CITIES is a monthly column that looks at urban design, development and cultural life. Come back often!
MOSCOW: Master plan, Malls and Veggie Farm: Here’s a troika of livability stories on Europe’s largest city (pop. 11.5 million+). Danish architect Jan Gehl has been hired to create a 15-year master plan intended to make Moscow friendlier and more livable, with trams, riverfront parks (104 miles of riverfront!) and some 200 neighborhood squares. So far, so good. The reality is that remaking a city also requires civic engagement. A survey by Simon Anhelt (branding expert) shows that Moscow is ranked 49th of 50 cities for “friendliness.” Muscovites rank it dead last. There isn’t even a word in common Russian parlance for the word “neighborhood.” Read more about what it takes to create “civic culture.”
Check out the Second Moscow Urban Forum (Dec 2012)
What is fueling the mall-ing of Moscow? The city and environs has 82 malls (yes, the indoor kind) including two of the largest in Europe, owned by Ikea Shopping Centers of Russia (a spinoff of the Swedish giant), with some 34 million square feet of floor space. Who needs neighborhood shopping or a city center, when you have a mall, cozy in subzero Moscow weather, organized with street names, indoor skating rink, and a huge grocery store as an anchor tenant? Read more.
Better than Farmville: It’s difficult to find neighborhood grocery stores or “grow your own” patches in the city, but there’s a place to rent a plot and watch your green stuff grow, just outside Moscow. The iOgorod greenhouse complex in the village of Ostrovtsy allows you to rent an actual veggie patch under glass and use a webcam from home to watch the stuff grow –tomatoes, arugula, basil, you name it. Professionals tend the crops, and, according to the Rossiyskaya Gazeta, everything is produced according to strict organic standards. A courier delivers the produce to customers when things are ready for eating. Perfect for well-to-do city families who want to eat natural foods. (The Happy Farmer application appears on the Vkontakte social network). Read the story.
PARIS NOTES: Like a flying carpet, luminous veil or undulating scarf, a shimmering anodized gold roof covers the Louvre’s new glass and steel pavilion — homage to the centuries of Islamic art housed within. The two-level 32,000-square-foot structure “floating” (the roof weighs 150 tons) in the Louvre’s Visconti Courtyard opened in September 2012, with 2500 extraordinary Islamic world treasures from its collections, covering the 7th to 19th centuries. Among the most exceptional installations are 3,000 Ottoman ceramic tiles painstakingly reassembled as an arched wall (sitting in storage since the 1970’s) and the Mamluk Arch, the only example on display worldwide of Mamluk architecture (Egypt, end of 15th century). Designed by the architects Mario Bellini and Rudy Ricciotti, the new galleries quadruple the previous space in the Louvre for Islamic arts. The governments of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Morocco, Kuwait and the Republic of Azerbaijan supported the $125-million project.Watch beautiful construction videos and interviews. Read the full review
A new fund-raising fraternity has been launched by France’s Center for National Monuments, asking everyday workers and residents to contribute small amounts of money for buildings restoration and the acquisition of sought-after art. Despite a national culture budget that is twice as large as Germany, France is “making do” with $3.1 billion overall, and just $11 million for acquisitions. Crowdfunding is being used in several cities to generate funds for local projects. Read full article.
Much more mundane but needed enhancement to Parisian street life: snuffers attached to trash bins so people will stop throwing their cigarettes into streets and gutters. France banned smoking in public spaces four years ago, so people drop their butts wherever they will. It’s another of the environmentally conscious moves by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë that include bus and bike lanes and the Vélib’ bike sharing program. The question remains, will the snuffers work ? Check out full story.
Berlin’s Boars (and Wolves): Numerous city parks and leafy neighborhoods in Berlin are unwitting hosts to wild boars (estimated 3,000 or more) that tear up cemeteries, lawns and flower beds in search of chow. Weighing in full-size at 250-300 pounds, usually shy wild boars are dangerous in traffic, when injured, or threatened during feeding. Some culling has been done, but no real solutions seem to be in sight. Listen to the NPR story
Wolves were largely “extirpated” ( a charming term) in Europe over a century ago, but they are returning, according to Elizabeth Kolbert in an excellent New Yorker piece on “rewilding Europe.” While her superb writing is hidden (behind the New Yorker’s subscriber wall), she notes that “Two [wolf] packs, with about ten wolves each, now live within forty miles of Berlin.” If you have subscriber access, check out Kolbert’s terrific piece in The New Yorker (Dec 24 and 31, 2012).
Amsterdam: “Civic icon-envy” is what New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman rather uncharitably calls the new addition – a white, bathtub shaped design – to the existing Stedelijk Museum, a late 19th century Neo-Renaissance building in striped brick. The point he makes: the Dutch museum that pioneered in modern art and design deserved a modern addition, but not the one it got. The design reverses the museum’s entrance onto the Museum Plaza, which has had several iterations as a place for sun-bathers and even as a highway but no real personality. The addition cost $170 million for 130,000 square feet. His reaction to the Van Gogh Museum wing (“horrific”) suggests it was the result of a Japanese patron forcing the museum’s hand to use its choice of designer. Museums — and their buildings– are among the most powerful attractions shaping cities: Amsterdam is no stranger, with dozens of first-tier museums, to the power of world-class patrimony that is a magnet for tourism and vibrant city life. Kimmelman says: “The truth is, the Bilbao [Spain] effect is largely a myth. Frank Gehry’s museum alone didn’t turn around that city. It capped decades of civic renewal. Flashy, even brilliant buildings rarely rejuvenate neighborhoods or guarantee crowds and cash….” Kimmelman’s review.
* If you want a second opinion, check out Justin Davidson’s review in Architectural Record.
Detroit Soup …to Sewage: Everyone knows the downside of the Detroit story – one-fourth of the population has moved away, 60,000 empty lots, uncountable vacant buildings. If you want the “upside,” read these two revitalization stories. Detroit Soup is a monthly public dinner event, a place for connecting, a down-home fund-raiser that provides micro-funding for entrepreneurs (including youth), and a chance to vote. Each month, dinner – soup, salad and bread for five bucks – is held in a different location, usually a vacant building. At the end of the evening, everyone votes on project proposals and the “kitty” raised from the dinner goes to the winner for a great ideas or a start-up operation. What a great way to build community — and new business. Watch the NBC’s “Making a Difference” segment, and you’ll see Veronika Scott, a young entrepreneur who has been featured in the New York Times. She came up with the design for a coat with hood for the homeless that turns into a sleeping bag. Great job! Detroit Soup web site and NBC News video.
“Silent service” is what the Detroit Sewer Authority aims to provide – you flush it (think of what rhymes with it), and away it goes. Reporter Miles O’Brien of The NewsHour (PBS) donned a waterproof suit and duct tape to rapel into Detroit’s sewer system and check out what lurks below. It turns out Detroit has 3500 miles of sewer lines and the largest wastewater processing system in the US, which can handle up to 700 million gallons daily. The big problem is combined sewage overflow (CSO) which occurs during major storms – storm sewers and sewage lines merge, overflow and pump a lot of untreated sewage into the river. Here’s the good news: Detroit has found ways to capture 94% of the overflow and keep it from reaching the river, thereby meeting Clean Water Act standards. The tools in their kit include green alleys, green roofs and more. Watch the full story and cheer.
Trees and People—a Two-Way Street is a three-year urban forestry research effort in Indianapolis (IN) that will now expand to five other American cities to evaluate tree-planting schemes, assess the survival and growth of urban trees, and how they affect people. The expanded project includes Detroit, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Des Moines (IA).
A half-dozen community tree organizations and the Alliance for Community Trees are partners for the project. The National Urban and Community Forestry Challenge Cost-Share grant (US Forest Service) of $173, 206 was awarded to a collaborative team at Indiana University’s Center for the Study of Institutions, Population and Environmental Change. Among the anticipated outcomes are generating data that can be used to assess urban tree planting in the face of climate change and shaping best practices for volunteer tree planting and environmental stewardship. Read more
Horrified ? Spain’s unemployment situation means lots of people do dumpster diving for metals and recyclables, as well as food. Listen to the NPR story.