townhouses, and villas.  Shanghai has its own version of , Eiffel Tower included.  And Beijing has an imitation of the London Bridge.

More after the break.

New York City Preserves Public Housing by Leasing Infill Land

NYCHA, . Courtesy of Flickr User agentvladimir. Licensed via Creative Commons

For the past four decades, as faced financial pressures, high-rise public housing met its decline.   throughout the country demolished public housing that was failing financially and socially, like Chicago’s Cabrini-Green Housing Project whose demolition was completed in 2011, to make way for mixed use developments that encouraged economic and social diversity by way of the HOPE VI Program. This strategy resulted in the uprooting and relocation of former residents who faced uncertainty throughout the process.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) stands out among housing authorities in the United States due to its size – 179,000 units in 2,600 buildings across the city – and the fact that the buildings are relatively well maintained.  NYCHA has avoided resorting to demolitions to deal with its issues, instead resorting to special police services that costs NYCHA a purported $70 million a year.  Over the past decade NYCHA has been underfunded by approximately $750 million causing backlogs in necessary repairs.

To address the mounting costs of public housing, New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg has proposed an infill strategy that would attract developers onto NYCHA land and create a new layer of commercial space and residential units in public housing developments.  The goal over the next five years is to develop methods of preservation for the housing development and promote mixed-use and mixed-income developments to generate income for NYCHA.

More on the plan after the break.

Report Suggests Demolishing Unsustainable Mid-Century Skyscrapers in New York

Courtesy of wikiarquitectura.com

Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial plans to rezone midtown New York, allowing for bigger and bolder , has found an unlikely ally in the form of environmentalists.

Re-zoning midtown would ultimately lead to the demolition of the corporate steel and glass skyscrapers, which preservationists argue are emblematic of the cutting edge modernism that swept 1950′s America. However, landlords contest that – for the most part – they are poorly built copycats of seminal landmarks such as the Seagram and Lever buildings and are not particularly significant or suited for modern needs.

More information after the break..

Should Obama Create U.S. Department of Cities?

City Skyline © David Blaikie

Author Richard Florida of the NY Daily News made an argument in his “Obama, build a lasting urban legacy” article that President Obama should create a new federal department at the cabinet level called the Department of Cities. Although the President has listed many issues that he would like to focus on in his second term, such as immigration, gun control and climate change, an initiative to create a more promising future for American cities could define the President’s term and leave a lasting impression on the country.

The President made efforts in his last term to rethink and revitalize America’s urban centers with the Office of Urban Affairs, created in 2009, but these efforts have gone largely unrewarded. Pair this with the existing Department of Housing and , which is becoming increasingly out of date and irrelevant, and it’s clear that Mr. President needs to rethink his approach. But despite the challenges that the Obama Administration faces, creating a Department of Cities to finally tackle the issues plaguing our most vital urban nuclei could be one of the most important and far-reaching moves he makes.

Read more about the future of our cities!

AWP to announce masterplan for La Défense

© Anna Positano

La Défense, ’ major business district, is about to undergo a transformation with the help of architecture firm AWP. AWP’s plan was presented to government agencies EPADESA and DEFACTO as well as local communities in November 2012, but will be released to the public for the first time in March. The proposed plan not only updates and adds to the current site: it rethinks and reevaluates what already exists.

More on AWP’s master plan for Le Défense after the break.