Tag Archives: Urban

Mass Localism?

Last month Nesta published its report  “Mass Localism”, which builds on an emerging theme in political and activist circles. Last year John Denham led the charge with “Making Local the Answer” lecture at the RSA, ironically saying after 10 years plus of centralisation “local” is the big idea…

The Nesta report is OK, wishful thinking in places and idealistic perhaps but the application of community led approaches to achieve sustainability goals (“The Big Green Challenge”) may have some lessons for a cash strapped public sector who need to allocate limited funds (but perhaps lets not call it a “challenge” or competition).  It also suggests that the local angle can be delivered in poorer communities as well as the more affluent, where active village leaders are thought to be much easier to find.

Expect to hear a lot of buzzwords like localism and communities over the next four weeks of electioneering, but probably less and less after one of the parties actually gets elected.  The Conservatives are speaking about “big society” instead of “big state” and want to recruit 5,000 “community organisers”, with a new role for government ( “no role for government”  is not what David Cameron is telling the Guardian readership, who unsurprisingly don’t appear to believe him).

But I always thought that centralising and controlling is the default political mode (just see episode 16, “The Challenge” of YesMinister  for a masterful exposition of the ground rules by Sir Humphrey). For my part I am looking to see what the new neighbourhood business model will be when we want to deliver HS2 – perhaps 263 separate sections of track autonomously funded, built and managed by enthusiasts?

“Theatrical machine” – architecture/engineering mashup

Worth watching for the last two minutes of speeded up transformation of the space. Ingenious…

The architects views on the process also struck a chord, as it’s not too different from any of our projects – client buy in, controlling costs, no surprises, use established technology, etc.

Again its a Dallas architecture/planning innovation, see my earlier post on Re:Vision – I can’t remember the place being that exciting when I lived there in the mid 60s.

Re:Vision

I have just returned from a few days in Little Rock and since I lived there many years ago the city centre, like many US cities, is starting to come back from the loss of confidence in urban living in the 70’s. However apart from the Clinton Library and some regen of the riverside areas (usual makeover aimed at tourists) it appears to me that there is no radical new architecture or cohesive planning being applied – locals please correct me if I have missed something?

There is a US model to follow – Dallas.

With its recent urban regeneration completions under the generic Urban Re:Vision title – the latest is scheme is a design competition for urban living for otherwise uninspiring one city block (see above) – Re:Vision – this gives rise for optimism about urban planning in US cities away from the usual suspects – Portland, etc. As the Urban Vision people say:

“What if one block in Texas became the sustainable model for the world?” 

(of course it would be more relevant if one block in Delhi became the sustainable model for the world, but we get the point…)

Previous competitions include designs for transport, energy, construction. One of those competitions, Re:Route, considered urban transport with a good mix of deliverable schemes and fanciful architects ideas (says the cynical transport planner).

Driving to a better place

I read about Shai Agassi’s plans for electric cars in Wired last summer and while it is high profile, with big name partners including Nissan Renault, I just wondered whether it was another software millionaire playing with cars (see Tesla as exhibit A). His plans are set out in more detail at betterplace.com , including a high minded vision:

  • A world living free from oil.
  • A planet healing and thriving.
  • And our environment and economy brought back into balance with each other.

The video of his speech is found on TED and it is worth watching for the undoubted enthusiasm – oil free nations such as Israel and Denmark by 2020 is the dream – I am still just a bit cynical (surprise). Key aims are affordable and convenient, no new science, using existing battery tech. Charging points everywhere so you can always charge and easy battery swaps, like gas stations.  All good in theory…

What is interesting is the willingness to go with an open source, but standards based infrastructure approach. A lot of the solutions being supported by programmes such as the UK’s Technology Strategy Board  Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Project will play into the hands of monopoly suppliers.

BTW Wired are launching a new UK print version this month – how brave is that? I remember the short lived Wired UK from 1995, but then I was the only subscriber 🙂

19.20.21

New video  for an old project from Jon Kamen (Radical Media) exploring urbanisation and the rise of megacities, on Fora TV.

192021

The 19.20.21  project draws attention to the way such cities are growing and the problems of mass urbanisation, particularly in developing nations. How do we live in cities and how does that change over time?

“Finding the future first” means sharing data and information, so that better decisions are made, from infrastructure to health to culture.  The benefits of vertical living to save space, energy efficient mass transit systems are cited. 

The section on the largest cities at 1000, 1500,1900, 1950 and 2005 are as expected – the global cities are now mainly in Asia – as Kamen suggests urbanisation driven by water supply and location – well, yes and a few other factors .

Ultimately this is a promotional video for a potentially  interesting information project, so dependent on the audience you probably know this stuff already (or couldn’t care less). The site is OK, although my website designer pals would have plenty to beef about, just need to come back in 12 months time and see if its objectives have been met. As the idea has been kicking around since 2007 I perhaps won’t hold my breath waiting.

Nieuw architecten

Not sure about you, but I am less and less interested in the showy new, nouveu riche, architecture of Dubai and China. With the northern European architects I constantly find much more to enjoy, where sensitivity to place and context is job 1, but not reduced to neo classical kitsch or Quinlan Terry faux Nash terraces (see Richmond Riverside) – one good example is the work of NL Architects.

By 2014 Groningen will have a striking new building on one side of the Grote Markt that I will want to visit, with NL winning the design competition. The Groninger Forum will be (dread phrase) a “cultural centre”, but perhaps like the Pompidou Centre will go from alien to much loved in as little as 20 years…

On the NL website the flythroughs and walkthroughs are particularly good, giving a sense of how the building will work.

Eco transport – before the crash

Ah, yes, time for the reviews of the year, and in our specialist area how does transport – general, green, any mode – fare in the analysis, especially in the economic context where eco innovation is:

  1. Our saviour, or
  2. Too expensive

The US transport top ten trends from Inhabitat includes the death of the SUV, green cars saving the industry, high performance sports cars saving the planet , (pedal) bikes are cool, etc. The view from over there suggests some naivety about what we achieve in Europe, however. Conclusions for 09: more mass transit and greener cars – thanks, I could have guessed that. Although for mainstream US of A that may be still too radical.

And imagine my disappointment when the electric  GM Chevrolet Volt concept car of 2007:

became the boring pre production car shown in 2008 (first deliveries in 2010, kids):

I was not the only one to be disappointed

But before I pour self righteous scorn on my brothers across the sea what have we identified as worthy of mention in the UK and Europe? What Car votes a turbo diesel Ford Focus as its green car of 2008 and Toyota for its technology. The Eden Project and the Co-op sponsored the sexy green car show in summer 2008. ..and er, that’s it, apart from a few comments on the “fuel crisis” in the review of the year in mags such as New Scientist.

PS thanks to Oxtran to alerting me to “Traffic Jam”, the review of the last 10 years of sustainable transport  – which ended up on my xmas shopping list (sad but true).