New York City’s got big plans that will irritate commuters (and tourists) but just may improve traffic, congestion and pollution, with plans to adopt congestion pricing for cars and trucks.
NYC joins London, Stockholm and Singapore that have had congestion pricing in place for years; London’s startup was 2003. Philadelphia and Los Angeles are now considering the idea. Congestion pricing for cars and trucks entering Manhattan from 60th Street down to the Battery is proposed to start in 2021. Prices may range from $12-14 for cars to $25 for trucks during peak business hours, and less for evenings and weekends. There may be exemptions for low-income, disabled drivers or medical cases, but everyone else will be eligible for the fees.
Advocates say that they have to guard against creating too many exemptions – or the plan won’t achieve the desired results. Besides improved air quality, residents may benefit from the income –estimated at $1 billion a year –to improve the subway system, commuter buses and even thin out narrow lanes for bicyclists who are always in danger from the mean streets. Q&A on congestion pricing(New York Times)l
What’s better than congestion tax ? No cars at all! In Pontevedra, the north-west Spanish city in Galicia, the medieval city center has been car-free, with only minor exceptions, since 1999– a boon to pedestrians, families and kids. It is now considered one of Europe’s the most accessible cities – and as a result has won multiple awards. “We want children to play all over our city, and to play whatever game comes to mind,” said Cesar Mosquera, the Urban Councilor of Pontevedra, in a CityLab article.
What are the benefits in the nearly 20 years since the city pedestrianized? Kids can safely play in the streets, and it’s especially welcome for younger families who have been attracted to relocate to the community. They’ve computed there are actually more kids here than in other Spanish cities.
Our Cities article “Getting There” (2014) looked at various early adopters –European cities that have created traffic-free zones
Manmade waterfall in Singapore: Opens April 17
A twist on bringing “nature” to urban environments greets you at the new Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore: a waterfall some 40 meters tall, in fact, the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. The water pours through an oculus in a steel and glass roof down to a climate-controlled indoor forest. The airport is designed by Moshe Safdie’s architectural firm; the water feature by Buro Happold, and the indoor forest by Peter Walker and Partners landscape architecture firm. Called the Rain Vortex, it can funnel water at a 10,000-gallon per minute rate, to keep up with Singapore’s vigorous thunderstorms.
Here’s a good way to remain tranquil while waiting for your check-in at the gate! There are 200 varieties of rainforest-friendly plants in terraces surrounding the water, with paths to walk and relax–in an airport!
Paris is often an outlier — a laboratory for the new, the different and funky. Remember Paris Plages? A former mayor conceived of trucking in tons of sand, installing temporary swimming pools, and stationing lawn chairs to make a section of the Seine a leisure spot for city dwellers in the summertime. Our story on Paris Plages from 2012!
Now it’s umbrellas! Portuguese artist Patricia Cunha has installed “Umbrella Sky Project” — 800 colorful suspended umbrellas in one of the city’s famed indoor shopping-dining “passages,” this in the Village Royal in the 8th arrondissement, where the installation will reside until (mid July).
Coming in 2020: World renowned installation artist Christo will wrap the Arc de Triomphe in fabric, a tribute to his late wife Jeanne-Claude who was his close collaborator. The famous landmark will be wrapped in 270,000-square-feet of blue, recyclable polypropylene. This is the first time since her 2009 death that he’s back to his signature wrap projects. Together they wrapped the Reichstag in Berlin, an entire coastline in Australia, and conducted a flags project in Central Park. The installation will be on view April 6 through 19, 2020.
China’s sponge cities
China is building “sponge cities” that can soak up rain and floodwater and perhaps even prevent disastrous flooding. The idea is to use porous pavement everywhere – sidewalks, streets, pathways. There’s a storage system to release the water – a necessity since China also suffers from overwithdrawal from its aquifers. In 2015, a 30-kilometer section of Hebi City was designated as a pilot area for sponge construction. Now several dozen more planned communities/cities are targeted as sponge cities.
Urban development in China – and other developing countries – is considered a sign of progress. Almost unthinkable levels of urban population growth has occurred: “ Statistical data showed that the urban population of China increased from 172.45 million to 777.82 million from 1978 to 2012, coupling with an increase of the urbanization level from 17.92% to 52.57%.” See the story and video on CNN
While no one factor has threatened the water cycle, impervious surfaces in startling amounts of city growth – dozens of planned and new cities – is a major culprit that impedes natural processes and leads to flooding and droughts. More than $12 billion has been spent to date on sponge city projects, according to a 2018 CNN story.
Sea level rise – A floating solution ?
Ninety-percent of the world’s largest cities are vulnerable to climate change, so says Victor Kisob of the UN’s Human Settlement Program. That means a projected sea level rise (of just 7 inches!) could impact coastlines throughout the world.
The UN is exploring one possible solution with “buoyant floating islands” that are self-sustaining and could rise as sea level increases. The idea is being developed in prototype form by Oceanix, a company started by Tahitian entrepreneur Marc Chen Collins that is partnering with the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) to create a 4.5-acre floating platform of wood and bamboo as the base. In principle, six modules would be linked as a hexagon, like a honeycomb, anchored to the ocean floor with biorock, with self-sufficiency as the goal – aquaponics farms, desalination for fresh water, solar power, apartments, schools. The floating modules would rise as sea level increases. Columnist Andrew Revkin writes about the concept for National Geographic.
Apart from the engineering and sustainability issues, several other important considerations remain: Will the floating villages be sovereign? Who will “own” them ? Would they be subject to marine leases for offshore development? Read why Citylab isn’t convinced. They don’t think floating cities are the answer.
Expanding New York’s waterfront against rising waters
Tropical Storm Sandy in 2013 was devastating to New York City – 51 square miles of the city were flooded, including subway tunnels and stations, 17,000 homes destroyed, and damage to Central Park, The New York Aquarium, Statue of Liberty Museum, and South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan. Now an idea originally “floated” by former Mayor Mike Bloomberg has a new advocate.
Mayor Bill de Blasio is proposing a rising berm of new land—creating a swath up to 500 feet wide, projected into the East River that would protect the tip of lower Manhattan from rising sea levels and storm surges. It’s audacious and it’s expensive – probably $10 billion or more.
De Blasio says, “ South Street Seaport and the Financial District, along the eastern edge of Lower Manhattan, sit so close to sea level — just eight feet above the waterline — and are so crowded with utilities, sewers, and subway lines that we can’t build flood protection on the land. So we’ll have to build more land itself.” Read de Blasio’s New York Magazine opinion piece
De Blasio’s resilience strategy may result in large areas of open space and parks for the tens of thousands who work on Wall Street and live in lower Manhattan. Bloomberg’s proposal would have used some of the new land for development purposes; many are opposed to that. “Our purpose is resilience,” says de Blasio in a recent New York Times piece. Time will tell!
Other protections against storm surges and rising seas for New York are already in progress: A set of “flip-up” barriers along the shoreline north of the Brooklyn Bridge (cost $200 million) ; elevating the wharf and esplanade along Battery Park; and a $621 million seawall for the eastern side of Staten Island.
Green New Update looked at ideas and solutions for protection against rising sea levels in 2012, focusing on intriguing solutions in more than a half-dozen places: Venice, Rotterdam, and Bangladesh. Culture
Leveraging culture to alleviate poverty
The Aga Khan Trust for Culture is prolific in the scope and depth of its work over three decades: its funding has restored and rehabilitated over 350 monuments and historic sites. The Trust has received 13 UNESCO heritage awards for excellence in restoration.
Prince Karim Aga Khan, now 82, is the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of Nizari Ismailism, a denomination of Isma’ilism within Shia Islam, with as many as 15 million followers. He’s a Harvard grad with a deep love of architecture and affinity for culture – “ as an asset rather than a luxury” – and as a spur to social and economic development.
He’s addressed his wide-ranging interests through Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), which focuses on the physical, social, cultural and economic revitalization of communities in the developing world. It includes the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, an annual Award for Architecture, Music Initiative and Music Award, a museum in Toronto, Canada, and the extensive online architectural resource called Archnet.org
The Historic Cities Programme (AKHCP) addresses urban regeneration projects in the Islamic world in Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Mali, Malaysia and Pakistan. It has completed projects in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Kyrgyz Republic, Spain, Syria, Tajikistan and Zanzibar.
Its works include creation of parks and gardens, including in places where there were none; rehabilitation of urban landmark buildings, especially in current and former war zones; and improvements to urban fabric
Cairo, Egypt: Aligned with the large entrance plaza of Humayun’s tomb, restored under the aegis of the AKDN, Sunder Nursery in Cairo (above) features “a spectacular pedestrian central axis conceived in three parts, as a progression of formally arranged gardens around the heritage structures and merging at its end with a proposed arboretum and water gardens.”
Kabul, Afghanistan: Since 2003, war-damaged quarters of the old city of Kabul have been the focus of an AKDN program (the Aga Khan Trust for Culture) to conserve key historic buildings, including houses, mosques, shrines and public facilities. “Upgrading works have also improved living conditions for some 15,000 residents of the old city in the neighborhoods of Asheqan wa Arefan, Chindawol and Kuche Kharabat.”
Dig deeper into the Trust through its web site and you’ll see marvelous examples of creation, reconstruction and building opportunities to preserve culture and elevate people out of poverty.
Urban rooftops for farming – Paris, Melbourne, Tel Aviv etc
A chef looking for hard-to-find, or rare, varieties of herbs, might stroll over these days to Galeries Lafayette’s rooftop farm-garden in Paris to check out what’s growing. The farm-to-table movement popularized in the last 20 years, is expanding to department stores, malls and hotels. Galeries Lafayette has converted its rooftop into a working farm with 18,000 plants, especially herbs. The idea is expanding to other parts of the city: the food-centric Bon Marché department store and the BHV in the Marais. In this setting, a rooftop farm is a magnet for tourists who also want a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower while browsing what’s for sale. Parisculteurs promotes rooftop agriculture throughout Paris. Check it out.
Beekeeping atop Paris landmarks is a well-known secret. Les apiculteurs (beekeepers) are at work on the rooftops of landmarks like The Opéra Garnier, the Musée d’Orsay, the École Militaire, the Grand Palais, and the Institut de France. Sadly, the hives atop Notre Dame probably did not survive the recent catastrophic fire. Watch the youtube video with famed beekeeper Nicolas Geant.
Elsewhere, rooftop farming has caught on in Melbourne Australia, for a proposed shopping development, and in Tel Aviv, at Dizengoff Center. In Vancouver (British Columbia) the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel uses part of its rooftop to produce herbs for its cuisine. Singapore is adopting farms atop malls to improve food security for a city-state with little room for traditional agriculture. On Orchard Road, you’ll find malls, department stores– and a small farm with hydroponics and vertical growing racks.
Cities will pay you to live there!
How many times have you heard someone say, “You couldn’t pay me to live there!” Dwell Magazine showcases 9 cities in three countries that offer financial incentives for you to take up residence. Take your pick! Locations include Italy, New Zealand, Canada and US states ( Baltimore, St. Louis, Kansas, Tulsa, Minnesota, and Vermont,. Get packing…
Remembering Notre Dame
We cannot end our column without recognizing the tragedy that befell Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15. The outpouring of grief, and even hope, from around the globe, demonstrates how a world monument — an architectural masterpiece spanning centuries from the Gothic period—touches us beyond religion, in shared humanity. Here’s a new story in The New Yorker, featuring Olivier Baumgartner, who, with colleague Alexandre Decaillot at SOCRA restoration firm, recently removed for restoration 16 copper statues from Notre Dame’s now-destroyed spire, installed there by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Was it a prescient act? Read this personal essay by New Yorker contributor Lauren Collins, who stood on Notre Dame’s roof in March.