Posts tagged "built environment"
“Americans Want More City Planning
Tyler Falk. June 14, 2012
What’s most important to economic development in your community? Better transit, thriving local businesses, more affordable housing?
Community plans are a key component in bringing those ideas to life. According to a new poll from the American Planning Association, Americans agree. Two-thirds of the 1,300 Americans surveyed said that their community needs both planning and market forces to improve its economic situation.
When asked if a community plan - defined as a “process that seeks to engage all members of a community to create more prosperous, convenient, equitable, healthy and attractive places for present and future generations” - would benefit the community, 79 percent of respondents agreed. And that’s across a broad political spectrum with 88 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of Republicans, and 81 percent of independents in agreement.
Respondents were also asked to rank the top five factors that make up an “ideal community.” The results:
Locally owned businesses nearby
Being able to stay in the same neighborhood while aging
Availability of sidewalks
Energy-efficient homes
Availability of transit
When asked to compare life for residents in their communities to five years earlier, an overwhelming number of respondents (84 percent) said that life was worse (49 percent) or the same (35 percent). Only 11 percent felt that living in their community was better than it was five years ago.
It’s worth noting that there’s a significant gap in this statistic depending on where people live. In urban areas, 40 percent of residents said their community is getting worse, while the percentage gradually increased in suburbs (45 percent), rural areas (58 percent), and small towns (65 percent).
"Planners are at the forefront of building communities that foster economic growth and create jobs. We’re working to add value to communities around the country, and this poll confirms that our expertise is aligned with the priorities of most Americans," APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer wrote in a statement." 
Via: The Atlantic Cities
Graphic: Stephen Ravenscraft

Americans Want More City Planning

Tyler Falk. June 14, 2012

What’s most important to economic development in your community? Better transit, thriving local businesses, more affordable housing?

Community plans are a key component in bringing those ideas to life. According to a new poll from the American Planning Association, Americans agree. Two-thirds of the 1,300 Americans surveyed said that their community needs both planning and market forces to improve its economic situation.

When asked if a community plan - defined as a “process that seeks to engage all members of a community to create more prosperous, convenient, equitable, healthy and attractive places for present and future generations” - would benefit the community, 79 percent of respondents agreed. And that’s across a broad political spectrum with 88 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of Republicans, and 81 percent of independents in agreement.

Respondents were also asked to rank the top five factors that make up an “ideal community.” The results:

Locally owned businesses nearby

Being able to stay in the same neighborhood while aging

Availability of sidewalks

Energy-efficient homes

Availability of transit

When asked to compare life for residents in their communities to five years earlier, an overwhelming number of respondents (84 percent) said that life was worse (49 percent) or the same (35 percent). Only 11 percent felt that living in their community was better than it was five years ago.

It’s worth noting that there’s a significant gap in this statistic depending on where people live. In urban areas, 40 percent of residents said their community is getting worse, while the percentage gradually increased in suburbs (45 percent), rural areas (58 percent), and small towns (65 percent).

"Planners are at the forefront of building communities that foster economic growth and create jobs. We’re working to add value to communities around the country, and this poll confirms that our expertise is aligned with the priorities of most Americans," APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer wrote in a statement." 

Via: The Atlantic Cities

Graphic: Stephen Ravenscraft

“How Urban Design Affects Ethnic or Religious Tensions
Building a new, improved pedestrian bridge between a Catholic neighborhood and a Protestant one in Belfast, Northern Ireland, must have seemed like a good idea back in 2007. But the designers were from out of town, with no connection to the community. The bridge was configured without consulting nearby residents. High elevations at both ends provided a perfect vantage point for troublemakers. The bridge quickly became a flashpoint for sectarian violence.
"There was a complete ignorance of the local situation," says Dr. Ralf Brand of the University of Manchester. "It allowed youth to use the bridgeheads as launching pads for throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. They opened the bridge, and rioting ensued."
Brand has been doing research into the ways the urban landscape can escalate social polarization and radicalization, or alternatively, work to bring divided communities together peacefully. With his colleague Dr. Sara Fregonese, he conducted fieldwork in four cities with histories of religious or political violence: Belfast, Beirut, Berlin, and Amsterdam.
What they documented, after hundreds of interviews and weeks of observation, is that urban design can raise tensions in cities where ethnic or religious conflicts are endemic. At the same time, design that is sensitive to local concerns and conditions can have a healing effect.
Sometimes cities build barriers with the express purpose of separating groups in conflict. In the case of Belfast, dozens of “peace walls” still separate Catholic and Protestant communities. They have been there, some of them, for more than 40 years. But such physical divisions can sometimes reinforce social divisions, entrenching a sense of separation and “otherness.”
Via: The Atlantic Cities
Photo: Flickr/Frans Schouwenburg

How Urban Design Affects Ethnic or Religious Tensions

Building a new, improved pedestrian bridge between a Catholic neighborhood and a Protestant one in Belfast, Northern Ireland, must have seemed like a good idea back in 2007. But the designers were from out of town, with no connection to the community. The bridge was configured without consulting nearby residents. High elevations at both ends provided a perfect vantage point for troublemakers. The bridge quickly became a flashpoint for sectarian violence.

"There was a complete ignorance of the local situation," says Dr. Ralf Brand of the University of Manchester. "It allowed youth to use the bridgeheads as launching pads for throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. They opened the bridge, and rioting ensued."

Brand has been doing research into the ways the urban landscape can escalate social polarization and radicalization, or alternatively, work to bring divided communities together peacefully. With his colleague Dr. Sara Fregonese, he conducted fieldwork in four cities with histories of religious or political violence: Belfast, Beirut, Berlin, and Amsterdam.

What they documented, after hundreds of interviews and weeks of observation, is that urban design can raise tensions in cities where ethnic or religious conflicts are endemic. At the same time, design that is sensitive to local concerns and conditions can have a healing effect.

Sometimes cities build barriers with the express purpose of separating groups in conflict. In the case of Belfast, dozens of “peace walls” still separate Catholic and Protestant communities. They have been there, some of them, for more than 40 years. But such physical divisions can sometimes reinforce social divisions, entrenching a sense of separation and “otherness.”

Via: The Atlantic Cities

Photo: Flickr/Frans Schouwenburg

“Greening an Entire Block Instead of Just One Building
Emily Badger. April 16, 2012
"Single- and multi-family residences are pretty well covered on the energy retrofit market. Plenty of groups have lined up to help them: utilities offering rebates, local governments pledging tax breaks. Remember Barack Obama’s federal “cash for caulkers” program? All of these incentives exist to help homeowners swallow the up-front cost of new insulation, or smarter thermostats, against the promise of lower utility bills down the line.
If you have tons of square footage under a single owner, maybe an older building with lots of inefficiencies to exploit, it’s pretty easy to pencil out the math, to see how a building can recoup in energy savings what it costs to invest in a deep retrofit.
But then there is a gaping hole in the middle of the retrofit market. An estimated 95 percent of commercial building owners in the U.S. own small to mid-size properties, buildings of no more than 50,000-100,000 square feet, perhaps with a shop on the ground floor and a handful of offices or rental apartments above. These buildings take up 45 percent of all the commercial square footage in the country, and they consume an equally large share of America’s annual commercial energy use.
There’s never been a great financial model to entice these properties to become more energy-efficient. Why is that? Riley laughs: “Because it’s hard as hell.” He’s partly laughing at himself, because Living City Block has been trying to solve this problem, and he’s aware that the task sounds almost sadistic.
Living City Block’s basic concept is simple. Small buildings rarely have the resources to do a serious retrofit. For most of them, the idea is cost-prohibitive. But what if you combined a small building with 10 more like it? If all of those building owners got together to order high-efficiency water heaters in bulk, or to collectively replace one-thousand windows, could they achieve the kind of economies of scale that the Empire State Building gets?
This sounds feasible, and Riley is sure the idea will work. But he’s talking about creating a kind of building owners’ association that has never been modeled before, one in which neighbors who otherwise have very little in common might make common decisions about pooling their trash pick-up, paying their utility bills, and renovating their properties.
If you’ve ever thrown in your lot with a condo association, you can begin to imagine the logistical and legal challenges of scaling up something like this to the neighborhood level and then convincing banks to finance the joint projects of all of these random people.
“The legal framework, the governance structures and the financing are the biggest three [challenges],” Riley says. “Everything else is just stuff.”
Living City Block is testing this idea on two blocks of the Lower Downtown neighborhood of Denver, with a second site in Brooklyn. The Denver location includes 17 buildings, 16 of them historic, spanning 800,000 square feet of space and 40 different building owners. These two blocks contain low-income housing, high market-rate rental housing, condos, commercial offices that are both owned and rented, florists, clothing stores, and restaurants. In the first phase of the project, Living City Block will focus on eight adjacent buildings with four owners. The goal is to get a 50 percent improvement in energy efficiency in the first two years.
Living City Block will act as a kind of aggregator of all of these buildings, and the owners won’t themselves have to pay for any of the retrofits. They’ll instead turn over their utilities to Living City Block, which will acquire the financing, pay for and coordinate all the work. If a building owner, for instance, generally pays about $100 a month to the electric company, he may now be locked in to paying $90 instead to Living City Block. After all the windows are replaced and the new water-heaters installed, maybe the real utility bill falls to $50 a month. Living City Block will use that $40-a-month difference to pay down the loan.
Sounds like a pretty sweet deal for the building owners; they’re guaranteed cheaper utilities, and they don’t have to foot the up-front retrofit to make that possible. But, of course, they must give up something in exchange – some control over their properties.”
At the other end of the built environment exist the Pentagons and the Empire State Buildings of the world, the really big commercial towers and sprawling office complexes. They’ve got things pretty well covered, too.
“Those larger single-owner entities are pretty much a slam dunk,” says Chad Riley, the director of finance and strategy for a Denver-based nonprofit called Living City Block. “You can figure that out relatively quickly and easily.”
Via: The Atlantic Cities
Image: Living City Block

Greening an Entire Block Instead of Just One Building


Emily Badger. April 16, 2012

"Single- and multi-family residences are pretty well covered on the energy retrofit market. Plenty of groups have lined up to help them: utilities offering rebates, local governments pledging tax breaks. Remember Barack Obama’s federal “cash for caulkers” program? All of these incentives exist to help homeowners swallow the up-front cost of new insulation, or smarter thermostats, against the promise of lower utility bills down the line.

If you have tons of square footage under a single owner, maybe an older building with lots of inefficiencies to exploit, it’s pretty easy to pencil out the math, to see how a building can recoup in energy savings what it costs to invest in a deep retrofit.

But then there is a gaping hole in the middle of the retrofit market. An estimated 95 percent of commercial building owners in the U.S. own small to mid-size properties, buildings of no more than 50,000-100,000 square feet, perhaps with a shop on the ground floor and a handful of offices or rental apartments above. These buildings take up 45 percent of all the commercial square footage in the country, and they consume an equally large share of America’s annual commercial energy use.

There’s never been a great financial model to entice these properties to become more energy-efficient. Why is that? Riley laughs: “Because it’s hard as hell.” He’s partly laughing at himself, because Living City Block has been trying to solve this problem, and he’s aware that the task sounds almost sadistic.

Living City Block’s basic concept is simple. Small buildings rarely have the resources to do a serious retrofit. For most of them, the idea is cost-prohibitive. But what if you combined a small building with 10 more like it? If all of those building owners got together to order high-efficiency water heaters in bulk, or to collectively replace one-thousand windows, could they achieve the kind of economies of scale that the Empire State Building gets?

This sounds feasible, and Riley is sure the idea will work. But he’s talking about creating a kind of building owners’ association that has never been modeled before, one in which neighbors who otherwise have very little in common might make common decisions about pooling their trash pick-up, paying their utility bills, and renovating their properties.

If you’ve ever thrown in your lot with a condo association, you can begin to imagine the logistical and legal challenges of scaling up something like this to the neighborhood level and then convincing banks to finance the joint projects of all of these random people.

“The legal framework, the governance structures and the financing are the biggest three [challenges],” Riley says. “Everything else is just stuff.”

Living City Block is testing this idea on two blocks of the Lower Downtown neighborhood of Denver, with a second site in Brooklyn. The Denver location includes 17 buildings, 16 of them historic, spanning 800,000 square feet of space and 40 different building owners. These two blocks contain low-income housing, high market-rate rental housing, condos, commercial offices that are both owned and rented, florists, clothing stores, and restaurants. In the first phase of the project, Living City Block will focus on eight adjacent buildings with four owners. The goal is to get a 50 percent improvement in energy efficiency in the first two years.

Living City Block will act as a kind of aggregator of all of these buildings, and the owners won’t themselves have to pay for any of the retrofits. They’ll instead turn over their utilities to Living City Block, which will acquire the financing, pay for and coordinate all the work. If a building owner, for instance, generally pays about $100 a month to the electric company, he may now be locked in to paying $90 instead to Living City Block. After all the windows are replaced and the new water-heaters installed, maybe the real utility bill falls to $50 a month. Living City Block will use that $40-a-month difference to pay down the loan.

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal for the building owners; they’re guaranteed cheaper utilities, and they don’t have to foot the up-front retrofit to make that possible. But, of course, they must give up something in exchange – some control over their properties.”

At the other end of the built environment exist the Pentagons and the Empire State Buildings of the world, the really big commercial towers and sprawling office complexes. They’ve got things pretty well covered, too.

“Those larger single-owner entities are pretty much a slam dunk,” says Chad Riley, the director of finance and strategy for a Denver-based nonprofit called Living City Block. “You can figure that out relatively quickly and easily.”

Via: The Atlantic Cities

Image: Living City Block


“Shoo! Teenagers, Shoo!
As you come up the escalator in the Gallery Place / Chinatown Metro in Washington, D.C., you are serenaded by loudspeakers playing Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven. But why? It turns out that certain sounds really annoy teenagers and cities are now using them to keep young people out of public places. As an effort to control crime or reduce vandalism, though, the use of high frequency noises, classical music, or nature sounds raise questions about whether cities are in fact serving their younger citizens well.
In Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian Museum first had the idea of blasting classical music from outdoor speakers at night. The city then ran with it and began offering a selection of classical hits at the busy Gallery Place / Chinatown Metro station, where teenagers had been congregating and robberies were occuring.
The new classical soundtracks replaced a “mosquito” device, which emitted a “shrill noise at 18 KHz, a high frequency that only young people can hear.” According to Greater Greater Washington, the devices, which were put in place by a local development company, were “wrong” and probably “illegal.” The city, responding to pressure by local community and youth groups, eventually forced the developer to stop using it. The local Web site said it was unfair anyone for under 25, especially those not out to cause trouble, to face sounds as obnoxious as a chalkboard being scratched. “Toddlers, teenagers, and young adults waiting for the bus or emerging from the Metro” had to endure “a shrill screech purposely aimed at annoying them and driving them away.” 
The bigger issue for them may be a lack of accessible public spaces for teenagers in cities. Greater Greater Washington bemoans that teenagers have been pushed out of all public areas. “Before the age of suburban development and private shopping mall, cities always included grand public spaces for relaxation and socializing. Sometimes these spaces were formal, grassy parks and sometimes these places were paved plazas like the piazzas in Italy. Unlike private shopping malls, which serve as the de facto gathering places in most suburbs, public streets, squares, and parks in cities are by their virtue open to the public.” Indeed, part of Chinatown’s charm as a public place may be that it’s filled with young people out on the town. Instead of driving teens away, they argue that curfew times could be made earlier, or police patrols can be beefed up to deal with kids committing crimes.
Communities, developers, and institutions seem to be using sounds to keep trouble teens away because they can’t afford the cops or security guards they need. In a recent example, a regional transit system in Portland, Oregon, has been adding opera to the mix at light-rail stations, bringing down loitering in the process. The Huffington Post writes: “At one station, an aria from Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ serenaded commuters waiting to board. ‘There’s no one that just hangs around,’ said Scott Nielsen, who has met the train at the stop for 18 months. Before the music ‘they wouldn’t get on the train, that’s how you’d know they were [loitering].’” For Lt. John Scruggs, a local policeman who created the program, it’s a success: he points to lower crime levels and a sense of “feeling safer” on the platforms.
However, the long-term effectiveness of these soundtracks may be in doubt.The Huffington Post queried Denis Crispo, Portland’s assistant city commissioner, who argued that “as a crime reduction strategy, it may work for a short period of time, but the criminals always adapt to police strategies. It really doesn’t have a lasting effect.” Vandals particularly annoyed by the music are also just ripping out the speakers. “

Via: The Dirt/ASLA

Shoo! Teenagers, Shoo!

As you come up the escalator in the Gallery Place / Chinatown Metro in Washington, D.C., you are serenaded by loudspeakers playing Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven. But why? It turns out that certain sounds really annoy teenagers and cities are now using them to keep young people out of public places. As an effort to control crime or reduce vandalism, though, the use of high frequency noises, classical music, or nature sounds raise questions about whether cities are in fact serving their younger citizens well.

In Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian Museum first had the idea of blasting classical music from outdoor speakers at night. The city then ran with it and began offering a selection of classical hits at the busy Gallery Place / Chinatown Metro station, where teenagers had been congregating and robberies were occuring.

The new classical soundtracks replaced a “mosquito” device, which emitted a “shrill noise at 18 KHz, a high frequency that only young people can hear.” According to Greater Greater Washington, the devices, which were put in place by a local development company, were “wrong” and probably “illegal.” The city, responding to pressure by local community and youth groups, eventually forced the developer to stop using it. The local Web site said it was unfair anyone for under 25, especially those not out to cause trouble, to face sounds as obnoxious as a chalkboard being scratched. “Toddlers, teenagers, and young adults waiting for the bus or emerging from the Metro” had to endure “a shrill screech purposely aimed at annoying them and driving them away.” 

The bigger issue for them may be a lack of accessible public spaces for teenagers in cities. Greater Greater Washington bemoans that teenagers have been pushed out of all public areas. “Before the age of suburban development and private shopping mall, cities always included grand public spaces for relaxation and socializing. Sometimes these spaces were formal, grassy parks and sometimes these places were paved plazas like the piazzas in Italy. Unlike private shopping malls, which serve as the de facto gathering places in most suburbs, public streets, squares, and parks in cities are by their virtue open to the public.” Indeed, part of Chinatown’s charm as a public place may be that it’s filled with young people out on the town. Instead of driving teens away, they argue that curfew times could be made earlier, or police patrols can be beefed up to deal with kids committing crimes.

Communities, developers, and institutions seem to be using sounds to keep trouble teens away because they can’t afford the cops or security guards they need. In a recent example, a regional transit system in Portland, Oregon, has been adding opera to the mix at light-rail stations, bringing down loitering in the process. The Huffington Post writes: “At one station, an aria from Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ serenaded commuters waiting to board. ‘There’s no one that just hangs around,’ said Scott Nielsen, who has met the train at the stop for 18 months. Before the music ‘they wouldn’t get on the train, that’s how you’d know they were [loitering].’” For Lt. John Scruggs, a local policeman who created the program, it’s a success: he points to lower crime levels and a sense of “feeling safer” on the platforms.

However, the long-term effectiveness of these soundtracks may be in doubt.The Huffington Post queried Denis Crispo, Portland’s assistant city commissioner, who argued that “as a crime reduction strategy, it may work for a short period of time, but the criminals always adapt to police strategies. It really doesn’t have a lasting effect.” Vandals particularly annoyed by the music are also just ripping out the speakers. “

Via: The Dirt/ASLA

Architectural + Urban Research

Mass Urban is a multidisciplinary design-research initiative concerned with contemporary cities and urbanism. Mass Urban was co-founded in April 2011 by David Lee and Cliff Lau.

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