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).

So where is my rocket car,then?

I remember reading my uncle’s popular science magazines in the 1960s when I lived in North Dakota and every year there would be a long look forward to the future, always optimistic and full of technology breakthroughs just around the corner. A look back at the November 1968 issue of Mechanix Illustrated, courtesy of the Modern Mechanix blog, gave me a mix of “well, that happened” and “we’re still waiting” moments.

IT’S 8 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2008, and you are headed for a business appointment 300 mi. away. You slide into your sleek, two-passenger air-cushion car, press a sequence of buttons and the national traffic computer notes your destination, figures out the current traffic situation and signals your car to slide out of the garage. Hands free, you sit back and begin to read the morning paper—which is flashed on a flat TV screen over the car’s dashboard. Tapping a button changes the page.

Well, the predictions about sat nav & computers in the article have been met, with the internet predicted and the wide use of electronic money, for example. A good read, as is the Paleo Future blog, now we need someone to write an article about 40 years from now, I bet it won’t be so optimistic.

Is it April already?

New Gehry mansion unveiled in LA.

I believed it for about three seconds.

Thanks to Jason Calacanis for the link – I knew Twitter would give me some material eventually…

Seaside Shuffle

Just back from a few days at MIPIM, the property conference in Cannes. This year attended by a record number of 28,000 delegates, the first question I have been asked since getting back – “is the sub prime financial woes having an impact on the developers in Europe?” (actually usually asked about the consumption of champagne and size of the yachts, but it breaks down to the same thing).

CNBC didnt find any hard evidence and neither did I , although there was just a hint of caution. Certainly there were a lot of developers who wanted to talk to transport planners, so that justified my trip to somewhere sunny in March …

And just in case someone tells you MIPIM is all about the parties congrats to the 140 cyclists who completed the 1500 km Cycle to Cannes event for charity this year.

Brussels by bike

No, we used Eurostar to get there but a Saturday morning tour of the city’s cycle routes convinced me we still have a long way to go in the UK to match best pracice. We cycled through parks, the ring road and side streets, then on contra flow “on street” and “on pavement” routes (from the European Parliament to the centre) and everywhere drivers gave way to clearly inexperienced English cyclists.

We got our bikes from Provelo and were led by a really knowledgeable local guide. At one stage we crossed the equivalent of Marble Arch, the Arc de Triomphe and any junction in Rome combined, cutting acoss buses, cars, mopeds and trams with no more stress than cycling along the Ridgeway (actually probably not a good example).

BTW Eurostar from the new St. Pancras (ask me sometime about PBA’s role in making it work) was supremely efficient, departing and arriving on time there and back. The Circle Line and First Great Western on the way home as always failed to deliver on any element of customer satisfaction. Oh well…

Corporate voices

Theres a bit of an internal (and external) debate about the value of “corporate blogs”.  To be honest if its just bland press releases no one will ever read it twice.  Hopefully this blog offers to links to interesting stories, random thoughts, news etc.

There’s very few senior people blogging in our sector (land development, transport) but one I have followed is the New Swindon Company blog, written by Peter James, Chief Executive.  All the rules are followed reasonably frequent updates, personal, honest about successes and disappointments. Other honourable mentions on the development and transport blogging front include…

Disclosure: We are working for AMEC on one of the development sites in Swindon

low cost cars – the global challenge

I found this interesting Business Week article on the development of really cheap cars by chance, but it raises some fundamental questions, albeit from an American perspective:

Link

Some further thoughts:

  • the comparison with no frill airlines and cheap clothes retailers (H&M, etc) is right in this context – if the western consumers can go low cost the emerging markets can start at low cost and the global market for very cheap products increases
  • Imagine a $2,500 (£1,250) car’s impact on developing countries traffic levels, when India and China’s emerging middle and upper working class can join in (or as the article suggests we are already seeing a $7,000 car impacting on poorer populations in eastern Europe and increasingly on the west…like the Dacia/Renaut Logan)
  • You can hear the complaint from the emerging nations – “why shouldn’t we have personal individual mobility like you have had for the last 100 years, to cover for your guilt about environmental damage and climate change” (Thanks, Gottfried Daimler, btw)
  • From my personal perspective I muse – what does this do to the motorcycle and scooter market – will Japanese, Korean, even the Chinese and Indian manufacturers who are currently growing, go the way of Triumph, BSA, Ariel – all world dominating businesses when a motorcycle was the first step on the mobility ladder. Better go for plan b, Honda… and dont even start to think about what China’s bicycle manufacturers will turn to next (the usual reference point in discussions about developing countries and cars)
  • I recall a similar article in Car magazine some 15 years ago and its predictions certainly came true – your European car is likely to be assembled anywhere labour is cheap (uh…Derby, Sunderland, Swindon? OK, but point taken) out of bits from Brazil, Indonesia and for all I know Chad, and finally discounted to get the metal out of the the fields near the ports and onto your drive
  • can a developing world cheap car achieve the same role in society again as the original VW, Fiat Cinquecento, Citroen 2CV or even Mini – and will these new ugly boxes on wheels become anti-fashion statements – they may become the first teenage car of choice for cash strapped parents, but I can’t see the Chery, Geely, Great Wall Motor, Nanjing, Hafei, Zhongxing, or Brilliance China (all rising Chinese brands) capturing the Fiesta, Saxo or Corsa market.

Camera fines not going back to the Treasury – shock!

From the cash generated from fines on bus lane enforcement cameras in Reading, up to £10,000 per month is going to be made available for new Readibus services. Good for once to see the linkages working, where transport money stays in transport.

The enforcement cameras came into play in September last year and apart from initial press excitement seem to be doing their job. Of course the fines income will probably reduce over time as people learn that they will get nicked, but as it helps the least mobile in the town its almost a charity – maybe I should run through the bus lanes a few times to aid this good cause!

Actually as a motorcyclist Reading has always been enlightened about powered two wheelers (as we now have to call them) using bus lanes and government is coming around to less antagonistic view – see the latest DfT guidance.

Disclosure: PBA works for Reading Borough Council

Private parking (again)

Logo

Another website offering private parking spaces , called Peasy.com? The key difference from the site I posted about before, Parkatmyhouse, is the use of google maps – hardly a mashup but makes it user friendly. Also if you don’t like the price you can click on the negotiate button – to establish the true economic value of parking spaces (hmm, a possible resource for transport planners). 

Not many spaces offered yet, this is either a dotboom fad or just possibly a niche business – big companies will soon exploit it if critical mass is reached (Ebaypark.com, anyone?).

London rail growth

An interesting technical paper from David Levinson on whether population density affects the growth of the network (it isnt the only factor, you will not be surprised to hear), but the best bit is the growth movie – 40mb so make sure you have the bandwidth!

Streetscape

ken-high-st1.jpg

Just read for the first time the Wired 2004 article on the “less is more” approach to traffic management, as interpreted for the US audience. The Dutch, as always, credited with innovation in this area.

Like a lot of transport people I went to look at the Kensington High Street scheme (above) when the Borough dramatically changed the streetscape and also removed a significant % of the street furniture. Not being an engineer I liked what I saw of the £5m project but could see how it would upset the highway standards based approach.  A recent LTT article reminded me to go back and see what it is like now, after a few years to bed in.  

Pedestrian behaviour was interesting, with people who I presumed to be visitors still not certain where their territory starts and the car rules. (I would have though the Italian tourists would have felt at home, having sampled their “freeform” approach to traffic management.)

Since 2003 a number of other UK cities have looked at similar treatments, although it has to be recognised it isn’t going to be deliverable everywhere. CABE and Transport  2000 are promoting such schemes to “reclaim main roads from traffic”, but plenty of engineers rightly question the safety impacts of removing all guardrails, for example. Others where I work can say whether or not I am taking a too simplistic view.

Lateral thinking on parking

From Boing Boing

Edward de Bono was asked by the mayor of a small town in Australia to consult on the town’s parking problem. The mayor wanted to know how to effectively use parking meters. TK told the mayor that the problem was not about parking meters and how to use them, it was about people parking their cars all day on the street. “Don’t use parking meters,” he told the mayor. “Tell people they can park as long as they want for free, provided they keep their headlights on while the car is parked.”

Parking 2.0

Have you seen Parkatmyhouse ? Its a type of market product that couldn’t work without the internet –  no one really tried it with classified ads in local papers, for example. So as a transport planner what should be my reaction?

Will it generate trips? Is it adding significantly to parking supply? What about its impact on parking costs? Tax issues? Planning law?

I will watch and see, the number of places where it will work are pretty limited. A search on Oxford identified 5 locations within walking distance of the centre, at £5 per day, £25 – £30 per week – cheaper than the Westgate MSCP I suppose. One helpfully speaks of the number of buses to the city, surely you could park for free further out, use the P&R or even get the bus from home?