Global Site Plans Branding for Architecture, Engineering, Environmental Non-Profits, Landscape Architecture, & Urban Planning Companies Sun, 05 Jul 2015 18:50:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 French Train Service, SNCF, Appeals to Millennials with Crowdsourced Scheduling Fri, 26 Jun 2015 16:52:02 +0000 SNCF TGV, France

There is no doubt that the SNCF (French National Train Service) is seeking to attract young people with its new marketing move, TGV pop. TGV pop is a 100% digital offer, with tariffs that vary between 25 and 35 euros; where the time of departure is entirely in the hands of Internet users.

How does it work?

The offer proposed by TGV pop runs in four phases:

  1. The SNCF publishes the destinations of departures and arrivals on the website two weeks before the potential departure. For example, the trip from Paris-Avignon, set for the 5th of July, is currently online. The hour of departure is not indicated, only general timeframes: “morning,” “afternoon,” and “evening.”
  2. It is at this point that users intervene. Amongst all of the proposed itineraries, they vote for those that interest them the most. One can then observe on the TGV screen as the number of votes progresses. Once the marker labelled “GO!” is passed, the train will officially be scheduled to leave at that date.
  3. Beginning the next day, voters will receive an email announcing the opening of ticket sales.
  4. Internet users need only reserve the tickets, between 25 and 35 euros a piece, and then wait for the day of departure.

If words do not suffice, here is a video from the SNCF about the offer (in French).

Waiting for TGV train at Narbonne, France Train Station

The Desire to Create a “Pop-up” Community

More than a simple space for reserving spots online, the SNCF talks about the communal aspect of the TGV, where travelers can share the “pop-up experience.” Once they sign up, Internet users can specify their areas of interest. Once “on board the train” they can meet up, thanks to a Twitter feed called @DansLeTGV. This will likely happen in the train bar, which is specially set up for this purpose.

The new plan offers 100,000 spots in 203 TGV trains, including more than 30 “summer” destinations.

Already Controversial

The name TGV pop can’t help but bring to mind UberPop, the transportation service abhorred by taxis. The controversy is growing, and the SNCF has reacted, saying: “There is no link between TGV pop and UberPop. Our new offer has been in the works for several months, well before the controversy created by UberPop,” a spokesperson explained in an article by the Libération.

What do you think of the TGV pop plan? Does your transit provider provide crowdsourced scheduling? Would train users be more likely to ride if they had more flexibility over train scheduling? Share your thoughts and your community’s stories in the comments area below. 

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Quebec, Canada’s Limoilou District Surveys its Poorest Residents Thu, 25 Jun 2015 16:32:18 +0000 Limoilou typical street, Limoilou, Quebec, Canada

As a study reveals, the craze about Quebec’s Limoilou District over the last few years has not been without consequences for the less fortunate residents already living there. Still, the presence of many units of social housing limits tensions between the two groups.

Titled “Limoilou: A Place of Many Faces,” the study was carried out by the Integrated Territorial Approach (ATI) of Limoilou, a local organization that fights poverty. It is the product of a consultation held with 40 people; 38 percent of whom consider themselves poor.

These people were brought together through the district’s community organizations. The majority of respondents are between the ages of 51 and 65 and live alone. “There are more and more condos and less and less rental housing,” deplored one of the people consulted. “The fear is that the new services created are for a wealthy clientele.”

Limoilou 3rd Avenue, Limoilou, Quebec, Canada

Many do not have the means to buy things at the new stores that have cropped up on the main street (3rd Avenue). Yet, they anticipate the changes anyways. “There is nothing on 3rd Avenue for us. It’s too expensive. It’s not for us, but it makes for a very pretty walk.”

Still, mass transit and green space options reinforce peoples’ quality of life. But it’s the kind of dwelling that makes the difference,” according to Sebastien St-Onge, in charge of the project responsible for the study. “Limoilou is well-equipped with social housing. We want to establish this and note it in broad strokes.”

Many of the people who participated in the consultations had few means but enjoyed a nice quality of life thanks to their social housing. “They had stronger family connections, a more developed friendship network, and because they paid less for their housing than those who live in private quarters, they did not see themselves as being poor.”

Beyond 3rd Avenue and Old-Limoilou, the portrait that emerged from ATI also documents the reality of districts less well-known than Limoilou, like Maizerets and Lairet where there is a marked immigrant presence. In Maizerets, some of the people consulted deplore the lack of local services and social housing. In Lairet, where the urban planning looks more suburban, they lament the lack of meeting places and community activities. ATI and community organizations plan on using the document to direct their actions over the course of the coming years.

Is there social or affordable housing in your community? Do you agree with offering affordable housing to lower income populations? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Original article, originally published in French in Le Devoir, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Brussels, Belgium Launches Development of Pedestrian Boulevards Tue, 23 Jun 2015 16:54:33 +0000 Boulevard Anspach, Bruxelles, Belgium, Brussels, Belgium

The future pedestrian boulevards of the Brussels City Center will be the stage for recreational and cultural activities throughout the summer. Officially, the date of pedestrianization of the space opened June 29th. The city kicked-off the launch with a series of events related to being a pedestrian, led by a performance by the “Standing Man,” a giant wicker marionette standing 8 meters (roughly 26 feet) tall.

June 29th marked a period of three months of demonstrations and cultural and recreational activities facilitated by temporary street furniture. The definitive physical transformation of the boulevards will come later. From the 29th of June onward, the new traffic circulation plan will come into effect for a test period of 8 months, during which the request for an urban planning redevelopment permit will be submitted.

Rue du Bon Secours, Brussels, Belgium

During the Fall, preliminary work will begin to waterproof the tunnel and premetro stations running north-south. The beginning of the official work is set for Spring 2016, with the work ending in Autumn 2018. During this period, eight distinct temporary spaces will be developed to accentuate the appeal of the city. There will be, amongst others, a welcome space embellished with picnic tables, an area dedicated to roller skaters and bikes, a stage at the Place de la Bourse, a game area for children at the intersection of Marché aux Poulets Street, an area for sports, and an urban lounge.

What is your city doing to be more pedestrian-friendly? Have these efforts been successful? Share your thoughts and your community’s stories in the comments area below. 

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources

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Lyon, France’s 12th Century Grand Hospital Undergoing Adaptive Reuse Tue, 23 Jun 2015 16:10:50 +0000 Lyon Hotel Dieu, Lyon, France

In April 2015, they were talking about a 250 million euro sale. Agricultural Credit Insurances announced the purchase of Lyon’s Grand Hospital by Eiffage. No monetary amount was defined for the transaction. The BTP group will pursue the vast construction site for the conversion of the old hospital bought in 2010 by the Civil Hospices of Lyon (HCL).

At the end of the construction in 2018, the site, registered as a UNESCO global heritage site of humanity, should accommodate 17,100 square meters (roughly 184,000 square feet) of businesses and restaurants as well as a tertiary hub of nearly 13,600 square meters (roughly 146,000 square feet), a five-star InterContinental hotel with 143 rooms, a 2,500 square meter (roughly 27,000 square feet) convention center, 1,000 square meters (roughly 10,800 square feet) of housing, gardens and an International City of Gastronomy.

Lyon Hospital Hotel Dieu, Lyon, France

Lyon’s Mayor Is Satisfied

The cost of the construction site was reevaluated at 250 million euros after an initial number of 150 million in 2010. “It’s the largest private renovation of a historic monument ever realized in France,” emphasized Pierre Berger, Eiffage CEO, during the launch of 43 months of construction in April.

The Agricultural Credit Insurances is buying back the site in partnership with the Regional Fund of the Eastern Center of the Agriculture Credit. The Great Hospital is located on the Rhone on the peninsula of the center of Lyon on land belonging to HCL, with which a 99-year construction lease was signed. This is all according to a joint press release by the Agricultural Credit Insurances, Eiffage and the InterContinental Hotels Group, which marks its fifth InterContinental establishment in France.

“This allows us to overcome a decisive stage in the implementation of the Hospital project, which will become a model site as well as a very beautiful place for the people of Lyon to live,” said the Senator-Mayor of Lyon, Gerard Collomb (PS) in a press release.

Are there similar renovation or adaptive reuse projects in your city? What is the most notable historic building in your community? Share your thoughts and your city’s stories in the comments area below.

Original article, originally published in French on 20 Minutes, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Call for All Artists! California’s Bay Bridge May Have a Life Beyond Demolition After All Mon, 22 Jun 2015 16:25:48 +0000 Bay Bridge East span deconstruction, Bay Area, California, San Francisco and Oakland

It has been announced that salvaged steel from the old Bay Bridge will be recycled into public art and incorporated into various history projects throughout California. Supervised by the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA), the Bay Bridge Steel Program was created in response to the community’s growing concerns surrounding the fate of the pieces from the deconstructed bridge. A selection committee with expertise in structural engineering, public art, art administration, landscape architecture, and the history of the bay bridge will review proposals and then award out steel to winning projects. The steel will be taken from the second phase of the demolition process beginning this summer. Once steel members are salvaged from the site, they will be repaired and cleaned to a standard that is safe for use in the proposed projects.

The project hopes to engage artists, architects, planners, and other design professionals to immortalize and celebrate the eastern span. Pieces of the bridge may be incorporated into sculptural art, architectural designs, street furniture, and other public amenities. In order to get their hands on a piece of the bridge, applicants are required to submit a project narrative, the bridge elements they wish to use, proven ability to realize the project, images of the proposed project, and images of their previous work.

Bay Bridge East span, Bay Area, California, San Francisco and Oakland

Projects are asked to:

  • Support the creative reuse of the Bay Bridge’s steel which will be installed in sites that are accessible to the public within California.
  • Support that the material being used will serve as a reference to the original span.
  • Create a public connection with the bridge’s history through useful amenities or artworks.
  • Demonstrate the ability to successfully complete and fund the project from fabrication to installation.

It seems that the program already has an interested community of artists and designers. During the initial stages of the bridge’s deconstruction, the Founder of American Steel Studios, Karen Cusolito, started a campaign in support of the creative reuse of the Bay Bridge’s steel. Set in an artist community which has taken up shop in an old West Oakland steel plant, the studio views the act of sending the pieces to a recycling yard as a disservice to the bridge’s history and the surrounding community. The website includes a petition and space for artists and the community to share their ideas for the fate of the steel if it were to be salvaged.

Bay Bridge east span steel members, Bay Area, California, San Francisco, Oakland

The Bay Bridge House Project holds a similar perspective in the form of a sustainable eco-house constructed from pieces of the dismantled bridge. Using elements such as steel I-beams, girders, and trusses, the house would be integrated with solar panels, a green roof, and a rainwater reclamation system. Through the reuse of its members in projects such as these, a historical link connecting communities and future generations to the history and memory of the Bay Bridge could continue throughout California.   

If you are interested in submitting a proposal, deadlines are issued dependent upon the amount of steel available after each phase:

  • Deadline for Group A:  October 1, 2015
  • Deadline for Group B:  May 2, 2016
  • Deadline for Group C:  December 1, 2016

What projects would you like to see emerge from the salvaged materials of the Bay Bridge? What are some other examples of projects utilizing reclaimed materials? Has your city reused historically relevant construction materials for other uses? Share your thoughts and your community’s stories in the comments area below.

Credits: Images by Lauren Golightly. Data linked to sources.

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Negligent Landlords Targeted by Housing Aid Society in Saint-Quentin, France Fri, 19 Jun 2015 16:13:56 +0000 Facade of deteriorating  apartment building above a restaurant, France

In Saint-Quentin, France, the Family Allowances Fund (CAF) has been experimenting with a system that targets the landlords of rundown housing complexes and obligates them to do maintenance work. If they do not bring their buildings up to par, they will not be allocated financial assistance from the Family Allowances Fund.

The department will no longer pour out housing aid if the building does not meet basic standards of decency. In this way, the Family Allowances Fund of Aisne hopes to compel neglectful landlords to do work on dilapidated or otherwise rundown buildings they rent out. The method has been in place for the past few weeks in Saint-Quentin, following a 2-year trial period.

Before giving renters housing assistance, often directly used by the landlord, a specialized operator will come and inspect the state of the rented housing units. The agent will check that the housing conforms to electricity, humidity, sanitation, and fuel poverty (heating and insulation) standards. “If (the building) does not meet the criteria, the landlord’s allocations will remain with CAF until the work is carried out. He or she has 18 months to do the work,” explains Ghislaine Liekens, Deputy Director of the organization. “The renter cannot have his lease terminated (because of the landlord’s noncompliance),” she continues. A hundred inspections are projected to take place this year in buildings targeted by several stakeholders, or with a reputation for being run down. The cost of the operation is 40,000 Euros.

Saint-Quentin, Aisne, France

Does this mark the end of the scandal of poor-quality of housing being fed by public funds? “We want to send a strong message to negligent landlords and to developers in order to prevent them from trying to get rich off public funds. This is because, quite often, they fix their rental prices according to the level of aid they anticipate receiving,” explains the President, Guy Duval. “We will no longer pay.”

The public organization would like to see this type of partnership developed in different areas of the department. The program is adaptable in function of the type of housing and the number of competent local authorities, and aims to reduce “pockets of indecency in Aisne, which, we know, is an area that is particularly affected by old and poorly maintained housing.” The CAF of Aisne is one of the first in the country to launch itself into this combat. Such endeavors are encouraged by the Alur Law, but few departments have initiated such policies.

With 150 million Euros of housing aid distributed in 2014, the Aisne Department constitutes a pivotal player when it comes to housing, this much is clear. “We are working with other partners, whether they be the State, the Department, the ARS. This is because we are targeting and going after the landlord, not the housing units,” explains Ms. Liekens.

Unsanitary wall in Brittany, France

This ultimately puts double the pressure on the organization, because the CAF also supports renters dealing with the consequences of energy poverty, which are often disastrous. In 2014, the organization helped close to 4,500 households pay their energy bills that were, for the most part, disproportionate to their usage.

But after all, isn’t it true that one must invest money in order to save money? “No, we didn’t think that at all,” retorts the President. “We first thought of those families that live in terrible conditions. What better drive to action than that? When you hear about what people have lived through due to energy poverty and awful housing conditions, and then hear about the families decimated by these events, you don’t think about saving money.

Does your city face a problem of neglectful landlords? Has any action been taken by the city to address insufficient conditions and provide renters with better quality, more sustainable housing? Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments area below. 

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Image 2 by Alaina Lele. Image 3 by Laurent Bouclier. Image 1 and data linked to sources.

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How Paris, France’s Lovers’ Padlock Tradition Could Live On Thu, 18 Jun 2015 16:27:58 +0000 Love locks Pont des Arts, Paris, France

While Paris City Hall begins to definitively remove the love padlocks that lovers from all over the world hang on the Arts Bridge (1st-4th arrondissement), an English architect says that he has found a way to rein in the problem. Colin Kovacs has come up with a project that targets the balustrade whose vertical bars would not completely connect top to bottom to prevent hanging padlocks.

The remaining negative spaces would form a cross. “The cross is the original motif of the balustrade of the Arts Bridge,” explains the fifty-something year old. “With this solution, the padlocks could be more easily removed each evening. And perhaps, the metal collected could be used for some purpose.” Colin Kovacs could not sit back and do nothing. Since he moved to Rue Saint-Honore (1st arrondissement) two years ago, this English architect has been regularly crossing the Arts Bridge “to go to the gym or the supermarket.” He is familiar with the problem that has been plaguing the bridge for some years now: the proliferation of the love padlocks and the dangers that these metal objects impose on the bridge.

In April, he announced his project to the team of the first deputy (PS) for heritage, Bruno Julliard, who has been looking for the best way to put an end to the proliferation of the love padlocks. “They called me back and showed interest,” he confides.

The problem is that the municipality has already announced what will take the place of the love padlocks, whose removal will be carried out this Monday – “a temporary artistic intervention,” before glass panels are installed in the fall. “The decision on the Arts Bridge has been enacted,” assures City Hall, while leaving the door open to an alternative solution for the other bridges of the capital, which are “victims” of the famous padlocks: the Archeveche Bridge and the Simone-de-Beauvoir Footbridge.

Pont d'Archeveche Paris padlocks, France

A Romantic Tradition Has Become Very Cumbersome

We cannot say exactly in what country – Germany, Russia, Hungary or Italy – the tradition of hanging padlocks to symbolize love was born. It first emerged in Paris at the end of the 2000s. Initially limited to the Arts Bridge (1st – 4th arrondissement), where we can estimate that the weight of the padlocks surpasses 5 tons, it has since spread to neighboring footbridges, like the Archeveche Bridge (5th arrondissement) and the Simone-de-Beauvoir footbridge (12th arrondissement). Last summer, the dropping of a railing weighing half a ton of metal from the Arts Bridge pushed City Hall to react. The City initially encouraged tourists to take “love selfies.” This was ineffective. That’s why it decided to proceed with the removal of the padlocks.

The English architect for his part remains convinced that his project can be applied to the lover’s footbridge. “With the glass panels, people will use pencils to write on them,” he fears. “I don’t think that City Hall has found the best solution yet. I hope to convince them to consider my project more carefully.”

Are there special sites in your community that endure public use like these bridges? Do you think Kovacs’s solution is the right one? How would that impact the other affected bridges? Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments area below. 

Original article, originally published in French in Le Parisien, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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New Zoning Bill Aims to Decrease Number of Cars in Downtown São Paulo, Brazil Wed, 17 Jun 2015 16:00:22 +0000 Traffic congestion in São Paulo, Brazil

A bill to revise the zoning law in São Paulo, Brazil was presented on June 2nd by Mayor Fernando Haddad to the municipal house. The bill aims to decentivize the use of automobiles in the greater city center of São Paulo by opening more space for bicycles and constructing garages close to metro and train stations.

The Municipal Secretary of Urban Development, Fernando de Mello Franco, stated that the idea is to relieve the flow of vehicles in the greater city center.

Another proposal of the bill is to install commercial establishments in residential neighborhoods, such as the region of Jardins. The zoning law seeks to tailor the Strategic Master Plan in relation to the city’s future development. Zoning is a combination of rules — parceling, use, and occupation — that defines the activities that can be installed in different locations in the city. For example, where commerce, industry, and residence are permitted, and how buildings must be constructed on lots to provide better connection to the surroundings.

The bill has begun to be processed in the São Paulo House. It will undergo forty public hearings in the neighborhoods with discussions lasting through the end of 2015. If approved by the city council and sanctioned by the Mayor, it will stay in effect until 2029.

Major Components of the Bill


The idea is to stimulate the construction of parking garage buildings around train and metro stations in the suburban neighborhoods to limit the movement of these cars into the city center.

Fewer parking spaces

The bill also proposes reducing the parking space requirement for new developments and, at the same time, require the widening of sidewalks, the creation of more bike parking locations, and increased locker rooms for cyclists. It is expected to reduce the minimum number of required parking spaces in developments, in particular by not requiring parking spaces in residential uses.

Sidewalk use in São Paulo, Brazil

Environmental Quota

Another innovation is the creation of an environmental quota that encourages actions such as planting trees, increasing the rainwater containment reservoir, and the creation of bioswells. Businesses will have to adhere to a set of minimum actions, without which they will not be licensed. In return they will receive an incentive to adopt these methods. The sustainability of each project can be simulated before being presented to the City Hall.

Maximum Lot Size

The new zoning proposal institutes a maximum dimension on lots and blocks to permit the opening of streets, creation of green areas, and use of the area for social facilities. Lots and plots with areas greater than the limit will be subject to subdivision The idea is to impede the formation of large blocks, as are used for gated communities. Large blocks generate discontinuity in the system and result in large distances to be traversed, which is incompatible with the pedestrian scale and with the principles of urban mobility.

Growth in Public Transport Axes

The master plan defines “structuring axes of urban transformation” – areas which are targeted to increase the supply of public transport and housing, thus enabling more people to live near large public transport systems.

Guaranteeing Industrial and Economic Development Zones

Near Jacu-Pessego Avenue in the East Zone, a large industrial district has been guaranteed to never be replaced with real estate. It is an example of what the city wants to do to ensure productive areas in the city and the permanence of manufacturing. These industrial zones will be chosen to have good rail and highway accessibility.

Cidade Tiradentes, São Paulo, Brazil

Qualification of Urban Life

Special interest zones,” the ZEIS 1 zone above all, are those containing favelas or irregular subdivisions that are either already regulated or in the process of regulation. The city wants to guarantee the production of affordable housing in these places, yet at the same time allow them to transform into a neighborhood like those in other parts of the city.

In response, two new zones will be created: the “mixed social interest zone,” and the “central ZEIS zone,” where the city will facilitate the development of non-residential uses (commerce and service). This zoning will take advantage of opportunity in employment, commerce, and proximity to these residential areas which are increasingly becoming mixed neighborhoods. One of these areas, for example, is in Tiradentes City, in the East Zone, where there is great need for non-residential uses.

How does zoning effect the area where you live in terms of sustainability, economic development and equity? How can your city improve its transportation system to disincentive car use? Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments area below. 

Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Social Landlord Launches Coworking Facility in Saint-Leu-la-Forêt, France Tue, 16 Jun 2015 16:13:55 +0000 Rue General Leclerc, Saint-Leu-la-Foret, France

Go to the office – in a social housing apartment building. Such is the original idea just launched by Val-d’Oise Habitat. The department’s social landlord inaugurated a coworking space in the middle of Saint-Leu-la-Forêt, France. “At the beginning, it was considered a bit of a silly idea,” smiles Raphaelle Gilabert, Director of Val-d’Oise Habitat.

“But the city was willing to participate. We are targeting entrepreneurs, or people who have a company but are only two people: a boss and a secretary, for example. Coworking is ideal when one has a desire to create one’s own enterprise, but who doesn’t want to immediately invest in expensive office space.

In a former computer accessories boutique, 50 square meters of space have been completely redone. The rooms are still empty, but will soon be equipped with desks, telephones, and printers. Val-d’Oise Habitat is supplying all shared amenities. New entrepreneurs will only have to show up with their laptops and take a seat. There can be up to 12 people sharing the space, and will share the rent of approximately 800 Euros a month.

Coworking Space in Toulouse, France

The Mayor and Departmental Counsellor, Sébastien Meurant, assures us that he has already been in contact with interested parties. “There are more and more entrepreneurs these days,” notes the Mayor. “This coworking space is an alternative to the business incubator in the city center. When someone starts out, they are often alone. This coworking structure is a fertile ground for growing small businesses. In France, too often, the little businesses never become large. They get absorbed by bigger companies or move abroad.”

To allow talented people to launch their businesses, Val-d’Oise Habitat invested 350,000 Euros in the project. They completed the total renovation of the apartment building in 2008. This 19th century building was in very bad condition, and lots of work had to be done in order to build the current 12 apartments. If the experiment proves successful, Val-d’Oise Habitat envisions creating other coworking spaces. It is the first time in France that a social landlord has put such a structure in place.

Saint- Étienne, France Cité Lib carsharing with Renault Zoé

In addition to office-sharing, Val-d’Oise Habitat is working on carsharing. The social landlord hopes to offer rentable electric cars at the intergenerational residence being constructed near the Montigny-lès-Cormeilles train station.

Between now and next year, two Renault Zoé cars will be made available to renters who can rent it for several hours or more, using the internet. “We couldn’t create more than 50 parking spaces at this location,” explains Raphaelle Gilaber. “Therefore, we are compensating for this with carsharing, which we have seen developed in other places. The children of older building residents can then come visit by train, and reserve a car to take mom out!

Has coworking caught on in your city? Would you ever consider using a coworking site to launch your business? Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments area below. 

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Image 3 by Daniel Villafruela. Images 1, 2, and data linked to sources.

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Welcome to Milan’s World Fair 2015: Big Expectations and First Impressions Mon, 15 Jun 2015 16:44:39 +0000 Food statues at Expo 2015 entrance, Milan, Italy, World Fair 2015

Milan’s Expo 2015 has been put under a lot of pressure over the course of the past few months. From the big question of whether or not it would be completed on time, to the protest that devastated the city of Milan, everyone had great expectations for how the Expo would look when it finally opened.

I can say from my first visit, that going to Expo definitely feels like traveling to a different country, complete with its own international security check points. The entrance to the event is set up like an airport, with baggage control equipment and metal detectors. Everything from the full-security check-in to the beginning of actual fair activities resembles what you might experience trying to get to a plane in the Malpensa Airport. Finally, after all of the tunnels and stairs have been surpassed, the entire field opens onto Milan’s World Fair.

You are welcomed by an army of statues that stand more than four meters tall (roughly 13 feet), each carrying and wearing symbols of food and agriculture. The second you arrive you have the impression you’re in a wonderland or Disneyland, because everything looks surreal.

Qatar pavilion, Expo 2015, Milan, Italy, World Fair 2015

The theme of Expo 2015, “Feeding the Planet. Energy for Life,” is a concept that structures the entire event. On the main road, the Decumanus axis, you can find food stands related to specific categories like wine, cheese, meat, spices, and more.

From the Decumanus you enter pavilions that represent the participating countries. It is fascinating to see the diversity of designs and concepts reflected in these pavilions. Each one has found a unique way to express their cultural values and traditions through the architecture of their pavilions. It is interesting to try and guess the messages of these pavilions, which range from using renewable materials to relying on traditional building techniques and design.

So while some of the pavilions have a design concept that isn’t clearly identifiable, there are also those that clearly express the particularities of their country in a visual way. This is especially true in the pavilions belonging to Kuwait, Qatar, Thailand, and Vietnam. Many others have managed to create an entirely new world, both inside and outside their pavilions, where one can experience their culture. From architecture to their interior design, restaurants and souvenirs, these pavilions take you on a journey to other countries.

Expo 2015, Milan, Italy, World Fair 2015

Unfortunately, it is impossible to be able to visit and learn something about every country in just one day. Similarly, Expo itself is a project that has created high expectations for the Milanese, but in reality, no one knows what results to expect from the event. For some, Expo is nothing but a land-consuming project, whereas for others, it is like a larger Biennale of Venice or an entertainment park. Despite these concerns, however, seeing the cultural assets of each pavilion is still quite impressive.

Have you ever attended a World Fair? What was your experience? Do you think your city would benefit from being a World Fair host?

Credits: Images by Alexandra Serbana. Data linked to sources.

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Residents Debate Uses or Demolition of São Paulo, Brazil’s Minhocão Expressway Fri, 12 Jun 2015 16:24:39 +0000 A festival on the expressway

The elevated Costa and Silva highway, popularly called the Minhocão (literally the “giant worm”), has come back into discussion in the Municipal House of São Paulo. On May 28th they discussed the closing of the highway on Saturdays, in addition to its current Sunday closures.

David Lacerda has lived in the area for three years and is in favor of the closing. “Since I moved here, I saw the transformation of the space on Sundays and also at night, and how it welcomes social interaction.

The Minhocão is an elevated expressway that extends 3.4 kilometers and connects the city center to the west zone. It was built in the 1970’s with the objective of improving local transit. In 1976, it was closed during the nighttime, and in 1989, the restriction was extended to be everyday between 9:30 PM and 6:30 AM. Today, the Minhocão is also closed on Sundays. The city’s Master Plan, approved by Mayor Fernando Haddad, calls for the total deactivation of the highway in the next 15 years, though it doesn’t specify whether the road would be demolished or turned into a park.

According to journalist Renata Falzoni, it has created a “car dependency” in São Paulo, and this is the main question for those against closing the highway for the movement of people. “It’s good that we are now discussing the Saturday closings to question this car dependency in the city, and from there, how to give citizen occupation of this space,” Renata stated, after hearing residents’ complaints regarding nuisances created by the Sunday visitors.

Minhocão expressway, São Paulo, Brazil

For Francisco Machado, President of the movement “Dismantle Minhocão,” the closing for one additional day is not a full solution, and would still endanger the health of the population. “Elevated roads function like pot lids. Gas from the cars that drive on the elevated road get dispersed into the air, but this doesn’t happen for the cars below. The innocent people walking above will breathe in toxic gas coming up from under.” Machado stressed that he and the other members of the movement are calling for the total demolition of the expressway.

Traffic study from the CET

An ongoing study by the Traffic Engineering Company (CET) has noted that the closing of the Minhocão is viable without greatly impacting the transit in the region. The work should be finalized in the next month. “The results of the macro-simulation indicate that the impact in terms of vehicular flow on the roads in the study region is not significant, allowing for the deactivation of the elevated Costa and Silva,” reads a section of the report.

The study area includes the roads surrounding the highway that would receive the vehicle flow in the event that the Minhocão is deactivated. According to the CET, the survey still has not verified the closing specifically on Saturdays. What has been examined so far by the traffic simulation is the traffic behavior with and without the Minhocão. To verify the possible impacts on weekend traffic, it would be necessary to reprogram the simulation, since the trips on weekdays have different origins and destinations in the city and car flow on the weekend is 17% lower.

Two weeks ago, Mayor Haddad expressed that in order to be favorable, the Saturday closings should at first only occur in the afternoon period. The city, in the meantime, will await the conclusion of the CET study.

Santa Cecília neighborhood, São Paulo, Brazil

Community leaders in the region, however, are against the Saturday closings. “The closing can create an area for recreation during the day, but at night will become a source of insecurity and disturbance of the peace, with loud music and drunk people in the doors and windows of the residents,” said President of the Security Council of Santa Cecília (CONSEG), Fabio Fortes. He stated that the desire among the residents and small business owners [in Santa Cecília] is for the highway to be demolished.

The Council Member Police Neto, author of the proposal for the Saturday closings, said that the total deactivation of the highway needs a starting point. “Closing on Saturdays is a beginning,” he said. “There are people who’ve made a very angry criticism of the closing and of the opening of a park on the Minhocão. I argue that this park would have rules, hours of operation, security, as is the case with all public parks.”

Police saw the preliminary report by the CET as “the first way the city has admitted that it’s possible to close Minhocão on Saturdays.” A new public hearing in the House should be scheduled to discuss the matter when the study is finished.

Have any roads been converted to public spaces in your community? What effect did it have on the local traffic? Did it meet resistance from residents? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments area below.

Original articles, originally published in Portuguese, here and here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Metelkova Mesto, the Autonomous Squat at the Heart of Ljubljana, Slovenia Thu, 11 Jun 2015 16:55:48 +0000 The face of one of the buildings in Metelkova, Slovenia

Metelkova is different,” says Ilina, a dreadlocked Macedonian art student living in Slovenia. “It’s not just an alternative cultural district in the capital – it’s the capital of alternative culture. Outside of Rome, where else can you find a city inside a city?”

From the first-floor window of the art gallery she works in – the only legally-occupied building in this enormous former military base – it certainly looks like Metelkova Mesto is the answer. Twelve thousand five-hundred square metres of derelict buildings are tucked away behind the train station in the centre of the beautiful Slovenian capital Ljubljana. Over the course of two decades, squatters have converted the former mess hall, stables, sleeping quarters and storage rooms into a colourful array of bars, clubs, studios and art galleries. Enormous broken-tile mosaics tower over courtyards of statues and sculptures that have been crafted out of scrap metal and cracked bricks.

Central artworks in Metelkova, Slovenia

As she pours a generous glass of home-brewed honey schnapps, Ilina explains that the grimy, artistic complex we’re looking at is more than a hipster fad. The thriving cultural community here in Metelkova has grown to house “the largest alternative cultural scene in the Balkans.”

“The first squatters took over in 1993, after the army left,” she recounts. “They fought to prevent the site from being demolished and turned into something horrible like a shopping mall. After that, artists set up studios and starting putting on events for the community – non-commercial, alternative music and art events, for everyone.”

It’s a far cry from the original barracks commissioned by Emperor Franz Josef I in 1881 – when the country was under the harsh rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – and the speed of such a community-driven urban regeneration is astonishing. But Ljubljana is the capital of a rapidly-changing, fledgling country. Present-day Slovenia was born out of the bloody breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia just twenty-two years ago. It was during the onset of the Yugoslav Wars in the early ’90s that the military base of Metelkova was abandoned.

View of Metelkova balcony and flag, Slovenia

Now, Metelkova is home to a unique blend of artistic spirit and vibrant counterculture, which is barely tolerated by the authorities. The constant fighting with the government over non-payment of taxes is steadily winding down, as the City of Ljubljana embraces a modern image of tolerance and alternative culture – part of which formed its successful bid to become European Green Capital 2016.

Metelkova was designated a cultural monument by the municipality in 2006 and is the second-largest provider of non-commercial events in the country, attracting visitors from all over the Balkans. From disabled workshops to feminist and LGBT techno raves, Metelkova provides a rare niche for minorities to openly socialise in public.

View of Metelkova facing Ministry of Culture, Slovenia

The irony of such a transformation – from the military centre of a censoring authoritarian regime to a diverse, tolerant artistic haven – is perhaps what makes Metelkova so special. Unlike similar squats in Berlin’s Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain districts, or Copenhagen’s Freetown Christiania which was also built on an abandoned army base, Metelkova has managed to retain its individual identity, free from the taint of gang-violence, drug culture and hipster tourism that have come to characterise its counterparts elsewhere.

Have you visited Ljubljana? Do similar squats exist in your city or have you visited a squatter city before? Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments below.

Credits: Images by Ajit Niranjan. Data linked to sources.

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Developer Foresaw the Untapped Potential of “The Delmar Loop” in St. Louis, Missouri Wed, 10 Jun 2015 16:25:56 +0000 Blueberry Hill, St. Louis, Missouri

After graduating from Duke University in 1972, Joe Edwards returned home to St. Louis, Missouri. It was here that he opened Blueberry Hill, a restaurant, bar, and live music venue. Edwards specifically selected its location on Delmar Boulevard, a retail area locally known as “The Loop” that was named for the streetcar which used to turn around there.

Throughout the 1920’s and 30’s, the Loop was a shopping and nightlife destination featuring stylish boutiques and theatres. The Loop fell into decline throughout the 1960’s when the emergence of the automobile pushed development further away from the city and resulted in the subsequent disuse of the trolley. By the early 1970’s, the area was crime-ridden and largely abandoned. Soon after opening Blueberry Hill, Edwards was confronted by the realization that the establishment would not survive if the neighborhood did not succeed.

He thus formed The Loop Special Business District, which persuaded residents to address the area’s urban planning issues including security, sanitation, and beautification. As a St. Louis native, Edwards saw the potential in the area, and Blueberry Hill began to attract other businesses from around the city. He also worked with the University City Council to change the zoning of the Loop to require ground floor retail, widen the sidewalks to encourage street traffic, and draw more businesses.

In 1995, Edwards invested in a second building. When he caught word that the Tivoli Movie Theater had gone out of business, he purchased the building and spent $2 million dollars to return the theater to its original 1924 design. The theater is now run by Landmark Theatres and functions as an art-house theater.

Pin up Bowl, St. Louis, Missouri

In 2000, Edwards once again demonstrated tremendous faith in the Delmar Loop, when he opened The Pageant, a 33,000 square foot concert venue. This project was important because it marked the first development that crossed the invisible line that had long discouraged development past Skinker Boulevard and North of Delmar. Dividing St. Louis County and the City Center, it was an area long seen as dangerous.

In 2003, by continuing to blur this divide, he opened a bowling alley and martini lounge named Pin up Bowl, and in 2009, the Moonrise Hotel, a boutique space-themed hotel. This past year, Edwards opened a 24-7 diner, called Peacock Loop Diner. The diner is on the ground floor of a Washington University dorm, which in August 2014, brought 400 WashU students to share in the Loop neighborhood living experience, acting as a testament to the resurgence of Delmar.

Edwards has been dubbed “The Duke of Delmar” for his creative business ideas and success as a driving force to bring development back to the University City Loop. The next project in talks for the Loop is to reinstate the former trolley system, with the hope that by connecting the street to Forest Park attractions, it will bring further visitors. Not surprisingly, Joe Edwards is behind this vision, serving as chairman of the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District.

Are there creative developers in your city that have reinvigorated economically depressed areas? What areas in your community could use similar advocates? Share your city’s stories in the comments area below.

Credits: Data linked to sources. Images by Lindsay Naughton.

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“Flower Factory” Tours Begin at the Municipal Garden of Curitiba, Brazil Wed, 10 Jun 2015 16:10:12 +0000 Floriculture

Located in the Guabirotuba neighborhood, the Municipal Garden of Curitiba, Brazil received the first group of residents interested in learning about the production process of the flowers that decorate their local parks and city squares. Through the program “Flower Factory,” guided tours are offered in the nursery, where approximately 6 million seeds are produced annually – a true factory. During the visits, which are scheduled to happen once a month, participants experience all of the production steps performed by the garden.

The tour begins with a talk about the importance and the main development activities at the site. Next, the visitors advance through the stages of planning, sowing, germination, transplanting, greenhousing and the production of planters. Lastly, production is carried out and the flowers are planted in vases and flower boxes.

The Mayor of Curitiba, Gustavo Fruet, participated in this first guided tour. “With this program, we will present a beautiful work so that the people can understand when they see a flower in the square or park, all of the logistics done by such a competent and dedicated team. In this way, we create a sense of belonging and inspire people to take care of, support and preserve the beauty of the flowers in our city.

Tiradentes Square, Curitiba, Brazil

Ivete Fagundes, a tour guide in Curitiba, woke up early and went to learn about the nursery, a space that always piqued her curiosity. Owner of the agency Ivetur Turismo, she shows the city to national and foreign tourists every day. “The planters, always so floral, amaze all of the tourists and they often ask me about how the city is able to stay so beautiful and colorful with flowers year round. Doing this tour will help me respond properly to this question posed by many tourists.”

She listened attentively on the tour, and learned about the process by which the city holds four flower exchanges per year in public spaces, based on the production of 450 thousand flowers per month in the municipal nursery. “It is such an expressive production that a trip through the flower factory should be incorporated into our city tours,” Ivete said.

The Municipal Secretary of the Environment, Renato Lima, said that the objective of the Flower Factory program is to transform the nursery into a showcase, to recognize and appreciate the work of its team. “All of our citizens work to maintain a clean city, and for this we open the nursery for visitors and present their work to the whole city. We want to showcase the planning that is done by this team to guarantee a floral city the entire year,” said Renato.

Rua das Flores, Curitiba, Brazil


During the visit, participants are informed about the planning, organization, and logistics involved in flower production. “Nothing is at random — everything is thought out in advance. As in the fashion world, flowers that make up the urban scenery also have collections, and are replaced each new season,” explains Erica Mielke, the Director of the Department of Vegetation Production of the Municipal Secretary of the Environment.

In 2013, a new plan was implemented for the distribution of the flower seeds that optimized the process and consequently saved the city money. Currently, the 70 nursery employees produce approximately 6 million seeds every year, an average of 500 thousand per month. This is thanks to a machine that is able to sow 450 seeds in less than a minute. The same process took over an hour when it was done by hand.

After the sowing, the seeds are taken to a climate controlled room for germination where they remain for about four days. Next, they are transferred to a greenhouse, where they are protected from the cold, wind, and rain, for a period of a month on average. Then the seeds are transplanted on trays in an automated process. With just ten people in control, the transplanting machine allows for the production of 60 thousand seeds in one day, at most, which would not be possible without the assistance of technology.

A video report of the first event can be viewed here.

How can technology help improve the aesthetics of your city? How aware are people about such beautification efforts? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments area below.

Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Bessieres, France Launches Twenty-Five Acres of Cogeneration Greenhouses Tue, 09 Jun 2015 16:38:44 +0000 Tomato greenhouse

Ten hectares (108,000 square feet), thousands of cubic meters of displaced earth, enormous engines, intense activity. We are here: the construction site of the greenhouses that will be heated by the residual vapors of Bessieres, France’s Incinerator has been launched. It’s in the process of a few weeks of landscaping, after which the 7-meter-high (roughly 23 feet) glass cathedrals will emerge from the ground. A first module will be built, then a second, and finally a third. The project, carried out privately by Gilles Brifaud, is financially supported by Ademe, the Mid-Pyrenees region, Econotre and Suez. Gigantic, it stands on land sold by the city “at a special price for an exceptional project,” assures Mayor Jean-Luc Raysseguier.

More than 100,000 square meters (roughly 25 acres) of greenhouses that will ultimately stand behind the incinerator. The latter will provide the necessary energy for heating. This is the principle of cogeneration. Econotre has committed to 2.5 million Euros in project work, but it seems worth it. “It’s an energy economy that is estimated today at 28,350 megawatt hours, including around 2,835,000 liters of fuel and 6,350 tons of carbon dioxide which will not be emitted every year. There are zero emissions since the plants will be recycled into green waste. We are already imagining a contiguous structure for this,” the Mayor announced.

Hydroponic Tomatoes

Generating 5,000 Tons of Tomatoes Per Year

Production will begin at the beginning of 2016. “At a time when we import 558,000 tons of tomatoes per year to France, and when the MIN (train station market) of Toulouse also displays a need, we can say that we have invested properly in doing everything to make this installation possible, since the greenhouses will provide 5,000 tons of tomatoes per year,” reaffirms Jean-Luc Raysseguier. Ultimately, 18 million euros will have been invested in this large site, a project that is obviously well-studied since it’s already coming up with an annual turnover of more than 7 million euros.

Do you know of any interesting cogeneration projects? Are there any cogeneration projects occurring in your community? Share your thoughts and your city’s stories in the comments area below. 

Original article, originally published in French on La Depeche, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Re:Code LA Provides the First Update to Los Angeles’ Zoning Code in Sixty Years Tue, 09 Jun 2015 16:26:42 +0000 Re:Code LA Community Planning Forum, Los Angeles, California

The last time the City of Los Angeles updated its zoning code was when it was first adopted in 1946. Now, more than sixty years later, the zoning code has grown from an 84-page pamphlet to a book spanning more than 600 pages. The amendments, conditions, and overlays that have been added throughout the years have made it a burdensome, unclear, and complicated document for present day development of the City of Los Angeles.

But what is a zoning code? Put simply, it is a set of rules that regulate what can be built, where it can be built, and how it is used. For example, it specifies how tall a building can be, what industries are allowed in what areas of a community, and how much parking is required in an apartment complex.

Aware of this reality, the Department of City Planning has undertaken the cumbersome task of updating the zoning code. Known as Re:code LA, the project seeks to do a comprehensive revision of a code that is considered to be inadequate towards fulfilling a vision for a 21st century Los Angeles. The Re:code LA project began in 2013 and is expected to be completed in 2017. It is estimated that the five year project will cost $5 million. Some of its features include:

  • Dynamic Web-Based Zoning Code: A clear and predictable Code that better meets the needs of the City of Los Angeles, while also providing an interactive online experience.
  • Guide to Zoning: An easy to read guide to the new Code’s land use and development regulations.
  • Unified Downtown Development Code: New zoning tools customized for Downtown Los Angeles.

Zoning in South Los Angeles, California

Re:code LA aims to achieve the following goals:

  • Make it easier to understand for everyone.
  • Make it more business-friendly.
  • Streamline and in some cases speed up the review process.
  • Consolidate as many uses as possible into more comprehensive categories of use.

A revision to the zoning code is necessary in a city that is the second largest in the United States. Inhabited by 3.8 million people, this metropolis is comprised of a variety of neighborhood and landscape types that include dense urban areas, such as Koreatown, and suburban single family neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley.

However, the current update to the zoning code should not be confused with a change of policy. For example, if you work in a commercial area, Re:code LA will not change it into a residential area. To achieve a change in zoning policy in the City of Los Angeles, one would have to undergo a separate process, which begins by filing a zone change application.

What measures is your local government taking to address current and future development in your community? What zoning code regulations have you found beneficial in the sustainable development of your community? Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments area below.

Credits: Images by Marisol Maciel and Audelia Maciel.  Data linked to sources.

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Egypt’s New Capital Will be the Largest Planned City in History. But is it Possible? Mon, 08 Jun 2015 16:40:42 +0000 View of city density from Mosque of Ibn Tulun, Cairo, Egypt

Cairo’s thousand year reign as the capital of Egypt is under threat by a new capital. Set to rise from the desert sand just east of Cairo, the new capital is estimated to cover an astonishing 270 square miles and cost $45 billion. Already being dubbed as the “new New Cairo” of Egypt, not to be confused with existing “New Cairo,” the development will be the largest planned city in history.

How long does it take to build a city? Egyptian Housing Minister, Mustafa Madbouley, is currently projecting the completion date in 2022. The masterplan, by architecture firm SOM (Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill LLP), is geared towards core concepts revolving around education, economy, opportunity, and quality of life, especially for the younger generations.

A few notable highlights include:

  • Housing for at least 5 million residents.
  • Schools, hospitals, shopping, an airport, community and religious buildings to support the new residents and visitors.
  • A park which is double the size of New York City’s Central Park.
  • A theme park four times larger than Disneyland.

Busy street in downtown Cairo, Egypt

With greater Cairo’s population estimated at 18 million, the intent of the project is to alleviate issues with congestion, pollution, and overcrowding by providing housing and points of interest for residents. The thought is that this will historically preserve the city and shield it from any more wear and tear that may ensue with a rapidly growing population. The catch? Unless they belong to the government elite, no one can afford to live here. Current residents of Cairo express that they would like to live in the new city, but they cannot afford to relocate their families or the expensive commute into the city center.

A clean slate to innovate is a rarity. It provides the unique opportunity to reinvent not only a city, but the ways in which we utilize city planning, architecture and design. Nevertheless, architects and planners see the viability of constructing a city the size of Singapore from the ground up in seven years with much skepticism. There have been worries about what will be jeopardized at the expense of hasty construction, primarily in regards to the overall sustainability of the city. Despite critics seeing the project as a kid carelessly wielding an open flame, project architects say that it will be an environmental showcase through its means of preserving the existing topography and developing passive cooling systems by utilizing natural breezes.

Aerial view of neighborhood surrounding historic mosque, Cairo, Egypt

Aside from critique around its carbon footprint, the new capital is an eerily close mirror to the already existing New Cairo which was intended to house two million residents but has barely attracted 100,000 residents. Since the gaudy columns and faux gold balconies of New Cairo’s suburbanite villas have failed, maybe the 200 meter-high skyscraper resembling the iconic pyramids will attract residents in droves. Even after the built up allure of a new city, fears still reside in the possibility of the new capital becoming another vacant Egyptian city reserved as a nesting ground for the elite.

Do you believe in the viability of building a new capital at such a grand scale? Or should alternative measures be taken to preserve Cairo’s history and provide for the future of young Egyptians?  

Credits: Images by Lauren Golightly. Data linked to sources.

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Opening This Year, Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam Will Be Fourth Largest in the World Fri, 05 Jun 2015 16:35:12 +0000 Engineer at the construction site of Belo Monte, Brazil

The Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River, in the state of Pará, Brazil, is now 77% complete. In November 2015, it will begin minimal operations, at just 3% of its total capacity. The unit’s major machines will begin operation in March 2016. In the meantime, Altamira and other municipalities of Pará are already experiencing the positive effects brought by the enormous endeavor.

The municipalities of the region will receive in total R$ 3.7 billion (1.17 billion USD) of investments for social and environmental areas. This is reciprocation for housing the fourth largest hydroelectric dam in the world, which has the ability to generate 11 megawatts of energy and serve 60 million people in Brazil. “It’s a complex project, and it was done, for example, to not flood even a millimeter of the surrounding area,” said the President of Norte Energia, Duílio Diniz de Figueiredo.

When it won the competition for the Belo Monte Plant, Norte Energia committed to the ambitious compensation plan to minimize potential social and environmental impacts. The example to be avoided is the Trans-Amazon Highway, created in 1973, which didn’t benefit the region.” For 103 years, the City of Altamira had an open untreated sewage system, and only ten percent of the population had water,” stated the business executive.

The sanitation project in Altamira provides R$ 300 million (95 million USD) in investments for its 106 thousand inhabitants, replicating technology from Paris. It will gain eight reservoirs of drinking water. The municipalities of the region will receive R$ 485 million (154 million USD) for the water and sewage systems. According to the President of Norte Energia, Altamira still dumps their trash in the center of the city. A modern landfill will be constructed in its place.

President Rousseff greets Belo Monte, Brazil engineers

Intensive Care Unit Beds

In addition to basic sanitation, the Altamira region is obtaining a more robust network of health facilities. The project includes four new hospitals and renovations of three others — totaling 104 beds in intensive care. Thirty “Basic Health Units” were constructed in the region. “The results of this effort are already apparent. Between 2011 and 2015, cases of malaria have fallen by 96%,” Duílio Diniz informed. The city also gained a building for the future School of Medicine. In the area of education, 270 classrooms were constructed or renovated, benefiting 22 thousand students. Another 108 classrooms will be expanded. To improve security, the region is receiving R$ 100 million (32 million USD) for life jackets, the purchase of a helicopter, and the reform of the public jail.

Indigenous People

Some worry that the Belo Monte Plant will negatively affect the indigenous people of the Xingu River. The region has 34 parent tribes that occupy a 500 kilometer radius around Altamira. According to the President of Norte Energia, the social and environmental compensation project provides an investment of R$ 212 million (67 million USD) in benefits to the tribes. There have been 711 houses construction and the purchase of 370 boats, in addition to the installation of health centers and schools.

The social and environmental compensation show the responsibility of those who took a project in one of the most important regions in the world (the Amazon) and put it into action. And the numbers for Belo Monte are enormous. The workers count for 25 thousand people, involved directly or indirectly. One of the relevant points is that 60% of these workers are from Pará, stimulating the local economy.

What has been the impact of large scale construction projects where you live? How do the economic benefits stand up to the social and environmental impacts? Do you think compensation is a good way to deal with this? Share your city’s stories in the comments area below.

Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Citizens of Laval, Quebec Propose Height Limits for New Development Fri, 05 Jun 2015 16:15:16 +0000 Île de Paton, Laval, Quebec high rise apartment building

Laval, Quebec’s citizens movement “Pas de Tours dans Ma Cour,” (PTMC) or “No Towers in My Neighborhood,” is setting the tone for the upcoming public consultations that will be led by the Demers administration, beginning August 1, 2015, on the revision of the territorial development plan. The current plan has been in place for more than 25 years.

According to the results of a survey that the organization conducted in March 2015, 64% of the 437 respondents are of the opinion that real estate developments should be limited to 4 stories in residential neighborhoods in order to assure architectural cohesion. One out of four respondents (26%) would be in favor of allowing for the continued construction of apartment buildings between 5 and 8 stories so long as they are in keeping with the neighboring area and are erected at least 300 meters from the river. These tall constructions should also be concentrated on urban boulevards, like Laurentides Boulevard, or in certain sectors of the city like the Centropolis, responders believe. According to several citizens, the impact of these projects on local traffic is an element that the city should consider when they are analyzing a particular real estate project.

Laurentides Boulevard, Laval, Quebec, Canada apartment building

In this respect, they also wish that developers would be required to join an impact study to their urban planning permit requests, and that this impact study would become publicly available so that citizens could become aware of it. The protection of the river banks and their accessibility also came up frequently in the surveys, highlighting the organization who organized the polls.

A Resounding “No!” to the Envol Condominium Project

Not surprisingly, close to 90% of the 437 people who completed the online questionnaire were opposed to the Envol Condominiums project, which seeks to build an 18-story tower at the edge of Lévesque Boulevard, adjacent to Henri-Dunant Park and diagonal from the Commodore Marina. This building of 126 condos, for which a permit request was submitted to the city, is one of the three projects that PTMC contests. Don’t forget that this same organization came out of that same summer combatting three skyscraper projects around the marina, made possible by the urban planning policy (PPU-Cartier) that was adopted by the former Vaillancourt administration.

Contrasting O’Cartier

According to all evidence, the O’Cartier project does not face the same sort of opposition. Only 30% of respondents object to the construction of its 14-story tower, close to the Pont Viau neighborhood.

Levesque Boulevard Laval, Quebec

That being said, “The vast majority of respondents estimate that the height is disproportionate and will forever disfigure the city,” indicates PTMC. “Half of respondents would be in favor of the project if the height were to be reduced to a more normal dimension and (better) integrated with the environment,” they add.

Non-consulted and Badly Informed

Moreover, 84% of people who responded to the opinion poll confirmed not having been consulted about major projects planned for their neighborhoods, even though they almost all expressed the wish to be consulted on those projects that could possibly affect their immediate environment. The survey also shows that three out of four people surveyed (75%) did not know anything about the zoning laws in effect on Lévesque Boulevard. There are no laws limiting the heights of projects there. According to the coordinator of the survey, Ronald Martineau, this survey illustrates that “the administrative decisions made by the Vaillancourt administration continue to haunt Laval’s citizens.” He acknowledges at the same time “the (current) Demers administration’s desire to consult citizens on real estate projects that have to do with the development of their neighborhoods.”

How much input do you think citizens should have on urban planning and development projects? What process does your government follow to inform its citizens about development projects? Share your comments and city’s stories in the comments area below.

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Living in Montreal, Quebec’s Suburbs Without A Car: Is It Possible? Thu, 04 Jun 2015 16:53:17 +0000 Mass transit Montreal, Quebec, Canada

When families move to the suburbs, they don’t always calculate in the cost of the second car they will need for travel – unless, they decide to go without.

Charles-Antoine could not imagine his life without two cars when he decided to move to Chambly, Quebec, Canada with his family. “I faced the traffic day and night for four years. But when my partner lost her job, we were forced to give up one of our cars. I tried out mass transit, and it was a revelation.”

With the improvement of mass transit services in the suburbs, more and more workers are choosing to abandon their cars. This avenue, which is both economical and environmentally-friendly, offers new possibilities for families who would like to leave Montreal for the suburbs.

An Economical Choice

Julie Dion, a professional and mother, moved to the suburbs and chose mass transit in order to save money. “The houses in Montreal seemed overpriced. So we decided to opt for a property in Longueil, a 15-minute walk from the subway. My partner drives, and I bike to the subway. In this way, I save on the cost of buying a car, gasoline, parking, and maintenance costs.” Charles-Antoine believes that he saves around $6,000 per year by using mass transit. “It’s almost a second income. It helps us a lot financially.”

Longer Trips

But in order to save, it is often necessary to be prepared to put in the time. Maryse Lamerre, who lives in Sainte-Julie, has been using mass transit exclusively for 20 years. “In my case, it’s a lifestyle choice because I never liked driving. But it’s often hard: the trip between Montreal and Sainte-Julie can take almost 1.5 hours, when you take into consideration that it would only take 35 minutes by car in light traffic. And subway breakdowns have become more frequent these last few years.”

Central Station Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Reconciling work and family is also complicated. “I am never at home in the morning because I leave very early, and in the evenings, I am rushing to pick up my kids from kindergarten,” explains Charles-Antoine. “Fortunately, moving to the suburbs has allowed me to get closer to my wife’s family, and they can help me out when I need it.”

An Environmentally Friendly and Active Solution

For Charles-Antoine and Julie, taking mass transit is a chance to take care of themselves and the planet. “In the winter, I walk all the way to the subway twice a day, and in the summer, I go to work on my bike. This way, I make room for exercise in my life. I also feel that I am doing my part for the environment.”

Like Julie, Charles-Antoine jumps on his bike as soon as there is nice weather. And from November to May, he uses the 2.5 hours spent daily on mass transit to read and rest. “In Chambly, we have commuter buses with wireless Internet. It’s comfortable and much less stressful than the car.”

Nonetheless, mass transit is strictly reserved for suburbanites who have regular work hours because mass transit schedules are not very flexible. “If I were working in the evening or at night, it would basically be impossible,” maintains Annie Riverin, who travels each day to Beloeil in Montreal. “If I miss my train, I have to wait half an hour to take the next one.”

A Way of Life

Despite these inconveniences, Charles-Antoine would never go back to the car. “I would not give it up, it’s become a real lifestyle. In the end, it’s a way of making time for me.”

Are you considering getting rid of one of your cars, or both? Do public transportation and biking infrastructure options in your area make this feasible? Share your thoughts and your city’s stories in the comments area below.

Original article, originally published in French on Canoe, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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