What’s happening in green design, architecture, urban life, sustainability ?Check out our notes on Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Paris, Baku, Delhi, Rotterdam, and New York, the newly awarded European Green Capital for 2017, and the inaugural European Green Leaf cities.
EUROPE’S GREENEST CITIES
Essen Named as Europe’s Green Capital 2017
In a June 17 announcement , the city of Essen, Germany, was named the 2017 European Green Capital by the European Commission’s European Green Capitals Program. Since 2010, a European city has been recognized annually for achieving high environmental standards; commitment to ambitious environmental goals; and progress towards sustainable development as a role model to inspire other cities. Eight cities have been awarded since the inaugural year: Stockholm (2010), Hamburg (2011) Vitoria-Gasteiz (2012), Nantes(2013) Copenhagen (2014), Bristol (2015), Ljubljana (2016) and Essen (2017). European Green Capital web site
“Essen was singled out for its exemplary practices in protecting and enhancing nature and biodiversity and efforts to reduce water consumption. Essen participates in a variety of networks and initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to improve the city’s resilience in the face of climate change.”
Located in the center of the Ruhr region, Essen had a rich history of coal production and weapons manufacturing (guns) starting in the 16th century, and was identified as the center of the Krupp industrial dynasty. Essen is now thought of as one of the greenest cities in Germany: about 9.2% of its area is covered by recreational green. Its multifunctional green areas are used for rainwater management, flood prevention and groundwater recharge.” Its plans for the future are ambitious….Essen’s objective is to prevent rainwater entering the combined sewer network in at least 15% of the area served by those sewers.”
Startup of the European Green Leaf
The Spanish city of Mollet del Vallès and the Portuguese city of Torres Vedras are the winners of the inaugural European Green Leaf. The EGL 2015 targets cities with a population between 50, 000 and 100,000 inhabitants. The inaugural cities were selected in recognition of their commitment to better environmental practices and green growth. The new European competition recognizes a city’s commitment to better environmental outcomes. EGL has a particular focus on efforts that generate green growth and new jobs.
BAKU Azerbaijan: The Future City
Capital city of oil-rich Azerbaijan, Baku is wrapping up the first-ever European Games (closing ceremony is June 28), but its futuristic architectural program is still in progress. The UNESCO-protected walled historical center is surrounded by a feast of cutting-edge new buildings and hotels to accommodate the crowds and build hometown pride.
International star architects have come to town: HOK designed the signature Flame Towers that are stunning, both day and night (Flame Towers video); and London-based architect Zaha Hadid created the Heydar Aliyev center, which has received the Design of the Year award from London’s Design Museum. (Also received great criticism for the alleged human rights abuses involved in forcibly relocating property owners to gain the Aliyev Center’s massive site.)
“Juror Piers Gough, of CZWG Architects, the only member of the six-strong panel [of the Design award] to have seen the [Aliyev] project in the flesh. ‘It is as pure and sexy as Marilyn’s blown skirt.’” (Guardian article)
There’s a new seaside boulevard and work is underway for a huge urban renewal project called The White City, to transform a deteriorated area of the city. An Eurasianet article last year suggested, “The catalyst for Baku’s architectural makeover is widely reported to be Mehriban Aliyeva, wife of President Ilham Aliyev. She is said to have significant input in all new construction in the center of the city. Aliyeva is known to have a strong affinity for the look-and-feel of Paris, thus it’s not a surprise that Louvre-style pyramids have appeared at the entrance of three metro stations, and Paris-style newspaper kiosks have been installed all over the city. A Paris Quarter is also being constructed in the White City.” Norman Foster is among the architects involved in the White City Project.
Meanwhile, European Games are wrapping up: 6,000 athletes from 50 European National Olympic Committees, competing in 253 events!
Promenade Plantée and Viaduc des Arts
One of Paris’s better kept secrets – although well known to locals – is the Promenade Plantée, a verdant 4.5-kilometer pathway through parks, gardens, passageways and tunnels in the city’s 12th arrondissement. It’s the world’s first elevated rails-to-trails project, and a model for New York’s High Line and similar projects throughout the world.
The Coulée Verte, or Green Flow, as it is known to Parisians, connects the city between Bastille and the Bois de Vincennes (though not directly into the Bois) with two western entrances, one on the left of Avenue Daumesnil and the other can be accessed from Bastille.
The now-defunct Vincennes rail line — Bastille to Varenne-Saint-Maur 1859 to 1969– was transformed in the late 1980’s by architect Philippe Mathieux and landscape architect Jacques Vergely, who, with the City of Paris government, blazed the trail, reusing 70 brick arches of the former rail viaduct to create the Viaduc des Arts, now restored as shops and spaces for artists and craftspeople. You can walk over the viaduct for 1.5 kilometers, and then it becomes a sunken walkway that meanders through green areas, including the Jardin de Reuilly, and between buildings of various architectural periods from Hausman to modern. There are pedestrian-only areas, as well an ample section with bike paths.
Joshua David and Robert Hammond , founders of New York’s popular High Line (several million visitors a year!) were inspired by the Promenade Plantée as a model for New York’s elevated public park, built on the historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues. Other proposed and actual projects in US cities include Philadelphia (the Reading Viaduct), Atlanta’s Beltline, Chicago and St. Louis.
Marais Deal Goes South
Whatever happened to La Jeune Rue (Young Street)? This ambitious project was a promising remake of shuttered buildings along the Rue du Vertbois in the northern edge of the Marais, the 3rd arrondissement neighborhood that bustles as the hub of Orthdodox Jewish life and gay couture and nightlife. Personally, I liked the Marais better 30 years ago as a somewhat dowdy (and much quieter) precinct where it was possible to get a seat for lunch at my favorite local café (Au petit fer a cheval) and enjoy the fabulous baked goods at the Florence Finkelsztjan Jewish bakery (below) on the rue des Etouffes.
The recent upscaling plan – 36 new food establishments and restaurants – might have sent gentrification over the top in the old neighborhood – but something happened. It wasn’t for lack of interest: dozens of food-centric traiteurs and restaurateurs bought in; architects designed the spaces; laborers plied their trades; and 10 stores/restaurants were underway – then the whole thing dissolved in a cloud of bankruptcies by developer Cedric Naudron. Someone has called him un beau parleur (“good talker”). He gained everyone’s confidence but clearly words don’t pay for renovations on this grand scale. The New York Times
Love Locks Lost
20 tons of locks purchased and installed over the last 5 years by lovers worldwide visiting Paris’s Pont des Arts bridge were removed at the beginning of June for recycling, with no plans underway to remove some 700,000 keys at the bottom of the Seine.
Other bridges are at risk too: Pont de l’Archevêché has enough to look like “barnacles” attached to the ironwork says a New York Times reporter. The French, being who they are, said the lock-encrusted bridges ”… were no longer acceptable for the cultural heritage” of the city, according to Bruno Julliard, the deputy mayor in charge of culture. See the photo gallery CNN May 30 2015
SUSTAINABLE CITIES INDEX 2015
“We are living in the century of the city, but are we living in the century of the sustainable city?”
That’s the question posed by the ARCADIS 2015 Sustainable Cities Index. Undertaken by ARCADIS, a 28,000-person global natural and built asset design and consulting firm, the inaugural 2015 study looks at three areas for which 50 cities in 31 countries are ranked: People, Planet and Profit.
The rankings include cities in the Middle East, Central and South America, Asia, North America, Europe, and Africa. There are about 250,000 cities worldwide.
The Top 10 overall
1. Frankfurt 2. London 3. Copenhagen 4. Amsterdam 5. Rotterdam 6. Berlin 7. Seoul 8. Hong Kong 9. Madrid 10. Singapore
Major findings published in the ARCADIS 2015 index
(Courtesy of ARCADIS). Arcadis study
- Across the world, cities are performing better for being sustainable for Profit and Planet purposes, but are failing to sufficiently meet the needs of their People;
- No utopian city exists, rather, city leaders face a difficult task balancing the three pillars of sustainability;
- Well established, European cities come top of the overall rankings, with Frankfurt in first place, followed by London, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Rotterdam;
- Asian cities show the most divergence, with Seoul, Hong Kong and Singapore in the top 10 and Manila, Mumbai, Wuhan and New Delhi forming four of the bottom five cites;
- No North American city makes it into the top 10. Toronto is the highest ranked at 12th, Boston (15th) and Chicago (19th) are the most sustainable;
- Rotterdam tops the People sub-index. Many of the world’s economic powerhouses are becoming less affordable for their citizens, with the cost of property in New York, London, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong penalizing their rankings.
The Old Swimming Hole: Copenhagen, New York, Boston
Rivers, streams and ponds are familiar “swimming holes” for millions of people, but water quality in in many cities across the world is too poor for a dip in the open water – those pesky fertilizers, human sewage and sediments containing heavy metals.
Copenhagen is one city that deserves a thumbs up for cleaning up its water and creating a screened area in its harbor, next to Brygge Island, that permits people to pop into open water for a summer dip. How did they do it? First came the cleanup. Now, water quality is continuously daily to ensure that it’s safe to swim. Read more
In Boston, hometown pride ran high in 2013 when the esteemed Charles River – notoriously polluted –got a clean bill of health for a swim, and a hardy group of Charles River advocates took to the water for a well-publicized swim. It took 6 months to get the event permit. The Boston Globe reported “… the health of the river has improved dramatically, rising to a B in 2011, and now meeting the state standards for swimming most days of the summer. The bottom of the river remains a toxic mess, but if a swimmer can get in and out of the water without touching the squishy bottom, no tetanus shot is necessary.”
New York’s East River may never qualify, but portable solutions give city dwellers a safe place and clean water for a summery dip. The Floating Pool Lady in the Bronx – a 250-foot barge that was paid for by The Neptune Foundation – has been transformed into a 7-lane swimming pool. It’s turned up in Brooklyn and the South Bronx as a popular summer destination. There’s a historical link to people using the East and Hudson Rivers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with floating bath houses!)
Hopes are high that a more ambitious project will take flight – “a colossal four-pronged pool called +POOL that not only will float within the river itself but will use the river as its water source, filtering an estimated 500,000 gallons a day, even as swimmers do laps and belly flops. “ It’s expected that effort will take several more years. New York City has more than 500 miles of underused riverfront that await water cleanups to realize the idea of a summer swimming hole. (Here’s one hitch: more than 27 billion gallons of sewage flow into New Year harbor annually.)
Even India’s Ganga River Basin– which runs through 50 major cities and is polluted by 3 billion liters of raw sewage daily – is a revered holy place and spot where millions of people wash daily and purify themselves. The Basin is due for a massive cleanup that would make open-water cleaner. (See World Bank story)
Where’s the urban water swimming movement headed for the future ? Ardent London environmental advocate Jane Withers of Wonderwater wants to see the movement proliferate in the Thames and elsewhere. She organized Urban Plunge— a recent exhibition that closed in February 2015 at the Roca London Gallery – to demonstrate how natural “swimming holes” could be created in urban open waters. Well, why not ?
DELHI AND BANGALORE: Water ATMs
The need for clean, plentiful water is nearly universal — and perhaps nowhere more so than in India, with a burgeoning population of one billion+. A 10-year project using ATM-type prepaid cards and automated spigots for filling up water bottles to provide better access for residents of the North-West Delhi resettlement colony is underway. Recently Queen Maxima of the Netherlands visited the site in her role as a special envoy of the United Nations to see how it works firsthand. Read the SciDev article.
There are about 6,000 families in this settlement, and some 1,000 cards have now been distributed. The idea is not only novel, but has helped reduce fighting among residents over water access from tanker trucks.
According to the Hindu article, “The water ATMs in the colony are operated by a pre-paid card that can be topped up at the plant or at one of the three vendors in the area. At the plant, users pay Rs.3 for 20 liters, while at the ATMs they pay Rs.6.” Sarvajal chief operating officer Anuj Sharma explained, “ the quality and quantity of the water produced was being monitored from the company’s Ahmedabad office through real-time data.” Illegal wells are still being accessed for drinking water – and tanker trucks that deliver free water are in use as well. “A young resident, Santosh Kumar, said: ‘We take four or five liters of water from the ATMs everyday. It tastes better than the tanker water, but that is free.’” The water ATMs are also in use in the Bangalore suburb of Karnataka.
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