This month in Cities: The World Health Organization estimates that by 2030, 6 of every 10 people will live in a city, and by 2050, this proportion will increase to 7 of 10. The trend is leading to major transformations –from the neighborhood level to city-state plans. This month we offer examples in planning, urban design, parks and leisure, from such far-flung destinations as Baltimore, Boston, Denver, Berlin, Singapore and Mumbai.
Baltimore: School as Community Centerpiece: East Baltimore’s tough neighborhoods were once prominent in theTV police procedurals Homicide-Life in the City and The Wire. But a new reality appears to be on the way. Henderson-Hopkins, a brand-new K-8 school just north of Johns Hopkins’ East Baltimore Medical Campus, aims to be much more – a linchpin for the neighborhood surrounding it that includes library, community center, gym and auditorium—plus the benefits of an economic development generator. There’s more in the overall 88-acre, $1.8 billion redevelopment program master planned by Sasaki Associates –– mixed-income housing, retail, a hotel, park and some new science-tech buildings for Johns Hopkins.
At the time it was first master planned, this section of East Baltimore was 70-80% vacant housing, says Chris Shea, who has spent the past half-dozen as head of East Baltimore Development Inc. Disinvestment and decline occurred over a period of decades: People fled to the suburbs, kids grew up and left, jobs at Sparrow Point (steel plant) dried up. There were riots, and there was the crack epidemic. The process to bring back this area took time and input: civic groups, elected officials, the city council and others all agreed, “We have to do something.”
There’s much to like about this school-cum-community asset – not least, it recreates neighborhood fabric with interior streets and courtyards. The school buildings are low-rise. Architect Vince Lee of NYC’s Rogers Partners (a University of Maryland grad) grouped classroom areas by age and grade, each grouping with a commons area or meeting space, tall ceilings (up to 30 feet) and generous natural lighting that comes from tall clerestory windows. Green mavens know that natural lighting enhances learning (research shows that) and is a world-class energy reducer. It’s designed to comply with the Baltimore Green for Schools certification requirements.
Spaces such as the gym, library and auditorium are intentionally designed with exterior-facing entrances to make it easier to use for community activities. The seven-acre site — the school is about 90,000 square feet — has room to grow, with playing fields and open spaces, and a minimum of parking.
Make no mistake – this is a city public school that must meet curricular standards, but with a twist. Its partners include Johns Hopkins University with Morgan State University (historically African-American institution) whose academic divisions in education and the STEM skills are sharing their expertise.
A 30,000-square-foot child care center underwritten by the Weinberg Foundation at a cost of $10 million – for children as young as 6 weeks – gives kids a head start and reliable care for moms and parents who work.
None of this came cheap. It has taken time (about ten years), buying and clearing homes in the neighborhood, asbestos/lead removal, site prep and securing the funding (not the city school district!) from Hopkins and several of Baltimore’s richest foundations (Annie E. Casey Foundation, Weinberg Foundation and Windsong ). Headstart and Medicaid services will bolster government budgets for operations.
There’s more to do in the next half dozen years –an 8-acre park soon under construction, more incentivized workforce housing, and a full-scale grocery. It’s a new beginning for East Baltimore. Read more in the New York Times. Go to the school’s web site.
Green Alleys Boston: The Boston Architecture College has elevated the humble alley to a whole new level. Behind several of the college’s buildings in Back Bay, two ambitious, but fundamentally different “green” purposes are being served. The project recreates the natural hydrological cycle by draining storm water runoff, collecting it, and putting it back into the groundwater. That’s important because Back Bay’s grand, historic townhouses are built on wood pilings that will rot if the water table sinks. The second part of the project, below ground, features nine geothermal wells that provide heating/cooling for some of the college buildings, using the earth’s core temperature of 54 degrees F. as the starting point. Watch the video Geothermal well drilling made simple (video)
Want to dig deeper? View the green alley symposium online (90 minutes)
Urban trends New York, Berlin, and Mumbai: How do we understand, design and live in cities? The BMW Guggenheim Lab operated over two years (2011-2013) on three continents with events, workshops, blogs and online participation to figure out urban challenges and look at what is transforming these cities. The traveling project was led by an international team with varied backgrounds – architecture, design, technology, science, sustainability and education.
Participatory City: 100 Urban Trends from the BMW Guggenheim Lab is a permanent end-product of this crush of energy and ideas –a voluminous online resource of trends in each location. (An exhibition at the Guggenheim closed in January.) This is a resource that begs you to drill deeper to understand the 100 most-talked-about issues and trends in each of the three cities –sharing ideas, people, projects and additional resources. You’ll find trend topics such as temporary architecture, ownership of public space, collaborative urban mapping, citizen empowerment and much more! One thing is clear: Cities are attracting more and more people. The Lab’s authors suggest: “Greater urban density can mean more conflict, but it can also produce a greater diversity of viewpoints and more opportunity for change.” Learn more about the collaboration
Repurposing Airports: Tempelhof Airport in Berlin – the largest urban public park in Europe, the size of New York’s Central Park– is land with a storied history. It is said that the medieval Knights Templar –– forced to disband by Pope Clement in 1328 –owned the land and provided protection to the farmers who produced on it. In the 20th century, Albert Speer, architect of the Nazi Third Reich, envisioned the place as gateway to Germania (Hitler’s world capital) and ordered the terminal (1,000 feet in length) and airport halls built that still stand today.
In post-WW II history, Tempelhof became renowned as the site of the epic 1948-49 Berlin Airlift, with thousands of food and fuel flights by the US and Western Allies. Partitioned as Soviet and Western sectors, Berlin residents in the west were imperiled when the Soviets created a blockade. It was the largest airlift in history.
Tempelhof closed to air traffic in 2008 – and after a controversial vote, not without many public laments – was designated as parkland, some 4 square kilometers. Its motto: Bewegungsfreiheit (“freedom of movement”). Opened to the public in May 2010, Tempelhof has been repurposed to serve many leisure and public needs, without sacrificing its landmark buildings – a terminal 1,000 feet in length—or its fabulous, mostly flat open spaces. Up to 50,000 people are there on a good-weather day.
The runways are perfect for bicycling and rollerblading, grassy areas suited for picnics and family fun, and the historic buildings used for industrial shows, corporate events and scheduled tours. New housing is planned for the fringe areas outside the park. Tempelhof master plan
Concerts, cultural events, trade shows, and down time
Video on Tempelhof (New York Times)
Denver Colorado’s Stapleton Airport — just 15 minutes from downtown –has been converted into a massive “urban” development in the years since Denver International Airport (20 minutes away) took shape.
At 7.5 square miles, Stapleton is a prime piece of real estate, currently with eight distinctive neighborhood plans, retail and business operations. Masterplanning began when civic leaders, business and community gathered and created the Green Book, containing five guiding principles – with environmental responsibility, social equity and economic opportunity now taking center stage. (The Green Book plan received the 2002 Stockholm Partnerships for Sustainable Cities Award.)
Many “new urbanism” principles have been adopted – using an urban street grid that “…maps onto Denver’s historic, urban, street pattern to the south and west, and with the high prairie open spaces to the north and east – continues what’s already there rather than ignoring it.” Retail, leisure and office/ business are integrated to reduce commuting and outside driving trips. Sidewalks make it walkable to shops and green space, ranging from mini-parks to natural open spaces (1100 acres of parks/open space – some 30% of the community). There are 36 miles of bike trails, with access to Denver’s 800-mile trail network. A commuter rail stop is in the works. The newest neighborhood Conservatory Green promises “a more organic expression” of housing integrated with natural areas, optional greenhouses, and energy efficient home design. While Stapleton homes are “40% more efficient than new houses built to code,” the newest homes (Solaris II) offer even more energy benefits: solar electric power and an unprecedented zero energy option. Video at Stapleton
Singapore sustainability: It’s an equatorial, 300-square mile city-state with 5.3 million people, 80% of them living in affordable housing – a far cry from the 1.3 million who lived in squatter communities in the 1960’s. The way land, water and energy are used is key to Singapore’s sustainability index – and the recognition it garnered in 2011. That year the Asian Green City Index (sponsored by Siemens) found that of 22 Asian cities rated, Singapore is the greenest metropolis.
According to Dr. Liu Thai-Kerr Chairman of Singapore’s Center for Livable Cities, Singapore’s planners were careful to protect historic shop buildings from the wrecking ball, and locate new residential tower blocks away from historic districts. There are about two dozen towns – populations of 70,000 to 250,000 – with shops, foodstores and leisure activities. All are linked by mass transit. “Even the poorest citizens have a roof overhead,” he says, confirming that some 1 million public housing units have been constructed. Below ground is another asset for infrastructure that includes “transport networks for our subway system, waste management, power networks and even oil storage.”
Water is a huge issue, now and for future growth – with virtually no natural water storage capacity and an anticipated additional 16 million liters of potable water daily needed in the decade ahead to supply a growing population. Water management is addressed with a multi-faceted approach. For example, the Marina Barrage (photo above) offers water supply, flood control and space for recreation. Parks are used as water catchments to prevent general flooding and smaller scale efforts include rooftop gardens and rainwater harvesting. Learn more at Greenbiz Singapore: A ‘living laboratory’ for sustainability
Singapore Sessions: Building a Sustainable Urban Future (downloadable article)
Sky City Tower– Will It Rise? China now has 60 of the world’s tallest buildings now under construction, according to the New York Times. Broad Sustainable Construction proposes to build the world’s tallest skyscraper – at 220 stories – in a field in Changsha, China, “to be assembled in only four months from factory-built modules of steel and concrete prefab modular components” that should speed its construction. (It would be 10 meters taller than the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.) Most of us cannot readily pinpoint Changsha, but it is an important city– the capital and largest city of Hunan Province in south central China, a subtropical climate with a population of 7 million+. The boast was that the building –virtually a mini-city –would be constructed in 120 days, and that such a structure is the most sustainable way to accommodate a growing population. To be sure, the footprint of the mega-tower would create a much smaller footprint than spreading millions of square feet over land.
Lloyd Alter first wrote about Sky City in June 2013 for Treehugger: “It makes sense; vertical distances between people are a whole lot shorter than the horizontal, and elevators are about the most energy efficient moving devices made. A resident of Sky City is using 1/100th the average land per person. “If you would rather walk rather than wait for one of 92 elevators, there is six mile long ramp running from the first to the 170th floor. Beside the ramp are 56 different 30 foot high courtyards used for basketball, tennis, swimming, theatres, and 930,000 square feet of interior vertical organic farms.”
The building will have a 30-story hotel, nearly 50 stories of luxury apartments (floors 121-170), “top class” apartments (floors 61 to 120), small and medium apartments (floors 16 to 60) and just 9 floors of office space. The bottom floors will include a K-8 school (see Baltimore above)
The idea was to build prefab panels and ship them – with everything needed, including bolts – to the construction site. Ventilation shafts, electrical wiring, even floor tiles would be packed into the modules.In the meantime, something happened, and Broad failed to meet anything close to its construction goals.
The latest development has been to create a 9-story buildout as a “model” to test the sky-worthiness of a 220-story building. Will it proceed ? We’ll keep you posted.
New York Times story on tallest skyscraper. Lloyd Alter’s Treehugger column
De Gustibus Urban-Style
Paris: Don’t drink the espresso, savor it: Le Laboratoire at 4 Rue du Bouloi, offers a new wrinkle in coffee appreciation. It is an experience of the nose, mouth and mind – coffee with virtually zero mass. This innovation – offered at the Paris boutique and for purchase online –offers clouds of coffee from Le Whaf, an electronic carafe, that can be “tasted” in the air as flavorful fog; and the Aerochef, a mouthpiece that employs chocolate capsules to deliver coffee flavor with virtually no caffeine. The coffee lab is the brainchild of Harvard professor-bioengineer David A. Edwards who thinks this approach in French coffee culture offers a totally new sensual pleasure. If you’re not hopping to Paris on the next plane, you can conduct your own coffee “taste” test by ordering up a tiny cylinder or two online. And for cell phone mavens: the Ophone, a device that transmits odors over the Internet. Visit Le Laboratoire and order online
San Francisco: Toast is the next “big thing” in the Bay Area. Hipsters and Silicon Valley techies have embraced cinnamon sugar toast (at $3 a slice) and rustic, thick-sliced pain at stand-alone toast bars. Writer John Gravois says the trend — “a temple to toast” – has “elevated [it, like the cupcake] to the artisanal plane.” The backstory to this trend was first published by Gravois in Pacific Time. Here’s his intriguing radio version on This American Life (19 minutes)
London’s Synesthesia Map: What do London Underground stops taste like? The Tube Map was first developed in 1931 by London draftsman Harry Beck in his leisure time and remains a standout – mostly unchanged — in the world of graphic design. The newest iteration changes nothing about the grid and its typography, other than the station names.
James Wannerton, who has a form of synesthesia that involuntarily converts sounds into tastes, has traveled all 350 Tube stops over a 49-year period and developed a Synesthesia Map. Wannerton has “tasted” London’s Tube as no one else has, and it’s a delightful cornucopia. Check out sausage and fried egg, cabbage, shortbread, Ritz Crackers, and other items that Wannerton has “tasted” along the way. Telegraph story and FastCompany online
COMING in April: How the arts make cities more vibrant and livable
- Opera houses: Oslo, Copenhagen,Tokyo, Linz
- Museums: Marrakech, Doha Qatar, Mexico City, Sarajevo
- New York’s High Line: Spawning projects in lots of places
Check out our January 2014 Cities column and use our Cities category and tag cloud for all of Green News Update’s columns on cities.